§ 115 THE OPPOSITION OF EMOTIONALLY COLOURED AND EMOTIONALLY NEUTRAL VOCABULARY
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§ 115 THE OPPOSITION OF EMOTIONALLY COLOURED AND EMOTIONALLY NEUTRAL VOCABULARY


§ 115 THE OPPOSITION OF EMOTIONALLY COLOURED AND EMOTIONALLY NEUTRAL VOCABULARY

There are people who are apt to assume that speech is a sort of device for making statements. They forget its numerous other functions. Speech also expresses the speaker’s attitude to what he is talking about, his emotional reaction, his relations with his audience. He may wish to warn, to influence people, to express his approval or disapproval or to make some

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parts of what he says more emphatic. All these pragmatic factors introduce into the lexical meaning of words additional overtones. These again are apt to be confused. Using terms like “expressive", “emotive", “affective", “evaluative", “slang", some authors are inclined to treat them as synonyms, thinking, for instance, that an emotive word is of necessity also a stylistically coloured word, or considering all stylistically coloured words as emotional. We shall see that this is not always the case.

In what follows we shall understand by emotive speech any speech or utterance conveying or expressing emotion. This emotive quality of discourse is due to syntactical, intonational and lexical peculiarities. By lexical peculiarities we mean the presence of emotionally coloured words. The emotional colouring of the word may be permanent or occasional. We shall concentrate our attention on the first. A word acquires its emotional colouring, otherwise called its affective connotations, its power to evoke or directly express feelings as a result of its history in emotional contexts reflecting emotional situations. The character of denotata corresponding to the root of the word may be wrought with emotion. Thus, in the emotive phrases: be beastly mean about something, a glorious idea, a lovely drink, a rotten business, etc., the emotional quality is based upon associations brought about by such notions as ‘beast’, ‘glory’, ‘love’ and ‘rot’ and the objects they stand for.

The best studied type of emotional words are interjections. They express emotions without naming them: Ah! Alas! Bother! Boy! Fiddlesticks! Hear, hear! Heavens! Hell! Humbug! Nonsense! Pooh! etc. Some of them are primary interjections, others are derived from other parts of speech. On the latter opinions differ. Some say that Cornel and Hark! are not interjections at all, but complete sentences with their subject not expressed. We shall not go into this controversy and keep to our main theme.

A word may have some morphological features signalling its emotional force. These may be either morphemes or patterns. Diminutive and derogatory affixes, though not so numerous and variegated as in Russian, still play an important role. The examples are daddy, kiddykins, dearie, babykins, blackie, oldie. The scarcity of emotional suffixes favours the appearance of such combinations as: little chap, old chap, old fellow, poor devil where the emotional effect results from the interaction of elements. The derogatory group of suffixes may be exemplified by bastard, drunkard, dullard, trustard, princeling, weakling, gangster, hipster (now with a diminutive hippie), mobster, youngster. It must be noted that the suffix -ster is derogatory only with nouns denoting persons, and neutral otherwise, сf. roadster ‘an open automobile’.

There is a disparaging semi-affix -monger: panicmonger, scandalmonger, scaremonger, warmonger.

A very interesting problem, so far investigated but little, concerns the relationship between the morphological pattern of a word and its emotional possibilities. Thus, for example, personal nouns formed by composition from complete sentences or phrases are derogatory:

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also-ran, never-do-well, sit-by-the-fire, stick-in-the-mud, die-hard. This goes only for names of persons. There is nothing objectionable in a forget-me-not. Compare also: I suppose your friends, if you have any, don’t mean much to you unless ... they are great-something-or-other (Fair-child).

There are several groups expressing censure by their morphological structure. There are personal nouns formed by conversion: a bore, a swell and by combined composition and conversion from verbs with post positives: a come-back ‘a person reinstated in his former position’, a stand-in ‘a substitute’, a stuck-up = an upstart ‘a person who assumes arrogant tone’ (also one who has risen from insignificance), a washout ‘a failure’.

To express emotion the utterance must be something not quite ordinary. Syntactically this is reflected in inversion contrasted to the usual word order. Its counterpart in vocabulary is coinage of nonce-words. Very often it is a kind of echo-conversion, as in the following: Lucas: Well? Hans: Don’t well me, you feeble old ninny (Osborne).

Emotional nonce-words are created in angry or jocular back-chat by transforming whole phrases into verbs to express irritation or mockery. For example: “^ Now well!” “Don’t now-well-me!” “How on earth!?” “Don’t begin how-on-earthing!” “Oh, bloody hell!я “You don’t bloody-hell here.”

The type is definitely on the increase in English speech of today.

Often the muscular feeling of the emotional word or phrase is more important than its denotational meaning. Its function is to release pent-up emotions, pent-up tension. This may explain why hell and heaven have such rich possibilities, while paradise has practically none.

It must be noted that emotional words only indicate the presence of emotion but very seldom are capable of specifying its exact character.

The emotionally coloured words are contrasted to the emotionally neutral ones. The words of this latter group express notions but do not say anything about the state of the speaker or his mood: copy, report, impatient, reach, say, well are all emotionally neutral. The difference between the sets is not very clear-cut, there are numerous boundary cases. The sets may be said to intersect and contain elements that belong to both, because many words are neutral in their direct meaning and emotional under special conditions of context. Having been used for some time with an occasionally emotional effect, they may acquire some permanent features in their semantic structure that justify referring them into the other subset.

It is also difficult to draw a line of demarcation between emotional and emphatic or intensifying words; therefore we shall consider the latter a specific group of the emotional words subset. Intensifiers convey special intensity to what is said, they indicate the special importance of the thing expressed. The simplest and most often used of these are such words as ever, even, all, so. The first of them, due to its incessant use, has become a kind of semi-affix, as seen from the solid spelling of such combinations as whatever, whenever, etc. If we compare:

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^ Whyever didn’t you go? and Why didn’t you go? we shall see at once how much more expressive and emphatic the first variant is. There is also a big incessantly developing and changing group of intensifying adverbs: awfully, capitally, dreadfully, fiercely, frightfully, marvellously, terribly, tremendously, wonderfully and very many others. The fashion for them changes, so that every generation has its favourite intensifiers and feels those used by their elders trite and inexpressive. The denotative meaning of intensifying adverbs may be almost completely suppressed by their emphatic function, so that in spite of the contradiction of combinations like awfully glad, frightfully beautiful or terribly important, they are very frequent. E.g.: How are you, Helene? You're looking frightfully well (Amis).

Very little is known so far about limitations imposed upon the combining possibilities of intensifiers. It is, for instance, quite usual to say stark naked or stark mad, where stark means ‘wholly’, but not *stark deaf; we say stone deaf instead. The fact is very little studied from the synchronic point of view. Compare also the fixed character of such combinations as flat denial, sheer nonsense, paramount importance, dead tired, bored stiff. All such purely linguistic constraints concerning the valency of words are of great theoretical interest.

Sometimes it is very difficult to tell an intensifier from an emotionally coloured word, because in many cases both functions are fulfilled by one and the same word, as in the following example: “^ You think I know damn nothing,” he said indignantly. “Actually I know damn all (Priestley).

An intensifying function may be also given to sound-imitative interjections, as in the following: I was an athlete, you see, one of those strong-as-a-horse boys. And never a day’s illness — until bang, comes a coronary, or whoosh, go the kidneys! (Huxley)

A third group which together with emotional and intensifying words could be opposed to the neutral vocabulary may be called evaluatory words. Words which, when used in a sentence, pass a value judgment differ from other emotional words in that they can not only indicate the presence of emotion but specify it.

In evaluatory words the denotative meaning is not superseded by the evaluative component, on the contrary they co-exist and support each other. For example: ^ Oh, you're not a spy. Germans are spies. British are agents (Rattigan). A few more examples will not be amiss. The verb fabricate has not lost its original neutral meaning of ‘manufacture’, but added to it the meaning of ‘invent falsely’. When using this word, the speaker is not indifferent to the fact but expresses his scorn, irony or disgust. Scheming is a derogatory word (cf. planning), it means ‘planning secretly, by intrigue or for private ends’. For example: “I wouldn’t exaggerate that, Mildred,” said Felix. “You're such a schemer yourself, you're a bit too ready to attribute schemes to other people” “Well, somebody’s got to do some scheming,” said Mildred. “Or let’s call it planning, shall we? As you won’t raise a finger to help yourself, dear boy, I have to try to help you. And then I am accused of scheming.” (Murdoch)

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When the emotional variant of the word or a separate emotional word is contrasted to its neutral variant the emotional word always turns out to be morphologically or semantically derived, not primary.

The names of animals, for instance, when used metaphorically, almost invariably have a strong evaluative force: “^ Silly ass,” said Dick. “He’s jealous because he didn’t win a prise.” (M. Dickens) Compare also colt ‘a young male horse up to an age of four or five’, which occurs in the figurative meaning of ‘a young inexperienced person’. The same type of relationship is seen in the figurative meaning of the word pup as a contemptuous term for a conceited young man.

Emotional, emphatic and evaluative words should not be confused with words possessing some definite stylistic features although in actual discourse these properties may coincide, and we often come across words both emotionally and stylistically coloured. Style is, however, a different kind of opposition; it will be discussed in the next chapter. The distinction we are dealing with in the present paragraph is helpful, because it permits us to observe some peculiar phenomena and features of words in emotional speech.

The emotive effect is also attained by an interaction of syntactic and lexical means. The pattern a+(A)1+N1+of+a+N2 is often used to express emotion and emphasis. The precise character of the emotion is revealed by the meaning and connotations possible for N1 and N2, the denotata may be repulsive or pleasant, or give some image. Compare, for example: a devil of a time, a deuce of a price, a hell of a success, a peach of a car, an absolute jewel of a report, a mere button of a nose. The word button in the last example acquires expressiveness and becomes ironical, being used metaphorically, although used in its direct meaning it is emotionally neutral; it acquires its emotional colour only when transferred to a different sphere of notions. The adjectives absolute and mere serve as intensifiers.

Emotional words may be inserted into a syntactic chain without any formal or logical connection with what precedes or follows but influencing the whole and making it more forcible, as, for example, in the following: “^ There was a rumour in the office,” Wilson said, “about some diamonds.” “Diamonds my eye,” Father Rank said. “They’ll never find any diamonds.” (Greene) It would be wrong to consider this use of my eye a figurative meaning, its relationship with the direct denotational meaning being different from what we observe in metaphorical or metonymical meanings. In this and similar cases the emotional component of meaning expressing in a very general way the speaker’s feelings and his state of mind dominates over the denotational meaning: the latter is suppressed and has a tendency towards fading out.

Emotional words may even contradict the meaning of the words they formally modify, as, for example, in the following: ^ Everything was too bloody friendly, Damn good stuff this. The emotional words in these two examples were considered unprintable in the 19th century and dashes were used to indicate the corresponding omissions in oaths:

The brackets show that this position is optional.

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D--n. The word has kept its emotional colouring, but its stylistic status has improved.

Words expressing similar emotions may belong to different styles and the vulgar Damn\ that can be at best qualified as familiar colloquial can be compared with the lofty and poetical Alas! Each of them in its own way expresses vexation, so that their emotional colouring, though not identical, is similar; stylistically they are very different. The criteria by which words can be referred to the set in question are being at present investigated. A difficult problem is presented by words naming emotions: love, hate, fear, fright, rage, etc. or associated with emotions: dead, death, dirt, mean and the like. Some authors argue that they cannot be considered emotional, because emotion plays the part of denotatum, of something that is named, not expressed. Subsequent authors have shown that if the question is considered in purely linguistic terms of word-building and contextual ties, it may be proved that some of these words can express feeling.

Words belonging (on a synchronic level) to word-families containing interjections can be proved to possess the following properties: they can express emotions, they can lend emotional colouring to the whole sentence in which they occur, they occupy an optional position. Thus, the whole cluster of derivatives with rot are regularly emotional: rot, rotten, to rot, rotter. Emotionality is indubitable in the following: Oh, get out! You don’t really care, damn you! You asked her to marry you in your rotten cold-blooded way, but I loved her (Christie).

Different positive emotions are rendered by love and its derivatives lovely a and lovely n (the latter is a synonym for darling).

In concluding the paragraph it is necessary to stress once more that as a rule emotional and emphatic words do not render emotions by themselves but impart these to the whole utterance in co-ordination with syntactic and intonation means. Only context permits one to judge whether the word serves as a mere intensifier or expresses emotion, and if so, to particularise the type of emotion.

§ 11.6 DIFFERENT TYPES OF NON-SEMANTIC GROUPING

The simplest, most obvious non-semantic grouping, extensively used in all branches of applied linguistics is the alphabetical organisation of written words, as represented in most dictionaries. It is of great practical value as the simplest and the most universal way of facilitating the search for the necessary word. Even in dictionaries arranged on some other principles (in “Roget’s International Thesaurus", for example) we have an alphabetical index for the reader to refer to before searching the various categories. The theoretical value of alphabetical grouping is almost null, because no other property of the word can be predicted from the letter or letters the word begins with. We cannot infer anything about the word if the only thing we know is that it begins with a p. Only in exceptional cases some additional information can be obtained on a different, viz. the etymological, level. For instance, words beginning with a w are mostly native, and those beginning with a ph borrowed from Greek. But such cases are few and far between.

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The rhyming, i.e. inverse, dictionary presents a similar non-semantic grouping of isolated written words differing from the first in that the sound is also taken into consideration and in that the grouping is done the other way round and the words are arranged according to the similarity of their ends. The practical value of this type is much more limited. These dictionaries are intended for poets. They may be also used, if but rarely, by teachers, when making up lists of words with similar suffixes.

A third type of non-semantic grouping of written words is based on their length, i.e. the number of letters they contain. This type, worked out with some additional details, may prove useful for communication engineering, for automatic reading of messages and correction of mistakes. It may prove useful for linguistic theory as well, although chiefly in its modified form, with length measured not in the number of letters but in the number of syllables. Important statistical correlations have been found to exist between the number of syllables, the frequency, the number of meanings and the stylistic characteristics a word possesses. The shorter words occur more frequently and accumulate a greater number of meanings.

Finally, a very important type of non-semantic grouping for isolated lexical units is based on a statistical analysis of their frequency. Frequency counts carried out for practical purposes of lexicography, language teaching and shorthand enable the lexicographer to attach to each word a number showing its importance and range of occurrence. Large figures are, of course, needed to bring out any inherent regularities, and these regularities are, naturally, statistical, not rigid. But even with these limitations the figures are fairly reliable and show important correlations between quantitative and qualitative characteristics of lexical units, the most frequent words being polysemantic and stylistically neutral.

variants of these vocabularies have received the derogatory names of officialese and journalese. Their chief drawback is their triteness: both are given to cliches.

§ 12.4 POETIC DICTION

Any word or set expression which is peculiar to a certain level of style or a certain type of environment and mood will become associated with it and will be able to call up its atmosphere when used in some other context. There is no such thing as one poetic style in the English language. The language a poet uses is closely bound with his outlook and experience, with his subject-matter and the message he wants to express. But there remains in English vocabulary a set of words which contrast with all other words, because, having been traditionally used only in poetry, they have poetic connotations. Their usage was typical of poetic conventions in the 18th century, but since the so-called Romantic Revolt in the first quarter of the 19th century poetic diction fell into disuse. These words are not only more lofty but also as a rule more abstract in their denotative meaning than their neutral synonyms. To illustrate this layer, suffice it to give some examples in oppositions with their stylistically neutral synonyms. Nouns: array : : clothes; billow : : wave; brine : : salt water; brow : : forehead; gore : blood; main : : sea; steed : : horse; woe : : sorrow. Verbs: behold : : see; deem : : think; hearken : : hear; slay : : kill; trow : : believe. Adjectives: fair : : beautiful; hapless : : unhappy; lone : : lonely; murky : : grim; uncouth : : strange. Adverbs: anon : : presently; nigh : : almost; oft : : often; whilom : : formerly. Pronouns: thee : : thou; aught : : anything; naught : : nothing. Conjunctions: albeit : : although; ere : : before.

Sometimes it is not the word as a whole that is poetic but only one of its variants. It may be semantic: the words fair, hall, flood and many others have among their meanings a poetical one. It may be also a phonetical variant: e'en : : even; morn : : morning; oft : : often.

In the 18th century the standards of poetic diction were rigorously observed and the archaic ingredient was considered not only appropriate but obligatory. This poetic diction specialised by generations of English poets was not only a matter of vocabulary, but also of phraseology, imagery, grammar and even spelling. Traces of this conservative tendency may be observed in the 19th century poetry. They may either heighten the emotional quality of the expression or create an ironical colouring by juxtaposing high style and trivial matter.

In the following stanza by G.G. Byron conventional features of poetic language can be interpreted both ways:

^ I’ve tried another’s fetters too

With charms perchance as fair to view And I would fain have loved as well,

But some inconquerable spell

Forbade my bleeding breast to own

A kindred care for ought but one.

("Stanzas to a Lady on Leaving England")

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§ 12.5 COLLOQUIAL WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS

The term colloquial is old enough: Dr Johnson, the great English lexicographer, used it. Yet with him it had a definitely derogatory ring. S. Johnson thought colloquial words inconsistent with good usage and, thinking it his duty to reform the English language, he advised “to clear it from colloquial barbarisms”. By the end of the 19th century with Neo-grammarians the description of colloquial speech came into its own, and linguists began to study the vocabulary that people actually use under various circumstances and not what they may be justified in using.

As employed in our time, the adjective colloquial does not necessarily mean ‘slangy’ or ‘vulgar’, although slang and vulgar vocabulary make part of colloquial vocabulary, or, in set-theoretical terminology, form subsets contained in the set we call colloquial vocabulary.

The term literary colloquial is used to denote the vocabulary used by educated people in the course of ordinary conversation or when writing letters to intimate friends. A good sample may be found in works by a number of authors, such as J. Galsworthy, E.M. Forster, C.P. Snow, W.S. Maugham, J.B.Priestley, and others. For a modern reader it represents the speech of the elder generations. The younger generation of writers (M. Drabble for instance) adhere to familiar colloquial. So it seems in a way to be a differentiation of generations. Familiar colloquial is more emotional and much more free and careless than literary colloquial. It is also characterised by a great number of jocular or ironical expressions and nonce-words.

Low colloquial is a term used for illiterate popular speech. It is very difficult to find hard and fast rules that help to establish the boundary between low colloquial and dialect, because in actual communication the two are often used together. Moreover, we have only the evidence of fiction to go by, and this may be not quite accurate in speech characterisation. The basis of distinction between low colloquial and the two other types of colloquial is purely social. Everybody remembers G.B. Shaw’s “Pygmalion” where the problem of speech as a mark of one’s social standing and of social inequalities is one of the central issues. Ample material for observation of this layer of vocabulary is provided by the novels of Alan Sillitoe, Sid Chaplin or Stan Barstow. The chief peculiarities of low colloquial concern grammar and pronunciation; as to the vocabulary, it is different from familiar colloquial in that it contains more vulgar words, and sometimes also elements of dialect.

Other vocabulary layers below the level of standard educated speech are, besides low colloquial, the so-called slang and argot. Unlike low colloquial, however, they have only lexical peculiarities. Argot should be distinguished from slang: the first term serves to denote a special vocabulary and idiom, used by a particular social or age group, especially by the so-called underworld (the criminal circles). Its main point is to be unintelligible to outsiders.

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The boundaries between various layers of colloquial vocabulary not being very sharply defined, it is more convenient to characterise it on the whole. If we realise that gesture, tone and voice and situation are almost as important in an informal act of communication as words are, we shall be able to understand why a careful choice of words in everyday conversation plays a minor part as compared with public speech or literature, and consequently the vocabulary is much less variegated. The same pronouns, prop-words, auxiliaries, postpositives and the same most frequent and generic terms are used again and again, each conveying a great number of different meanings. Only a small fraction of English vocabulary is put to use, so that some words are definitely overworked. Words like thing, business, do, get, go, fix, nice, really, well and other words characterised by a very high rank of frequency are used in all types of informal intercourse conveying a great variety of denotative and emotional meanings and fulfilling no end of different functions. The utterances abound in imaginative phraseology, ready-made formulas of politeness and tags, standard expressions of assent, dissent, surprise, pleasure, gratitude, apology, etc.

The following extract from the play “An Inspector Calls” by J.B. Priestley can give ample material for observations:

BIRLING (triumphantly): ^ There you are! Proof positive. The whole story’s just a lot of moonshine. Nothing but an elaborate sell. (He produces a huge sigh of relief.) Nobody likes to be sold as

badly as that — but — for all that – – – – (He smiles at them

all.) Gerald, have a drink.

GERALD (smiling): Thanks. I think I could just do with one now.

BIRLING (going to sideboard): So could I.

Mrs BIRLING (smiling): And I must say, Gerald, you’ve argued this very cleverly, and I’m most grateful.

GERALD (going for his drink): Well, you see, while I was out of the house I'd time to cool off and think things out a little.

BIRLING (giving him a drink): Yes, he didn’t keep you on the run as he did the rest of us. I’ll admit now he gave me a bit of a scare at the time. But I'd a special reason for not wanting any public scandal just now. (Has his drink now, and raises his glass.) Well, here’s to us. Come on, Sheila, don’t look like that. All over now.

Among the colloquialisms occurring in this conversation one finds whole formulas, such as there you are, you see, I’m most grateful, here’s to us; set expressions: a lot of moonshine, keep sb on the run, for all that, cases of semi-conversion or typical word-groups like have a drink (and not drink)’, give a scare (and not scare)’, verbs with postpositives: cool off, think things out, come on; particles like just and well. Every type of colloquial style is usually rich in figures of speech. There is no point in enumerating them all, and we shall only note the understatement: a bit of a scare, I could just do with one.

The above list shows that certain lexical patterns are particularly characteristic of colloquialisms. Some may be added to those already mentioned.

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Substantivised adjectives are very frequent in colloquial speech: constitutional ‘a walk’, daily ‘a woman who comes daily to help with household chores’, also greens for ‘green leaf vegetables’, such as spinach, cabbage, etc., and woollies ‘woollen clothes’.

A large number of new formations is supplied by a process combining composition and conversion and having as prototypes verbs with postpositives: carry-on ‘way of behaving’, let-down ‘an unexpected disappointment’, make-up ‘cosmetics’.

One of the most modern developments frequent in colloquial style are the compounds coined by back-formation: the type to baby-sit (from baby-sitter) is often resorted to.

It is common knowledge that colloquial English is very emotional.1 Emotions find their lexical expression not only in emphatic adverbs and adjectives of the awfully and divine type, or interjections including swear words, but also in a great number of other lexical intensifiers. In the following example the feeling named by the novelist is expressed in direct speech by an understatement: Gazing down with an expression that was loving, gratified and knowledgeable, she said, “Now I call that a bit of all right.” (Snow)

In all the groups of colloquialisms, and in familiar colloquial especially, words easily acquire new meanings and new valency. We have already observed it in the case of the verb do in I could do with one meaning ‘I would like to have (a drink)’ and originally used jokingly. Make do is a colloquialism also characterised by fixed context; it means ‘to continue to use old things instead of buying new ones, to economise’. Other peculiarities of valency of the same verb are observed in such combinations as do a museum, or do for sb, meaning ‘to act as a housekeeper’. Verbs with postpositives are used in preference to their polysyllabic synonyms.

Such intensifiers as absolutely, fabulous/fab, grand, lovely, superb, terrific and the like come readily to the speaker’s lips. Getting hackneyed, they are apt to lose their denotational meaning and keep only their intensifying function. The loss of denotational meaning in intensifiers is also very obvious in various combinations with the word dead, such as dead sure, dead easy, dead right, dead slow, dead straight.

As these adverbs and adjectives become stale other expressive means may be used. Here is an example of heated argument in literary colloquial between the well-bred and educated personages of СР. Snow’s “The Conscience of the Rich":

“^ If you're seriously proposing to print rumours without even a scrap of evidence, the paper isn’t going to last very long, is it?”

“Why in God’s name not?”

“What’s going to stop a crop of libel actions'?”

“The trouble with you lawyers,” said Seymour, jauntily once more, “is that you never know when a fact is a fact, and you never see an inch beyond your noses. I am prepared to bet any of you, or all three, if you like, an even hundred pounds that no one, no one brings an action against us over this business”.

1 The subject has been dealt with in the previous chapter but a few additional examples will not come amiss.

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Carefully observing the means of emphasis used in the passage above, one will notice that the words a scrap, an inch, even are used here only as intensifiers lending emphasis to what is being said; they are definitely colloquial. But they have these properties due to the context, and the reader will have no difficulty in finding examples where these words are neither emphatic nor stylistically coloured. The conclusion is that some words acquire these characteristics only under certain very definite conditions, and may be contrasted with words and expressions that are always emotional and always colloquial in all their meanings, whatever the context. On earth or in God’s name, for instance, are colloquial and emotional only after some interrogative word: Why in God’s name ..., Why on earth ..., Where in God’s name ..., Where on earth ..., What in God’s name..., What on earth..., etc. A typical context is seen in the following extract: The man must be mad, sitting-out there on a freezing morning like this. What on earth he thinks he is doing I can’t imagine (Shaffer). On the other hand, there exist oaths, swear words and their euphemistic variations that function as emotional colloquialisms independent of the context. The examples are: by God, Goodness gracious, for Goodness sake, good Lord and many others. They occur very often and are highly differentiated socially. Not only is there a difference in expressions used by schoolboys and elderly ladies, sailors and farmers but even those chosen by students of different universities may show some local colour.

Many lexical expressions of modality may be also referred to colloquialisms, as they do not occur anywhere except informal everyday intercourse. Affirmative and negative answers, for instance, show a wide range of modality shades: definitely, up to a point, in a way, exactly, right-o, by all means, I expect so, I should think so, rather, and on the other hand: I am afraid, not or not at all, not in the least, by no means, etc. E. g.: Mr Salter’s side of the conversation was limited to expressions of assent. When Lord Copper was right he said, “Definitely, Lord Copper”; when he was wrong, “Up to a point.” (Waugh) The emotional words already mentioned are used as strong negatives in familiar or low colloquial: “Have you done what he told you?” “Have I hell!” The answer means ‘Of course I have not and have no intention of doing it’. Or: “So he died of natural causes, did he?” “Natural causes be damned.” The implication is that there is no point in pretending the man died of natural causes, because it is obvious that he was killed. A synonymous expression much used at present is my foot. The second answer could be substituted by Natural causes my foot, without any change in meaning.

Colloquialisms are a persistent feature of the conversation of at least 90% of the population. For a foreign student the first requirement is to be able to differentiate those idioms that belong to literature, and those that are peculiar to spoken language. It is necessary to pay attention to comments given in good dictionaries as to whether a word is colloquial (colloq.), slang (sl.) or vulgar (vulg.).

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To use colloquialisms one must have an adequate fluency in English and a sufficient familiarity with the language, otherwise one may sound ridiculous, especially, perhaps, if one uses a mixture of British and American colloquialisms. The author has witnessed some occasions where a student used American slang words intermingled with idiomatic expressions learned from Ch. Dickens, with a kind of English public school accent; the result was that his speech sounded like nothing on earth.


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