Nonce truncations

A few months ago, I looked at some truncations in syntax, focusing on a series of developments in no matter constructions, in particular:

it’s no matter what NP is/are > no matter what NP is/are > no matter what NP > no matter NP

(getting us from “It’s no matter what your objections are” to “No matter your objections”), but looking also at truncations of fixed expressions, especially truncations that are deployed by individual speakers/writers “for the nonce”, for the sake of brevity, in contexts where the omitted material can be supplied by hearers/readers — notably in fixed expressions.

(Of course, these individual innovations can then spread to a larger community of speakers, perhaps becoming an in-group usage, so that people in that group can use the expressions without necessarily appreciating their historical origins. And then they can spread to more general use, as widely used — even, in some cases, standard — conventionalized expressions on their own.)

The examples I gave of such nonce truncations were above and beyond (with the call of duty suppressed) and the whole nine (with yards suppressed). Since then I’ve collected a couple more: a hundred percent (with sure/certain suppressed) and have a snowball’s chance (with in hell suppressed):

[in a Law and Order episode, one cop to a second, who is contemplating moving ahead on some investigation, something along the lines of] Make sure you’re a hundred percent.

[in a Cold Case episode] You think he had a snowball’s chance?

No doubt there are examples to be found of (not) give a flying (with a following noun, fuck or some substitute, suppressed). No doubt, indeed, there are plenty more nonce truncations to be found, and I invite readers to supply their finds in comments; these things can be hard to search for.

The snowball’s chance and give a flying cases suggest another motive, beyond simple brevity, for truncating some fixed expressions: modesty, politeness, avoidance of possibly unsettling content. This motive can be seen in a police usage reported in the NYT on March 5 (Al Baker, “Packaged and Likely: A Brief Lexicon Of the Police” — well, at least the NYC-area police officers, firefighters, and paramedics who catch radio bulletins on the local Breaking News Network):

Likely: Likely to die.

(as when someone is reported to be “likely”).

3 Responses to “Nonce truncations”

  1. empty Says:

    I recall in 1977 being startled and amused by the expression “the floor is not 100%”, meaning not entirely level. (This was offered as an excuse for why a used piece of furniture being offered for sale was not standing squarely on four feet.) I think that the speaker’s first language was German, though.

  2. If only « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] required (it's "short-circuited", in John Searle's felicitous metaphor). Add this to the list of nonce truncations that have become […]

  3. few and far in between « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] idiom (by incorporating the idiom in between in it), and the truncated version looks like a nonce truncation that might be spreading on its […]

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