Piling on

Following up on my mention of sentence-initial plus in my positing on sentence-initial as well, Wilson Gray wrote to ADS-L about Black English:

And plus besides, an extended, fuller, sentence-initial form, and plus besides, has been used colloquially by a subset of BE-speakers for at least the past sixty years. [note use combined with mention]

Wonderful.  I collect examples of “piling on” or “reinforcement” (tad bit, tiny little, and return back, for example; brief mention here), and this is is a triple: initial and plus and and besides are well attested, but and plus besides has all three additive connectives.

And it’s not just BE. Here, from David Foster Wallace’s first novel, The Broom of the System (1987), is some vernacular speech from a young white guy:

… and we gotta have our hands stamped like fifth-graders for beer, and all the girls look at us like we’re all rapists, and plus, besides, all the girls down there look like Richard Nixon …

(Modest number of examples, some punctuated without internal commas, some with commas setting off besides, as in the DFW example.)

The usage handbooks deprecate the piling-on of sentence-initial additive connectives, on the ground that they are “pleonastic” or “redundant” — the judgment applied to all sorts of piling-on examples. However, it wouldn’t be hard to argue that in piling-on examples of all types, the parts contribute slightly different meanings or have slightly different discourse functions, rather than merely reinforcing one another. That is, sentence-initial and, plus, and besides aren’t simply free variants and so can combine. (Cue bow to Dwight Bolinger; see mention of “Bolinger’s Dictum” on this blog, here).

Of course, there’s no stylistic or rhetorical vice in simple repetition for effect, or in more complex repetition in which near-equivalents are piled up for effect. Only a fanatic believer in Omit Needless Words would think there was.

7 Responses to “Piling on”

  1. Neal Says:

    The example I like most is free gratis for nothin’ from a William Faulkner novel, I think either The Hamlet or The Town.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      There are modest numbers of examples of free, gratis, for nothing (usually so punctuated), with the synonyms piled up for emphasis. Similarly, triples of expressions meaning ‘nothing’, like zip, nada, zilch.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      And, collected this morning on NPR, an interviewee asserting that some idea was absolutely, positively, a hundred percent correct, with a triple of degree adverbials modifying correct.

  2. The Ridger Says:

    Of all the “reasons” given for not saying/writing something, that it’s “redundant” is possibly my least favorite. (“It’s lazy” gives it a run for its money, though.) I have a student who, when a Russian author uses three related adjectives, will only translate one. And blithely announces that “I didn’t think they were necessary.” I try to explain to him that when he’s writing, he can make that call, but not when he’s translating.

    And if people really can’t see that, for example, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” is rather different from “Alexander and the Terrible Day” … what can be done?

  3. Stan Says:

    I like DFW’s “And so but”s.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Amplifying a bit on this comment… Check out the Ambiguities (“Diving flukes-up into literature”) blog of 9/20/08 on “The “And but so” “, on DFW’s writing, here, which begins:

      Google “and but so” and you get over 200,000 hits. As in any Google search for something not a salable product, most of it is coincidental or indecipherable junk. Of the first 100 hits, the vast majority of comprehensible sites are instructions for using conjunctions, and reviews of, excerpts from, and parodies of David Foster Wallace.

      On the basic, sentence-by-sentence level, it’s kind of his trademark — what he’s known for. And I think it’s most prevalent in IJ [Infinite Jest], although it pops up everywhere.

      DFW also used the variant “and so but”.

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