diddly squat

Today’s Bizarro:

The construction in You (don’t) know diddly / squat / diddly-squat (about NP) has in fact caught the attention of linguists. In a Language Log posting on swearing a while back, I referred to

the analysis of NPs like (doodly) squat, (jack)shit, and fuck(-all) in sentences like You (don’t) know jackshit about linguistics — by, among others, Larry Horn (“Flaubert triggers, squatitive negation, and other quirks of grammar”, in the 2001 volume Perspectives on Negation and Polarity Items, edited by Hoeksema et al.) and Paul Postal (“The structure of one type of American English vulgar minimizer”, chapter 5 in his 2004 collection Skeptical Linguistic Essays).

Fascinating things, those vulgar minimizers.

3 Responses to “diddly squat”

  1. Stavin Chain Says:

    It was “doodly-squat” when I was young, back in the ’40’s. Local variant? “Diddly” infuenced by Bo-_Diddley_?

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      My recollection too is that doodly came before diddly. And Green’s Dictionary of Slang bears out both of our recollections, with doodly first cited in 1934 (Zora Neale Hurston!), diddly in 1958 (though also with black origins). Bo Diddley took his stage name in the middle ’50s; it’s more likely that the vulgar minimizer influenced his stage name than the reverse, but in fact the origins of the stage name are murky.

  2. S. Harrison Says:

    Coming from North Yorkshire, England, I learned another variant namely ‘ diddly bump squat’ dating from the fifties.

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