The Colbert Ellipsis

A Matt Bors cartoon (found via Funny Times):

Entertaining as the political message is, my interest here is in the syntax of:

Now I’m a specimen of cold, robotic elitism and horrible acts I can’t quite recall – and so can YOU with my FREE Bully Manual!

with a remarkable ellipsis in and so can YOU ‘and so can YOU be’ — for which we can surely thank Stephen Colbert.

The Colbert original is in the title of his book

I Am America (And So Can You!)

which I wrote about on Language Log back in 2007. Later that year, from Geoff Pullum in “And so can you (be)”:

The quick eye of Mark Liberman recently spotted what may be the fastest ever emergence of a new phrase into snowclonehood when Steven Colbert’s book title I Am America (And So Can You!) was picked up by Guy Trebay of the New York Times after just three weeks: Trebay’s pastiched article title She’s Famous (and So Can You) has just the same syntactic property — an ungrammatical (or at least strikingly and off-puttingly unusual) deletion of a repeat occurrence of be. [I’m assuming here that I am America (and so can you be!) is fully grammatical and acceptable, and so is She’s famous (and so can you be). At least one reader has written to say he disagrees with this. The near-prohibition of deleting non-finite forms of be under identity of sense was studied in a nice doctoral dissertation by Nancy Levin at The Ohio State University some years ago. And Arnold Zwicky gave a careful and serious discussion of the syntax of Colbert’s title back in May, in this post.]

The Levin reference:

Levin, Nancy S. 1986.  Main-verb ellipsis in spoken English. NY: Garland. 1979 OSU Ph.D. dissertation.

In follow-up postings, here and here, I vigorously disputed the snowclone status of the Colbert Ellipsis. The second of these postings notes that the many occurrences of and so can you are almost all just garden-variety Verb Phrase Ellipsis. The Colbert Ellipsis is something special.

One Response to “The Colbert Ellipsis”

  1. Greg Lee Says:

    I think it’s a deletion of “become” in the antedent phrase: She’s (become) famous, and so can you (become famous).

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