Expletive syntax: I will marry the crap out of you, Sean Spencer


[Oh, crap! It’s Shawn Spencer, not Sean.]

The quote is from the American tv show Psych — illustrating a construction I’ve (recently) called Vexoo (V Expletive out-of Object), an emphatic alternative to V + Object. So, in the title quote above,

V: marry + Ex: the crapout of + Object: you

conveying ‘really, really marry you; totally marry you’.

Vexoo is a syntactic construction, an assemblage of formal elements, with restrictions on what lexical items can occur in specific slots (Ex in Vexoo is the + {crap, shit, hell, heck, fuck, piss, snot, stuffing, tar, daylights,…}), with an associated semantics (crudely expressed in the gloss for the example above), and with associations to particular sociocultural, stylistic, and discourse contexts.

English expletives occur in many very specific idioms (a fuck-up, raise hell, shitgibbon, etc.), but they’re also central elements in a number of syntactic constructions. Coming up below: a brief inventory of some of these constructions.

Another Vexoo marriage example:

Cheers episode (S2 E9: “They Called Me Mayday”, aired 12/1/83):

Wally Bodell [played by Walter Olkewicz]: “Norm, what ever happened to Vera?”
Norm: “I married her. I married the hell out of her.”

And from my recent posting, marrying and child rearing, too:

A bit of Sterek (Stiles + Derek) fan art, based on the Teen Wolf tv show

And not concerning marriage but rather, um, courtship, anecdotes that turn on a man imploring sex from a woman with the line, “I’ll respect the hell out of you in the morning”.

Finally, from a 7/15/17 posting “Ostentatious euphemisms”, a discussion of a Jack Link beef jerky ad that plays with the Vexoo pattern in its claim that their jerky “beats the snack [alluding to shit and maybe crap as well] out of other snacks”.

Back to Vexoo when it comes up in the inventory. Each construction has an abbreviated name (like Vexoo), in most of which a slot for an expletive element is labeled either Ex (for Expletive) or F (for the canonical expletive, fuck).

1.  OhF: expletives as free-standing exclamations.

e.g.: (oh) hell, shit, fuck, damn, dammit, ?piss

Usable on their own, or as initial adjuncts to a sentence (Oh fuck, I dropped the wrench!).


2. FY/N: expletives modifying answer particles. And conveying ‘absolutely’:

e.g., fuck/hell/heck no, fuck/hell yes/yeah

Will you go? / Hell no! ‘absolutely not’

3a. PreEx: premodifying expletives. A versatile use of the expletives (god)damn and fucking (and BrE bloody, and perhaps a few others), with a variety of heads. A sample of examples:

+ Nom: a (god)damn/fucking crazy idiot

+ N: a crazy (god)damn/fucking idiot

+ proper N: fucking Alabama

+ Adj: damn / fucking crazy

+ predicative PP: (befucking out of your mind

+ VP: (Itfucking exploded in my hand

An expletive can not only precede a proper name, it can occur between the parts of a compound proper name: Santa fucking Anita, Donald fucking O’Connor, Mr. goddam Barack Obama.

3b. PreDefEx: premodifying the + expletive. The intensifying modifier the hell/fuck + a Prt or PP complement of a V of motion:

e.g., get the hell/fuck off my lawn / out of here, go the hell/fuck away, …

4. FInfix: Expletive Insertion, aka Fuckin’ Insertion.  In this much-studied construction, a modifying expletive (fucking/fuckin’, goddam, bloody) occurs within the modified N, Adj, or Deg adverb:

e.g. Ala-fuckin’-bama, circum-goddam-stantial, abso-bloody-lutely

(There are well-known prosodic conditions on which words can host infixed expletives, and where these expletives can be located within their hosts.)

5.  NoWayF: dismissal/denial the hell/fuckmodifying a following elliptical clause. The pattern is: the Ex + Pro Aux (with VPE), conveying ‘no way Pro Aux, Pro Aux not’:

e.g., the hell you are ‘no way you are, you are not’, the fuck he will, the hell they can

There’s a large collection of examples (from 1845 through 1998) in GDoS under

hell, the 2 a general intensifier to express anger, annoyance, impatience, also (ironically) disbelief or contempt, used to dismiss another speaker’s assertion

A lexical item of syntactic interest: premodifying helluva. The exclamatory determiner hell, which modifies only sg. count nouns:

e.g., a/one hell of a linguist


6. QuEx: interrogative postnominal expletive. An interrogative (not relative) word (not phrase) with a postmodifying definite expletive (the hell / heck / fuck / shit) or locative PP (in (the) hell / on earth / in the world):

e.g., What the fuck / the hell / in hell / on earth were you thinking? I wonder where the hell / the shit / in the world I put my glasses.

There is a modest literature on this fascinating construction.

7a. AF: Adj as expletive ‘really, extremely Adj’.  Comparative as fuck/ hell /shit.

From my 1/15/17 posting “Gay men on the new subway walls”:

gay AF. Short for gay as fuck ‘really really gay’. In an idiom pattern

Adj as Expletive (for Expletives hell, shit, fuck, at least)

gay as fuck is one of the two sources of the tv series title Queer as Folk, the other being the British informal aphorism there’s nowt so queer as folk ‘people are funny’ (i.e., people behave oddly).

And from Dan Siddiqi (Carleton Univ. in Ottawa; linguistics degree from Univ. of Arizona; born 1978) on Facebook, 11/1/17:

Teaching writing in linguistics in class today, answered a question about the “Section five concludes” paragraph by saying :”You *can* do that. It’s boring AF, but it is effective.”

My class immediately stopped in stunned silenced and stared at me with a collective look that said “You are too old to say ‘AF’.”

7b. VlikeF. A comparative construction modifying Vs, using expletives hell/fuck/?shit:

e.g., run like hell, scream like fuck

8. Vexoo. An expletive extension of a transitive verb with a direct object, conveying an intensive modifier of the VP, as in the examples above.

Dictionaries have Vexoo entries, but they tend to be fragmented. Some examples:

Wiktionary: beat the crap out of: (slang, vulgar) To beat really badly. Synonyms: the daylights, the piss, the shit, the snot, the stuffing, the tar

Online Slang Dictionarythe crap out of (also: shit): adverb: used with a verb (and a direct object) to indicate the action was performed in some impressive way (e.g. aggressively, quickly, well, etc.). They beat the crap out of that guy. You really ate the crap out of that pizza.

M-W Online: scare the crap out ofinformal + impolite: to scare (someone) very badly. That movie scared the crap out of me.


An assortment of idiomatic uses of specific expletives to curse, deprecate, or dismiss things, as in:

Fuck this proposal! To/The hell with them! Shit on the whole business!

Again, there is some literature on these uses, going back at least to the Quang Phuc Dong items in:

Arnold M. Zwicky, Peter H. Salus, Robert I. Binnick & Anthony L. Vanek (eds.). 1971. Studies out in left field: Defamatory essays presented to James D. McCawley. Linguistic Research, Edmonton, Alberta. Reprinted 1992 by John Benjamins.

3 Responses to “Expletive syntax: I will marry the crap out of you, Sean Spencer”

  1. Stan Carey Says:

    A useful inventory! On Strong Language last year, Ben Zimmer looked at the complications of Vexoo-type constructions when it’s an intransitive verb that takes a prepositional phrase, like “I agreed the fuck out of it”. The comments section includes a video of floods in Australia with the voiceover “Will you look at the shit outta that!”
    The post also links to earlier, broader discussion of [verb] the [taboo term] out of something, prompted by the line “I’m going to have to science the shit out of this” in The Martian.

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