You've Got To Be Shitting Me

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My 400-level Linguistics project. I decided to take a fun approach. Only in college can you use variations of the word 'shit' over 100 times in a paper and still get an A


Kelsey StaubEnglish 442: Introduction to SyntaxConstruction Project4/15/12You Have Got To Be Shitting Me!I. IntroductionIf a person has spent an extensive amount of time in the United States, it is highly likely that they have heard the expression Are you shitting me? at one point or another. To the average American, this phrase is understood simply as a more colorful way of saying Are you kidding me? However, to those unfamiliar with the popular English language slang, this phrase could very easily be misconstrued and understood on the literal level, leaving them wondering why a person would ask them if they were defecating on them. According to Urban Dictionary (a popular online dictionary that defines words and phrases that exist primarily only as slang), the phrase Are you shitting me? is defined as:A more extreme way of saying "Are you kidding me?" This phrase is commonly used to express doubt, surprise, and sometimes displeasure.Teacher: You got 56% on the Math final. Student: Are you shitting me? My favorite example of this construction, and my inspiration for writing this paper, is from the 2002 movie Sweet Home Alabama, starring Reese Witherspoon and Josh Lucas. Witherspoon played Melanie Carmichael; a former Southern Belle from Alabama who had migrated to New York City in her early 20s and in turn had abandoned her native casual Southern vernacular for the more proper East Coast dialect. Lucas played Jake Perry; Carmichaels childhood sweetheart turned ex-husband, who was portrayed as a Southern redneck, largely in partin large part due to his speech and grammar. In one particular scene, Witherspoons character approached her ex-husband about his reluctance to sign the divorce papers, to which he replied, Youre shitting me, right? Carmichael, in turn, responded by saying, You know, Ive never actually understood that expression, but no, Im not shitting you. Comment by Kurt Queller: Interesting! Clearly, the scriptwriters are here playing on regional, class and gender differences (with the phrase being one device among others used to depict the Lucas character as a redneck.Much like Carmichael, I too have never quite understood the semantic meaning behind this phrase. Due to my personal preference to refrain from using profanity in my daily vocabulary, I struggle with keeping track of the current slang terms associated with these bad words. For this reason, I have chosen to examine the semantic, as well as syntactic, constructions that attribute contribute to this popular idiomatic expression in the hopes of divulging the motivations behind the usage of the word shit in place of the more acceptable and appropriate words are traditionally used in these expressions. Particularly, I will examine in depth the meaning behind the construction Are you shitting me? II. DefinitionsIn order to fully understand the meaning behind this particular construction, one must first be able to decipher the surprisingly vast amount of meanings that can be associated with the word shit. Shit is an unexpectedly versatile word, with a multitude of definitions ranging from being used as a noun, interjection, adjective (with both positive and negative meanings depending on context). It can also be used as a verb, both transitively and intransitively, with different meanings depending on the verb type and context. The most common, and literal, definition of the noun shit, as defined by, is simply excrement; feces (Shit def.1). Likewise, the literal definition of the verb to shit is an act of defecating (Shit def.2). However, because of its popularity in idiomatic expressions, shit has become a popular slang word used to describe a multitude of situations, with the definition of shit varying in each expression. For example, in the expression Im in deep shit, the word shit is used as another way of saying trouble. Likewise, the word shit is used in the expression I dont give a shit as a replacement for the word care. Shit is also commonly used as a synonym for good or cool when proceeded by the word the, as in This concert is the shit! Without the before it, shit becomes a negative adjective synonymous with bad, such as That concert was shit! From an etymological standpoint, shit is a word with a word with an extensive history. As defined by the Online Etymological Dictionary:O.E. scitan, from P.Gmc. *skit-, from PIE *skheid- "split, divide, separate." Related to shed (v.) on the notion of "separation" from the body (cf. L. excrementum, from excernere "to separate"). It is thus a cousin to science and conscience. The noun is O.E. scitte "purging;" sense of "excrement" dates from 1580s, from the verb. Despite what you read in an e-mail, "shit" is not an acronym. The notion that it is a recent word may be because the word was taboo from c.1600 and rarely appeared in print (neither Shakespeare nor the KJV has it), and even in "vulgar" publications of the late 18c. It is disguised by dashes. It drew the wrath of censors as late as 1922 ("Ulysses" and "The Enormous Room"), scandalized magazine subscribers in 1957 (a Hemingway story in "Atlantic Monthly") and was omitted from some dictionaries as recently as 1970 ("Webster's New World"). Extensive slang usage; verb meaning "to lie, to tease" is from 1934; that of "to disrespect" is from 1903. Noun use for "obnoxious person" is since at least 1508; meaning "misfortune, trouble" is attested from 1937. Shat is a humorous past tense form, not etymological, first recorded 18c. Shite, now a jocular or slightly euphemistic variant, formerly a dialectal variant, reflects the vowel in the O.E. verb (cf. Ger. scheissen). Shit-faced "drunk" is 1960s student slang; shit list is from 1942. To not give a shit "not care" is from 1922; up shit creek "in trouble" is from 1937. To shit bricks be very frightened attested by 1961. The connection between fear and involuntary defecation has generated expressions since 14c., and probably also is behind scared shitless (1936). In this particular construction, the verb to shit is being used transitively in order to inquire about the validity of another persons actions. This form of the verb to shit is a colloquial synonym for the verb to deceive/lie. Therefore, the phrase Are you shitting me? is a more colorful way of saying, Are you attempting to deceive me with your statements and/or actions? The usage of the word shit in place of lie or deceive more than likely was derived from the word bullshit and the verb to bullshit. Like its shortened counterpart, bullshit can also be used in a multitude of ways, from an adjective (This cable bill is bullshit!), an interjection to express disagreement with something (Bullshit! I did not say that.), to a transitive verb (Are you bullshitting me?). However, unlike shit, bullshit is rarely used as a complimentary adjective. For example, one can say This pizza is the shit! but it would be incorrect to say This pizza is the bullshit!Comment by Kurt Queller: Good point (as you note, the verb to bullshit is used in precisely this sense!)III. Construction Ultimately, this Are you shitting me? construction is derived from the popular Are you ____ing me? construction. The basis of this construction is as follows: BE verb (auxiliary) + Personal Pronoun (NP: Subject) + VT Present Participle + Personal Pronoun (NP: Direct Object)? This Are you ____ing me? construction is an interrogative sentence consisting of the auxiliary BE verb Are, followed typically by a personal pronoun (in this case you). The main verb in this constructing in the transitive present participle progessive form are shitting, which is followed by a noun phrase consisting of a personal pronoun (or occasionally a proper noun) that functions as a direct object. Although Are you shitting me? is the most common usage of this construction, there are several variations that can be derived from this construction. For example, one could ask, Is Kelsey shitting you? or Is he shitting Kelsey. However, the use of a personal pronoun subject other than you is uncommon and very seldom used for this construction. This construction can be used interchangeably with a multitude of different verbs, typically in order to express surprise, disgust, or, in some contexts, excitement over an event or situation. For example, the most popular and widely accepted usage of this construction is Are you kidding me? However, one could also say Are you teasing me? or Are you joking me? (Although the latter example is technically not accepted as being grammatically correct). These expressions are often used rhetorically with no expectation of a response. Comment by Kurt Queller: Good point. (What seems to be their particular rhetorical function, in such cases?)Unlike the verb to shit, the alternate verb to kid holds its same meaning in this construction regardless of if whether there is a direct object succeeding it or not. For example, the present participle kidding can be used intransitively (Are you kidding?) or transitively (Are you kidding me?). When kidding is used intransitively, the direct object is not necessary because the recipient of the verbs action is implied based on the meaning of the verb to kid. The verb to shit, on the other hand, must be used transitively and be followed by a direct object in order for this construction to maintain its idiomatic meaning. Although it is not grammatically incorrect, one cannot say Are you shitting? in place of Are you shitting me? for the purpose of this construction because the meaning of the verb to shit takes on its literal definition (to defecate) when it is used intransitively. In other words:Comment by Kurt Queller: Yes interesting pointComment by Kurt Queller: Yes and here we see an interesting CONTRAST with the (semantically closely related) verb bullshitting see for example the intransitive uses here (esp. those with an immediately following period, at the top of the list).Are you kidding me? = Are you lying/deceiving me?Are you kidding? = Are you lying/deceiving?Are shitting me? = Are you lying/deceiving me? BUTAre you shitting? = Are you defecating? Because the verb to shit is transitive in this construction, it can also be rearranged into the passive sentence pattern. Although extremely awkward and uncommon, from a grammatical standpoint one could say, Am I being shitted by you? Likewise, the declarative version of this construction (You are shitting me) could also be rearranged into the passive so-called it-cleft form in order to say It is I who(m) you are shitting. Another common variation of the Are you ____ing me? construction is the You have got to be _____ing me! construction. Semantically, these constructions are very similar in meaning. However, the You have got to be ____ing me! construction is an exclamatory sentence used more often to express very strong opposition or disgust for an outcome, and is generally used out of exasperation. The addition of the (semi)modal auxiliary phrase have got to be maintains the expressions present tense, indicating that the unfavorable action of being shitted by someone is happening in that exact moment. Therefore, in the context of reacting to an action that just occurred in the present moment, a person might be more inclined to say You have got to be shitting me! out of exasperation, as opposed to Are you shitting me?, assuming that the one receiving the action is extremely opposed or offended by it. Comment by Kurt Queller: Good pointIn an article for the grammar website Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, guest writer Bonnie Trenga discusses the subject of this have got construction and whether it is grammatically correct. As she states:The phrases has got and have got are somewhat informal and are often contracted, as in Hes got and Theyve got. Although this expression has long been criticized as an unnecessary substitution for the verb to have, it is perfectly idiomatic. It simply adds emphasis (1). In American English, have got is an intensive form of have (2). For example, if I say, Ive got a really big TV, Im placing more emphasis on my possession of the TV than if I say, I have a really big TV. If you say you havent got any money, youre stressing the fact that youre broke. Note that you can use has got or have got only in the present tense. If you want to talk in the past tense about your enormous TV, you would say, I had a really big TV. You would probably use expressive intonation to add emphasis.While the phrases have got to and have to can be used interchangeably in most contexts, for this construction they seem to convey slightly different meanings when spoken. When spoken, the speaker generally places emphasizes on the word got in the phrase You have got to be shitting me! in order to express extreme opposition and disbelief, usually as an exclamation. The phrase You have to be shitting me, on the other hand, tends to convey a certain amount of defeat when spoken, as it is generally said in a deflated tone in order to express disbelief over a somewhat expected outcome. For example, a person might be more inclined to say, You have to be shitting me with a sigh or eye-roll when seeing a test score that she had already anticipated would be low; whereas the phrase You have got to be shitting me! would most likely be used if there was surprise or disagreement over this test score. Comment by Kurt Queller: You show a nice sense of semantic nuance, here. Works Cited Shit. Def. 1-16. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2012. .Shit. Def. 1. Online Etymology Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2012. .Trenga, Bonnie. "Is 'Have Got' Acceptable English?" Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. N.p., 1 Aug. 2008. Web. 13 Apr. 2012. .Construction Project Evaluation Form(1) _9_ /10 Inventiveness ExcellentGoodAcceptablePoorUnacceptable 9-108760-5 a. Shows 'aliveness' to and curiosity about the linguistic usages you encounterb. Clarifies specifically what piqued your curiosity (ideally with citation of the usage in question and/or brief discussion of relevant context)c. Zeroes in on an intelligent, interesting and researchable question(2) _28_ /30 Depth and breadth of research ExcellentGoodAcceptablePoorUnacceptable27-3024-26.521-23.518-20.50-17a. Examines a range of sources (breadth) b. Provides adequate documentation [brief citation of sources / dates, etc.]c. Shows some thoroughness (depth) in extracting useful information from sourcesd. Exploits strong points of one source to compensate for shortcomings in anotherNOTE: breadth of published sources is adjustable in terms of other sources (including e.g. corpus material) that your project uses(3) _29_ /30 Establishing interesting and meaningful connections ExcellentGoodAcceptablePoorUnacceptable27-3024-26.521-23.518-20.50-17a. Gives a reasonably accurate account of the constructions syntactic/morphological constraints b. Gives an insightful account of the constructions semantics and pragmatics (meaning and use)c. Makes good use of diagrams and/or tables (where appropriate)d. Makes intelligent attempts at explaining the data that youve chosen to focus one. Raises interesting questions for future research (where appropriate)(4) _19_ /20 Exposition and Application ExcellentGoodAcceptablePoorUnacceptable 18-2016-17.514-15.512-13.50-11a. Facts are clearly and accurately presented b. Gives an interesting and coherent and exposition of your research resultsc. Cites usage examples and/or corpus data (where appropriate) d. Reflects intelligently on how your findings might yield insight into the question(s) you originally posed (and/or into questions that arose in the course of your research and reflection)(5) _9_ /10 Writing Mechanics and Style ExcellentGoodAcceptablePoorUnacceptable 9-108760-5a. Spelling/proofreadingd. Agreement (subj-vb. or pronouns)b. Punctuation errorse. Choice of words / constructionc. Run-on sentences / fragmentsf. Verbose or unclear g. Highlight (boldface) a word/phrase that refers to the word itself ["the let alone construction"] h. Italicize (or underline) 'foreign' words i. Use quotation marks () around glosses of a word's meaning.____94___ Total Points out of 100.General Comments: Great job! I initially thought that this might not be a very revealing thing to research, but you really made something of it. As noted in the final paragraph, you have a fine sense of semantic nuance. (See other comments as well.)7


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