Wednesday, April 1, 2009

how's that again?

A BBC announcer discussing a film just now said it was "what the Americans call a 'tough watch.'"

"Do they?" I found myself thinking. "Do the Americans call dark films 'tough watches?'" I ask because I know a number of Americans (I say this not by way of boast) and I read a considerable amount of American news coverage, and I am not familiar with the phrase.

So I googled it, and got more than I bargained for. While most Americans (judging by the returned results) use "tough watch" to describe wrist-borne timepieces able to withstand the vicissitudes of wind and weather, at least one American - Chris "Mad Dog" Russo, to be exact - used the phrase "tough watch" to describe "an impending game between two inept teams."

Apparently, this remark was an alleged case of nonsentential assertion (as opposed to nonessential assertion, which describes my blog).

Reinaldo Elugardo and Robert Stainton took up the question of Mad Dog's remark in their paper, "Ellipsis and Nonsentential Speech" which is, let me be the first to say it, a tough read (and would probably be a tough watch too, if anyone ever took a notion to adapt it for the cinema).

Tough watch is a "post-deletion fragment of what linguists call a 'tough construction,' a canonical example of which would be, 'Chuck is tough to talk to.'"

"Chuck is tough to talk to" is in turn derived from a structure like, "It is tough to talk to Chuck," often called a "tough movement." (I refuse to consider what the Americans I know use the phrase "tough movement" to describe, call me a coward, I don't care.)

The authors then trace a four-step path from "It will be tough to watch that game" to "tough watch."

Which leaves me feeling both more informed and strangely ignorant, a state the Brits call a "soggy crumpet."

Or not.


Shay said...

What a handy device. This way, if one is ever at a loss for words, you can just make up some bullshit and label it with any distant Anglophone shore.

It is what the Canadians call a "mangy moose knuckle."

Tycho said...


tokyosexwale said...

I'd like to take this opportunity to discuss what may have happened to Daniel after he went to Spain. I think it might have gone something like this (sung to the tune of "Brandy" by Looking Glass):

The airport / out in western Spain
With red lights / on the tails of planes
Lonely singers / pass the time away
And talk about their scars
And there's a boy in the airport bar
Though he’ll go / with you to your car
They say Daniel / come to my car with me
He does whatever they say
The gay dudes sing Daniel, you're a fine boy (you're a fine boy)
What a star in the face of the sky (such a fine boy)
God it looks / just like Da-ni-el / to my eye (doo-doo-do-do-do)

maire said...

i take it all back. seen through the looking glass, 'daniel' makes perfect sense!

chihuahua lady said...

Daniel, by Elton Johns account, was a 'tough sing'

Jiffz said...

I have been eating grapes all afternoon and experienced no "tough movements" thus far. I have, however, been laying some "serious cable" if that is of any comfort to the readers out there.

pgl said...

I want to make a joke about tough love, but I can't think of anything funny enough.

Great post.


- pgl

Anonymous said...

HEY MAIRE DARLING oh my adored, do you know I had forgotten about your blog and was feeling all lonesome for you and just found it again!! I had a great read of some of your posts and am feeling that all is right with the world after all since it has you in it my dear dear friend! Valerie (p.s. I might have lost your e-mail address as well... )