Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

So Big, It Honks!

Posted by Neal on March 1, 2005

Another time when I was observing Adam’s preschool class, a boy and a girl were at the flubber table, cutting pieces of it with scissors from a Play-Doh set. The girl was astonished at the enormous chunk of it that the boy managed to cut off, and she exclaimed to the teacher:

Teacher, look! He made a big, honking one!

What a difference intonation and pronunciation make! To convey the message she wanted to convey, the girl should have said,

Teacher, look! He made a big honkin’ one!

destressing the intensifier honkin’. The way she said it, with a fully articulated and stressed honking, it sounded like just a second adjective, of equal status with big. It was as if she’d said:

Teacher, look! He made a big one that honks!

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