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Off topic: Figures of Speech and their effect
Thread poster: Mykhailo Voloshko

Mykhailo Voloshko  Identity Verified
Ukraine
Local time: 16:20
Member (2008)
English to Russian
+ ...
Mar 24, 2009

I would like to ask native speakers of English what effect produces the enallage mentioned in the following extract:

ON THE NIGHT of June 21, 1932, Joe Jacobs, a professional prize fight manager, after hearing that his man had not been awarded the decision, achieved for himself linguistic immortality by shouting into the ring announcer's microphone, "We was robbed!"
"We" does not ordinarly go with "was." And we might think that Jacobs had simply made a grammatical mistake of a rather rudimentary kind. Yet, if he had said "were," he likely would have been consigned to the same oblivion as was the smug winning manager. Far from being a mistake, "was" was an inspiration. It was, to be more precise, an enallage, which is just the rhetorical name for an effective grammatical mistake.


Everything is clear here. But as a non-native speaker I can't understand what is the effect of the grammatical mistake in the above example. It's clear it'll attract attention. But in Russian the mistake of this type will produce rather a comic effect.

So please tell me how would a native speaker interpret the foregoing example of enallage.

[Edited at 2009-03-24 19:56 GMT]


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James McVay  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:20
Russian to English
+ ...
Nice question Mar 24, 2009

. . . and I'll try to answer it.

First of all, most native English speakers who went to high school will recognize "we was" as being incorrect grammar. Furthermore, most of us will also realize that the mode of expression was probably natural to the speaker. In other words, he said what he said without thinking about grammar or the impact on newspaper readers. This kind of mistake is common in a certain socio-economic stratum of American society -- basically just ordinary, honest, hard-working blue-collar people. They all take English in high school, but it doesn't change the way they talk. They heard one of their own expressing heartfelt angst at the injustice of it all. And I doubt that this was the first time they ever heard the expression.

Another point to make is that the expression was immortalized by journalists -- not by ordinary folk. Almost without exception, American journalists are reasonably well educated and sensitive to language. Although many of them would have come from the same blue-collar background, they would have a layer of "proper English" plastered on top of the language they grew up with. I imagine that would have sparked a combination of feelings of nostalgia, humor, and maybe even superiority. In addition, their journalistic instincts would have told them that "We was robbed!" neatly summed up Jacobs' attitude, opinion, and class in a way that 100 or a 1000 descriptive words in perfect English couldn't.

By the way, I grew up in that same socio-economic stratum, if in a different geographic region. My parents were ordinary, honest, hard-working, blue-collar people. As a child, I heard and used "we was" and "ain't" and other bad grammar every day.


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liz askew  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 14:20
Member (2007)
French to English
+ ...
Nice answer James Mar 24, 2009

I don't see what else there is to say here as you have put it very well indeed


Liz Askew


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Mykhailo Voloshko  Identity Verified
Ukraine
Local time: 16:20
Member (2008)
English to Russian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you Mar 24, 2009

James,

Thank you for the answer.
In this country people would not say "Мы был..." (="We was...") whatever the inner state or education level. In Russian, this enallage is used for humorous effect only. That is why it was so difficult for me to understand how a native speaker would feel about the grammatical mistake decribed and why its usage turned so effective.

Thank you very much for the explanation.


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chica nueva
Local time: 03:20
Chinese to English
We wuz robbed! indignant, angry, funny Mar 24, 2009

What effect?

Maybe the sound of it, and the situation (someone else's misfortune)
We hear (very strongly) the reaction of someone who has been (or thinks they have been) cheated.

It sounds indignant and funny and angry, all at once. It is memorable.
short, pithy, 'full of the flavour of life' - everyone can identify with it.

Here are a few of the boxing idioms in general English speech if anyone is interested:
http://209.85.173.132/search?q=cache:XGhl8C4JrC4J:www.eastsideboxing.com/news/bearden0407.php%20we%20wuz%20robbed&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk

Yes, the sound. If you think about it metrically, in terms of stressed/unstressed syllables (stressed being 'longer, stronger, higher')
We wuz robbed! vs We were robbed! — — — vs — · —
-> the prosody is different.
[Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foot_(prosody)#Trisyllables ]

[Edited at 2009-03-24 23:26 GMT]


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Hilde Granlund  Identity Verified
Norway
Local time: 15:20
English to Norwegian
+ ...
Interesting Mar 24, 2009

Good question and good answer. Thanks!
- from another non-native speaker whose language makes no distinction between singular and plural when it comes to verbs.

[Edited at 2009-03-24 21:29 GMT]


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:20
English to Spanish
+ ...
Great Explanation Mar 24, 2009

Great explanation, James.

Of course that particular expression is based on a grammatical mistake common in some parts of the USA but not all. For instance, where I am from it would not resonate nearly as much. However, if I were to render it in Spanish, I think I could come up with a number of earthy expressions that could cause a very similar effect, and I am sure others have already done so under exactly the same circumstances.

I am sure that so it goes in other languages as well.


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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 15:20
Member (2009)
English to Croatian
+ ...
Common tendencies Mar 24, 2009

Mykhailo Voloshko wrote:

James,

Thank you for the answer.
In this country people would not say "Мы был..." (="We was...") whatever the inner state or education level. In Russian, this enallage is used for humorous effect only. That is why it was so difficult for me to understand how a native speaker would feel about the grammatical mistake decribed and why its usage turned so effective.

Thank you very much for the explanation.


Yes, but Russian has some other language categories that are affected by these tendencies, just like every other language has.

Think about it, and you'll find them. When Russians make grammar mistakes, what part of speech is most affected ? In Serbian, it's often prepositions or some short noun forms, that shouldn't really be shortened ( also popular among the working class or uneducated population ).

" we was" is an archaic form. In the history of English grammar development, there were numerous changes. I can't remember precisely now, but I know some changes for " were , was" had happened at some point in the far past, and the grammar rules had been quite different from the current ones.



[Edited at 2009-03-25 00:12 GMT]


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John Farebrother  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
French to English
+ ...
Nice one Mar 25, 2009

Good explanation James. The same applies to the UK, with various grammatical errors being standard in various regional, working class dialects.
eg In the west country, 'I be' rather than 'I am'. And in Lancashire, 'it were' rather than 'it was'.


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Mykhailo Voloshko  Identity Verified
Ukraine
Local time: 16:20
Member (2008)
English to Russian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks again Mar 25, 2009

I am sure that so it goes in other languages as well.


Surely.

Yes, but Russian has some other language categories that are affected by these tendencies, just like every other language has.


Of course, it does.

I can turn a phrase in Russian, Ukrainian, and English. But it was difficult to understand the effect of that particular example of enallage. James gave an excellent explanation and other people added very useful information.

Thanks to all who replied.


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Nils Andersson  Identity Verified
United States
Member (2009)
English to Swedish
+ ...
Almost right, James Mar 25, 2009

Fair analysis. However, I disagree with the tenet that journalists
get a plaster of "proper English" on top of their linguistics,
or, alternatively, I claim that that plaster is pitifully thin.

Increasingly, journalists (and many others) rely on their spellcheckers,
and all sorts of oddities appear. They're waiting with bated breath
until there is something interesting happening (they're, there, their,
bated/baited etc).

Another form of English abuse that has become a plague on the land,
especially in the press,
is sentences like "We got to talk to the administrator, a Monsieur
Ougadougo Cleptocrate, who told the following story to my partner and I."

Ouch!

Nils Andersson


[Edited at 2009-03-25 08:56 GMT]


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