MUCH?

I have been asked about the history of the construction “X much?” as a rhetorical response (e.g., “Bitter much? Overanalzye much? Ad hominem much?”). Unfortunately, this is one of those things that is impossible to google, or even find information on at the Log (putting “much” into the search box seems to bring up half the posts on the site). So I throw myself on the collective knowledge of my readers: is anyone aware of studies of the history of this template, whether online or off?
Further update. The construction has been antedated to 1978! (Hat tip to Josh Millard.)
Yet another update. Josh Millard, aka cortex, has made a MetaTalk post about this, using data from the various subsites of MetaFilter, and linguist iamkimiam made the following interesting comment:

Just at first glance, I’m really in awe at how productive “much” is. It can appear with states, actions, nouns, verbs, in different tenses/aspects, punctuation, and on. It also seems to verb nouns in many instances. It has a pragmatic distancing function as well (separating the speaker from the proposition/topic that they are responding to). In that sense, the “much” tag carries some heavy evaluation. Also, discourse framing.

Update. I have done what I should have done in the first place, namely checked the OED, which just updated the much entry this year and has a section on this use:


colloq. (orig. U.S., freq. ironic). With a preceding adjective, infinitive verb, or noun phrase, forming an elliptical comment or question.
  The use was popularized by the film Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and the television series derived from it.
1988 D. Waters Heathers (film script) 15 God Veronica, drool much? His name’s Jason Dean.
1988 D. Waters Heathers (film script) 86 Heather Duke. It was J.D.’s idea! He made out the signature sheet and everything. Now will you sign it. Veronica. (queasy) No. Heather Duke. Jealous much?
1992 J. Whedon Buffy the Vampire Slayer (film script) 8 A stranger, walking the other way, bumps into Buffy, doesn’t stop.‥ Buffy. Excuse much! Not rude or anything.
1992 J. Whedon Buffy the Vampire Slayer (film script) 25 Pike and Benny have entered the diner, quite drunk.‥ Kimberly (to the other girls) Smell of booze much.
1998 M. Burgess & R. Green Isabella in Sopranos (television shooting script) 1st Ser. 1 42 Anthony Jr. Probably I can’t go to that dance now either. Meadow. God, self-involved much?
2001 Cosmopolitan Dec. 178 You’ve seen them: the kinds of couples who finish each other’s sentences.‥ Jealous much? Damn right.

Comments

  1. It seems as if it’s a snowclone. Maybe researching snowclones would help…

  2. I was first exposed to that construction by Buffy, the Vampire Slayer in season 1 episode 1 “Welcome to the Hellmouth”. Released in 1997, penned by Joss Whedon.
    Here’s the context:
    Buffy: How did he die?
    Cordelia: I don’t know.
    Buffy: Well, were there any marks?
    Cordelia: Morbid much! I didn’t ask!
    I quickly incorporated it into my speech. I was x much-ing for a couple years there.

  3. The “x much?” phrase has been made popular by the writers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. See “Slayer Slang: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon” by Michael Adams, Oxford University Press, USA (November 18, 2004). The specific use of “much” you’re referring to is discussed in detail on pages 88-97.

  4. I’ve never even heard it. How do fads like this start when (up to that minute) they don’t make any sense — or is that actually WHY they start?

  5. Kári Tulinius says:

    Heh, I was totally gonna come in here and lay down some Heathers knowledge, but then the OED beat me to it. Damn OED, so thorough and definitive.
    But what I was going to suggest is that this starts as Valley Girl slang, and through Hollywood this construction spread all over.

  6. Max Pinton says:

    Huh, I associated this with Seinfeld, and Elaine specifically, but I seem to be alone in that.
    Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994) used it in the line “Obsess much?”

  7. Urban Dictionary actually has a page for this here (though it tells us nothing about the history of the construction).

  8. A little lingo-gummsheoing and I discovered what may be a 1961 example in COHA.
    Date 1961
    Publication information [Play script]
    Title The Way It Was
    Author O’Hara, John Henry, 1905-1970
    Expanded context:
    You don’t know my old man. WORKMAN It ain’t your old man, it’s your old lady. I hear she wants you to be a priest. JOHNNY (half humorously): I don’t have no vocation. (Here MARY walks by, carrying a large basket of groceries. She knows what is going to happen. It happens. The men notice her in various ways. A few of them whistle: ” Root-te-toot, root-te-toot, ” in time to her steps. Another says, ” Hyuh, Mary. Gettin’ much ? ” Another repeats the question. Another: ” How about a date, Mary? ” Another: ” Hey, Mary, you wanta go pickin’ huckleberries? ” There is no real offence given or taken. They admire her. She expects to be whistled at. She says, ” Hello, Johnny Hello, Bob Hello, Les Hello, Jake ” to those she knows and makes a lightly contemptuous face at the others. When she has disappeared one workman says, ” How’d

  9. Chris, that’s not the same thing at all. “Gettin’ much?” in that context means “Are you getting much sex?”–it’s not an ironic way of saying “I see that you are getting.”

  10. JMS, I agree it’s not a perfect match, but it’s not as far off as you suggest, I don’t think. I think the characters are teasing Mary, not asking a literal question. I think it’s intended to be ironic in a similar sense as the contemporary “X much?” construction.

  11. Chris, I am just baffled by your equation of “Getting much?” with “Bitter, much?”
    “Getting much?” is a jokey question about whether or not the questionee is getting much sex. It may be a completely rhetorical question, but it’s not self-reflexive.
    “Bitter, much?” is an ironic observation that the other person actually is bitter, not a question–even a rhetorical one–about whether the person is bitter.
    There’s no structural similarity in the two, except for the word “much” and the question mark, unless (as is always possible with me) I am missing some incredibly obvious point you are making that everyone but me is getting. Much.

  12. I’m with JMS, especially his excellent summary of the pragmatic properties of both constructions.
    Also, the syntax is substantially different: in “Gettin’ much?”, ‘much’ is a real adverb modifying an ellided noun (be it ‘sex’, ‘action’, ‘ass’ or any other euphemism for coitus or vagina), notice how it can be replaced by ‘any’ or ‘some’. Same cannot be said of ‘much’ in “Bitter, much?” – neither *”Bitter, some?”, nor *”Bitter, any?” work, plus what would be the head? I’m inclined to think that ‘much’ functions here very much like a tag question – “Bitter, aren’t you?” or even better, the medical plural variant “Bitter, aren’t we?”, come to mind.

  13. I know it is not immediately relevant – but I love this scene from Casablanca. Every “X much” reminds me of this.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Th0G8rkhBqg

  14. Sorry Chris, but I agree with the other commenters that your example is not the same thing as the “X, much?” phrase we are looking for. I had a go at searching COCA and came up with a single example which seems to me to fit the model (but I am happy to be contradicted).
    To many scientists’ way of thinking, people are lulled into the idea that because something is a plant, it is safe (hemlock , much ?), and that hype and advertising have gotten in the way of research-as in double-blind, placebocontrolled, randomized trials.
    This occurred in a piece entitled “Cold Comfort” by Ted Allen in the February, 1999 edition of Esquire magazine.

  15. The “X, much?” construction reminds me a lot of the (presumably older?) “X, anyone” phrase. It is amazing that the “X, much” use is in the OED. Is the “X, anyone” use there as well? And if not, why not? In the example I found on COCA of “hemlock, much?”, I would have said “hemlock, anyone?”. I use that construction all the time.
    I find it interesting that X can be a noun (such as “hemlock”) in both the “X, much?” and “X, anyone?” constructions, yet for another noun, “jealousy”, the “X, anyone” phrase works for me, but the “X, much” phrase doesn’t. It has to be changed to the adjective “jealous”, as in “jealous, much?” in my book. Hair splitting, much?
    I would hazard a guess that “jealous, much?” is the most common “X, much” construction, although I have no idea how to test that theory. It gets 116,000 hits on Google. The first listing is the Urban Dictionary entry. “Bitter, much?” gets 27,600 hits.

  16. Thanks for looking into this, LH. I don’t use the construction, but I see it a lot and I wondered how and when it started.
    So it’s Bill Murray’s fault, until I hear otherwise.

  17. I agree it’s not a perfect match, but it’s not as far off as you suggest
    I hate to join the pile-on, but I have to agree with everyone else that it is indeed that far off. It’s a different (and completely normal) construction that happens to use the same word.
    iching: Your example looks like it’s the right construction (though one can’t be certain), but it’s over a decade after the Heathers cites, let alone the SNL antedate.

  18. It’s a different (and completely normal) construction that happens to use the same word.
    And if we’re doing those too, I nominate Mr Smoketoomuch.

  19. Doesn’t this just warm the cockles of a reference librarian’s heart? (Although now Google will provide an answer if this post shows up.)

  20. “Same cannot be said of ‘much’ in “Bitter, much?” – neither *”Bitter, some?”, nor *”Bitter, any?” work, plus what would be the head? I’m inclined to think that ‘much’ functions here very much like a tag question – “Bitter, aren’t you?” or even better, the medical plural variant “Bitter, aren’t we?”, come to mind.”
    No, bulbul it’s not a tag question. The expresion is elliptical, just like the dictiooanry says. It’s short for “Are you X much?”
    So actually it is not much different from *”Bitter, any?”, since “After all that, ya bitter any?”, while a little strange, is not impossible. “Any” and “at all” are semantically pretty close. I’m not saying there are syntactically equivalent; I am saying it’s an easy step for a speaker to take.

  21. Jim,
    it’s not a tag question
    I didn’t say it was. I noted the similarity.
    I am saying it’s an easy step for a speaker to take.
    And I fully agree. But I don’t think we’re quite there yet. And just because something is possible, it doesn’t mean it actually exists.

  22. Much me no much.

  23. It’s not a snowclone, just a short, somewhat quirky way of saying “aren’t you X!” You could make a case for it being a Whedon-ism…

  24. Well, the pattern is impossible to search for. But you can find some amusing examples with some persistent fishing: http://noncompositional.com/2008/08/new-phrase-much/

  25. Well, the pattern is impossible to search for.
    That’s why I got excited when it occurred to me to go looking in the mefi database, yeah; it’s impossible to google for this but being able to do a SQL query specifically for the ‘%much?’ pattern, question mark included, is a game-changer.
    Between that and excluding the most common collocations for non-use of the phrase [so, too, how, very, pretty, that, bit, little, doing, to, as, know, it, out] I was able to produce a list nearly free of false positives with not a whole lot of work.
    It’s nice having direct access to a pile of data the size of Metafilter. I’ve been getting excited about the idea of doing some corpus work with it, though I’m an untrained amateur in this stuff so I’m stumbling toward the basics as we speak.
    But you can find some amusing examples with some persistent fishing
    lhat has linked the Metatalk post above, in which I posted links to the various files I generated (alphabetical in the post itself, chronological by cite later in the thread), but for the sake of click-laziness you can see the 800+ examples from metafilter comments here. Really is a lot of fun surprising stuff in there.

  26. Josh,
    Ah, very cool. Perhaps the proper response to my comment would have been, “read to the end of posts much?”

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