I didn’t actually watch the Super Bowl the other night (I care almost nothing about football), but out of some vestigial loyalty to family tradition I checked in on it now and then, and I happened to see an exciting moment at the end of the second quarter. It was a touchdown pass from New England quarterback Tom Brady to David Givens, described by Kevin Hench thus:
This was a clinic in read and recognition as Brady went through his progressions, surveying all the way from one side of the field to the other before finding Givens at the right edge of the end zone. Philly corner Lito Sheppard got caught leaking toward the middle just as Brady located Givens and delivered a perfect strike for the Patriots’ first touchdown.
And here’s what the TV announcer said of Givens as the replay was being shown: “He had nowhere to really else go.”
That is perhaps the single most astonishing sentence I’ve heard a native speaker of English utter (in terms of grammaticality, I hasten to add); it’s so bizarre I had to retype it because I automatically moved the “really” as I was copying it. By comparison, the Murray Chass sentence I analyzed here is a model of construction. There are two words independently misplaced: “else” should come immediately after “nowhere,” and “really” should… well, really, it could go almost anywhere other than where it is and make better sense. But the latter is less of a problem—if you delete “else,” you get “He had nowhere to really go,” which any copy editor would emend to “He really had nowhere to go” but which is a plausible verbal bumble of the kind we all find ourselves making. It’s the “else” that baffles me, and I’d love to hear one of the Language Log mavens or other linguabloggers try to account for how it got there. This is the kind of thing that makes me very skeptical of efforts to derive sentences from little NP-VP nodules that get lexical items inserted before being extruded from the assembly line and out of our mouths.
Update. Language Logger Mark Liberman takes up my challenge and does a bang-up job; I think his conclusion makes perfect sense:
The announcer started to put together the simple cliche “He had nowhere else to go” (689 whG). He decided to modify else with really: “He had nowhere really else to go”. Then in the excitement of the moment, his sequential preferences (“nowhere to”, “to really”) pulled “really else” over past “to”.
(And “mavens” wasn’t a dig, honest, just the aftereffect of reading too much Safire!)