The Grammar of ’Splaining

On WHYY’s “Radio Times” this week, in discussing Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, host Marty Moss-Coane asked her guest, “So what kind of ’splainin to do does Mark Zuckerberg have?”

I’m just charmed by the construction of her sentence.  It refers, of course, to one of the great Lines That Were Never Said (in the vein of “elementary, my dear Watson” and “play it again, Sam”)  — Ricky Ricardo’s demand that his wife articulate and justify her situation on “I Love Lucy,” which ran from 1951-1957.

2 Responses to “The Grammar of ’Splaining”

  1. Jed

    Nice. I’m hoping that some linguist will stop by and say something here about the way that works, linguistically—I wonder whether people regularly break up ordinary constructions that way in favor of keeping fixed phrases together in a sentence.

    (The only other test case I can think of offhand is another “to do” phrase: “What kind of magic to do do the actors in Pippin have?” But I bet there are other fixed phrases that could be similarly turned into questions.)

    • Jed

      I spent a while yesterday coming up with more sentences along similar lines. But on further reflection, I see that I got the core idea wrong in these, because they’re not keeping the fixed phrase in its original fixed form. Still, I was amused by them:

      Which man to see about a dog do you have?

      (And taking that a step further: Where does the man to see about a dog you have live?)

      What kind of bathroom to go to do you have?


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