Emphatic affirmatives

English has equipped us with a full spectrum of ways to agree—the noncommittal sure, the tepid OK, the formal yes. But some situations demand a more enthusiastic response than a simple yes, and coming to our aid are our trusty sweary sidekicks, which help us intensify yeah into hell yeah and absolutely into absofuckinglutely. They’ve also made their way into a few (relatively) fixed expressions that we use to convey emphatic assent:

Damn straight

(Also damned straight, goddamn straight, or goddamned straight)

Straight meaning “honest” or “true” dates from the 1530s, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, but the earliest citation of damn straight comes from Roger D. Abraham’s 1964 Deep Down in the Jungle: Black American Folklore from the Streets of Philadelphia:

“God damn straight, I’ll be there.”

Its origins in Black American English are corroborated by Maciej Widawski’s book, African American Slang, which list both damn straight and the less popular damn skippy (which also means “certainly,” “absolutely”). Straight isn’t really used in this sense with any other intensifiers, although we do occasionally see damn bloody straight or damn fucking straight.

In contrast, the more common damn right is open to more variations, including bloody well right and fucking right, but, then again, we routinely use right to mean “yes” or “I agree,” whereas using straight on its own in the same sense isn’t idiomatic.

You bet your ass

Also believed to have started as African American slang, you bet your ass, commonly embellished as you bet your sweet ass, first appeared in the mid-nineteenth century and is thought to be modelled on the much older bet your bottom dollar, meaning, to gamblers, being so sure that you’re willing to go all in, wagering your last (bottom) dollar. Google Ngrams seem to suggest that the more closely related you bet your life may have been the original phrase that was later corrupted to you bet your ass, but we have to remind ourselves that because it was considered vulgar, the latter was probably spoken long before it was ever written down. These data alone don’t definitively tell us which was coined first.

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“You bet your (sweet) bippy!” and “you bet your nurdle” were variations popularized in the late 1960s by the American TV show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. “I’m sure some people attach a dirty connotation to those words,” said executive producer George Schlatter in a 1968 interview with New York Times Magazine. He continued, somewhat disingenuously, “We don’t even know what they mean; they’re just funny.” They didn’t know what the words meant, huh? My bippy, they didn’t.

Fuckin’ A

Did “You bet your fucking ass” get shortened to “fuckin’ A”? That’s one of the many, many theories about this expression’s origin. Others are that it emerged from military language, where A was short for “affirmative”; that A refers to something top-notch (as in grade A); or that A is really just a shortened form of hey. Nobody knows for sure.

Variously spelled fuckin’ A, fucken A, fuckin’ eh, fucken ay, and fuckin’ aye, this expression is more versatile than damn straight or you bet your ass, in that it means more than just “yes” or “absolutely.” It can also mean “congratulations” in some contexts and “to a great extent” when used as an adverb. The OED’s first citation is from The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer’s 1948 novel based on his experiences during the Philippines Campaign in World War II:

“You’re fuggin ay,” Gallegher snorted.

In other words, “You’re absolutely right.” Although the dictionary entry says “fucking A, I’ve never heard anyone pronounce the velar nasal -ng sound—it’s always been fuckin’ A to me. Darn tootin’.

7 thoughts on “Emphatic affirmatives

  1. gh0stpupp3t July 23, 2015 / 11:44 am

    I use f*cking A and You bet your kitten britches I do. And bloody too. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. sesquiotic July 23, 2015 / 1:50 pm

    Mailer altered “fuck” to “fug” throughout at the behest of his lily-livered publishers. After the book’s publication, Dorothy Parker, on being introduced to Mailer, said, “So you’re the man who can’t spell fuck.”

    Liked by 4 people

  3. CGHill July 26, 2015 / 6:34 am

    The late Robin Williams once did a bit on mishearing “Falkland” on the news and concluding that there was a place just off the coast of Brooklyn called the Fuckin’ Islands. He then began reciting the alphabet used there: “Fuckin’ A, fuckin’ B, fuckin’ C…”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Douglas Downey August 1, 2015 / 6:51 pm

    While visiting my son in a gentrified neighborhood in Chicago, I saw a large concrete letter A in the backyard next door. The owner saw me gaping at it. “That’s my fuckin’ A,” he explained. I wrote a short story about it, which was published in a literary magazine in 2009; in it, the A was in the owner’s front yard and everyone in the neighborhood called it “McCabe’s Fuckin’ A.” (The children, being polite, called it Mr McCabe’s Fuckin’ A.”)

    Liked by 3 people

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