Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I need a nap something awful!

I know what this means, but I could never understand it: it's not easier to say, it's not more efficient, and it doesn't make sense! When was it started (and why)?

share|improve this question
    
Heh, I could probably give some solid hunches but I don't think there is anything awesomely special happening here. Something is just a placeholder and has the same rough purpose as "some kind of". –  MrHen Jul 16 '11 at 16:01
    
"I need a nap sort of awfully"? I think "something awful" has more force than "sort of awfully", or "some kind of awful". –  Daniel Jul 16 '11 at 16:02
1  
Another variant of this is "something fierce" instead of "something awful". –  Zoot Jul 22 '11 at 15:25
add comment

1 Answer

up vote 0 down vote accepted
+50

In The Tempest (3.1) Miranda says

... But I prattle
something too wildly, and my father's precepts
I therein do forget.

This use of "something" seems to be softening the "wildly" - as in "a bit too wildly" rather than "incredibly wildly". That makes sense for the usual meaning of "something" being vague or undefined. Generally, "something awful" could mean "awful, in a way I can't quite describe."

But in your example, "something" is an intensifier - which is the complete opposite. It feels almost like the "something" is euphemistically substituting for a much stronger intensifier, like

I need a damn nap!

and the vagueness is helping you avoid saying anything too rude.

share|improve this answer
2  
I am not sure that the vagueness is related to avoiding to say something rude. –  kiamlaluno Jul 16 '11 at 18:24
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.