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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)?

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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
Another variant of this is "something fierce" instead of "something awful". –  Zoot Jul 22 '11 at 15:25

1 Answer 1

up vote 0 down vote accepted

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.

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I am not sure that the vagueness is related to avoiding to say something rude. –  kiamlaluno Jul 16 '11 at 18:24

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