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Dana is very, very, very nice.

A real housewife of Beverly Hills

It seems that almost exclusively, the reiteration of a such a clarifier - very in this case - ends up actually meaning the exact opposite.

Is there ever a reason to make the third, or even second repetition - if the purpose is not to throw doubt upon the meaning of the speaker's statement?

I'm sure you all think this question is really, really, really great.

Me

I guess this is really dependent on tone, but are there any grammatical rules that apply to the madness of sarcasm?

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I have heard of no such grammatical rule. –  GEdgar Oct 22 '11 at 1:39
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2 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Grammatically, there is nothing about repeating an adverb that changes the meaning of the adverb.

After the 40-0 loss:
"Wow, that was a really, really, really bad ballgame."

After waking up with a terrible stomachache:
"I really, absolutely, definitely shouldn't have eaten that third donut."

Those are not great grammar (adverbs are often unnecessary singularly, let alone plurally), but they mean literally what they say.

Sarcasm is notoriously difficult to represent in the written word. See: proposals for representing irony and sarcasm via punctuation.

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No, not in general.

Occasionally it does. One way to signal sarcasm is by overexaggerated emphasis, and one way to add emphasis is by repeating an intensifier. So a multiply repeated intensifier can sometimes be an indicator of sarcasm, and hence imply the opposite of the base adjective.

But it can also simply signal genuine emphasis, and this is (I’m fairly sure) more usual. Context, tone of voice (if verbal), and the like should usually make clear which is intended.

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