In the lyrics for the song "What does the fox say" the following sentence appears.

"What the fox say"[sic]

It uses the word "say" and not "says", and there is no "does". Does the sentence make sense and is there any meaning to it?

  • 3
    Were you really confused about this? Or did you get the gist of the lyrics? If you knew what was meant, despite the grammatical oddity, then, YES, the sentence makes sense. As for why they decided to say it the way they did, that could be due to rhythm, humor, poetic effect, deliberate elision, or some other motivation, such as wanting to sound more like an animal than a grammarian. – J.R. Dec 18 '13 at 21:05
  • I was curious. I wondered if it was a clever play on words that escaped me or if it was simply a bad sentence. – forsvunnet Dec 18 '13 at 21:31

The song uses this phrasing for the purposes of rhythm and meter. Dropping articles before words is commonplace in lyrics, poems and other creative writing.

So, to strictly answer you question: Yes it has meaning. It means the same thing as, "What does the fox say?" But no, it isn't grammatically correct in the sense that you would never use it in a formal context.

  • Would it make sense if it had been "says" instead of "say"? eg: "What the fox says:" – forsvunnet Dec 18 '13 at 19:41
  • 1
    I can think of American dialects where it is considered normal to phrase it this way. I will note that in the music video for this song, "What does the fox say" appears first, and then the rest is "what the fox say." The singer has an accent and in this context it sounds as much like a mistake (as opposed to an affectation) as it looks on paper. – horatio Dec 18 '13 at 20:44
  • @horatio: Interesting; I cannot think of an American dialect where this would be correct. Do you have more specifics? – MrHen Dec 18 '13 at 20:46
  • 1
    "Correct" is arguable. I said it was normal or unremarkable if you prefer. – horatio Dec 18 '13 at 22:02
  • 1
    This sort of thing is common in AAVE and Southern Dialects (sociolects?) – horatio Dec 18 '13 at 22:09

Update: as @anotherdave commented:

They might be playing on the fact that "What the fox" sounds slightly like WTF

I think that this is very likely.

My speculation is that this is a result of bad translation. In norwegian you would say "Hva sier reven?" which makes "What does the fox say". Flipping the words around making it a statement "Hva reven sier:" (followed by the sounds) translates to "What the fox says:". To me it seems they've used a relatively common norwegian sentence structure and mistranslated it.

  • Do you know if the Norwegian lyrics support this? It seems like a really good explanation. – MrHen Dec 18 '13 at 20:47
  • 1
    There are no Norwegian lyrics that I know of, but the artists/song writers are norwegian and it is a common practice to construct text in norwegian first and then translate it. It's just speculation of course. – forsvunnet Dec 18 '13 at 21:20
  • 4
    As someone else mentions though, the first time they use it they do so correctly. They might be playing on the fact that "What the fox" sounds slightly like WTF. – anotherdave Dec 18 '13 at 22:24

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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