Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Dot Wordsworth

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Dot Wordsworth

Article excerpt

'Kiss me mucho,' sang my husband with a revolting leer, 'and we'll soar. And we'll dance the dance of love forevermore.'

I poured myself a whisky in a vain attempt to catch up, and returned to my task.

Not so much was the subject of my researches, and I soon wondered why it had only recently begun to annoy me.

It qualifies as a catchphrase, I think, though some dictionaries of slang list it too. Much has been very productive of slang. Ben Jonson had characters exclaiming 'Much!' and meaning 'not much', 400 years ago. Contrariwise, since the second world war, Not much! has been used to contradict a statement such as 'I seldom drink'. Muchly has served as a humorous formulation for the past century or so, and by the 1970s was looked upon as a camp element in language. Another slangy formula caught on in the 1990s, following the pattern: Jealous much? Pathetic much?

As for not so much, the usage that we are discussing is implicitly a response, as in: 'Do you like Gefilte Fisch?' 'Not so much.' Sometimes it defies standard English grammar:

'I like this guy John Kennedy. …

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