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by Mark Israel
[This is a fast-access FAQ excerpt.]
Is assertion followed by "not" a recent American neologism?
NOT! "I love thee not" was the regular word order in Shakespeare's
day. Examples including the pause are harder to find; the earliest
that we've found is in Irish dialect, in Ellis Parker Butler's Pigs
is Pigs (1905):
"Proceed to collect," he said softly. "How them
cloiks do loike to be talkin'! Me proceed to
collect two dollars and twinty-foive cints off
Misther Morehouse! I wonder do thim clerks
know Misther Morehouse? I'll git it! Oh, yes!
'Misther Morehouse, two an' a quarter, plaze.'
'Cert'nly, me dear frind Flannery. Delighted!' Not!"
Clay Blankenship found a citation from "circa 1906" in the comic
strip Buster Brown on page 32 of The Comics: An Illustrated
History of Comic Strip Art by by Jerry Robinson (Putnam, 1974).
A girl in the strip says, "Swell time I had -- NOT!" Jesse
Sheidlower writes: "Jonathan Lighter and I wrote an article
about this in American Speech in 1993, which included the 1905
E. P. Butler quote as well as an earlier (1900) quote from George
Ade that's somewhat equivocal; we also cited a number of later
but still early uses including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edmund
Wilson, and others. Since then we've found an even earlier one
(1893 Princeton Tiger (Mar. 30) 103: An Historical Parallel--
Not.) as well as more early examples (though the Buster Brown
example is new to us)."
e. e. cummings wrote a poem beginning:
pity this busy monster manunkind
Credit to David Murray for bringing the cummings example to our
attention. And Wanda Keown found the following in Fritz Leiber's
Conjure Wife (1943): "Norman thought: Country parsonage?
Healthy mental atmosphere, not!"
The construction owes its present popularity to the "Wayne's
World" skits in the U.S. TV show Saturday Night Live. The first
use in SNL was in the 1970s in a skit with Jane Curtin and Steve
Martin. (It is said that the writers of these skits encountered
the practice when it was a fad in their high school in the Toronto
suburb of Scarborough.) Another phrase that comes from SNL is
"Isn't that special?" (the Church Lady, played by Dana Carvey).