Regular commenter John Cowan has a question on non-standard phrases, and hopes Sentence first readers can shed some light on it:
I’d like some information from native speakers of Hiberno-English, the English variety spoken in Ireland (all counties). I figure this is a good community to ask.
Consider these three kinds of possessives applied to body parts. None of them are part of Standard English, but they are all used in other languages and possibly in spoken Hiberno-English too.
1) The head of him is very large.
2) The head on him is very large.
3) The head to him is very large.
It would be extremely helpful to me if you could say which of these (if any) you would use, and when, and when (if ever) you hear them spoken by others. Comments like “Sure, I say that all the time” and “Not me, but people around me say it often” or “My grandmother used to say that” or “Not around here, but I believe it’s said in the North|South|East|West” would be even more helpful.
If it helps, substitute something else for the “is very large” part; that doesn’t matter. Any other body part would work too.
Speakers of other varieties, if you yourself regularly use any of these kinds of possessives, please tell me.
If you don’t want to go on record with this, private mail to firstname.lastname@example.org works for me.
My answer (from the mid-west of Ireland): I don’t think I’ve ever used or heard the construction in (3) (“The head to him…”). I hear those in (1) and (2) used informally quite often in contexts like:
A) The head of/on him (and the price of turnips/cabbage).
B) The face of/on that lad.
C) The puss of/on yer one. [puss = mouth, esp. sulking; one often pronounced wan, either naturally or affectedly]
As well as hearing them, I’ve also used these lines (or versions of them), though I leave out the vegetable analogies. Where of is used, it’s typically unstressed and lacking the /v/ sound: The head o’ yer man. It’s more usually on in (C), for me.
Most are standalone expressions, I think. I’ve never heard any of them used before a phrase like “is very large”. (If I were to say that at all, I’d likely use standard syntax: His head is very large.)
Regarding meaning: In (A), The head on/of X = The state of X, drawing attention to X’s appearance for an unspecified reason, probably negative (e.g., dishevelled or strikingly unusual) – or it can suggest someone is self-important, as in this video of Dublin slang. Like many Irish insults, the disparagement does not preclude affection.
(B) implies a scowl or other sour expression. There’s a fair chance the speaker doesn’t feel the scowler’s attitude is justified. The puss in (C) implies a sulking expression, often a child’s; see my post on cnáimhseáil for a note on usage and etymology.
Then there are more obviously figurative expressions such as “The cheek of him” and “The neck of/on that lad”, the latter indicating brazenness. But since these don’t refer to actual body parts, they’re probably irrelevant. Maybe that goes for (C) too.
I’m probably overlooking a lot here, and your experience of these constructions may be quite different to mine – or you might be able to confirm what I’ve written. Can you help John out?