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I came across this sentence with a strange use of the word "expletive",

Trump has variously expressed enthusiasm for outsourcing the fight against the Islamic State to Vladimir Putin and for bombing the expletive out of its oil fields.

The word "expletive" doesn't seem to have anything to do with "oil fields" in terms of its meaning. How to understand "bomb the expletive out of something."? Is that an idiomatic expression?

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    Not sure if I get it right. But I think the word "expletive" there is used in the place of some other expletive word. (Likely the F-word, or maybe the S-word.) A related concept: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expletive_deleted. – Damkerng T. Nov 26 '15 at 6:29
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    I agree. My first thought is that it is used as a substitution for some curses. My second thought is that it is a metaphor. – V.V. Nov 26 '15 at 6:44
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    It looks like Mr Trump's expletive of choice was "hell". edition.cnn.com/2015/07/10/politics/… – Fillet Nov 26 '15 at 9:53
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    The use of the word "expletive" would be absolutely not idiomatic. You wouldn't use the word "expletive", you would use a word that is an expletive. – gnasher729 Nov 26 '15 at 11:43
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    Using the word "expletive" in this sarcastic way is a leftover from the Nixon (remember him?) scandal. Some poor soul had to transcribe the contents of many hours of tapes, containing frequent swearwords. To spare the feelings of sensitive hearers the transcripts were Bowdlerised when being read out in public, by the use of "expletive deleted". – RedSonja Nov 26 '15 at 14:01
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It is a common knowledge that animals pee or poop (excrete) when they are frightened to death. People do, too. Also, animals do it right before their death. That's where the expression came from.

If you scare the s*** out of someone, it figuratively means you scare someone to the extent that they would urinate or defecate. It is a very common expression.

Note: Some do use scare the pee/urine out of someone. It has the same meaning, but less idiomatic and popular.

Sentences such as "I extremely scared her" or "I scared her very much" would not work very well because there is a more common and idiomatic expression.

The expression evolved to become an intensifier for a verb.

"Let's bomb its oil field" doesn't sound intense enough, however, "Let's bomb the s*** out of its oil field" sounds very intense. You just metaphorically compare "its oil field" to an animal or human.

As explained in the other answer, the list of expressions goes on and on. The most important thing to remember is:

Whatever expletive is put in X in Verb X out of Y constructions, it is a strong intensifier. It gets the message across in a strong/intense sense.

I will stop writing on this now before some members "criticize the s*** out of me".

Note: You can use it for a verb like criticize, which means you can be creative in using it.

Edit:

As commented below, the above expression can be toned down a little by saying, "Bomb the hell out of its oil field". It's slightly more acceptable than "bomb the s*** out of its oil field".

  • One thing I'd perhaps note, is that this can be toned down a little by saying, for example "Bombed the hell out of them" - although still not formal language, it's slightly more acceptable than "bombed the shit out of them" where the latter would fall just on the wrong side of the "acceptable" line – Jon Story Nov 26 '15 at 14:18
  • @JonStory Yes, your point is reasonable. Thank you for your comment. – user24743 Nov 26 '15 at 14:23
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Yes this is an idiomatic expression. In general the form is "verb the expletive out of noun". The meaning is just an intensifier of the verb action on the noun. So in your example you could reformulate as "bombing the oil fields of Islamic State extremely thoroughly" though that doesn't pack the same punch as the original.

The expletive in question is most commonly

shit or crap

though other expletives can occasionally be used.

It should be also pointed out that not every verb noun works. You want the noun to be the object of the verb and the action denoted by the verb must be "intensifiable". So you can say for example "I played the s*** out of Halo" meaning you played it a lot and even "I opened the s*** out of that door" (usually in response to a question, and possibly meaning you broke it in some way) but you would be hard pressed to "enter the s*** out of that door" for example.

Most commonly though the idiom is used in terms of fighting as in "I beat the s*** out of sbd" which might actually be the original from which the other phrases are derived by analogy.

Edit: looking at the CoCA corpus by far the most common collocates of "the s*** out of" are fighting words (beat, slap, kick, pound, knock) though scare gets right up in there, being the second most likely verb collocate after beat.

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    One thing to note is that in some areas "crap" isn't considered an expletive at all - in Northern England, it's only very slightly "worse" than the word "poop" and significantly better than "shit". – Jon Story Nov 26 '15 at 14:19
  • 'but you would be hard pressed to "enter the s*** out of that door"' - wonderful. I love the idea "entering the shit out of a door" :P I'm quite tempted, now, to use that in everyday life :P (To the OP: this will definitely get me strange looks ... ) – Au101 Nov 26 '15 at 18:26
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    Do you really need to censor expletives in an answer to a question about expletives? – immibis Nov 27 '15 at 6:08
  • @immibis To be honest I wasn't sure what the rules are on ELL so I erred on the side of being careful. – DRF Nov 27 '15 at 9:31
  • I'd say it's at least as common to "scare the piss out of" someone. – Daniel McLaury Jan 26 '16 at 2:51
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I came across this sentence with a strange use of the word "expletive",

An expletive is strictly any word or phrase that doesn't actually add any meaning to a sentence, for example to add emphasis or to help fit the meter of a poem or song.

It's commonly used for "swear words" (pretty much any word that is considered impolite to use in and of themselves) which are indeed often words that add emphasis but were the meaning would be the same if they were removed. From that sense expletive has come to mean any profanity even if it isn't fully redundant in the way that expletive originally meant.

Now, there are such phrases as "bomb the shit out of them", "beat the crap out of them", "shoot the fuck out of them" and so on. The author wants to reference that phrasing, but doesn't want to actually use one of those expletives. Therefore much like how on television or radio we might "bleep" out an expletive, or how they might also use such mechanism as "bomb the **** out of its oil fields", the author has used the word expletive to stand for the elided expletive.

This particular style of referencing but not using expletives became particularly popular after the Watergate Tapes were published. While Nixon allowed the tapes to be published (not that he had much choice, as they'd been subpoenaed) he had all profanity replaced with the phrase "[expletive deleted]". Ironically this made him seem to be more foul-mouthed than he actually was (what had been Christ or hell in the original changed to imply he may perhaps have said something stronger). Following this "expletive deleted" became a particularly popular choice among some journalists and other writers when reporting upon the use of a profanity, and later reduced to just "expletive".

So in this sense it's largely synonymous with the use of "****" or a bleeping sound.

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Your profile places you in Shanghai which is geographically closer to Australia than to the U.S.A.

The U.S. is a country founded by Puritans, so you'll rarely find actual expletives in communication: they "bleep" over them in broadcasts and use asterisks like "f***" or "s***" instead of "fuck" or "shit".

One popular way of not spelling out such an expletive is actually writing "expletive" as a substitute for an expletive. This is what happened here. This substitution, however, is only done in writing. Oral communication typically retains the original (with the whole room erupting in "language!" as a shorthand for "watch your language!") or substitutes words phonetically similar to the conveyed expletive but "defused" (sorry, I'd need a refresher on them myself, only remembering "heck" and "dickens" out of the bunch).

  • I am sorry, but your answer doesn't seem to answer the question. – user24743 Nov 26 '15 at 12:28
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    @Rathony I think this answer is a counterpart to yours: yours explains the meaning of bomb the X out of (which this does not), while this explains the use of expletive as a euphemism for something stronger (which yours does not). It is not evident in the question which of these matters puzzles OP (perhaps it is both), so I think both are necessary and valuable. – StoneyB Nov 26 '15 at 13:52
  • @StoneyB I respectfully disagree with you. The OP is asking about the idiom. Not about how to use expletive in written and spoken English. It has nothing to do with the OP's question, especially given the OP's specific question about relationship between the expletive and its oil field. – user24743 Nov 26 '15 at 14:02
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    @Rathony It often takes a lot of detective work (and downright guessing!) to figure out what in a particular utterance puzzles an NNS, because we don't know what any given speaker does and doesn't know. In this case, we have a clue. Take a look at DamkerngT's initial comment and dennylv's response to it. Dennylv understands 'bomb the s-- out of its oil fields'. ... But at SE responses have to be of value to all comers, not just OP, so it's important to address anything that might be puzzling--which is why I've upvoted your answer, too. – StoneyB Nov 26 '15 at 14:15
  • @StoneyB I understand your valid point. Thank you for your comment. – user24743 Nov 26 '15 at 14:19

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