What did she know?


One of the well-known (but slightly lesser-studied) varieties of ellipsis (in English) is called “null complementation.” It’s involved in understanding sentences like these:

  • Do you understand? (what I’ve been saying)
  • I have to refuse. (to do what you asked me to do)
  • Wow, your wristwatch is really similar! (to that other watch we’ve been talking about)

Certain verbs allow this, and others don’t. Famously (is that the right word?), _try_ does but _attempt_ does not: _Just try, it won’t hurt! is okay, but *_Just attempt!_ is out. (Exception: fine print in advertisements that say: _do not attempt_). _Know_ also allows it. (Yes, yes, I know).

Okay, so here’s the story. I was on the bus the other day and there were two people who seemed to be friends nearby. The driver was turning the corner, but stopped to let people pass. Apparently he was allowing too many people to pass, and one of the friends said, “Come on, go, go!” (softly, as though to the driver but actually for the benefit of her friend; sort of a strange self-directed version of a pseudo-imperative meant for the benefit of a hearer). Then the other friend said,

> I know!

The puzzle: what did she know?

My idea is that, if she were to say the whole thing, it would be something approximating “I know what you mean about feeling frustrated in these situations; the driver should get a move on!” Or something like that. _Know_ has a special meaning when in the context _know what you mean (about…)_. It’s sort of a way to show sympathy by revealing that you have had similar experiences. (consider when you could say _I know what you mean about being a grad student_. It’s not easy unless you are or have been a grad student, and faced some troubles similar to whatever the person you’re talking to has had).

In this case, it’s nothing so life-defining as being a grad student that friend number 2 was identifying with, but simply the frustration with bus drivers who (in her/their view) dilly-dally at crosswalks.

As I type this I think I may have posted about something similar back in summer 07, when a classmate of mine rushed onto the last train, sat down across the aisle from me, and said, “whew, I’m glad I made this train!” to which I replied, “I know!”

1 Comment so far

  1. Wamut on November 11th, 2008

    Is this the same as on the movie Mean Girls where the plastics repeatedly say ‘I know, right?’.

    hehehehee… i enjoy that movie disproportionately too much…