I used the phrase god awful in a comment at Language Log and it occurs to me that it's an odd little creature. From the OED*:
Forms: Also God awful, Godawful.(Show More)
Etymology: < god n. + awful adj.
slang (orig. U.S.).
Terrible; extremely unpleasant. (In quot. 1878 the sense is ‘impressively large’.)
1878 J. H. Beadle Western Wilds xxxvii. 611 Put thirty acres‥into wheat, and went to work with a hurrah in 1874 to make a God-awful crop.
1897 C. M. Flandrau Harvard Episodes 88 Ellis is such a God awful fool.
1930 W. S. Maugham Breadwinner ii. 124 Your affairs are in a god-awful mess.
1946 ‘S. Russell’ To Bed with Grand Music i. 14 Listen to the most godawful programmes on the radio.
1958 R. Graves in Times Lit. Suppl. 15 Aug. p. x/4 The credible and vivid story that any context (red-brick, yellow-brick, or otherwise God-awful) offers.
1959 P. McCutchan Storm South iv. 63, I heard the most God-awful racket above my head.
The meaning is derived from using god as an intensifier like very. Fine, I get this analysis, it makes sense. But is god ever used in any other construction to intensifier a negative quality like awful?
This is a case where corpora are not terribly useful because the instances of god are so frequent, and so frequently NOT in this kind of construction, it's difficult to discover automatically. I could go all qualitative and just read a million phrases with god in them, but that would take a really long time and still have a low probability of success.
HT to the OED for making their site freely available this month! Use name/password trynwoed/trynewoed.
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