Archive for June, 2010

Two things to play with

June 30, 2010

Some of you may have noticed that I assemble playlists on my iTunes; there’s some discussion of the enterprise in the middle of this posting. I’ve just started to play with the idea of making up two new playlists with more linguistic interest.

The first is a collection of songs that use terms from linguistics or other language disciplines — the terms, not the phenomena those terms refer to. So: “Oxford Comma” by Vampire Weekend (here) and “Metaphor” from The Fantasticks.

The second is a collection of songs that turn on playful word formation — novel portmanteaus, verbings, nounings, and back-formations, playful extensions of ordinary affixal morphology, that sort of thing — especially in song titles. As in the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Californication” (which has come up on this blog twice, here and here).

The floor is open for suggestions for the Linguistic Terminology Playlist and the Playful Word Formation Playlist. Pass the word.

Oh yes, if I don’t already have the track on my iTunes (which has lots of tracks — 19,194 items, or 49.1 days’ worth of stuff — but there’s a lot more out there), it has to be something I can get hold of.

Footnote on marriage equality

June 30, 2010

To add to my posting on, among other things, same-sex marriage, this cartoon by William Haefeli in the May 17 New Yorker:

One of a long series of Haefeli cartoons on upscale — this is the New Yorker, after all — gay male life in NYC, or a metropolis very much like it. (I have fifteen of them framed in my living-room, in there with the penguiniana, mammuthiana, family photographs, and so on.) Yes, trendy diners are very much part of the scene (independent of sexual orientation, so far as I know).

No squabbling in public. What about arguing? When does a disagreement devolve into squabbling? How much of it is in the manner of the disagreement, and how much in the topic?

Also note the crucial modifier legally.

Words and music

June 29, 2010

Come on baby let’s play th game of words:

Note little pun on play, as in “play a game” vs. “play music”; both senses are conveyed at the same time. And the score for the song, which seems to be set in glyphs, without either words or musical notation. And of course the nonsense of the words Zippy is singing, vaguely reminiscent in content of a truncated version of the X Without Y snowclone (X without Y is like Z without W: “Potato salad without eggs is like scrambled eggs without ketchup”). What’s conveyed by X Without Y is that Y is an essential part of or accompaniment to X, just as W is to Z.

[X Without Y is one of a family of simile snowclones, among them The Y of Z (X is the Y of Z, discussed in several Language Log postings; for the particular variant "X is the Barry White of Y", see Mark Peters) and the absurdly popular The New Y (X is the new Y, done to exhaustion in Language Log and elsewhere). All of these are specialized variants of Proportional Analogy, or X:Y=Z:Q (a Zippy from 2006, with Griffy looking at a diner: "Th' fifties are to the 21st century what th' 1890s were to th' 20th!").]

In fact, it looks to me like Zippy’s lyrics “The purpose of X is to love Y” are related to reverse-simile versions of X Without Y, in which W is not in fact an essential accompaniment to Z, implicating that Y is not an essential accompaniment to X, or in which W is an actual impediment to Z, implicating that Y should not accompany X. The prototype of reversed-simile X Without Y is “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle” (widely attributed to Gloria Steinem, though it might have appeared first as an anonymous graffito); there are examples all over the place.

(More on simile snowclones on another occasion.)

Then again, Zippy’s lyrics also evoke the child world of purposes, as in Ruth Krauss’s 1952 A Hole Is to Dig: A First Book of First Definitions (with illustrations by Maurice Sendak; Sendak also illustrated the charming What Do You Say, Dear? A Book of Manners for all Occasions by Sesyle Joslin).

POP games

June 28, 2010

A comment on my latest look at phrasal overlap portmanteaus (POPs) brought up still another game you can play with them. That makes three so far, not counting the WESUN puzzle in that posting, which adds anagrams to the mix.

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Telescoped POPs with a twist

June 27, 2010

Today’s on-air puzzle on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday (WESUN) is described as follows on the NPR website:

Well Hello, Dolly!

Every answer is the first name of one famous person and the last name of another, in which the names are anagrams. For example, “Dolly Lloyd” for “Dolly Parton and Christopher Lloyd.”

You’d be hard-pressed to figure out how the game works from this characterization, though on the actual show, things seemed to be clear. Here’s how it works:

CLUE: FN1 + LN2 (e.g., Christopher Parton)

SOLUTION: LN1 & FN2 ( Lloyd & Dolly), where FN1 + LN1 is the name of one famous person (Christopher Lloyd), FN2 + LN2 is the name of another famous person (Dolly Parton), and LN1 (Lloyd) and FN2 (Dolly) are anagrams of one another

Other examples from the show:

CLUE: Sofia Michaels
SOLUTION: Loren (Sofia Loren) & Lorne (Lorne Michaels)

CLUE: Benedict Reagan
SOLUTION: Arnold (Benedict Arnold) & Ronald (Ronald Reagan)

(Obviously this last one is my favorite.) Despite the complexity of the description when it’s laid out precisely, the host and the on-air contestant seemed to have had little trouble with the task. The key is that LN1 and FN2 can be seen as missing links to LN2 and FN1:

Christopher Lloyd/Dolly Parton

Sofia Loren/Lorne Michaels

Benedict Arnold/Ronald Reagan

Now the connection to ordinary phrasal overlap portmanteaus (POPs) — Christopher Lloyd George, Sophia Loren Eiseley (though this one works only in spelling), Benedict Arnold Stang, Eddie Albert Einstein, etc. — should be clear. I suggested in my posting on telescoped POPs that POPs could be made into a game by telescoping them, eliminating the overlapping middle term, which a player would then have to supply: Christopher George (solution: Lloyd), Sophia Eiseley (solution: Loren), Benedict Stang (solution: Arnold), Eddie Einstein (solution: Albert).

The WESUN telescopings give this kind of puzzle a twist by asking for a middle term that isn’t just one name. Instead, the player has to supply two alternative names, anagrams of one another, for the middle term. Intricate, but (as it turns out) doable.

For players at home:

Ralph Agassiz, Itzhak Williams, Suze Polanski, Johnny Powers, Walt Poirier, Laurence Hemingway

(As with many such puzzles, you need a hell of a lot of cultural knowledge, from a variety of domains, to play the game.)

That’s so gay

June 27, 2010

(Somewhat out of the expected order of postings, so that I can get this out on Pride Day itself — or Priday, as I’ve taken to calling it. This is another posting inspired by randomly selected tracks that have popped up on my iTunes.)

This time it was Pansy Division’s “He Whipped My Ass in Tennis, Then I F****d His Ass in Bed” (as iTunes prudishly insists on printing it; ass-whipping ok in print, ass-fucking not). Which then led me to the Pansies’ most recent album, “That’s So Gay” (2009).

But first a bit of academic play with the word pansy (from the Middle French pensée ‘a thought’):

(The OED draft revision of June 2010 has “frequently derogatory” pansy ‘a male homosexual, an effeminate man, a weakling’ with cites from 1926, in the first sense, through 2003, in the third. The name of the flower goes back to about 1450.)

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Memory and fictobiography

June 26, 2010

In the first part of my “gay disco” posting, I touched on the fallibility and unreliability of memory, in particular how memories are reorganized (and, in fact, created and suppressed) by expectations, beliefs, and subsequent experiences. There is a gigantic psychological literature on the subject, and of course great concern by historical scholars for the role memory plays in the historical record — and even a very modest literature in linguistics (having to do with our memories of linguistic experiences). Meanwhile, scholars of story-telling forms (including memoirs/autobiography, biography, fiction, folklore, poetry, plays, films, and narrative art works) have long concerned themselves with the relationship between lives as presented or represented in such works and the lives of real people — in the case of an autobiographical work, the life of the artist.

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Gay disco

June 26, 2010

(Vanishingly little in this about language, so if postings on other topics are not to your taste, pass this one up.)

This is a Pride Weekend posting — Monday (June 28) is Stonewall Day, and this is the weekend of Pride Parades in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York (I’ll be watching the San Francisco event on my computer) — about gay discos and gay disco music in my recent experience, in three parts: The Saint and the re-working of  memory; gay disco music meets Disney; and dancing decadently in Toronto at Sodom 3000.

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Cartoons for the weekend

June 25, 2010

Three language-related cartoons: in order, a Zippy, a Zits, and a Bizarro.

Mr. Toad’s cutified (in quotation marks, note, to signal its ostentatiously innovative character)  — adjective cute + causative/inchoative derivational suffix -ify — exemplifies Zippyworld playfulness with derivational morphology (on which, see, most recently in this precinct, my “creepitude” posting here). Here’s the relevant part of the entry on -fy in Michael Quinion’s affix list, where it’s glossed ‘make or produce; transform into; become':

Many verbs in this ending exist, formed either from nouns or adjectives. Some examples are amplifycertifydignifyexemplifyhorrifyidentifyliquefy, magnifypacifyratifysatisfystupefytestify, and verify. [AMZ: Note that many of the examples in this list, though historically related to noun or adjective stems (example - exemplify, dignity - dignify, liquid - liquefy, peaceful - pacify) are now not productively related to these sources. The way is then open to "liberate" the derivational suffix and apply it afresh to noun and adjective words (not just stems).]

The ending is in active use, forming verbs both from nouns and adjectives. Because many existing examples contain the linking vowel -i-, its form is usually taken to be -ify rather than -fy.

Verbs are sometimes created with humorous intent, as in trendify, to make trendy or fashionable, and yuppify, to make an area attractive to yuppies; others of similar kind are cutify [right there in Quinion's list, Mr. Toad]uglify, and youthify.

If the examples I’ve collected (as contributions to Beth Levin’s more extensive lists on verbings with zero, -ize, and -ify) are any indication, the playful innovations appear most commonly in PSP forms (cutefied) and in nominalized versions with -ification (cutification). (My lists include the variant cutesify, which is even cutesier than cutify.]

Now the Zits, in which Jeremy does the stereotypical sullen-teenager wordless thing:

Finally, another Bizarro disquisition on (potential) ambiguity, presented here not in an actual pun, but in the juxtaposition of two different senses of an expression (work for, ‘work to obtain something’ or ‘work in the employ of someone’):


These distinct senses won’t conjoin, except in deliberately joking zeugma: “I’ll work for food but not Daddy Warbucks.”

Remember: Ambiguity Is Everywhere.

Watch where you put that accent

June 24, 2010

Reporter Lisa Morehouse, “North Coast Native Tribes Unsure on Marine Life Protection Act”, on KQED’s California Report on June 22:

They argue that tríbal knòwledge shouldn’t be discarded in favor of Wéstern scìence.

(Tribal members are concerned that setting up protected areas “will limit food gathering and ceremonial and spiritual uses of the coast”.)

The default accent pattern for Adj+N combinations is afterstress (though there are many special cases), that is, accent on the N (trìbal knówledge, Wèstern scíence). But discourse functions, like emphasis or contrast, can override this default. So the forestress in tríbal knòwledge and Wéstern scìence above sets up implicit contrasts, between outsider’s knowledge and tribal knowledge, between Western science and  (something like) “the science of tribal tradition”.

The way the sentence was read then treats tribal lore as a kind of science, entirely parallel to “Western science” — as an “alternative way of knowing”.

We’ve been here before; see my postings “Experience and evidence” (of 12/17/09) and “More on experience and evidence” (of 1/19/10). The focus there was on “alternative belief systems” (alternative to science) based on “personal experience, impressions, anecdotes, and speculations”.

Alternative belief systems can also build on “theoretical” reasoning (without the support of experiment or the assessment of systematically collected data) about causes and effects. Think the doctrine of signatures or the doctrine of humors in the maintenance of health and the treatment of disease.

Alternative belief systems can also be based on the accumulated wisdom of a culture, passed down as cultural custom and lore.

(You don’t have to deny that alternative belief systems can incorporate potentially useful elements to resist treating them as “another kind of truth”.)

Such lore can range from the relatively trivial to the fundamental. On the relatively trivial side I give you the widespread practice, in the U.S. at least, of eating stewed prunes or prune juice, on the grounds that they are naturally laxative and so can serve as a gentle way to avoid or treat constipation. The practice involves prunes (dried plums) specifically, for reasons I’ve never understood, since other dried fruits (for instance, dried apricots and dried figs, which I happen to prefer to prunes) have similar virtues. But prunes get all the press. Constipated? Have some stewed prunes or prune juice, that will do the trick.

Systems of everyday advice — on (among other things) nutrition and diet, health and medicine, exercise and fitness, child rearing, sexual practices, and of course linguistic usages — incorporate elements of all three sorts of alternative belief systems. I’ll post in a while on diet advice and advice on exercise and athletic performance from this point of view.


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