Archive for January, 2011

Labels: homosexual

January 31, 2011

For some considerable time, I’ve been collecting attitudes about labels in the domain of sexuality, gender identity, and sexual practices. (Some discussion in passing in my recent posting on alphabet soup in this domain.) Now, thanks to the reversal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, these labels are in the news.

On NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday on the 29th, a story from host Scott Simon and Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman about procedures for the reversal, including a handbook for commanders with answers to frequently asked questions, including one bit about labels:

Bowman: They say do not use the term homosexuality, ’cause that has negative connotations. They suggest using gay or lesbian, for example.


Sloppy identity

January 30, 2011

From a comedy routine on this week’s Prairie Home Companion:

I hate myself. Pretty soon you will ___ too.

(Ellipsis marked by underlines, antecedent VP bold-faced.)

Two readings for the second sentence (with the filled-in ellipses in square brackets]:

(a) Pretty soon you will [hate me too]. (intended reading: pronoun filled in by carrying over the morphosyntactic person/number features of the antecedent in the previous sentence)

(b) Pretty soon you will [hate yourself too]. (pronoun filled in from the morphosyntactic person/number features of the antecedent in its own sentence)

The crucial point is that in neither reading is the object pronoun in the ellipsis filled in by substitution of an actually occurring NP (myself or you), which would give

*Pretty soon you will hate myself too.  OR

??Pretty soon you will hate you too. [requires some sort of conceptual split of the addressee into two persons]

Instead, the understood object pronoun (me or yourself) has the person/number features of the antecedent and the ±reflexive feature appropriate to its clause. (This is a species of what is sometimes called “sloppy identity”, since the pronoun is generously interpreted in context.)

… Just in case you were inclined to believe, in accord with a literally ancient, initially plausible, but nevertheless very silly, idea, that (certain types of) pronouns literally replace repeated NPs. Such pronouns pick out referents (in the discourse world), not linguistic expressions; the linguistic expressions (sometimes) supply the materials for referent-finding, but they’re the means, not the end.

(It might help to think of the way such reference works in signed languages, where the referents can be picked out by literally pointing to pre-established places in visual space, rather than by using conventional “pronominal” signs.)

Fast food portmanteaus

January 30, 2011

Don Piraro takes on the portmanteaus of Micky D’s:


It Gets Better / Wonderful dad

January 30, 2011

Yesterday, I was filmed for a Stanford “It Gets Better” video, talking for quite a while in the colonnade in front of the Bing Wing of the Stanford Library (on an, alas, overcast and chilly day, after three days of beautiful weather), telling parts of the story of my life — large parts omitted, because I’ve had a long, complex, and very eventful life — and being encouraging and supportive to lgbt teens and persecuted young people in general. With multiple takes on some sections (especially when passers-by hovered in the background of the shots instead of just, well, passing by). We’ll see how it turns out; it will be edited down, and there are other people to be filmed, so it might be a little while.

Along the way, I was, of course, asked to talk about my childhood and adolescence, which led me into Wonderful Dad territory. So here are some Wonderful Dad stories that have to do with sex.


Pop music

January 29, 2011

Today’s Zippy takes on pop music, in the processing mentioning two items I’ve posted about here, for their linguistic interest:

That’s Cee Lo Green (here and here) and Vampire Weekend (here). We’re up to date here on AZBlog.



January 28, 2011

Thought-provoking Stanford talk yesterday: “What Can Be Ground? Noun Type, Constructions, and the Universal Grinder” by Alex Djalali, Scott Grimm, David Clausen, and Beth Levin (all of Stanford).


Poetry slam

January 28, 2011

Today’s Zippy, with mangled poetry — a genre of humor that delights me unreasonably:

I calibrate my elf!

Drawing sharp lines

January 27, 2011

Abigail Zuger, in “A Pound of Prevention Is Worth a Closer Look”, a review of H. Gilbert Welch, Lisa M. Schwartz and Steven Woloshin, Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health, in the NYT Science Times of January 25:

The authors [all M.D.'s, as is Zuger] deplore our habit of showering prescription drugs on those unlikely to beunefit from them. They trace it directly to the fact that once the experts have drawn the line in the sand that separates “health” from “disease,” we all tend to forget that both entities are etched in shades of gray, not the black and white the terms imply.

Similarly, the line between “normal” and “abnormal” is not the closed border most people envision but a no man’s land of substantial width. And so in our wild enthusiasm for seeking out tiny abnormalities, we often find them — thanks especially to the wondrous eyes of the latest high-priced scanners. Not necessarily the abnormalities we were looking for, but abnormalities nonetheless.

It’s the practice of scientists to draw sharp lines, even in domains (like medicine, psychology, and society/culture) where there’s quite a lot of gradience. In the case of health vs. disease and normal vs. abnormal, things are made more complex by the inclination of scientists to take folk labels and treat them as technical terms, with the result that ordinary people carry over their attitudes towards and beliefs about the categories and concepts in question into the the scientific domain — equating (as Zuger points out later in her review) normal with desirable “when it often means just the opposite” (and, for that matter, equating abnormal with diseased).


Annals of nouning

January 27, 2011

Today’s Scenes From a Multiverse:

Cute nouning of horny (along with everywhither and, in fact, pell-mell, plus the colloquial clipping congrats), to mean ‘horniness’, or possibly ‘sexual arousal’. (And, yes, OED2 has everywhither, with cites from 1398, 1851, and 1888. And in OED3 (August 2010), pell-mell in the sense ‘in disordered haste; headlong, in a rush; at reckless or breakneck speed’, frequently referring to the action of a single person, with cites from 1584 through 1986. And in OED2, congrats for congratulations, with cites from 1884 through 1962.)



January 26, 2011

From Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky ten days ago:

Opal and I are taking a quiz about religions of the world (it’s a long story) and we come to a question about atheists and whether or not they believe in supernatural forces. Opal was stumped. I asked helpfully “What does ‘supernatural’ mean?” “Extremely natural”, replied Opal promptly.

A reasonable guess, building on what Opal (who is 6-going-on-7) knows about the productive morphology of English, in particular compound-like combinations with the initial element super ‘extreme(ly)’. We all look for meaningful parts in expressions that are new to us, and past a certain age, children are especially attuned to analyzing such expressions.



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