Two language-related cartoons came by on Facebook a little while ago. One I think I understand pretty clearly — it involves a demi-eggcorn — but the other baffles me, not because of what it says (involving the glottal stop), but because I don’t understand why the character who speaks is saying it.
In #1, by cartoonist Mike Flanagan, a small child says to a somewhat older child:
How do you spell “high”?
and then adds:
As in high-enas.
making it pretty clear that the smaller child has analyzed hyena as high + something, but still wonders about the spelling; is it the same as when high is on its own, or is it something special?
Of course, recognizing high in hyena doesn’t really make sense of the whole word; the -ena part just hangs out there. Which is the pattern of demi-eggcorns. As I posted on Language Log some time ago,
there are … errors in which one or more parts of an expression are re-spelled so as to replace opaque parts by recognizable lexical material, but without any noticeable improvement in the semantics; what gives rise to them is a drive to find familiar elements as much as possible. I’ll call these DEMI-EGGCORNS. The errors that I called PAILS in an earlier posting — named for the pail of beyond the pail — are demi-eggcorns: they provide familiar parts that nevertheless don’t contribute meaning to the resulting expression.
(I do note in that posting that the drive to make sense of things can lead some people to invent stories that rationalize the semantics of complex expressions more fully — positing pails in beyond the pail, cows in kowtowing, and the like.)
Cartoon #2, by a cartoonist who goes by the name of BART, has an executive sitting at a big desk speaking to a woman in the chair in front of him:
These are very impressive credentials, Ms Smythe. The question remains: can you do a glottal stop?
Clearly a linguistic reference, since (so far as I know), glottal stop still remains a specifically linguistic term. But why should the ability to do a glottal stop serve as a job qualification? (Actually, every English I’ve encountered can do a glottal stop in *some* circumstances, though many don’t have the sound as the medial consonant in the first three words of little metal bottle caps and find it difficult to reproduce these (non-standard) pronunciations.) So, maybe an absurdist strip; I should be prepared for those, as a Zippy regular.
Why, you wonder, didn’t I show you the actual cartoons? Because they came from a site that doesn’t recognize fair use of material by academic blogs; by agreement with their artists, they treat all blog use as requiring payment for a license (admittedly, a non-commercial blog license, which is much cheaper than a commercial license, but it’s still real money for me). I was hoping, in fact, to find out something about the cartoonists from the source site, but got instead a demand for payment. So, to avoid getting embrangled in lawsuits, I give you the verbal content of the cartoons (and, alas, no information about the cartoonists); imagine the visuals.