Archive for the ‘Ambiguity’ Category

Ten language-y comics

September 13, 2015

On the Comics Kingdom blog on Tuesday the 8th: “Tuesdays Top Ten Comics on Grammar and Wordplay” (with grammar, as usual, understood broadly). CK distributes strips from King Features; it’s one of my regular sources of cartoons for this blog. The strips here are all from 2014-15.


Cartoon adventures in lexical semantics

September 12, 2015

Two cartoons from yesterday — a Mother Goose and Grimm and a Scenes from a Multiverse — that turn on the senses of lexical items. The preposition on and the verb jam, respectively.



Ambiguity in #1, an extended sense in #2.


What a hoot!

August 24, 2015

This morning’s Mother Goose and Grimm turns on a simple, silly ambiguity, but then the story gets more complicated:


First pass: hooters (1) ‘creatures that hoot, i.e., owls’ (straightforward derivational morphology, but specialized semantically) vs. Hooters, the restaurant chain fixated on hooters (2) N. Amer. vulgar slang for ‘a woman’s breasts’ (NOAD2).

Then there’s another sense, on which a Bizarro cartoon (posted here as #3 on 5/2/14) turns: hooters (3) informal ‘noses, esp. big noses’ vs. Hooters.

And at least one other important sense: hooter (4) esp. Brit. ‘an automobile horn’ —  that is, a thing that hoots (more straightforward derivational morphology).

But what about senses (3) and (2)?


Falling trees

August 23, 2015

Yesterday’s Bizarro puts a fresh twist on an old philosophical puzzle:

Previously on this blog, a Zippy (posted 10/15/12) on a related theme, with the punning punch line:

If a red-breasted nuthatch sings in a forest & there’s no one there to google it, did it post a tweet?

So what does it refer to in the top panel? In the old conundrum, it refers to the falling of the tree. But in the bottom panel, it refers to the tree itself, which turns out to have the power of speech; it can certainly make a sound (of its own volition).


Language cartoon Wednesday

August 5, 2015

That would be today, with three language-related cartoons in my inbox: a Rhymes With Orange, a Mother Goose and Grimm, and a Bizarro:





cheesy pickup line

August 4, 2015

From George Takei on Facebook, this elaborate visual pun, presented like a captioned cartoon, with an entertaining disjuncture between the image and the caption:

The cheesiest pickup line ever

(Takei is scandously bad about crediting the sources of the things he posts — he just passes on things he comes across — so I have no idea who created this image or where it was originally posted.)

Three content words, each exhibiting crucial lexical ambiguity: the Adj cheesy, the N pickup, the N line.The whole thing is a N + N compound pickup line modified by the superlative of the Adj.


Going for High Attachment

July 30, 2015

Passed on by Steven Levine on Facebook on 7/23, this headline for a story that day by Quinn Foley:

Children’s Choir Surprised Their Teacher With Cancer

The intended reading was that their teacher with cancer should be parsed as a constituent, a NP understood as ‘their teacher who has cancer’ — that’s Low Attachment (LA) for the modifier with cancer, and LA is the default parsing for such modifiers (see other postings in the “Attachment” Page on this blog). Despite that, it’s very hard not to understand the modifier as having High Attachment (HA), modifying surprised their teacher, a reading that’s both ludicrous and distressing.

For the moment, I’m just puzzled by this fact.


A military-industrial complex

July 30, 2015

Yesterday’s political cartoon by Matt Wuerker:

A play on the ambiguity of the noun complex.


Misleadingly named animals

July 27, 2015

Via Kim Darnell on Facebook (a very long time ago), this poster:

Eight composite names — some N + N, some Adj + N. The question here is the semantic contribution of each of the parts. The poster deliberately disregards the fact that these are common names, not technical labels from biology; and it insists on treating these names as definitions, which is something no mere label can do. And it throws in some tongue-in-cheek remarks.


Dave Blazek

July 26, 2015

Another cartoonist new to this blog (like Ken Krimstein, recently posted on). The Loose Change cartoon by Blazek below (from 2010) came to me from the Grammarly Facebook page via a friend:


Pin the Apostrophe on the Word.

There’s a rich vein of cartoons mocking English teachers for their purported inclination to focus on minutiae.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 854 other followers