Archive for the ‘Ambiguity’ Category

Speech act ambiguity

April 20, 2014

From an esurance commercial on tv, entitled “Hank” (the key bit is boldfaced):

Hank: My daughter thinks I’m out of touch. So I asked her how I saved 15 percent on car insurance in just 15 minutes.

Neighbor: Huh. (shakes head)

Hank: (looks at phone) “IDK?” What does that mean?

Neighbor: “I don’t know.”

Hank: And I’m the one who’s out of touch. LOL.

The neighbor is answering Hank’s question, a request for information, asking about what “IDK” means. Hank understands this instead as an assertion, by the neighbor, that he doesn’t know what “IDK” means. (Hank then thinks the neighbor is out of touch.)  Both understandings involve assertions, but about different aspects of the conversational exchange.


Ambiguity for leeches

April 15, 2014

Posted by Neil Copeland on Facebook and passed on by Mar Rojo, this article from the New Zealand Press, by Rachel Young, with the headline:

Is this NZ’s creepiest crawly?

and the subhead:

Rare land leeches have been found on several offshore islands, one of which is now headed to Te Papa [the museum in Wellington]

The ambiguity of the subhead elicited some discussion:  is it a land leech or an offshore island that’s headed to Te Papa? (Details below.)


Pesky capitalization

April 12, 2014

From Chris Waigl on Facebook, this image of a headline.

Among the most common functions of initial caps are marking the first word of a sentence and marking proper names. Both are, at least at first, here. But the ‘annoying memorabilia’ interpretation is very unlikely. Then you need to know that Johnny Pesky was a baseball player — a fact immediately made clear in the body of the story,

Monday quartet

March 31, 2014

Four cartoons today: a Dilbert, a Bizarro, a Mother Goose and Grimm, and a Scenes from the Multiverse:


The anaphor joke

March 20, 2014

From a site with “20 Jokes That Only Intellectuals Will Understand”, one that I had not heard before, appealing to both linguists and programmers.

The set-up:

19. The programmer’s wife tells him: “Run to the store and pick up a loaf of bread.. If they have eggs, get a dozen.”

Ok, there’s an ellipsis, of an indefinite: a dozen of something. But what? There are two candidates in the context: the close eggs, and the discourse-topical loaf of bread. In the joke, the programmer’s wife intends the first, but the programmer supplies the second, as the punch line indicates:

The programmer comes home with 12 loaves of bread.



March 11, 2014

Today’s Bizarro:


The two relevant senses, from NOAD2:

1 causing laughter or amusement; humorous: a funny story | the play is hilariously funny.

2 difficult to explain or understand; strange: I had a funny feeling you’d be around | a funny thing, democracy.

The patient in the cartoon above believes that funny applies in both senses to New Yorker cartoons. And so it sometimes does.

Three cartoons for Saturday

March 8, 2014

Maybe I’m just easily amused today, but three cartoons caught my eye: a Zippy, a Rhymes With Orange, and a Pearls Before Swine:





Odds and ends 2/13/14

February 13, 2014

Two (unrelated) items in my queue, on familiar topics: ambiguity and government by the nearest.


Pig fails again

February 12, 2014

Today’s Pearls Before Swine:

Once agan, Pig falls foul of the Comic Book Censor. This time, it’s over the expression flip s.o. the bird, understood literally (as Pig intends) or as a reference to a rude gesture, giving someone the finger (which comes up here every so often).


January 28, 2014

Yesterday’s Dilbert, on average:


The cartoon uses average as a technical term — mean or median — and also as an ordinary language term, meaning ‘mediocre’, invidiously.


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