Archive for the ‘Ambiguity’ Category

Learning to tell jokes

March 2, 2015

Yesterday’s One Big Happy, in which Ruthie works at telling jokes:

Part of acquiring a language is acquiring a large assortment of social routines using that language — including joke patterns. Linguists studying conversation have looked at the acquisition of a number of different joke types, for example knock-knock jokes, where they see the gradual unfolding of the abilities involved in producing and appreciating jokes. For instance, many jokes turn on puns, so that a child has to learn that exact wording can be crucial to the joke; paraphrase won’t do. But children often fail to appreciate that, while still understanding that laughter is called for at a certain point in the joke.



March 1, 2015

Today’s Bizarro, with a play on abduction:

So: abduction by aliens (‘extraterrestial beings’) — but for what purpose? In a significantly conventionalized use of alien abduction, the purpose is probing human beings, but here the purpose of the abduction is a more common one: kidnapping for ransom (where it happens that the kidnappers are alien creatures). There are other possibilities.


Ode to Almond Joy

February 24, 2015

Today’s Zippy, with a candy-bar parody of Schiller’s Ode to Joy (An der Freude), used by Beethoven in the last movement of his Ninth Symphony:


Almond Joy, Mounds, Mars bars! Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t.



February 22, 2015

Today’s Bizarro, continuing Piraro’s ambiguity theme:

PST lost of the transitive verb lose, used here in a specialized subsense of a ‘be deprived of’ sense. From NOAD2:

be deprived of (a close relative or friend) through their death or as a result of the breaking off of a relationship: she lost her husband in the fire.

This in contrast to an ‘unable to find’ sense:

become unable to find (something or someone): I’ve lost the car keys.

How do we work out that these two senses intersect in the cartoon?


Bird seed

February 20, 2015

Yesterday, a Bizarro with an ambiguity in auto parts. Today, another ambiguity, somewhat simpler than that one:

Two interpretations for the N + N compound bird seed, differing in the semantic relationship between the head N seed and the accompanying N bird — one like parrot seed ‘seed to give parrots, to feed parrots’, one like grass seed ‘seed of grass, i.e., of the grass plant; seed to grow grass from’.


Auto parts

February 19, 2015

Today’s Bizarro, exploiting an unexpected ambiguity:

It’s all in the parts. Components (of an automobile) or a role in a dramatic work (which, in this case, is to be taken by — surprise! — an automobile).


Two Zippys

February 14, 2015

Two recent Zippys, yesterday with the existential pleasures of an empty diner and today with a fantasized Zippy Mart, but both with ambiguities in their titles:



The main content of these strips is familiar Zipsurrealism. Here I’m all about the titles.


Quiz questions

February 2, 2015

A linguistic Get Fuzzy passed on to me by Jack Hamilton:

Satchel Pooch, taking a general knowledge quiz, is subverted by Bucky Katt.


Type names and individual names

January 31, 2015

Today’s One Big Happy turns on names of types vs. names of individuals, in the world of cars:

Mercedes and Lexus are the names of types (makes) of cars. But you can easily give individual cars their own “personal” names, as many people do. Nothing illegal about using the same (Mercedes) or similar (Lexus / Lexis) names in the two cases, but yes, potentially misleading. (On the other hand, the type names are count nouns, and occur with determiners — a Mercedes — while the individual names are anarthrous — Mercedes — so the syntax normally disambiguates the senses.)

Finding Jesus

January 25, 2015

Yet another cartoon — this seems to be Cartoon Weekend — this time another one about proselytizing, following on the Phil Selby “We’d like to talk to you about cheeses” cartoon: a Tim Whyatt strip passed on to me by Michael Covarrubias:

A play on find Jesus: literal find ‘discover (someone or something) after a deliberate search’ (NOAD2) vs. the figurative find Jesus ‘develop a personal relationship with God’.



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