Archive for the ‘Ambiguity’ Category


November 17, 2015

An entertaining photo that’s been floating around the Internet for some time:


In speech, the intended parsing

(1) [ Alaskan cod ] [ pieces ]

is indistinguishable from the humorous parsing

(2) { Alaskan ] [ codpieces ]

In writing, the conventional spelling distinguishes the two and enforces parsing (1). But if you’re not aware of the item of apparel the codpiece (more on that to come), or if the possibility of an ambiguity hadn’t occurred to you, you might be tempted to the spelling codpieces instead of cod pieces.


fish food, fish flakes

November 15, 2015

Yesterday’s Rhymes With Orange:

Hilary Price returns to the ambiguity of compounds every so often, and I return to the topic myself fairly often, noting that even if we set aside Type X, or “distant”, compounds (where you have to know a story about some situation to understand what the compound means) and stick to Type O, or ordinary, compounds (where there’s a relatively small set of patterns for interpretation), there’s still plenty of room for ambiguity. As here: food / flakes for fish (to eat) OR food / flakes (made) from/of fish?


fancy bottoms

November 10, 2015

Passed on to me through several Facebook pages, this vintage clothing ad from the site (providing pages from 70s catalogs; the catalog this one came from is not identified):


These are knit trousers — bell-bottoms in fact — with fancy bottoms, where bottom is intended to refer to

(1) ‘the lowest point or part’ of something (NOAD2), in this case, the lowest part of the trousers

Entertainingly, there are three other possible senses here: one given by NOAD2 —

(2) informal ‘buttocks’

— and two not: a sexual sense (opposed to top), denoting

(3) someone who takes the receptive role in anal intercourse (or, by extension, someone who takes the receptive or submissive role in other sexual acts)

and a sense from the clothing trade, denoting

(4) a garment worn on the lower half of the body (vs. a top, a garment worn on the top half of the body)

So fancy bottoms could refer to fancy asses / butts (a number of Facebook readers were enchanted with the idea); or to sexual bottoms who are fancy, in one or another sense of fancy; or to garments for wear on the lower half of the body that are fancy (say, by being made of cloth printed with a fancy pattern, or by having extra features of one sort or another.

There is some discussion of the sexual senses, in a gay context, in postings linked to from this blog on 6/3/13.  And of the clothing-trade sense in four postings on this blog:

7/11/11: “Active bottoms” (link), with both bottom and active in clothing-trade senses (active ‘for (vigorous) activities’, as in active wear vs. leisure wear)

1013/11: “More bottoms” (link), with Big and Tall Bottoms

3/29/13: “Colored bottoms” (link)

10/29/13: “More bottoms and tops” (link), with buy a bottom, get a top

These sightings are entertaining because of the potential ambiguity between the clothing-trade and the sexual senses. (Ok, itr’s cheap entertainment.)

There is yet a fifth sense that bottoms might have picked up, but apparently hasn’t — as a truncation of bell-bottoms, in which case fancy bottoms could refer to fancy bell-bottomed trousers (fancy all over, not just fancy at the bottom). Such garments certainly exist; here’s a striking number from a Burning Man:


But it seems that among the alternatives to bell-bottoms — flares,  boot-cut or boot-fit trousers, even the occasional truncation to bells — we do not find bottoms.

The Halloween sale

October 31, 2015

Halloween playfulness, using the Daily Jocks ad for today:


Mark is all a-quiver
Over the sale — the
Troy quadruplets can be
Booked at half price; Mark
Wants Tom Troy so bad he
Lives in Tom’s
Signature hot
Pink superfaggy
Team8 Trunks.

The Troy boys: left to right, Ted, Tom, Todd, Tim:


I hear that they’re offering a further volume discount.

Mark is so much into the quads that he’s been developing his. See the legs in #1.


October 26, 2015

I start with a Mark Stivers cartoon (from 11/16/14) that was reprinted (in b&w) in the November Funny Times:


Reubenesque in the cartoon (referring to the Reuben sandwich, illustrated there), playing on Rubenesque (referring to the painter Peter Paul Rubens, known, among other things, for the plump — “full and rounded” in OED3 — female figures in his paintings), both pronounced /ˌrubɪnˈɛsk/. The Reuben sandwich in the cartoon is metaphorically Rubenesque: plump with its components, as it should be.

This play on words will take us in several directions; here are some preliminary comments, in no particular order.


That’s a moray

October 17, 2015

Yesterday I posted about (among other things) the song “That’s Amore”, as made famous by Dean Martin. Immediately friends began providing plays on the title: That’s a Moray”. Eels! It turns out that there is a small industry in this bit of linguistic playfulness. On to the parodies, and then some words about morays.


Meatless and brainless

October 16, 2015

Today’s Zippy, at a diner in New Jersey:


Griffy contemplates vegetarianism, while Zippy throws out a series of off-center comments.


Lassie to the rescue

October 14, 2015

The Rhymes With Orange cartoon of the 11th:

A play on the ambiguity of the noun help. Among its senses in NOAD2 are these:

[1] the action of helping someone to do something; assistance: I asked for help from my neighbors | thank you for your help.

[2] [in sing.] a person or thing that helps: he was a great help.

Lassie is trained to assist people (the first sense), so she leaps (literally) to the rescue here (yes, we need to assume that the dog can read and understand English, but this is CartoonWorld, not the real world). The sign in the window, however, is seeking help in the second sense, specifically someone to work in the place.


Walsh plays with formulaic and conventionalized language

October 11, 2015

In a recent cartoon posting, one (#2) from New Yorker cartoonist Liam Francis Walsh, who frequently plays with language. Here are five more from Walsh on formulaic, conventionalized, or clichéd language. There will be food: chestnuts, hot dogs, and (sliced) bread.


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.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 856 other followers