Archive for the ‘Data points’ Category

Data points: idiom blends 9/24/11

September 25, 2011

From a 2006 episode of the tv series Psych, “Death is in the Air”:

Is she dead?
Shawn: As a bag of rocks.
Gus: That’s “dumb as a bag of rocks”.

(Or “dead as a rock/stone”. But not part of each.)

This idiom blend seems to be a genuine invention of Psych‘s writers. No other ghits for it.

Three classic idiom blends, illustrated here (with references): rocket surgery in “It’s not rocket surgery”, under the eight ball, another kettle of worms. A few more from net discussions of the phenomenon: by far and away, don’t take lightly to, add up the math, a kick in the bucket, knock the wind out of your sails. 

(Hat tip to Victor Steinbok.)


Data points: subj-verb agreement 8/17/10

August 17, 2010

Headline on the front page of the New York Times today:

Exclusive Golf Course Is Also Organic, So a Weed or Two Get In

My first reaction — really, why I noticed the head in the first place — was that I would have written gets (sg.) rather than get (pl.), and I’m still inclined that way, though I’m not willing to say that get is unacceptable or non-standard. I do have a hypothesis about where the plural might have come from.


Data points: portmanteaus 8/8/10

August 8, 2010

From  Tad Friend’s “California Postcard: Pot 101″ piece in the New Yorker‘s Talk of the Town section, 8/9/10:

The university’s [Oaksterdam University in Oakland CA, which "aims to reposition pot-smoking as both a civil right and as the stuff of empire"] founder, president, and horticulture professor is Richard Lee, who also owns seven local enterprises that have helped revitalize the once derelict neighborhood, five of them so-called “canna-businesses.” (p. 22)

This is an overlap portmanteau, in fact a telescoping: cannabis business > canna-business, with the -bis of cannabis truncated by the overlap with business.

Respectable number of ghits, with all three spellings (solid cannabusiness, hyphenated canna-business, separated canna business) represented in the mix. Here, for example, you can find Stoner Magazine (U.K.) — “Your Cannabis Culture Magazine” — with its Canna Business Directory (listing head/hydroponic shops in England and Scotland, but not Wales or Northern Ireland, plus the Netherlands and Switzerland).

[Though you might not see this right away, head shop is an ordinary (type O) N+N compound, when understood as 'shop for heads', with modifying N head 'pothead, person who enjoys marijuana'. Hydroponic shop, however, is a type X Adj+N composite, since the Adj hydroponic in it is non-predicating, but is instead interpreted via the plural N hydroponics 'equipment for growing plants hydroponically').]

Data points: portmanteaus 8/3/10

August 3, 2010

I realize I’m probably way late for these particular trains, but here are three portmanteaus from yesterday’s NYT Magazine that caught my eye.


Data points: verbing 8/1/10

August 1, 2010

From Victor Steinbok:

Eugene Volokh muses on verbing “mandamus” (link).

Volokh writes:

Eugene Volokh • July 31, 2010 11:25 am

I just came across the word “mandamused” in a court opinion, so I did a couple of Westlaw searches — “mandamused” yields 238 hits, going back to the 1880s, and “mandamusing” yields 35 hits. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the first attestation as 1823 (and not even in a court case), though the sentence is a bit opaque, and possibly facetious: “If I do not ferk you out of all likelihood of ringing the beauty, why mandamus me!” (I kid you not.)

“Mandamus” [the noun] is well-known to lawyers, and it means (to quote Black’s Law Dictionary) “A writ issued by a superior court to compel a lower court or a government officer to perform mandatory or purely ministerial duties correctly.” The verb form “to mandamus X” thus naturally means “to issue a writ of mandamus ordering X to do something”; this stems from a normal process of English word formation, but I just hadn’t myself seen this before. “Mandamusing” strikes me as a little funky-looking, perhaps because it reminds someone of “musing,” though I take it that this reaction would become less common if the word becomes more common. (Naturally, I’m talking here about how common the term is among lawyers; even the much more common noun is in practice technical jargon used in a technical context.)

The OED‘s cites are all, of course, in legal contexts. Apparently the widening of the noun and verb to ordering in more general contexts hasn’t caught on.

And here’s the relevant part of OED2′s entry for the verb ferk/firk, around since Old English but now obsolete except in archaisms and (perhaps) some dialects:

2. b. With advbs.: To drive, force, or move sharply and suddenly offoutup{dag}to cut off (some one’s head). Also dial. to drive or ‘ferret’ out (vermin), to clear out (a burrow, etc.). to firk up (fig.): to stir up, rouse. {dag}to firk to death, (out) of life: to put to death.

c1400 Destr. Troy 145 He caste in his thoghte The freike vpon faire wise ferke out of lyue. Ibid 5260 With a fouchon felle to ferke of his hede. Ibid. 12191 {Th}e fell kyng of Frigie I ferkid of lyue. Ibid. 12362 With hor fos to be felly ferkit to dethe. 1610 B. JONSON Alch. II. i, He..puffes his coales, Till he firke nature vp, in her owne center. 1640 BROME Antipodes II. ii, As Tumblers doe; when betwixt every feat They gather wind, by firking up their breeches.1644 DIGBY Two Treatises (1645) I. 377 He [the badger] will pisse upon his taile, and by firking that up and downe, will make their eyes smart. 1817-8 COBBETT Resid. U.S. (1822) 249 These vermin our friend firks out(as the Hampshire people call it). 1823 New Monthly Mag. VIII. 496 If I do not ferk you out of all likelihood of ringing the beauty, why mandamus me! 1878 P. ROBINSON Indian Garden 106 Not all the marigolds of Cathay will firk up Christmas spirits. 1891 Sheffield Gloss. Suppl., Ferk, to clear out..‘Come, lass, let’s ferk all them nooks out!’

Data points: taboo avoidance, abbreviation

July 31, 2010

From Jonathan Dee, “Neither Straight Nor Outta Compton: Performed by gay and transgender rappers in New Orleans, the fast and profane music known as sissy bounce creates an atmosphere of sexual liberation — for women”, NYT Magazine, July 25:

The women did not dance with, or for, one abnother — they danced for [transgender rapper] Freedia [pronounced "FREE-da"], and they did so in the most sexualized way imaginable, usually with their backs to her, bent over sharply at the waist, and bouncing their hips up and down as fast as humanly possible, if not slightly faster. Others assumed more of a push-up position, with their hands on the florr, in a signature dance whose name is sometimes helpfully shortened to “p-popping.”

That’s the P-word, folks, P for pussy, in case you didn’t get it.

I can see brevity as a motive for the abbreviation, but in the context of really raunchy language and highly sexualized dancing, the word seems, well, unduly modest.

Data points: N ellipsis, ambiguity 7/31/10

July 31, 2010

Just in, from my daughter, about her daughter:

On Friday, Opal does work that she brings home. Yesterday’s included the word problem: Mother cat had 6 kittens. 5 kittens went to new owners. How many were left?

Opal’s answer, duly checked off by the teacher, was “2 cats were left.”

Thank goodness she gave a complete non-elliptical sentence as an answer. That’s what you’re expected to do in school talk, even though it totally goes against ordinary language use, which sensibly enough goes for brevity.

Opal’s answer, which chooses one of the two ways of filling in the N ellipsis in the question’s how many? — ‘how many cats?’ vs. ‘how many kittens?’ — does, however, opt for the contextually less likely reading of the question: the set-up for the question is about kittens — the discourse topic is kittens — so the expected fill-in for the ellipsis would be kittens, not cats, even though the N cat is out there in the context. That is, the expected elliptical answer would be “1″, or somewhat less elliptically, “1 kitten”, or the complete sentence “1 kitten was left”. (Ok, a kid who responded with any of these might still have the answer marked WRONG by a stickler teacher, since they all have “1″, the numeral, instead of “one”, the number word. My god, school is a minefield.)

I suspect that Opal might have learned, by experience rather than explicit teaching, to anticipate pitfalls and tricks in test questions, which you can avoid only by talking with utter explicitness. It’s still an open question whether she honestly (and unconsciously) interpreted the question in the contextually less appropriate way, or whether she was (perhaps without thinking it through) being clever and tweaking the person who wrote the question, or whether she meta-reasoned (unconsciously) that 6-minus-5 was just too stupidly easy a question, so that some answer less obvious than “1″ was called for. (Not that we could find out by asking her: if she could supply an answer to the question “Why did you say ’2 cats’?” at all, the answer she gave would be likely to be a construction based on her interpretation of the reasons behind our question, since she would have been extremely unlikely to have had insight into the springs of her behavior at the time she wrote her answer — whatever they might believe, people aren’t at all good at getting access to their unconscious thought processes — and she’s even less likely to remember these details now. So I’m having breakfast with Opal and her mother in a few minutes but won’t ask her why she gave that answer.)

Oh dear, this has gone way past just a brief reporting of a data point. So goes the academic life!

Data points: verbing 7/31/10

July 31, 2010

V< N: journal
‘write (in) a journal, keep a journal’

NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday 7/31/10: Are you journaling today?

[OED2] Chiefly in pa. pple. journaled.

1. trans. To record in a journal.

1803 J. KENNY Society 107 Oft o’er the journal’d tale she cast her eye. 1892 Idler May 461 His journaled impressions of America.

But: 7/31/10 many ghits for other forms, in particular BSE and PRP:

How to Journal for Therapy
Journaling is a great way to process everything that you’re going through, both high and low. Regularly keeping track of your emotions and the events of your life can serve as a barometer of your habits, strengths and tendencies. (link)

Journal keeping is a way to enhance your personal life and develop your professional career. We’ll look at journaling tips, prompts, quotes, books about journaling, orther journal keepers and workshops to intentionally invite the still voice of intuition into your writing. (link)


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