Archive for the ‘Figurative language’ Category


September 19, 2015

It seems to be Breadstuffs Weekend. Yesterday, breadsticks. Today, muffins.

Today started with a photo from London, posted on Facebook by Steven Levine:


Steven’s comment:

Excuse me, I’m looking for a guy who lives here who calls himself “the muffin man”. Do you know him?

Yes: Do you know the muffin man?


Zombie X

September 16, 2015

For some time, Mike Pope has been (gently) after me on Facebook to assemble a list of linguistic terms that are my innovations. This turns out to be a devilishly difficult enterprise, for several reasons, a prime one being something that afflicts any attempt to discover the “inventor” of an expression: as I’ve noted several times on this blog, most innovations exploit potentials in the language that are in principle available to everyone (various figures of speech, semantic extensions and specializations, patterns of word formation, and so on), so that it’s quite likely that an innovation has been made by many people on many different occasions, without anyone taking special notice or recording these events.

But sometimes one of these events is noticed, at least within a particular sociocultural community, and that’s taken to be a founding event (with an identifiable source), from which the innovation can spread within the community; the innovator is then given credit within the community.

And so to the story of metaphorical zombie.


Substance massification on the golf course

September 15, 2015

In another watching of the GEICO “Kraken” commercial (posting here), I caught a nice everyday example of the sort of conventionalized metonymy that I called in a 2008 LLog posting substance massification, a particular type of conversion of a C (count) noun to a M (mass) use.

In their in-play commentary on a golf game in progress, one reporter says to another, about a golfer attempting to cope with a sea-monster:

(X) Looks like he’s going to go with the 9 iron. That may not be enough club.

(Golf) club is C, but here is used with M syntax, according to this generalization (from the LLog posting):

C>M: substance massification. A C noun denoting an individual has a M use to denote a generic substance or totality, usually in construction with a quantity determiner (“That’s a lot of horse”, “That’s more elephant than we can handle”). [So: horse / elephant (roughly) ‘amount of horse / elephant material or substance’ (considered as a whole)]

Or in the case of (X), enough club, with club (roughly) ‘amount of club substance or material’.


Go for the nuts!

September 8, 2015

From Ned Deily on Facebook, a photo of the Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game for small children, which invited jokey comments playing on nuts ‘testicles’. And from there to other expressions for the testicles: play ball!


The linguistics of temperature

August 20, 2015

Posted to the Linguistic Typology (LingTyp) mailing list yesterday by Maria Koptjevskaja Tamm ‪<>, a query to the experts, incorporating some information about conceptual metaphors of temperature in (some of) the world’s languages. Her query

concerns extended uses of temperature terms (such as ‘warm’, ‘hot’, ‘cold’, ‘cool’, etc.), primarily in reference to emotions, human dispositions and interpersonal relations, which are the focus of my current cross-disciplinary research together with the social psychologist Hans IJzerman.

As you certainly know,  “affection is warmth”and “anger is heat” are two of the most widely quoted “universal” conceptual metaphors suggested by cognitive linguists on the basis of such expressions as “warm words, feelings” or “hot tempered”, well-attested in familiar languages.

However, the chapters in the volume The linguistics of temperature (John Benjamins, 2015), edited by [Tamm], clearly reveal a significant variance in using temperature metaphors.


Crediting inventiveness

July 7, 2015

A letter in the NYT Book Review on the 5th (from K. Margaret Schwarz of Hillsborough NJ):

Erica Wagner’s review of Jonathan Galassi’s “Muse” (June 21) praises Galassi’s cleverness in referring to Amazon as “Medusa.” But Alison Bechdel did so years ago in “Dykes to Watch Out For.”

Apparently Galassi’s metaphorical reference wasn’t actually clever, because he wasn’t the first person to use it; presumably, he should have searched for the metaphor before he used it in his book and then should have given Bechdel credit for it. (And, following that reasoning, Wagner should have done such a search herself and either cited Bechdel’s precedent or not mentioned the figure at all.)

This strikes me as loony.


I Can’t Even

July 5, 2015

A follow-up to my posting “That goes without”, on an Amanda Hess piece in the NYT Magazine of 6/14, about the (largely) teenage use of “I can’t even” to convey being rendered speechless by strong emotion. Now to the letters section in the magazine for 6/28, which comes with two Tom Gauld cartoons illustrating reader comments.



June 27, 2015

Today’s Rhymes With Orange:

A subtle pun on bait — understood literally, as in bait for fish, or understood figuratively, as an enticement (in this case to click on a link).


The hunted 95 per cent?

June 4, 2015

Let’s start with:

(1) Hunted for its horns, 95 percent of the population disappeared

This looks like a classic “dangling modifier”. We have a SPAR hunted for its horns (a Subjectless Predicative Adjunct Requiring a referent for the missing subject), but the adjunct doesn’t obey the Subject Rule (doesn’t pick up its referent from the subject of the main clause: (1) doesn’t in fact tell us that 95 percent of the population was hunted for its horns). (On the concepts and terminology, see the material in the Page on “Dangler postings”, especially the “as a SPAR” posting.)

But even without context, (1) is easily understood: 95 percent of the population is a metonymic stand-in for a population of X, and it’s X that was hunted for its horns. But that takes some interpretive work. However, when more discourse context is provided, this work is no longer needed, and I’d expect that readers wouldn’t even notice that (1) is technically a dangling modifier.


Why are they pets?

May 25, 2015

Today’s Rhymes With Orange:

(Note the title: “Linguistics 101”.)

For the people:

We call them pets because we pet them.

For the cats:

We call them feeds because they feed us.

The two cases of nouning aren’t parallel, but reversed — in a sense, chiastic.

May 26th. Note of etymological truth, which I playfully omitted in the original posting. This is a cute story for pet, but it’s etymologically backwards. The noun came first, for ‘indulged child’, then for ‘animal companion’, and then the verb was derived from the noun, meaning something on the order of ‘to treat like a pet’, specifically ‘to stroke’.


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