Archive for the ‘Formulaic language’ Category

Thought balloons

June 23, 2015

In the July 2015 Funny Times (p. 10), a cartoon about cartoon conventions, which I’ll have to describe to you rather than show to you (for reasons I’ll explain).

It shows a man standing by a sidewalk in a park, offering balloons for sale. The placard next to him says


And the balloons are labeled:


each supplying a thought.


A thousand likes

June 19, 2015

On Wednesday, a notification from WordPress that I had achieved

a thousand likes

on this blog since it started late in 2008.


Two linguistic comics

June 17, 2015

In my e-mail this morning, two linguistic comics: a One Big Happy and a Mother Goose and Grimm:




Talking wine

June 6, 2015

A cartoon in the latest (June 8th/15th) New Yorker by Jason Adam Katzenstein:


It’s the wine talking is used to confess something you might not have said if you hadn’t drunk some wine. But it’s a formulaic expression, so it can be deployed in other ways, for instance to introduce talk about wine.

In the cartoon, the wine is literally talking.


Ruthie and large-scale formulas

May 30, 2015

Yet another cartoon for this Saturday: a One Big Happy:

Ruthie tackles a large-scale formula here — one that has no words rare in her experience, but they’re assembled in a way that makes no sense to her, so she mentally makes large-scale adjustments.

Or what?

May 22, 2015

A Meg Biddle cartoon in the June 2015 Funny Times:


Yes-no questions with the tag or what? are regularly used to emphatically assert the truth of the questioned proposition. So

Is this a great country, or what?

has the effect of proclaiming that this is indeed a great country. But the question has at least one other reading, merely asking for an alternative answer to Is this a great country?, and that’s the reading Biddle is playing with in the cartoon.


Inspirational words

May 21, 2015

(A Dilbert, to introduce a recently-finished inventory of Dilbert postings about language matters on Language Log and this blog, here on this blog.)

Yesterday’s Dilbert, in which Dogbert offers a (not very encouraging) inspirational, motivational saying to Dilbert:


This particular aphorism is a quote (“In the long run, we are all dead”) — from John Maynard Keynes in 1923.


A collocation

May 1, 2015

One little exercise: Ask some people to fill in the blank with an adjective: A ___ SCOT.

Another little exercise: Ask some people (not any of the ones in the first exercise) to fill in the blank with a noun: A CANNY ___.

You’ll get a lot of CANNY for the first and a lot of SCOT for the second. CANNY SCOT isn’t exactly an idiom (each word occurs freely without the other), but the two words have an attraction for one another, collocate naturally with one another. In particular, any number of people have been described (with approbation) as canny Scots:

Adam Smith, the father of economics, was a canny Scot who had a strong belief in free-trade. (link to CNBC of 9/30/11)


Artificial elephants and X Must Die! movies

April 18, 2015

Today’s Zippy:


This cartoon links to a long series of strips on the invented cartoon character Happy Boy in the town of Prosaic (a “normal” place close to the surreal Dingburg) — a series that I find tedious (and linguistically uninteresting) and haven’t posted about. But here we get amazing elephants (note the cartoon’s title “Tusk, Tusk”, a play on tsk tsk) and a pointer to movies with titles using the snowclonic pattern “X Must Die!”.


The cat at the vet’s

March 26, 2015

A Benjamin Schwartz cartoon from the March 30th New Yorker:

Some friends have written me to ask for an explanation of this cartoon. The key part is the name Schrödinger. The cartoon is about Schrödinger’s cat, which has a certain fame in theoretical physics



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