Archive for the ‘Idioms’ Category


September 13, 2015

On the 11th, Mark Liberman returned to the expression could care less on Language Log, thanks to an xkcd cartoon that day, which I reproduce here:

He uses the expression as an implicitly negative idiom, conveying something like couldn’t care less, but a bit more compactly. She peeves at him, he analyzes what she might be doing with her peeve, and eventually he uses the idiom to her.


All things shark

August 24, 2015

Heavy advertisement on cable tv for the summer-end event Shweekend (Shark Weekend — somehow, sharks provoke portmanteaus) on the Discovery Channel.


(The poster plays on the film title Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!)


Setting up a pun

July 20, 2015

Today’s One Big Happy, with a setup for a pun on the idiom level playing field:

Hard to believe that Ruthie would have come to this on her own; she’s just serving as a channel for the cartoonist’s language play.

the old college try

July 1, 2015

Today’s Calvin and Hobbes:

As on other occasions, Calvin asks his father an information question and gets a less than useful response. In this case, the meaning of the old college try is clear, but its history is not quite so clear.


A truncated idiom

June 4, 2015

From the 5/30 Economist, in “Republicans in name aussi” on Nicolas Sarkozy:

Even if the relaunch succeeds, however, Mr Sarkozy will have his work cut out.

Pretty clearly, the intention here is to convey ‘will have his work cut out for him’, that is ‘will have difficulty completing his work’, with the idiom have one’s work cut out for one, but here in a truncated variant. The shorter variant is simply not possible for me, though I can figure it out. It turns out that the shorter variant is specifically British. (Remember that the Economist is a British publication.)


Sources and saucers

May 27, 2015

Today’s One Big Happy, with Ruthie once again rummaging in her mental lexicon:

The homey and familiar saucers takes over for the rarer sources, in the idiom have one’s sources.

Two political cartoonists

May 25, 2015

To link to a posting on Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes, some notes on Watterson’s favorite political / editorial cartoonists, Pat Oliphant and Jim Borgman.


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.


The literalist

May 21, 2015

Today’s Mother Goose and Grimm, with a literalist Ralph coping with Grimm’s could care less:

could care less has been a perennial topic on Language Log and this blog. But in all the discussion among linguists and psycholinguists no one disputes that there’s an idiom here, and it has a negative element of meaning that is not overt. Ralph the literalist essentially denies this, implicitly taking the position that if Grimmy meant he couldn’t care less he should have said that.


Fig time

May 20, 2015

A couple days ago I caught a snippet of a discussion on KQED-FM about overwintering fig plants. Why people were discussing the topic as we near the beginning of summer I don’t know, but there it was. I’m not caring for any fig plants here in Palo Alto, but back when I lived in Columbus OH most of the year I had two: a Ficus benjamina, a very common house plant in temperate climates; and a Ficus carica, the plant the people on the radio were talking about (an ornamental and the source of the figs we eat), which I grew in Columbus as a potted plant, to serve as a reminder of California.

Now some figgy reflections, starting with some Ficus plants and then wandering on to other fig-related matters: the fig leaf of modesty, figgy pudding, Fig Newtons, and the negative polarity item care/give a fig.



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