Archive for the ‘Idioms’ Category

Malaphors, aka idiom blends

April 10, 2015

From Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky, a link to a Malaphors site, featuring

Unintentional blended idioms and phrases – It’s the cream of the cake!

The site (managed by someone who identifies himself only as Davemalaphor) keeps a running inventory of “malaphors” — the term came to the site’s compiler from Douglas Hofstadter (1989), who got it from a 1976 newspaper article; Hofstadter also cites Gerald Cohen’s work on “syntactic blends” (generally, not specifically those involving idioms).

[Recent items on the Malaphor site: He’s a black horse in all of this (dark horse + black sheep); The client is one of those hard-moving targets (hard to hit + moving target); I’m going to give him a taste of my mind! (a piece of my mind + a taste of his own medicine).]

In a separate development, inspired by postings on “idiom blends” in Language Log starting in 2004, I’ve been keeping an inventory of my own. Again there’s an earlier history, going back to a 1997 Memory and Cognition article on “syntactic and semantic components of experimentally elicited idiom blends”, whose ultimate antecedent is a 1961 Language article by Dwight Bolinger on “syntactic blends” (which, however, doesn’t take up the special case of idiom blends).

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snit

April 6, 2015

This morning’s One Big Happy:

Once again, Ruthie copes with vocabulary she doesn’t know — in this case, the word snit in in a snit, where she has to figure out which of the many senses of the preposition in is at play here.

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Notes on malnegation

March 12, 2015

My posting of the 7th on miss not +Ving (as in I miss not getting the morning paper) has been getting a lot of views; at the moment, it’s #2 in number of views, behind only the long-standing top posting, on parts of the body. (Quite often, all the top ten postings in this regard have to do with sex or sexuality — but the “miss not” posting doesn’t.) At the same time, in looking at my files, I see an enormous number of postings on malnegation (or misnegation) — either overnegation (as apparently in this case) or undernegation (as apparently in could care less) — in Language Log and this blog (and also in some other linguablogs, for example Neal Whitman’s Literal-Minded blog), but no summary inventory of this material. It turns out that preparing such an inventory would be quite a substantial task, for a number of reasons, including one that became clear to me when I looked at Facebook comments on my “miss not” posting.

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“Hash Brown Built-In”

February 9, 2015

On Facebook, this photo:

(#1)

Jeff Shaumeyer wondered:

(1) Does “hashbrowns” really have a common singular form, and is this it?

(Bob Boutwell amplified on this, saying that “Hashbrown potatoes” is commonly used on menus, but he’d never seen “hashbrown” used as a singular noun.)

And Robert Coren asked:

(2) And what’s a “hash brown built-in”, anyway?

I’ll have answers, but there’s a good bit of background to get through.

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Weak heel

January 10, 2015

Passed on to me by Mike Pope, this cartoon with a complex pun:

The noun heel (the body part) and the verb heel — “(of a dog) follow closely behind its owner: these dogs are born with the instinctive urge to heel (NOAD2) — wrapped together with the idiom Achilles heel.

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No problem

December 31, 2014

Today’s Mother Goose and Grimm:

Mother Goose objects to (what she sees as) an innovation in politeness routines, seeing it as recent (and characteristic of kids) and especially associated with serving people. These criticisms has been leveled by many others.

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Idioms

December 14, 2014

A Wrong Hands cartoon by John Atkinson, from 9/18/12:

(#1)

What happens when you take idioms literally.

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Ask AMZ: two queries

November 27, 2014

… from Karen Schaffer: on trickle treat, and on gangbang and gangbanger.

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Annals of etymythology: to pass for

November 26, 2014

In a Harper’s Magazine review (Dec. 2014, pp. 84-6) of Allyson Hobbs, A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life (Harvard) by Joshua Cohen, we read about the sad history of “black” people passing as “white”, with a story about the origin of the usage:

The term “passing” seems to come from the passes that slaves had to carry, which allowed them to visit their relatives on other plantations or when they were rented out for day labor.

Lexicographers and linguists will immediately smell a rat: the story is detailed and grounded in a very specific piece of history (and so is attractive to many people). But it’s only too specific: in fact, the usage is quite general, not restricted to blacks passing for whites, or to situations where some sort of pass is involved. Cohen’s account looks like an etymythology (aka mythetymology).

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Ask AMZ

November 24, 2014

Two usage queries came to me recently: one on uses of a noun doxy; one on two informal idioms (the whole shooting match and wham, bam, thank you ma’am (with some variant versions)): Max Vasilatos reported coming across two Californian young men, one of whom didn’t understand the first, the other of whom didn’t understand the second.

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