Archive for the ‘Idioms’ Category

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.


Light in the loafers

May 16, 2015

In response to possible Russian submarine intrusions in Swedish waters, a playful Distractify posting “Sweden’s New Defense Strategy Against Russian Submarines Is A Gay Dancing Sailor” by Myka Fox. A neon hunk:

“Light in the loafers, heavy in the briefs” says the posting.

Heavy in the briefs — a big package — is clear in the photo. What about light in the loafers?


L’eggo my Eggo!

May 8, 2015

Recently I’ve been noticing an apparent uptick in “L’eggo my Eggo!” commercials on tv, after a period in which the slogan appeared but was not the focus of Eggo ads. My impression turns out to have been accurate: a 10/27/14 article in Advertising Age. “‘L’Eggo My Eggo’ Tagline Makes Comeback” explained that the slogan had indeed been sidelined for some time but was revived as the centerpiece of the ad campaign last year. The slogan has a number of things going for it: it’s familiar (it’s been around since 1972); it rhymes; it has an attractively vernacular tone to it; and the conceit embodied in it — that Eggo waffles are so delicious that no one would be willing to share one — is entertainingly hyperbolic.

To consider: the history of the food; the history of the slogan; phonological and syntactic notes on the slogan.


Annals of idiomaticity

May 2, 2015

In putting together material on one and only earlier today, I stumbled on another well-known target of peevers, one of the only. One and only is accused of being evilly pleonastic, one of the only of being “illogical”, indeed incomprehensible; its purported offense involves an instance of the Etymological Fallacy — only historically derives from one, so it cannot be used in reference to groups (as in one of the only people to object) — compounded by a willful refusal to recognize idiomaticity (while idioms, not being fully compositional semantically, are, essentially by definition, not fully “logical”).


On the pleonasm watch

May 2, 2015

On WQXR (classical music in NYC), yesterday’s playlist included what was announced as:

Debussy’s one and only string quartet

The expression one and only looks pleonastic here; either Debussy’s one string quartet or Debussy’s only string quartet would have done, but one and only nails things down twice. Despite that, the expression is very common, and is treated as an idiom in some dictionaries.


Mind the Gap

April 22, 2015

The title of a piece on “mindfulness” by Virginia Heffernan in the New York Times Magazine on the 19th. Well, that was the title in the print version, using a conventionalized expression for warning about a (specific) danger; in the on-line version, the title is the more straightforward (but alliterative) “The Muddied Meaning of ‘Mindfulness’”.


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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