Archive for the ‘Language and society’ Category

Rising pitch

January 26, 2014

In the Stanford freshman seminar on language in the comics, the topic of rising intonation at the end of intonational units came, with the predictable impression from some (by no means all) of the students that it was associated with asking questions. And then I was pointed to a piece by artist Taylor Mali, “Speak with conviction”, complaining about “invisible quesion marks”. There’s a deep but understandable confusion here.


Social memory

December 28, 2013

From GayStarNews on the 17th, in “Taylor Kitsch ‘had no idea about the whole AIDS epidemic’ before filming The Normal Heart: Actor plays closeted Wall Street executive in denial about having the disease” by Greg Hernandez:

‘I mean, look: I was born in ’81. I had no idea about the whole AIDS epidemic,’ the actor tellsVulture.

Social memory is surprisingly shallow. Events vanish with great speed. My studemts (in their 20s and 30s) know virtually nothing about the Vietnam War or the protests surrounding it. Then it turned out out that several acquaintances (in their 20s) knew essentially nothing about the AIDS epidemic — this after some emotional reminiscences from me.


girls, women, gals

October 30, 2013

On Facebook, Ann Burlingham has passed on this posting (from February 1st), “Why Are We Referring to Women as Girls?” by Yashar Ali, about men referring to women in the workplace as girls. (Note: Yashar Ali is a man.)



August 30, 2013

In the New Yorker of 8/26/13, a letter on p. 5 from Richard M. Perloff, Professor of Communication at Cleveland State University, Cleveland OH, beginning:

Dangerous Liaisons
Hendrik Hertzberg, writing about Anthony Weiner, Eliot Spitzer, and their forerunners in the delicate pas de deux between private misdeeds and public behavior, assumes that sex scandals have an objective quality (Comment, August 12th and 19th). Whether a series of transgressions merits the label “scandal” is itself a contentious issue that is a function of social norms and cultural values.

Perloff goes on to discuss some specific cases, and I’ll get to these. But first some lexicographic notes.


Respecting each other

July 20, 2013

The short version of an ad for a gay dating/cruising app:

MISTER is an online community for men who value themselves and other men. Unlike other gay social networking apps, MISTER encourages users to show their faces, show respect, spend less time searching and more time meeting men in the real world. The users of our app are proud to say, “I am MISTER.”

(There will eventually be a linguistic point.)


Class accents

June 6, 2013

From “Pedigree” by Walter Kirn, a personal history in the June 10 & 17/13 New Yorker (the Crimes and Misdemeanors issue), about a con man and convicted murderer he knew as Clark Rockefeller:

He spoke with an accent, clipped and international, and occasionally tossed in a word (“erstwhile,” “improprietous”) that tied a bow on the sentence that included it. I’d met a few people like him during college [Princeton] — pedigreed, boastful, overschooled eccentrics who spoke like cousins of Katharine Hepburn and always seemed to have prematurely thinning hair and delicate, intestinal-pink skin. But I was brought up in rural Minnesota, deep in manure-scented dairy country, and never succeeded in getting close to them. Their clubs wouldn’t have me; I didn’t play their sports. (p. 91)

Turns out that Clark Rockefeller was born Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter in rural Bavaria and had

fashioned a manner based on a pop-culture travesty of wealth: Thurston Howell III, of “Gilligan’s Island.” (p. 92)

In the U.S. he ran through a number of identities, often connecting himself to famous people — among them, Christopher Chichester (Sir Francis Chichester), Christopher Crowe (Cameron Crowe), and of course Clark Rockefeller.

Speaking like a cousin of Katharine Hepburn is a nice touch.



How ’bout them Cubbies?

May 12, 2013

Today’s Zippy:

So the strip is “about” hair(s), but it’s also “about” How ’bout them Cubbies?

(On a personal hair and holiday note: I’m watching Hairspray for Mothers Day.)



April 28, 2013

Over on ADS-L we’ve been discussing the etymology of chicano/Chicano, and Jon Lighter introduced the question of the social status of the ethnonym; it was his recollection that in the 1960s the word was used disparagingly, and that was my recollection and Larry Horn’s as well. But on the whole it’s been reclaimed, a process that was already underway by 1970, with the rise of chicano political consciousness.


Synthetic compounds and back-formed verbs: rape

April 15, 2013

From discussions of rape in recent news, the synthetic compounds slut-shaming and victim-blaming — and, no surprise, the back-formed verbs slut-shame and victim-blame.


Colored bottoms

March 29, 2013

A comment on my Crimplene posting:

Since you’ve been into ads in a big way recently, I think you’ll appreciate this one if you haven’t already seen it

It’s a Joe. My. God. column with this image, seen at the Belk department store:

Only two words in colored bottom, but there’s an issue with each of them.



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