Archive for the ‘Pragmatics’ Category

Prefix + FN

November 14, 2015

In yesterday’s posting on “Address terms in service encounters”, I looked at an unfortunate confluence of two patterns of vocatives: one in address terms used to me by some Hispanic servers at the restaurant Reposado in Palo Alto (in particular, the address term Mr. Arnold), and one in address terms used by slaves to their masters in plantation days (in particular the address form Mr. FN, as in Mr. Simon used by slaves to address their master Simon Legree) and (historically, a continuation of the slave practice to post-slavery contexts, but still involving blacks addressing whites) by employees in some parts of the South to their employers (again, the address form Mr. FN, as in Mr. Keene used by a stableman to address his employer Keene Daingerfield in Lexington KY a couple generations ago). The two address forms are formally identical, and both are used by speakers providing a service to the addressee, but the sociocultural contexts are very different, and the (inadvertent) echo of slave usage in a Mexican restaurant is unpleasant.

Now it turns out that Prefix (Mr./Miss) + FN turns up in a number of circumstances where providing services is not at issue, including some in which the form is not at root a vocative, but functions instead as a kind of professional name, which can be used referentially or vocatively. In these contexts, race is not in the mix, and there are no unfortunate echoes of slavery. Get ready for teachers of young children, psychics, and male hairdressers.


Address terms in service encounters

November 13, 2015

A Bizarro from long ago (May 25th), with a groan-worthy pun on senior and señor (roughly ‘Mr.’ in referential use):

Now some words about referential vs. vocative uses of names (Arnold Zwicky, Arnold, Zwicky, Mr. Arnold, Mr. Zwicky, Prof. Zwicky) and prefixes (like Mister or Professor on their own), both in English and Spanish, all this as a preface to some discussion of address terms in service encounters, where servers have a complex task in balancing the desire to show respect to the customer and the desire to express closeness and friendliness.


Briefly noted: a bullshit lexicon

November 3, 2015

Published on October 27th, Mark Peters’s guide to the vocabulary of bullshit as a form of language use:

(That takes him into a certain amount of discourse on bullshit referring to animal excrement, but cow manure is not the point of the book.) (more…)

X snob

October 31, 2015

First, I note a snowclonelet composite not discussed earlier on this blog: X snob, involving a specialized use of the noun snob. Then I summarize some ADS-L discussion of possible extensions of the snowclonelet, where it was suggested that the snowclonelet might in some cases be losing its pejorative tone.



October 26, 2015

I start with a Mark Stivers cartoon (from 11/16/14) that was reprinted (in b&w) in the November Funny Times:


Reubenesque in the cartoon (referring to the Reuben sandwich, illustrated there), playing on Rubenesque (referring to the painter Peter Paul Rubens, known, among other things, for the plump — “full and rounded” in OED3 — female figures in his paintings), both pronounced /ˌrubɪnˈɛsk/. The Reuben sandwich in the cartoon is metaphorically Rubenesque: plump with its components, as it should be.

This play on words will take us in several directions; here are some preliminary comments, in no particular order.


Routine and sub-routine

October 4, 2015

Today’s Zits:

True, she just asked him to unload the dishwasher, and he did that. But the point of unloading the dishwasher is to put the clean dishes away, so that unload the dishwasher implicates put the clean dishes away. Or to put it another way, the routine of unloading the dishwater has a sub-routine of putting the clean dishes away.

As usual, Jeremy takes what his mother says as literally and narrowly as possible, so as to avoid work.

Sexual advance?

October 3, 2015

A Dilbert from a while back (9/23) with co-workers Alice and Ted at cross-purposes:

People are inclined to sexualize social relations between the sexes, to the point where some people are dubious that men and women can have non-sexually tinged friendships, and this inclination seems to be particularly strong among men. The rather dim-witted Ted is a pretty extreme case.



October 2, 2015

Yesterday’s Bizarro:


(If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Don Piraro says there are 2 in this strip — see this Page.)

But all bits of language have to be understood in context — the immediate physical context, the immediate social context (who’s speaking, to whom, for what purposes), the larger socioicultural context, and the context of background knowledge about the world. The task of taking all this stuff into account is substantial, but we manage the task pretty well (though by no means flawlessly) all the time. Still, the task is especially complex for highly compressed material, as on signs.


Context context context; and variation

September 26, 2015

Back in March, Luc Vartan Baronian posted on Facebook this semantics argument between his two children:

Daughter (4): I love my piggy bank.
Son (7): You mean your froggy bank?
Daughter: No! My piggy bank.
Son: But it’s a froggy, so it should be a froggy bank.
Daughter: No. It’s STILL a piggy bank.

Yesterday, Luc (recalling my immersion in penguiniana) sent this on to me, asking me if I had a penguin bank. My answer was fairly complex, though basically I spoke in favor of Luc’s daughter’s position.


Participles of immediacy

September 21, 2015

Yesterday’s Doonesbury:

Not necessarily participles (PSP, PRP) of urgency, really, but something more like immediacy, conveying a sense of reporting on ongoing events, events that are happening right now. Hot news, on the scene.


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