Archive for the ‘Lexical semantics’ Category

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.


Ruthie vs. N + N compounds

September 24, 2015

A recent One Big Happy, with Ruthie and monkey bread:


At issue is the N + N compound monkey bread.


Amber 2

September 21, 2015

Following up on my posting on succinic acid (which led to some discussion of the substance amber), two amber items: a musical interlude, and material about senses of the noun amber.



September 19, 2015

It seems to be Breadstuffs Weekend. Yesterday, breadsticks. Today, muffins.

Today started with a photo from London, posted on Facebook by Steven Levine:


Steven’s comment:

Excuse me, I’m looking for a guy who lives here who calls himself “the muffin man”. Do you know him?

Yes: Do you know the muffin man?


Zombie X

September 16, 2015

For some time, Mike Pope has been (gently) after me on Facebook to assemble a list of linguistic terms that are my innovations. This turns out to be a devilishly difficult enterprise, for several reasons, a prime one being something that afflicts any attempt to discover the “inventor” of an expression: as I’ve noted several times on this blog, most innovations exploit potentials in the language that are in principle available to everyone (various figures of speech, semantic extensions and specializations, patterns of word formation, and so on), so that it’s quite likely that an innovation has been made by many people on many different occasions, without anyone taking special notice or recording these events.

But sometimes one of these events is noticed, at least within a particular sociocultural community, and that’s taken to be a founding event (with an identifiable source), from which the innovation can spread within the community; the innovator is then given credit within the community.

And so to the story of metaphorical zombie.


Ten language-y comics

September 13, 2015

On the Comics Kingdom blog on Tuesday the 8th: “Tuesdays Top Ten Comics on Grammar and Wordplay” (with grammar, as usual, understood broadly). CK distributes strips from King Features; it’s one of my regular sources of cartoons for this blog. The strips here are all from 2014-15.


Cartoon adventures in lexical semantics

September 12, 2015

Two cartoons from yesterday — a Mother Goose and Grimm and a Scenes from a Multiverse — that turn on the senses of lexical items. The preposition on and the verb jam, respectively.



Ambiguity in #1, an extended sense in #2.


Briefly: sources?

September 11, 2015

In looking up material for my recent goldenrod posting, I came across the site for the Herbal Extract Company, which claims to provide a goldenrod supplement for medicinal purposes. The site is a mess, with pages that look like templates, with no real content — like the goldenrod-sources page, which asks the question:

What foods are good sources of goldenrod?

but, so far as I can tell, provides no answers. My problem actually goes deeper than that, since I don’t understand the question. My guess was that it’s asking about sources of goldenrod ‘goldenrod extract’, in which case the sources are either goldenrod plants or companies like their own, but not foods. (In a slightly different context, it could be asking about sources of goldenrod ‘goldenrod honey’, in which case the answer is either the plants, or bees, or companies that sell foodstuffs like honey.)

My impression is that the wording of the question involves some sort of semantic reversal involving the noun sources, but I don’t see how to reformulate the question so that it asks something reasonable and could have a useful answer.


August 20, 2015

Yesterday (while working on my “Plant families” posting, on the rose family) I came across the Wikipedia page for the agreeable plant Cotoneaster, which sent me on a complex journey through pronunciation and etymology, botanical taxonomy, English morphology, lexical semantics, and the pragmatics of expressions of resemblance.


Pizza that doesn’t exist

August 10, 2015

Passed on by Kim Darnell, a BBC News piece from the 5th by Dany Mitzman, “The day I ordered pizza that ‘doesn’t exist'”:

Bologna, Italy — One of my favourite things about living in Italy is the pizza, and it’s recently given me an insight into how our brains are wired differently.

Pizza has taught me that logic can be subjective and that subjective logic can be cultural. It has also made me humbly realise that, in some ways, I’ll probably always be considered here as an ignorant foreigner.



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