Archive for the ‘Lexical semantics’ Category

abduction

March 1, 2015

Today’s Bizarro, with a play on abduction:

So: abduction by aliens (‘extraterrestial beings’) — but for what purpose? In a significantly conventionalized use of alien abduction, the purpose is probing human beings, but here the purpose of the abduction is a more common one: kidnapping for ransom (where it happens that the kidnappers are alien creatures). There are other possibilities.

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Smell vocabulary

February 25, 2015

Previously on this blog: a Calvin and Hobbes (of 2/16/15) in which we learn that (at least in comic strips) tigers have an extensive vocabulary for smells. In a comment on that posting, Steve Anderson noted the paucity of smell (and taste) vocabulary other than via analogical descriptions (“tastes/smells like old socks”). But now comes a paper from the recent AAAS meetings in San Jose. From the 2/21 Economist, the story “Scent off: Culture, not biology, rules the relation between smell and language”, which I’ll post here in its entirety, in case readers can’t get access to the Economist site.

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gormless

February 23, 2015

Today’s One Big Happy, in which it turns out that Ruthie isn’t the only character who’s unsure about word meanings:

NOAD2 identifies gormless as informal and specifically British, so it’s no surprise that the adults don’t know what it means (though the appalling Avis takes it back to a putative noun stem gorm, which she treats as a mass noun (gormless ‘without gorm, lacking gorm’), though it could be a count noun (gormless ‘without gorms, lacking gorms’)).

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Auto parts

February 19, 2015

Today’s Bizarro, exploiting an unexpected ambiguity:

It’s all in the parts. Components (of an automobile) or a role in a dramatic work (which, in this case, is to be taken by — surprise! — an automobile).

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loitering

December 15, 2014

A sign on a law office down the street from me in Palo Alto:

The warning seems silly in the neighborhood, where I’ve never seen anyone even stopping in front of the building. So why the warning? And what is its legal standing?

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Inversion

December 8, 2014

Repeated annoying ads on television for Teeter Hang Ups, with insistent messages like this one:

Inversion has changed my life and I believe it will change yours.

Well, inversion (in one sense) has certainly changed my life.

The ads are for inversion tables, devices for hanging upside down, more or less, as here:

(#1)

Then there’s a sexual sense (now dated) of inversion.

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Fairy bread

November 26, 2014

A few days ago I posted on compounds of the form fairy X, including fairy bread, which I didn’t entirely know how to classify. Now Benita Bendon Campbell has written to remind me of a poem from “A Child’s Garden of Verses” by Robert Louis Stevenson (1885), which she learned when she was about 6, found  appealing and mysterious, and still does:

Come up here, O dusty feet!
Here is fairy bread to eat.
Here in my retiring room,
Children, you may dine
On the golden smell of broom
And the shade of pine;
And when you have eaten well,
Fairy stories hear and tell.

In this context, it looks like fairy bread is some sort of magical bread that fairies might eat — that is, bread ‘belonging to’ or ‘associated with’ fairies (like fairy gold, fairy dust, fairy wand, and others in my fairy X posting).

Now some lexicographic notes on the compound.

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widows and widowers

November 17, 2014

I chanced to reflect a few days ago on the words widow and widower, noting that there was “no word” (well, no olfesc — ordinary-language fixed expression of some currency) that covered them both; the union of the categories WIDOW and WIDOWER can certainly be expressed in English, but we have no quick and easy way of doing this.

So: some notes on the part of the domain of kinship vocabulary to which widow and widower belong.

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Ages

September 21, 2014

On the 12th, a Facebook posting announcing that the day was Maria Muldaur’s 71st birthday. How could that have happened? Well, we age; I’m now 74. Only slightly less startling is the report in the latest Out magazine that Stevie Nicks is 66.

Back on my birthday, two comments on age: one from my grand-daughter, distinguishing between really old and just old; and one from my first male lover, now 66 (like Stevie Nicks) to my 74, an age difference that no longer seems significant.

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The uses of etymology

September 18, 2014

From The Economist, 9/13/14, a letter, p. 22, from Mark Watson of Galway, Ireland:

I have lived in France for the past three months and each day I heard François Hollande in the media talking about “croissance”. I assumed he was invoking citizens to support their local bakery, until I realized he was speaking about growth. My observation is that in France croissance can happen between 10am and 12 noon, and again after 2pm but no later than 7 pm…

That is, Watson understands the noun croissance to mean something like ‘supplying croissants‘, those yummy rolls. There’s a nice etymological story here.

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