Archive for the ‘Lexical semantics’ Category

Cotoneaster

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.

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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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cheesy pickup line

August 4, 2015

From George Takei on Facebook, this elaborate visual pun, presented like a captioned cartoon, with an entertaining disjuncture between the image and the caption:

The cheesiest pickup line ever

(Takei is scandously bad about crediting the sources of the things he posts — he just passes on things he comes across — so I have no idea who created this image or where it was originally posted.)

Three content words, each exhibiting crucial lexical ambiguity: the Adj cheesy, the N pickup, the N line.The whole thing is a N + N compound pickup line modified by the superlative of the Adj.

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Semantic specialization and extension

August 2, 2015

First case: An NPR announcer warns the audience,

(1) Spoiler alert!

Second case: a site for tourists in Ghent, Belgium (linked to in a comment on my recent posting on the city), that tells us,

(2) Ghent is divided into two quarters: the historic centre and the artistic quarter

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What’s wrong with this verb?

July 29, 2015

From July 18th, Jon Lighter in ADS-L:

[1] A television journalist with an English accent reports from Jordan that after the Tennessee gunman “came back [to the U.S.], he drunk drove.” This reveals the deadly seductiveness of the New Syntax: “drive drunk” takes no longer to say and is arguably more euphonious.

Lighter has a long history of scornfully criticizing innovative back-formed verbs like this one (to drunk drive / drunk-drive). His plaint is that in general there’s no justification for innovating new verbs when we already have a way to express the meaning, though the innovation might be defended if it provided a briefer alternative to the existing expression, which is not the case here; moreover, he assumes that the reason people innovate such verbs is merely to sound fashionable, a motive he deprecates.

There’s a lot to be said in response. I’ll start with some background about syntax and morphology and then move to the functions of innovative morphology and some sage observations by Larry Horn.

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Late summer porn sales

July 18, 2015

(Mostly about gay porn and advertising for it, but there’s some language stuff in there.)

We’re into the latter part of the summer season, and there aren’t many occasions to celebrate in the US, now that Independence Day and gay pride days are past and Labor Day is about six weeks in the future. That presents a challenge for gay porn studios, who like to have holidays to hang sales on. Two of them —  C1R {Channel 1 Releasing) and TitanMen — have taken the challenge, with rather different approaches.

C1R wasn’t inventive; they just declared a “summer splash sale” and offered up chunks of their inventory, plus a new flick, It All Cums Down to Cock (cramming cum, the down of go down on, and cock into a six-word title). The material in their ad, reproduced in an AZBlogX posting (note: visually and verbally X-rated), is undistinguished except for a steamy shot from the new flick (with slim twink Devin Dixon admiring hunk Jason Phoenix’s penis).

But TitanMen went for playful cleverness, with a “Christmas in July” ad campaign (details on AZBlogX).

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Rubber trees, rubber plants

May 29, 2015

In the NYT on the 27th, a piece “China’s High Hopes for Growing Those Rubber Tree Plants” by Becky Davis:

[in the face of a huge drop in the price of rubber,] environmental officials just outside Jinghong, [southwest Yunnan Province’s] major city, have been testing a plantation model that they hope will become the blueprint for a more sustainable and economically stable rubber industry.

On approximately 165 acres of land, workers have interspersed the rubber trees with cacao, coffee and macadamia trees, as well as high-value timber species. The mix, promoted as “environmentally friendly rubber,” is intended to decrease soil erosion, improve water quality and increase biodiversity, among other benefits.

So here we have rubber trees. But what about the houseplants commonly called rubber plants? Those, believe it or not, are a species of fig.

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Why are they pets?

May 25, 2015

Today’s Rhymes With Orange:

(Note the title: “Linguistics 101”.)

For the people:

We call them pets because we pet them.

For the cats:

We call them feeds because they feed us.

The two cases of nouning aren’t parallel, but reversed — in a sense, chiastic.

May 26th. Note of etymological truth, which I playfully omitted in the original posting. This is a cute story for pet, but it’s etymologically backwards. The noun came first, for ‘indulged child’, then for ‘animal companion’, and then the verb was derived from the noun, meaning something on the order of ‘to treat like a pet’, specifically ‘to stroke’.

The New Yorker on subsectivity

May 23, 2015

Michael Maslin in the latest (May 25th) New Yorker:

(#1)

(You need to recognize from the setting that the creature the cowboy is faced with is a so-called prairie dog — not any kind of dog, but instead a kind of ground squirrel.)

The echo of “I’m not that kind of girl” adds to the humor.

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fellow sisters

May 4, 2015

In the NYT Sunday Review 5/3/15, in “What Black Moms Know” by Yvonda Gault Caviness:

Thankfully, I am a black mom. Like many of my fellow sisters, I don’t have time for all that foolishness [about child-rearing].

I stumbled a bit on fellow sisters, though I understood that it was in no way contradictory; fellow here does not refer to a man or men, but to someone “sharing a particular activity, quality, or condition with someone or something: they urged the troops not to fire on their fellow citizens” (NOAD2). Still, the noun fellow is surely most frequently used for informal reference to a man or boy (there’s a fellow at the door), and this use can interfere with the (gender-neutral) ‘someone sharing an attribute’ use.

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