Archive for the ‘Lexical semantics’ Category

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:

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(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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From disaster to great spectacle

May 3, 2015

The news for yesterday, from Inside Edition:

Saturday is scheduled to be the biggest day ever in sports history with “The Fight of the Century,” [Floyd Mayweather, Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao] Kentucky Derby, the NBA and NHL playoffs, and the final day of the NFL Draft.

The New York Post is calling it “Sportsmaggedon.”

— using the libfix –maggedon, usually naming disasters, but here referring approvingly to a great spectacle. The disaster libfix –pocalypse has sometimes gone the same route: in my “The news for libfixes” of 1/14/13, there’s a rave for “Airpocalypse: America’s premier Air Band!”

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In both cases, a semantic component of great size or significance is preserved, but the affective polarity of the word is reversed: bad becomes good.

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Mind the Gap

April 22, 2015

The title of a piece on “mindfulness” by Virginia Heffernan in the New York Times Magazine on the 19th. Well, that was the title in the print version, using a conventionalized expression for warning about a (specific) danger; in the on-line version, the title is the more straightforward (but alliterative) “The Muddied Meaning of ‘Mindfulness’”.

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On the double entendre watch

April 20, 2015

Posted on Facebook by Leith Chu:

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Oh my: the verb pork, the verb pull, the verb rub, all available with sexual senses.

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gummi

April 10, 2015

Today’s Zits:

Pierce seems to believe that using the same label for things means that there’s a deep connection between them. In this case, why bears and worms but not other things? (In the real world, there are all sorts of gummi candies.)

Three cartoons

March 8, 2015

For Daylight Saving(s) Time in the U.S., three cartoons having something to do with discourse organization: One Big Happy, Bizarro, and Dilbert:

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(#2)

(#3)

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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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