Archive for the ‘Lexical semantics’ Category

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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to shallow

September 16, 2014

From the 9/6 New Scientist, in a letter from Bruce Denness (p. 28):

The tank shallowed towards one corner so that deep-water waves … began to break as they approached the shallow corner.

That’s the inchoative verb to shallow ‘to become, get shallow(er)’ — a direct verbing (or zero conversion) of the adjective shallow. I’m not agin verbings (unlike a number of peevers, who are driven into rages by them), and this one serves a real purpose, but it was new to me. It’s also venerable, and has even made it into NOAD2.

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natural person

September 13, 2014

In the NYT on 9/11, an editorial “An Amendment to Cut Political Cash”, with the now-familiar retronym natural person:

There are 48 Democratic senators sponsoring a constitutional amendment to restore congressional control to campaign spending that is expected to come up for a vote later this week. They are not under the illusion that it will become the 28th Amendment soon, if ever. But their willingness to undertake a long and difficult effort shows the importance they attach to restoring fairness to American politics by reducing the influence of big money.

… Addressing the Citizens United decision, [the amendment] says that governments can “distinguish between natural persons and corporations” in setting those regulations, thus allowing restrictions on corporate or union spending that would not necessarily apply to individuals.

Ordinary people would simply make a distinction between persons and corporations, but once corporations are treated as persons for certain legal purposes, the ‘human being’ sense of person needs to be distinguished from these legal entities — and so we get the retronym natural person ‘human being’.

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floater

September 9, 2014

In the NYT Sunday Review on the 7th, a “Room for Debate” feature on “Why Don’t Americans Take Vacation?”, with commentators weighing in on the topic. It’s a pretty dire discussion, emphasizing how (with the destruction of the clout of labor unions in the US) a great many workers have very few, if any, benefits; family-friendly company practices and benefits are especially meager. In particular, there are vacations. From John de Graaf, answering the question in the main title: “Many Feel Trapped by Work”:

Vacations in the U.S. are among the shortest in the world, and a quarter of American workers get no paid vacation leave at all. Then, to add insult to injury, surveys find that 40 percent of us leave vacation days unused – three to seven days on average. Why do we do it?

de Graaf gives three contributing reasons, two of which have to do with company failures to cover for employees on vacation.

My early work experience included some time on a newspaper that published weekdays and Sundays — a context in which employees couldn’t just take off on vacation, since the paper had to get out, every day of the week, with current news. Things were managed in several ways, like staggered vacations, but one part of the system was the use of a “floater” (that would be me) who would fill in wherever hands were needed.

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Three Saturday cartoons

September 6, 2014

… on language matters, and none of them is a Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. A Zits, on disagreement; a Mother Goose and Grimm, with an uncomplicated ambiguity; and a One Big Happy with Ruthie searching for the right word:

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intern

August 21, 2014

The Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal strip of 8/18/14:

 

(Hat tip to Paul Armstrong.)

Background from NOAD2:

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infidel

August 11, 2014

Unfolding in Iraq, a fierce campaign by the Sunni Muslim organization ISIS against “infidels”, in particular, Shia Muslims, Christians, and Yazidis. (I’m skipping here what ISIS stands for, and whether some other label entirely should be used for the organization.) Jews would of course be on the list, but there aren’t many left in Iraq; ISIS proposes to get to the Jews by attacking Israel, but only after they eliminate Iraqi infidels first — by the classic tactic of requiring them to convert or be killed. (The Convert or Die tactic is familiar in the West from the long history of Roman Catholic impositions on other groups, especially the Ottoman Turks, but also Jews and (what the Church saw as) heretical Christian sects.)

Obviously, what counts as an infidel depends on your point of view, as will become clear from a run through the OED2 entry. But first, some notes on the etymology.

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Cartoon ambiguities

July 25, 2014

A recent One Big Happy, with Ruthie alarmed by her understanding of legal size (paper); and a David Borchart cartoon from the latest (July 28th) New Yorker that turns on the multiple meanings of the verb see:

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A Sunday quartet

July 14, 2014

Four cartoons from yesterday’s crop: a Zippy in a nameless diner; a Doonesbury on rumors; a One Big Happy on the spread of expressions and speech styles from the media; and another Bizarro collection of puns. The strips:

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