Archive for the ‘Syntax’ Category

Flashers abroad

October 11, 2014

This seems to be Sex Saturday, though I have plenty of other things I’m anxious to post about today. But here goes, with a story from the weekend edition of the (San Francisco Mid-Peninsula) Daily Post, headlined: “Cops: Flasher strikes again: Fourth incident in a week” (by Angelo Ruggiero). About a flasher (possibly more than one) operating locally.

One recurrent feature of the Post‘s stories is the euphemism pleasure onself for masturbate (itself a technical or medical term avoiding genuinely vernacular expressions). As here, from today’s story:

The women, in their 20s, looked out the window [of Peet's Coffee in Belmont] onto El Camino and saw a man parked at the curb and pleasuring himself, said Capt. Pat Halleran [of the local police].



September 10, 2014

Following up on my posting on the verb fap(p) ‘to masturbate furiously’, Robert Coren thought he recalled Fap! as “an exclamation of annoyance commonly used by a character in some ancient comic strip — I think maybe Major Hoople”. Yes, indeed, Aric Olnes replied, Major Hoople, and supplied this strip:

(Chris Ambidge added that “FAP is one of my favourite words to use when annoyed or frustrated.”)


Zubin Mehta violates the CSC

September 5, 2014

From the one-column interview of Zubin Mehta in the NYT Sunday Review on the 31st:

We [Parsees] have a Sunday dish called dhansak. That’s three or four different kinds of lentils, heavily spiced, eaten with brown fried rice with chicken in it. It’s something you eat and go to sleep.

Note the relative clause modifying something: (thatyou eat and go to sleep , with two VP conjuncts. The first conjunct is missing an object for eat; the standard generative-grammar story here is that the object of eat has been “extracted”, and surfaces as the head of the relative:

something-i you eat ____i

(where the index indicates reference and the underline after eat indicates the position of a “gap” representing the extracted material).

But the second conjunct has no gap — it’s just an ordinary intransitive VP — so the two conjuncts aren’t parallel in structure, and many people have found their coordination (though comprehensible) awkward at best, or even ungrammatical. The latter view was enshrined in the Coordinate Structure Constraint (CSC) in Haj Ross’s Ph.D. dissertation.


Briefly noted: an appositive adjective

August 15, 2014

From the (San Francisco Mid-Peninsula) Daily Post of 8/14/14, p. 1, “Massage parlor workers arrested”:

Redwood City police conducted an undercover operation at the Aurora Spa at 1865 Broadway on July 22 after receiving complaints of illegal prostitution.

Not just prostitution, but illegal prostitution. But prostitution is in fact illegal in California (and other places outside of Nevada), so what is the adjective illegal doing here?

This is an appositive, rather than restrictive, use of the adjective — a phenomenon I’ve posted about several times, at greatest length in a 2/8/07 Language Log posting “Droning on”, about the expression pilotless drones.


A Bizarro replay

August 13, 2014

On Facebook recently, this Bizarro cartoon (from 1/29/07) passsed on by Grammarly:


Michael Siemon then asked if I was aware of this cartoon. As it turns out, I posted about it on Language Log on 1/30/07, under the heading “Pronouns: The early days” — but, unfortunately, because of changes in the LLog platforms, the cartoon itself has became unavailable in the LLog archives. So here’s a replay.


Coordination just off the mark

July 11, 2014

It came from the tv, which was across the room, and I didn’t have paper and pen by me, but when the commercial began,

(1) Are you 65 or older and suffer from back pain?

my syntactic attention was riveted. The pitch seemed to be for some device to alleviate back pain (rather than a medication), but I didn’t catch the details while I was getting the sentence down: entirely clear, but syntactically non-parallel.


Fathers Day Five

June 15, 2014

An unusually big crop of cartoons this morning, including one (a Rhymes With Orange) on stereotypes about men’s tastes (for Fathers Day). Plus another Zits with the stereotype of chatty teenage girls; another strip (a Mother Goose and Grimm) on Yoda’s syntax; a Zippy on synonyms for disapproving; and a Bizarro on the extension of metaphors to simulacra.


Book notice: Visual Language of Comics

June 11, 2014

Arrived yesterday, Neil Cohn’s The Visual Language of Comics: Introduction to the Structure and Cognition of Sequential Images (Bloomsbury, 2013). Central thesis:

drawings and sequential images are structured in a similar way to language … comics are written in a visual language of sequential images that combines with text.

(Blurbs from linguists Ray Jackendoff and Dan Slobin.)

I haven’t read the book yet (though I find the thesis congenial), but the very first sentence (in the Introduction, p. xv) is of linguistic interest.


In style

June 4, 2014

This morning’s Bizarro:

The diner is asking for eggs in one of the handful of standard named American styles — scrambled, poached, fried (over or sunny side up), boiled (hard- or soft-) — and not in some “fancy” style, whether in French (eggs/oeufs à/a la Florentine), in English with postposed modifier (eggs Florentine style, eggs Florentine), or in English with preposed modifier (Florentine-style eggs, Florentine eggs).


Coping with the new

June 2, 2014

In today’s One Big Happy, Ruthie and Joe are back on the track of trying to make sense of things they haven’t heard before:


Lots of knowledge needed here — about the words of English and about sociocultural conventions:



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