Archive for the ‘Variation’ Category

Giving two hoots

September 1, 2015

A follow-up to my “What a hoot!” posting, which was about a set of senses of hooter that turn out almost surely to be related. One of these is mammary hooters (as in the restaurant’s name), and there’s some question about its history (though it’s clear that it predates the restaurant); there are sources that attribute the item to Steve Martin on Saturday Night Live, but for reasons I’ll expand on here, I was very wary of the idea.

That’s the first hoot.

Then, as so often happens when I post about specific uses of particular lexical items, people wrote me about other uses, which are really beside the point of my posting, or about other items that are merely similar to the target item (usually phonologically). Now it can be entertaining to follow up such associations, but that’s at the risk of losing the point. Occasionally I’ve followed these associations, though I try to mark associative chaining off from the main line of the posting, as when I branched from a posting on Ficus plants to a collection of loosely fig-related other things: the fig leaf of modesty, Fig Newtons, figgy pudding, giving a fig for, the fig sign,

So: soon to loosely hoot-related things. That’s the second hoot.


Bizarro: use and mention

August 21, 2015

Yesterday’s Bizarro:

The student’s query, as represented by the punctuation in the strip, mentions the words “I” and “you”; the query is about words. The teacher has access only to what the student says (not her intentions as indicated by the punctuation), so the teacher takes the question to be about people, expressed in non-standard subject-verb agreement (“What is you?”) — and the teacher then uses non-standard agreement as well (“I is the teacher”).


Briefly noted: adopped

August 6, 2015

Heard in an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger:

He’s [ǝdápɪd]. ‘He’s adopted’

Several writers on the net have spelled the form adopped:

My Adopped Cousin Keeps Trying To Have Sex With Me (link)

adopped sister and brother (link)

Are you adopped, are you happy ? (link)

A reanalysis of the phonology of the lexical item, familiar from other cases in the literature.


Light before heavy

July 10, 2015

(Waiting to be posted since early June, sigh.)

The abstract for a thesis defense in Stanford Linguistics, on June 9th:

Consistency in Variation
by Robin Melnick



July 7, 2015

From the NYT Sunday Review  on the 5th, in Nicholas Kristof’s column “Tales of Horror Should Galvanize Obama” (p. 9):

South Sudan is rived by civil war and collapsing economically

The PSP rived of the rare verb rive caught my eye; only riven would have been acceptable to me. In fact, for me, the verb is interestingly defective.


A truncated idiom

June 4, 2015

From the 5/30 Economist, in “Republicans in name aussi” on Nicolas Sarkozy:

Even if the relaunch succeeds, however, Mr Sarkozy will have his work cut out.

Pretty clearly, the intention here is to convey ‘will have his work cut out for him’, that is ‘will have difficulty completing his work’, with the idiom have one’s work cut out for one, but here in a truncated variant. The shorter variant is simply not possible for me, though I can figure it out. It turns out that the shorter variant is specifically British. (Remember that the Economist is a British publication.)


This week’s diathesis alternation

June 1, 2015

From the NYT yesterday, in “Who Will Watch the Charities?” by David Callahan:

Last week federal authorities disclosed that four cancer charities had bilked tens of millions of dollars from donors.

The subordinate clause here has a VP of the form:

(1) bilk MONEY from VICTIM

where I might have used one of the form:

(2) bilk VICTIM of MONEY

i.e., four cancer charities had bilked donors of tens of millions of dollars. Same verb, same participants in the event (a victim, some money), but different syntax: different argument structures, that is, different associations of the syntactic arguments (direct object DO and oblique object OO) with the participants. In more detail:

(1) V: bilk DO:MONEY P: from + OO:VICTIM

(2) V: bilk DO:VICTIM P: of + OO:MONEY

There is some tradition for referring to such a variation between argument structures as a diathesis alternation. In this case, both alternants are standard, and, so far as I can tell, are treated as such in the usage literature.


Conjunction or preposition?

May 21, 2015

In the NYT yesterday, p. 19, in “Happy Rockefeller, 88, Whose Marriage to Governor Scandalized Voters, Dies” by Robert D. McFadden:

many Americans were shocked when Margaretta Fitler Murphy, called Happy, and Mr. Rockefeller, who was nearly 18 years older than she, married on May 4, 1963.

The point is than she, with a nominative pronoun in construction with than — where many people (I am one) would have used the accusative her. There’s a long-standing issue in usage here, which I’ve posted about on this blog (as “Dinosaur grammar”), in connection with a Dinosaur Comics.



May 19, 2015

Part 1:  Back in my posting on “Words to eliminate”, I looked at a site that proposed to get you to improve your writing by eliminating 15 words from it. (Yes, a silly idea.) One of these was that:

[Mashable advice] It’s superfluous most of the time. Open any document you’ve got drafted on your desktop, and find a sentence with “that” in it. Read it out loud. Now read it again without “that.” If the sentence works without it, delete it.

The idea is fraught with problems, most turning on the fact that there are several distinct lexical items that, with a large number of uses, and with distinct syntax, discourse functions, and sociolinguistic statuses for each use.

Part 2: On one of these items, the complementizer that, and its use to mark the object complement of a verb, as in

They know (that) pigs can’t fly.

(where the that variant and the ∅ variant are both fine).

But then I started an e-mail to a friend:

 I do wish people would credit sources.

(with the ∅ variant; the that variant is also possible) and thought to link to previous context with a though — but then the ∅ variant struck me as very awkward indeed:

?? I do wish, though, people would credit sources.

though the that variant is fine:

 I do wish, though, that people would credit sources.

What’s crucial is that material intervenes between the complement-taking verb and the complement. It turns out that this intervention effect is well-known in the variation literature.


so (that)

May 19, 2015

A sideline in an investigation of “optional that“– that is, variation between that and ∅ — that I’ll post more on in a little while: so that vs. so as conjunctions. I have a bit of personal history with this variation.



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