Archive for the ‘Variation’ Category


October 5, 2015

It started with Lauren Hall-Lew (an American in Edinburgh) reporting on her daughter’s query about BrE and AmE on head band. Commenters brought in hair band, hair bobble, and scrunchie, and I mentioned sweatbands for sports use, which come as wrist bands and head bands.

I was eventually led to websites selling not just sweatbands, but rainbow sweatbands, and that led me to some more rainbow sportswear, in particular tube socks. So it turned into a gay rainbow day. (There’s a firm called, wonderfully, Pride Socks.)


Ten language-y comics

September 13, 2015

On the Comics Kingdom blog on Tuesday the 8th: “Tuesdays Top Ten Comics on Grammar and Wordplay” (with grammar, as usual, understood broadly). CK distributes strips from King Features; it’s one of my regular sources of cartoons for this blog. The strips here are all from 2014-15.


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.



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