Pesky capitalization

April 12, 2014

From Chris Waigl on Facebook, this image of a headline.

Among the most common functions of initial caps are marking the first word of a sentence and marking proper names. Both are, at least at first, here. But the ‘annoying memorabilia’ interpretation is very unlikely. Then you need to know that Johnny Pesky was a baseball player — a fact immediately made clear in the body of the story,

Spiders and flies

April 12, 2014

Today’s Mother Goose and Grimm:

A transposition of the parts of a familiar saying.

Time flies when you’re having fun came up recently in a somewhat different kind of language play, a simple pun in a Dilbert, here

Food fraud

April 10, 2014

In the March 15th Economist, a story about food crime, “A la cartel: Organised gangs have a growing appetite for food crime”, beginning:

Gangsters used to send their enemies to sleep with the fishes. Today they are more likely to mislabel the fishes and sell them at a profit. Organised criminals who have long trafficked drugs are diversifying into humdrum areas of commerce — particularly food, booze and cheap consumer goods.

Two things here: the title of the story, with its play on à la carte and cartel; and a final linguistic flourish in the story itself:

Meanwhile, other controls weaken. In December another parliamentary group, the public accounts committee, noted that border police had given priority to passenger checks over other duties, including examining freight for illicit goods. Cuts to local government mean that the number of trading-standards officers is dropping. Worcester County Council proposes to slash spending on trading standards by 80% over the next three years. Britons can expect more corn fakes for breakfast.

Yes, the excellent corn fakes (echoing corn flakes).

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April 9, 2014

Continuing the spring bulb theme, now on squills:

Scilla … is a genus of about 50 to 80 bulb-forming perennial herbs in the family Asparagaceae, subfamily Scilloideae, native to woodlands, subalpine meadows, and seashores throughout Europe and Asia. Their flowers are usually blue, but white, pink, and purple types are known; most flower in early spring, but a few are autumn-flowering. (Wikipedia link)

More specifically:

Scilla siberica (Siberian squill or wood squill) is a species of flowering plant in the family Asparagaceae, native to southwestern Russia, the Caucasus, and Turkey. Despite its name, it is not native to Siberia. (link)

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Two cartoon puns

April 9, 2014

In my mail recently, a Dilbert (with a pun, unusual for this strip) and a Rhymes With Orange (which specializes in puns):


Time flies when you’re having fun / funds.


Basic cable / fable.


Story Structure

April 8, 2014

A Tom Gauld cartoon on narrative structure:

A metacartoon, commenting on the content of the cartoon.

On narrative structure, with special reference to the comics, see my posting of 3/16, here.

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April 8, 2014

Today’s Zippy:


Ah, this is a nice one. The place in question started as a Little Tavern in Baltimore, and has been through several changes.

Repurpose is an excellent and very useful verb. From NOAD2:

verb [with obj.]  adapt for use in a different purpose: they’ve taken a product that was originally designed for a CD-ROM and repurposed it for the Microsoft Network.

(It looks like the verb spread primarily from technological contexts.)

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April 7, 2014

More spring bulbs. This time, from Ann Burlingham, in her own garden (in upstate New York):


From Wikipedia:

Galanthus (Snowdrop; Greek gála “milk”, ánthos “flower”) is a small genus of about 20 species of bulbous herbaceous plants in the family Amaryllidaceae, subfamily Amaryllidoideae. Most flower in winter, before the vernal equinox (20 or 21 March in the Northern Hemisphere), but certain species flower in early spring and late autumn.

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Annals of hybridity

April 7, 2014

Passed on by Jonathan Lighter, this story of the 4th from Herald Scotland:, “Meet Farmer Murphy’s geep (or shoat): now what will he call it?”

An Irish farmer who claims to have bred a cross between a sheep and a goat is seeking a name for the rare offspring.

… Similar crossings have been reported before in Chile, Jamaica, Malta and in Botswana, where scientists found a hybrid – known as the Toast of Botswana – had 57 chromosomes, a number in between that of sheep and goats.

In most cases the offspring is stillborn.

A photo:

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A little more on dog whistles etc.

April 7, 2014

In the previous installment (4/4/14, here), Geoff Nunberg was looking for a good term to use for a particular class of racially coded vocabularly, for a discussion on public radio: dog whistle, euphemism, whatever. He makes the point that the purpose of this vocabulary is crucial.

On the next day, on ADS-L, from Geoff:

the figure is designed to avoid unambiguously suggesting certain social attitudes to listeners who disapprove of them (as distinct from euphemisns, which enable the speaker to avoid uttering a coextensive term that some listeners find unsavory).  “Obliquity” conveys one part of this, and “conivinutation” nicely conveys the other, though neither is a word they would let you use on public radio.

Obliquity, though rare, is not unattested. But conivinutation?

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