Lumber linguistics

December 4, 2021

Today’s Zippy strip takes exploits the giant hammer outside the Ford Lumber Co. in Fort Washington MD to skitter over language-related matters — the metaphorical character of many common idioms, the innateness of language (abilities), natural language ontology — to lodge in a fixation on food that Zippy finds intrinsically funny (in this case, egg creams and V-8 juice):

(#1) Zippy’s attributions are a bit wonky — it’s Lakoff, not Chomsky, who hammers on the centrality of metaphor, though linguistic nativism is indeed a Chomskyan preoccupation — but then Zippy’s a surrealistic Pinhead, not a pinhead professor, and anyway, you say linguist, the popular mind thinks Chomsky, so Zippy has his finger on the pulse of the people here (even if ontology pours into egg creams for him and even if he seems to be hammered on V-8)

Meanwhile, there’s the news from Fort Washington MD.

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An American tradegy

December 3, 2021

This morning, Stephanie Ruhle, reporting a Michigan school shooting on MSNBC, and confronting the word tragedy (with /ǰ … d/ ), replaced it by tradegy (with /d … ǰ/), transposing the two consonants; she noticed the error, and “corrected” it by, alas, a repetition of tradegy, which she didn’t notice, so she just went on. Then in a later report on the shooting, she again referred to it as a tradegy, this time without noticing. 

As an error in spelling — TRADEGY for TRAGEDY — this transposition of consonants is common enough to have been listed in Paul Brians’s Common Errors in English Usage, p. 207 (and on the website), where Brians remarks:

Not only do people often misspell “tragedy” as “tradegy,” they mispronounce it that way too.

Here I think that Brians’s focus on errors in written English has led him astray, led him to treat what is at root an error in pronunciation — with the erroneous pronunciation then carried over to spelling — as an error in spelling that then is then carried over into pronunciation. Admittedly, the latter transfer is part of the story for some speakers, but the problems begin with inadvertent speech errors like Stephanie Ruhle’s. An inadvertent speech error that seems to be part of a larger phenomenon.

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Typos are the very devil

December 2, 2021

Tom Gauld in the 11/27 New Scientist (on-line on 11/24):

(#1) (on the New Scientist site:) “Tom Gauld makes a deal with the devil, with a soupy twist”

Three things: the Faustian bargain; versions of the story (tons of them); and the typo.

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Break, break, break

December 1, 2021

🐇 🐇 🐇 In the 11/2 One Big Happy, Joe fails to honor a promise, which of course makes Ruthie think about hyphenating printed text:


NOAD on the verb break (Joe: sense 3a; Ruthie: sense 1a) and the noun word (Joe: sense 3b; Ruthie: sense 1a):

verb break:

1 [a] separate or cause to separate into pieces …

… 3 [with object] [a] fail to observe (a law, regulation, or agreement)

noun word:

1 [a] a single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing, used with others (or sometimes alone) to form a sentence and typically shown with a space on either side when written or printed

… 3 (one’s word) [a] one’s account of the truth, especially when it differs from that of another person: in court it would have been his word against mine. [b] a promise or assurance: everything will be taken care of — you have my word. …

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Mr. Nutz sez …

November 30, 2021

… “Pull my tail, and see my eye light up!” Mr. Nutz is a squirrel of brass, also a notorious flasher (if you don’t pull his tail, he’ll do it himself, in the road) — all at once a squirrel, a brass sculpture, a flasher, and a flashlight too (alas, though he tries to be all things to all people, he is neither a floor wax nor a dessert topping). The eye in his brass face lights up lewdly to show us the way to squirrel verse #2:

We’ll walk in the light, beautiful light,
Come where the dew-drops of morning are bright;
Shine all around us by day and by night,
Squirrels, the light of the world.

(Truly, no squirrel’s light was ever hidden under a basket. Mr. Nutz is not only brazen and bawdy, but also bold and boastful. And, he truly believes, beautiful.)

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Paisley weather

November 29, 2021

Today’s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro, with weather forecasting in action:

(If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 3 in this strip — see this Page.)

Ah, a bit of word play: a pun on pattern.

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The shirt and the scent

November 28, 2021

Today’s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro takes us to the Men’s Department, where a salesman of extraordinary style purveys clothing, shoes, accessories, and men’s fragrances:

(#1) The striped shirt is a marinière, and the two scents are jokey takeoffs on men’s fragrances (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 3 in this strip — see this Page.)

From my 2/16/21 posting “Hello, sailor”, this description of

la marinière, the cotton long-sleeved shirt with horizontal blue and white stripes; characteristically worn by seamen in the French Navy, it has become a common part of the stereotypical image of a French person

More on the shirt below. Meanwhile, the cologne Horse Soccer (from Barf Lauren) is a play on Polo (from Ralph Lauren); the source of the name Royal Whiff for the other cologne is still a mystery to me, but no doubt an enlightened reader will explain the joke to me (though Royal Whiff would be an entertaining name even if it has no direct model).

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Who’s a good boy?

November 26, 2021

Today’s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro, combining two cartoon memes: the familiar Psychiatrist, plus Good Doggie, a meme that is extraordinarily popular but, I believe, has appeared on this blog only once before:

(#1) Who’s a good boy? Who’s a good doggie? (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 5 in this strip — see this Page.)

Conventional ways of rewarding dogs by praising them, and so training them in whatever behavior they are being rewarded for. Just the tone of voice can be very satisfying to a dog, even more satisfying than a food reward.

But there’s still a puzzle here. Who’s a good boy? and Who’s a good doggie? are WH-questions, which in English have final falling intonation, the same as strong assertions, like You’re a good boy! and You’re a good doggie!; and the same as exclamations, like WhatSuch a good boy! and WhatSuch a good doggie!. All can be delivered with higher than normal pitch overall,  even higher pitch maxima than normal, and “warm” vocal qualities — in the “talking to dogs” voice.

So why use the who-question form, with its self-supplied answer You are! Yes, you are!? Where does this convention of language use come from? The assertions and exclamations are available anytime, off the shelf, as it were, but the who-questions are indirect in their effect and presumably have to be learned as conventional schemes for rewarding dogs with praise. Somewhere, sometime, there had to be first users of the schemes. However, as far as I know, no one has investigated the rise and propagation of these notable ways of talking to dogs.

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zhuzh it up!

November 25, 2021

(#1) Available as a sticker from Redbubble, also as a t-shirt

Enter Monica Macaulay (in Wisconsin), who posted this ad for seasoning packets from Uncommon Goods on Facebook yesterday, with her innocent comment:

(#2 & 3) Monica: “zhuzh it up! apparently a well-known expression”

Well, yes, well-known in some circles (dictionary resources, in considerable detail, to come below). It was popularized earlier in this century in the US by the tv program Queer Eye for the Straight Guy; but then back in the 1960s and 70s in the UK by the BBC radio program(me) Round the Horne, with high-camp characters who made much use of a secret lexicon called Polari.

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Pissing and moaning with Ed Koren

November 24, 2021

From the 2018 cartoon collection Koren in the Wild (my copy of which arrived today), this New Yorker cartoon (published in the magazine on 9/6/99):

Working-class masculinity — the bar, pissing and moaning — meets the intellectual — verify what you’re saying with data: who verifies their pissing and moaning with data?

Then there’s the slang idiom to piss and moan.

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