Archive for March, 2009

8 + 5 + 5

March 19, 2009

Misoyaki Mahi Mahi:

The first line is the name of a simple fish dish (mahi mahi with a miso sauce) associated with Hawaii; googling on the name will get you recipes (one pointing out that you can use the sauce with any white fish or chicken or pork) and also references to restaurants on Oahu and Kauai (and Edmonton, Alberta, and Kwajalein) offering the dish. I came across it on the “Aloha Friday” menu of the Gordon Biersch restaurant in Palo Alto.

“Misoyaki Mahi Mahi” is a line of perfect trochaic tetrameter (and it has that nice near-rhyme between yaki and mahi, plus the repetition of mahi), and it sticks in your mind like the Pachelbel Canon. SW SW SW SW (S for strong, W for weak) is succeeded by two lines of SW SWW, with a dactylic tinge to then (and a bit of alliteration).

[The Hawaiian name of the dolphin-fish — a fish, not the mammalian dolphin — is variously spelled hyphenated (mahi-mahi), solid (mahimahi), or separated (mahi mahi).]

Spelling woes

March 17, 2009

The choice between the spellings THEIR, THERE, and THEY’RE can be the very devil. As MWDEU puts it (p. 897), 

It is not unusual to see these common words misspelled in casual writing. Haste and inattention to detail probably have more to do with most such errors than does actual confusion about which word is which.

But sometimes things run off the rails in more interesting ways, as in the graffito in this photo (taken in Manhattan by a friend of Doug Kenter’s and passed on to me by Doug):

Presumably, this is the work of a tagger who remembered that they’re (homophonous with there) is spelled with an apostrophe and so inserted one in THERE.

You can find more instances of THER’E on the net, most of them representing there rather than they’re:

Who Says Ther’e Is No Beach In Stockport? by Pete Farrow at Audio … (link)

and corresponding instances of THE’RE, again mostly representing there:

they dont die because the’re is stuff in this weeks tv week about them for next week. (link)

(This last example is especially nice because of the apostropheless spellings DONT and THIS WEEKS.)

In the other direction, there are of course apostropheless spellings THEYRE for they’re (though these are hard to search for).

As for their, the really common misspelling is THIER (“I before E, except after C” and all that), though THEYR (which makes the word more transparent) can also be found.

Zippy nada

March 16, 2009


March 15, 2009

Last week’s mail brought a package from Japan: a copy of Tetsuya Koshiishi’s Ph.D. dissertation, Collateral Adjectives in English and Related Issues (Edinburgh, 2009). With an acknowledgements page that begins by expressing gratitude to his supervisors (Heinz Giegerich and Nikolas Gisborne) and continues:

Thanks must also go to Arnold M. Zwicky, who first taught me syntax and morphology at the Ohio State University back in 1987 and 1988. Without this wonderful experience, I would not have chosen to become a teacher of English linguistics.

Oh my. There’s something to warm a teacher’s heart. (By the way, my old friend, sometime collaborator, and Language Log colleague Geoff Pullum was Tetsuya’s internal examiner.)

(A collateral adjective is a “Latinate suppletive relational adjective”: feline, related to cat; oral, related to mouth; and the like.)

Every so often I get touching thanks like this. A while back, a linguist who wrote a dissertation under my direction in 1992 reconnected with me by e-mail and revealed that he had given his son (now in college in Korea) the middle name Arnold. Wow.


March 13, 2009

Over on ADS-L, I’ve commented on a use of the adjective operative in a John McCain quote

“I’m the, as I said, loyal opposition,” Mr. McCain, Republican of Arizona, proclaimed this week. “And both words, I think, are operative.” (David M. Herszenhorn, “For John McCain, a Dual Role, Center Stage”, NYT 3/7/09)

Doug Kenter, who pointed the quote out to me, asked: Can both words be operative?  Or are all words always operative?

Among the senses of operative in the OED (draft revision of March 2009), there are three relevant groups, and McCain’s use falls into the third, most recent, group.

But discussing the example on ADS-L predictably reminded people of a famous use (from a different group of senses) of the word in a political context.


The first female congresswoman

March 12, 2009

Chris Ambidge wrote me a little while back about having come across a photo in the Washington Post (which I can no longer find) of the unveiling of a photo of Shirley Chisholm, described as “marking the 40th anniversary of her swearing in as the first female congresswoman”. Apparently they meant “first black congresswoman” — that is, first Representative (or congressperson) to have been both female and black.

The redundant “first female congresswoman” has some currency in the media, however.


Would have been

March 8, 2009

I recently joined the Facebook group “Honor Harvey Milk with a U.S. postage stamp”. The group’s description begins

May 22, 2010 would have been Harvey’s 80th birthday.

Not your usual use of would have been. Many people would have gone for

May 22, 2010 will be Harvey’s 80th birthday.

But some are uncomfortable identifying a numbered birthday for someone who has died. The 80th birthday is not really in the future.

Would can express conditional semantics. In

Anna Nicole Would Have Been 41 Today. Posted at 3:33PM on Nov 28th 2008 … (link)

we understand this in light of “if she had lived” or “if she hadn’t died”, and that’s fine when the birthday is on the day of writing or speaking. You can project the condition into the future, as in

If Harvey had lived, May 22, 2010 would be his 80th birthday.

If the condition is implicit rather than explicit, simple would is less successful:

May 22, 2010 would be Harvey’s 80th birthday.

This is close to the version with will, but with the prediction softened. Using would plus the perfect, however, doesn’t quite fly, even if the condition is made explicit:

If Harvey had lived, May 22, 2010 would have been his 80th birthday.

The problem is packaging futurity and conditionality together.

Tasty lolcat

March 8, 2009

It’s pure silliness, this lolcat composition, and it has nothing really to do with linguistics, but I thought the day could use some amusement (and I could use a break from posting to ADS-L):

(Hat tip to Victor Steinbok, who labeled the photo “monstrous”.)

I have a couple photos of guys with their penises presented in hotdog buns — I know, that’s a really obvious idea — but they’re even more distant from linguistics than a cat in a taco.

Scope, anyone?

March 7, 2009

The warning on the site — a notice of possible “adult” content — goes:

(1) This blog is not suitable for viewing by anyone.

Ouch. The reading I got immediately was that anyone was a “negative polarity” any-expression, so that (1) is (truth-functionally) equivalent to

(2.1) This blog is suitable for viewing by no one.


(2.2) There is no one for whom this blog is suitable for viewing.

or possibly

(2.3) Pick someone, anyone; this blog is not  suitable for viewing by that person.

But that would be a silly thing for a blogger to say; it warns everyone away.

So the intended interpretation had anyone as a universal any-expression, with (1) truth-functionally equivalent to

(3.1) This blog is not suitable for viewing by everyone.

or possibly

(3.2) This blog is not suitable for viewing by just anyone.

(1) is  in fact potentially ambiguous between the ‘everyone is excluded’ reading and the ‘some people are excluded’ reading, but, unfortunately (and for reasons I don’t fully understand) many readers are likely to get the wrong — not the intended — reading.

We’ve been in this neighborhood before.


What’s the diagnosis?

March 7, 2009

Zippy worries about what’s wrong with him: