Archive for July, 2009

What are the haps

July 30, 2009

Thanks to our shout-outs/shouts-out exchange, Ryan North (of Dinosaur Comics fame) and I have been going back and forth about his use of language on the site. The first thing to say is that it’s self-aware; he understands that he’s playing with language, and revels in it.

Our exchange started with my noticing one of the headings on the site:


From the context, I gathered that haps (which was, I think, new to me) was, roughly, ‘happenings’, so that the question conveyed was ‘What’s happenin(g)? What’s goin(g) on? What’s up?’

(I’ll save the punctuational issues — no apostrophe for the vocative “my friends”, no final question mark — for later postings.)

Ryan agreed with my reading. I thought he’d invented haps himself, but what he said was:

The backstory is that I really don’t like the word “blog”, so I wasn’t going to call this little blurb beneath my comic “RYAN’S BLOG O’ THE DAY”.  The synonyms for “blog” all sound equally unappealing to me (“internet diary”, etc), and I wanted something that said “Here’s some news that you might find interesting” in a way that was friendly and different – most other comics just say “Newspost” or “Rant”.  “What are the haps” (short for “what are the happenings”, “what is going on”, etc) was a phrase I’d heard used semi-ironically (or at least, a phrase I’d never seen used fully sincerely) a few years back, and adding “my friends” to the end gave the phrase a bumpy cadence that I liked.

So I’m hoping it conveys a sort of “Hey!  What’s going on, guys?” casual tone to what follows below, as if the title is asking “What’s going on?” and the post below is saying “Hey, here’s what’s new with me!”.

So, lost in the mists of time. But Ryan’s use has been the impetus for the spread of haps all over the net; search on {“what are the haps”} and you’ll get a lot of stuff. Ryan himself was surprised.

There are precedents for hapsprops ‘propers, proper respect or recognition’ , in particular.

[Yes, these things are slang and consequently are mostly restricted to certain users, contexts, purposes, and audiences, but so what? I’m not recommending such usages as formal written standard English. I’m not here as an arbiter of taste, but as a reporter on the passing scene.

And, in any case, formal written standard English is a variety with a very small — in comparison to the full collection of varieties of English out there in the world — niche. Granted, a niche with extraordinary social and political significance, but it’s not the world, only a tiny part of it.

(I say this because I get a certain amount of flak when I write about demotic variants.)

(And I am, of course, writing in, mostly, formal written standard English, because that’s what the context calls for.)]

In this particular case, I celebrate the playful and creative deployment of language in Ryan’s cartoons.

The cartoons come with auxiliary material under four headings:





Heading (1) is what I started with. Heading (2) is over, well, ads; Ryan can’t just do this stuff for free (as the Language Loggers and other linguabloggers do), but needs some source of income. Woo is fascinating on its own.

Heading (3) is more commerce, enlivened by the extension of degree totally into interesting new territory.

And heading (4) has both shouts out and another -s innovation (not Ryan’s, but still recent), ups. Several sites gloss big ups as ‘massive props’, which pleases me a lot.

Inventory of snowclone postings

July 29, 2009

Another inventory of postings on Language Log and this blog, this time postings about snowclones — about particular snowclones and their histories, about snowclones in relationship to other phenomena, and so on.

Each posting that refers, in a more than cursory way, to a particular snowclone is entered here with a reference to that snowclone (I might well have missed some). In most cases, the first appearance of a snowclone in the inventory also has a short label (e.g., “Eskimo N” for the Eskimos-and-N-words-for-X snowclone, “The New Y” for “X is the new Y”), which is then used in later references to that snowclone. If a snowclone has been treated in Erin O’Connor’s Snowclone Database, then a reference to the database (in the form “scdb” plus the date of the entry there) also accompanies the first appearance of the snowclone in this inventory.

I’m leaving this posting open for comments, but I ask commenters not to use this space as a way of nominating candidates for snowclonehood (I’ve been overwhelmed by such nominations for about two years now). The scdb has entries for a fair number of examples that haven’t been discussed on Language Log or my blog, and probably will not be; we don’t propose to cover the Big Wide World of Snowclones here. In any case, the scdb provides a (searchable) space to offer such suggestions.

The inventory (through 28 July):

GP, 10/21/03: Bleached conditionals:
If Eskimos have N words for snow, X surely have M words for Y. [N and M numbers, X a group name] [Eskimo N] (scdb 5/31/07)

GP, 10/27/03: Phrases for lazy writers in kit form:
In space, no one can hear you V. [V a verb] (scdb 7/5/07)

ML, 12/2/03: Clear thinking campaign gives “fogged spectacles a bad name:
You (don’t) need a degree in X to do Y.

GP, 1/16/04: Snowclones: lexicographic dating to the second:
X is the new Y. [The New Y] (scdb 7/1/07)

GP, 1/18/04: Another snowclone:
An Xer shade of Y.

GP, 1/25/04: When did you first hear this pattern?:
The X that put the Y in(to) Z.

ML, 1/28/04: Snowclones are the dark matter of journalism:
X is the dark matter of Y. [Dark Matter] (scdb 12/18/07)

ML, 1/29/04: “I, for one, welcome our new * overlords”:
I, for one, welcome our new X overlords. [Our New Overlords] (scdb 5/22/07)

ML, 1/29/04: In Soviet Russia, snowclones overuse you:
In X1 you V Y; in X2 Y Vs you. [X1 and X2 placenames] (scdb 5/22/07)

ML, 1/30/04: The memetic phylogeny of “our new * overlords”:
[variants of:]
Our New Overlords

ML, 2/6/04: “Snowclone” as a chart R&B song:
[about the term snowclone]

ML, 2/21/04: Who is to be master?
No X is too Y to avoid Z. [and variants]

ML, 3/3/04: Expression’s vast varieties:
Eskimo N

ML, 3/4/04: The Eskimos, Arabs, Somalis, Carrier .. and English:
Eskimo N

ML. 3/18/04: The backpack of it all:
The X of it all. [The X of It All]

ML, 3/19/04: Putting the X in Y:
We put the X in(to) Y. [Put the X in Y]

ML, 3/24/04: Cuteness:
Crunchy X goodness. [Crunchy Goodness]

ML, 3/27/04: X are from Mars, Y are from Venus:
X are from Mars, Y are from Venus. [Mars, Venus]

ML, 4/7/04: X nazi:
X Nazi [snowclonelet]

ML, 4/25/04: Have X, will travel:
Have X will travel. (scdb 7/20/07)

ML, 7/3/04: Not the * I know: Let * be *:
Not the X I know.
Let X be X.

ML, 10/21/04: Snowclone sightings:
Xs don’t V people.
Will the real X please stand up?

AZ, 11/27/04: Twos and threes:

ML, 12/14/04: Religious syntax:
X is a verb [Is a Verb]
(labeled as a snowclone here: )

ML, 1/7/05: Homeric objects of desire:
Mmm… X. [Simpson’s Mmm]

ML, 1/25/05: * me P and call me *:
V me P and call me X. [V Me P And]

ML, 2/27/05: Smart kids:
Every schoolboy knows X. [Every Schoolboy]

ML, 3/27/05: Liberalism is the new communism:
The New Y [for Y = communism]

AZ, 5/17/05: Once a snowclone, always a snowclone:
Once a X, always a X. [Once, Always]

ML, 5/17/05: Antique snowclones:
Once, Always

AZ, 5/18/05: The hounds of ADS-L:
Once, Always

AZ, 5/21/05: An avalanchlet of snowclones:
The X that is Y.
One man’s X is another man’s Y. [One Man’s X]
Color me X. [Color Me]

[comments on:]
Once, Always
The New Y

[vs. cliches with open slots, like:]
The wonderful world of X.

ML, 6/2/05: X-ing outside the Y:
X-ing outside the Y. [Outside the Box]

EB, 6/2/05: That’s why they call it X:
That’s why they call it X.

ML, 6/3/05: Polysemy in action:
That why they call it X.

AZ, 7/3/05: What is this ‘snowclone’ of which you speak?:
What is this X of which you speak?

AZ, 7/4/05: Documenting snowclones, dating them:
[origin and spread of snowclones]
What is this X of which you speak?

ML, 7/14/05: A few players short of a side:
A few Xs short/shy of a Y. [A Few Short] (scdb 10/3/07)

ML, 8/2/05: Illustrations:
[cartoon of] What is this X of which you speak?

EB, 8/23/05: You can call it X all you want:
That’s why they call it X.

ML, 8/31/06: New Orleans is essentially an arm of the Gulf of Mexico:
X is essentially Y. [dubious as snowclone]

ML, 9/13/05: Two, three… many prefabricated phrases:
Two, three, many Xs.

ML, 9/26/05: Wikipedia on Simpsons words:
I, for one, welcome our new X overlords.
Mmm, X.

AZ, 10/12/05: What is this Harvard?:
What is this X of which you speak?

AZ, 10/12/05: Playing one:
Play One, esp.
I’m not X, but/though I play one on TV.
I’m not X, I just play one on TV. (scdb 8/17/07)

AZ, 10/12/05: To snowclone or not to snowclone:
To X or not to X. (scdb 8/31/07)

AZ, 10/13/05: Playing one 2:
Play One.

AZ, 10/16/05: Playing one 3:
Play One.

AZ, 10/18/05: Critical tone for a new snowclone:
[playful allusions vs. snowclones proper]
Eye Guy.

AZ, 10/19/05: My big fat Greek snowclone:
[playful allusions vs. snowclones proper]
Eye Guy. Shocked Shocked. Holy Batman. vs.
Play One. Big Fat.

AZ, 10/28/05: Is splanchnic just another word for schmuck?:
Eskimo N

EB, 11/14/05: Snowclone shortening:
X eats, drinks, and sleeps Y. [Eat Drink Sleep]

BZ, 11/15/05: Eating, drinking, sleeping snowclones:
Eat Drink Sleep [and variants]

BZ, 11/16/05: Eating, drinking, sleeping snowclones, part 2: The early years:
Eat Drink Sleep

BZ, 12/5/05: Snowclones hit the big time:
[from Danyel Fisher,
X, the hidden epidemic.
X, the second-oldest profession.
X considered harmful.

ML, 2/4/06: The proper treatment of snowclones in ordinary English:
[discussion of playful allusions vs. snowclones proper; reference to Wikipedia:
The proper treatment of X in Y.

AZ, 2/20/06: Not your mother’s snowclone:
Not your R’s X. [R a kin term]

BZ, 2/25/06: No snowclone left behind:
No X left behind.
We are all X now.

ML, 3/1/06: Crazy talk:
X is crazy talk.

BZ, 3/2/06: Tracking snowclones is hard. Let’s go shopping:
X is hard. Let’s go shopping! [Hard Shopping] (scdb 2/19/08)
also: BZ, 3/11/06: A pirated Barbie-ism:
[snowclone database 2/19/08]

ML, 3/3/06: The entire United States wept:
[links to collections of snowclones]

ML, 3/5/06: Noclone:
An X is someone who knows the Y of everything and the Z of nothing.

ML, 3/7/06: The agenbite of Onion wit:

ML, 3/7/06: Brokeback generalizations:
Brokeback X

ML, 3/9/06: Respect:
[BZ comment on] Best. X. Ever.

AZ, 3/9/06: More brokeback generalizations:
Brokeback X [arguing that this is just allusion and semantic extension]

ML, 3/10/06: Best. Snowclone. Evar:
Best X Evar.

BZ, 3/11/06: A pirated Barbie-ism:
Hard Shopping

ML, 3/13/06: X-back Mountain:
X-back Mountain.

AZ, 3/13/06: Snowclone Mountain?:
X-back Mountain. [arguing it’s just playful allusion]

ML, 3/17/06: It’s not hard out here for a cliche:
It’s hard out (t)here for a X. [Hard Out]

ML, 3/19/06: Not nearly hard enough:
[cartoon on] It’s hard out here for a X. [Hard Out]

EB, 3/21/06: How’s this for ambiguity?:
[variant of] It’s X’s world, we just live in it.

ML, 3/21/06: It’s X’s world, we just live in it:
It’s X’s world, we just live in it. [X a personal name] [X’s World]

AZ, 3/23/06: I found my snowclone in Palo Alto:
I left my X in San Francisco. [and other variants]

AZ, 4/18/06: All that and talk about Fight Club:
The first rule of X is that you do not/don’t talk about X. [First Rule]
Be all that and a X. [Be All That And]

ML, 6/6/06: Springtime for snowclones:
It’s springtime for X, and…

GP, 7/9/06: Snowclones of linguification:
Can’t even spell/pronounce W.
Not know the meaning of W.
W isn’t in X’s dictionary/vocabulary.
W is not in L.
W is X’s middle name.
W and V are (not) found in the same U.
Look up W in the dictionary and you’ll find a picture of X.
Hate the word W.
Not know the name of X.
Hear the word W and reach for one’s N.

ML, 7/28/06: X as the Y of Z:
X as the Y of Z. (scdb 12/18/07, 12/30/08)

AZ, 8/4/06: Who died and made you the king of snowclones?:
Who died and made you X? [Who Died?]

GP, 8/29/06: Science is… a verb??:
X is a verb [Is a Verb]

ML, 9/17/06: David Brooks, neuroendocrinologist:
X Is Destiny

AZ, 11/11/06: Fully awesome!:
The New Y

AZ, 11/11/06: Unblogged snowclones:
[21 previously unblogged snowclones (or whatever), plus The New Y]
Now if you will excuse me I have a X to Y
I’m from X and I’m here to help (you)
not the Xest Y in the Z (scdb 10/3/07)
Don’t X me because I’m Y
X-y McXerson
Hardly/Not a X goes by without Y
We don’t need no stinking/stinkin’/steenkin’ Xs (scdb 7/27/07)
If that’s X, every Y should be so lucky
Yes, Virginia, [mildly improbable statement is true] (scdb 10/12/07)
X does not a Y make
X gone wild
Take X and shove/stick it
There’s a lot we don’t know about X
As a X, N is a great Y
Busier than a X [someplace]
That’s not a X; this is a X (scdb 9/18/07)
N is the M of X
There’s no rest for the X
Whatever Vs your X (scdb 12/10/07)
X me no Ys (scdb 9/18/07)

ML, 11/12/06: Be a famous footnote:
Our New Overlords

ML, 11/12/06: Prancing about with Jack McConnells pants on your head does not a news story make:
X does not a Y make [Does Not A]

ML, 11/19/06: Fomite: panacea or backformation?:
X: panacea or Y?

ML, 11/21/06: Snowclones in the New Scientist:
Mother of all Xs [Mother of All]

HH, 12/3/06: Art, arts, arting, arted:
Is a Verb

AZ, 12/21/06: Bad lingo:
Best. X. Ever., X-y Goodness, Makes My Y Bleed, X-gasm, The New Y

AZ, 12/28/06: A little more of The New Y:
The New Y

BZ, 12/28/06: On the trail of “the new black” (and “the navy blue”):
The New Y

AZ, 1/18/07: A full year of The New Y:
The New Y

AZ, 1/20/07: Zippy on formulaic language:
X3, Proportional Analogy (X is to Y as Z is to W), Are we X yet?

ML, 1/21/07: Doing meta: from meta-language to meta-clippy:
Anything You Can Do

ML, 1/22/07: X ist das neues Y:
The New Y

ML, 3/20/07: Snowclones for Jesus:
X for Jesus

ML, 4/6/07: All X and no Y:
All X and No Y

AZ, 4/16/07: X’s X:
X’s X

BZ, 4/18/07: Poignant snowclone of the week:
We Are All X Now

HH, 6/25/07: Cheeseclones!:
Eskimo N [French names for cheese]

ML, 6/27/07: Snowclone of the day:
variant of Eskimo N

ML, 7/3/07: Considered harmful:
Considered harmful

AZ, 7/14/07: Negative is the new positive:
Are we X yet?, The New Y

ML, 7/24/07: Men are from …:
Men are from X, women are from Y

ML, 8/10/07: I am X, hear me Y:
I Am X Hear Me Y (scdb 8/10/07)

AZ, 8/11/07: Yet another snowclone omnibus:
27 snowclones since the last omnibus, including some from LLog postings (above), plus a cartoon on The New Y:

It’s X, Jim, but not as we know it.
X is to Y what Z is to Q [Proportional Analogy, #4070]
X is to Y what Z is to Y
I’m in ur Noun V-ing your Noun (scdb 10/19/07)
Save a X, ride a Y (scdb 7/13/07)
Sufficient unto the X is the Y thereof
You can’t X your Y and Z it too
Pimp my X
Stupid X tricks
If X are outlawed, only outlaws will have X [Outlaw]
A watched X never Ys
The once and future X
Nothing says X like Y
X: panacea or Y? [#3790]
Men are from X, women are from Y [#4744]
Are we X yet? [#4717, #4070]
The X from hell
X City
As X falls, so falls X Falls
X for Jesus [#4322]
X’s X [#4411]
Step away from the X
various lolcat snowclones [#4442, 4485, 4500, 4507, 4508]
various Mc- formulas
X considered harmful [#4675]
I am X, hear me Y [#4811]
He may be a X but he’s our X

ML, 8/25/07: “X and its enemies”:
X and its enemies, X and its discontents

BZ. 9/17/07: Snowclone collectors, call your offices:
X, call your office

ML, 9/22/07: Ask Language Log: On a scale from one to snowclone:
On a scale from one to X

AZ, 9/23/07: On the fringes of snowclonia:
X, call your office
[playful allusions:
Unsafe P any X
A child’s garden of Xs
and others]
On a scale from one to X
From X’s lips/mouth to God’s ear [God’s Ear]
Who are you and what have you done with X? [Body Snatcher]

ML, 10/27/07: That didn’t take long:
riffs on: I Am America (And So Can You!)

GP, 10/31/07: And so can you (be):
riffs on: I Am America (And So Can You!)

AZ, 10/31/07: I am neither America nor a snowclone:
reply to previous two postings

AZ, 11/3/07: More Colbert:
further explanation

AZ, 12/16/07: What have you done with God’s ear?:
Body Snatcher, God’s Ear

AZ, 12/17/07: It’s not just to God’s ear(s):
God’s Ear

AZ, 3/13/08: Zippy snow(clone):

ML, 3/25/08: X as the Y of Z, again:
X as the Y of Z

AZ, 5/30/08: Zits roundup:
God’s Ear

ML, 6/9/08: Snowclone watch:
Happens In, Stays In
[see ]

AZ, 6/24/08: Are we snowcloning yet?:
Are We X Yet?

AZ, 9/26/08: Cartoon linguification:
“not know the meaning of X”

AZ, 10/19/08: Giveth and taketh:

ML, 11/5/08: Obama is the Y of Z:
X as the Y of Z

AZ, 12/11/08: Gay day (and virgins):
Day Without X, call in X, stage an X-out, [snowclonelet] X virgin

AZ, 12/14/08: More virgins:
X virgin

BZ, 12/20/08: The Rosa Parks of blogs:
X is the Y of Z

BZ, 1/13/09: Consider the X:
Consider the X

ML, 1/28/09: ‘No word for X’ archive:
inventory of postings on the No Word for X meme

ML, 2/16/09: Progress and its enemies:
X and Its Ys [variations on Civilization and Its Discontents, etc.]

ML, 2/24/09: Snowclone of the day:
X-ready [just playful allusion?]

Snowclonelet composites

X fag, X porn, X queen, X rage, X virgin, X whore
[more in comments: X hag, X fairy]

AZ, 4/4/09: All the Y of a Z:
X requires all the Y of a Z

BZ, 4/4/09: X is the Y of Z: pop music edition:
X as the Y of Z

The whole X

The Whole X

AZ, 4/11/09: Snowclidioms?:
The Whole X

fold like a cheap X

Fold Like a Cheap X


Are We X Yet?

BZ, 6/30/09: Doing stupid:
[in comment from BZ] I don’t do X [X noun or adjective]

Jokes and snowclones

possible snowclonish joke templates

Subtle and not-so-subtle allusions

July 29, 2009

From Monday’s NYT, Nicholas Kulish, “A Stolen Car Leaves Party in Germany at a Loss”:

Ulla Schmidt, the German health minister, had her chauffeur drive her armored Mercedes S-class official vehicle some 1,500 miles from Germany to Spain, where she is vacationing on the coast near Alicante. Voters back home probably never would have been the wiser had thieves not stolen the car, leaving Ms. Schmidt without a vehicle but with some explaining to do.

What caught my notice was the wording “with some explaining to do”. This might have been just ordinary English — it’s easy to find instances of “have some explaining to do” and its variants — but since it was used about a woman, I heard a faint echo of Desi Arnaz, as Ricky Ricardo, shouting at his wife on I Love Lucy: “Lucy, you got some ‘splainin’ to do!” Maybe yes, maybe no.

But Ricky’s rant has been (non-subtly) in the news recently, during the hearings on Sonia Sotomayor’s candidacy for the Supreme Court of the U.S. Here’s Frank Rich in an NYT op-ed piece of the 18th, entitled “They Got Some ‘Splainin’ to Do”:

… when [Republican Senator] Tom Coburn of Oklahoma merrily joked to Sotomayor that “You’ll have lots of ’splainin’ to do,” it clearly didn’t occur to him that such mindless condescension helps explain why the fastest-growing demographic group in the nation [Hispanics] is bolting his party.

Coburn wouldn’t know that behind the fictional caricature Ricky Ricardo was the innovative and brilliant Cuban-American show-business mogul Desi Arnaz. As Lucie Arnaz, his and Lucille Ball’s daughter, told me last week, it always seemed unfair to her that those laughing at her father’s English usually lacked his fluency in two languages.

The Coburn quip was variously reported in other places, mostly with “explaining” instead of ” ‘splainin’ “. Either way, I don’t see a lot of merriment in the responses to it.

A word for it

July 29, 2009

Zippy (once again) reflects on vocabulary:

The idea that everything has a name is widespread, but seriously mistaken, even if it’s understood as the claim that somewhere, at some time, someone has had a name specifically for the referent in question. If this were so, then little contests for suggesting words for things would have little point, but in fact they’re very popular, and only rarely do they unearth already existing words (even then, they tend to be nonce creations or expressions used only within a small circle of acquaintances).

When it turns out that there is, in some sense, a name specifically for this referent, that name is not an ordinary language expression, but a technical term in some domain, and of course it’s not widely known (otherwise, why would people be asking about it?). That means that words like aglet are interesting in an abstract sort of way, but not of much use in daily life, outside of discussions of shoelaces, shoes, and the like — and even there, unless you’re talking to people who are experienced in this domain, you’re going to have to explain the word.

Then there’s Griffy’s offering, “little plastic shoelace thingy”, which is not a name — not any sort of fixed expression — but a (rough) description of the referent.

When I talked about “having words/names for things” on Language Log some time ago, I restricted the discussion to “ordinary-language fixed expressions of some currency”, which is what people are really interested in when they ask whether a language has or doesn’t have a word for something.

signature dish

July 27, 2009

Letting some cooking television go past me a few days ago, I wondered about the “foodie talk” expression signature dish, for a recipe associated with a particular chef or restaurant (or even city, region, or country) — an upscale variant of chef’s/house/local specialty.


Jokes and snowclones

July 25, 2009

Dinosaur Comics takes on a class of jokes insulting particular groups, and supplies some joke templates for them:

(Hat tip to Bruce Webster.)

Some readers will identify these most strongly with the rich vein of “lawyer jokes” that put lawyers down (“What’s the difference between a lawyer and an X?” and the like).

Note that when PROFESSION MEMBER is expanded to take in members of social groups, then T-Rex finds the jokes no longer “all in fun” (“just jokes”, as some people say), but instead sees them as X-ist, in particular racist.

Erin O’Connor has picked up this cartoon on the Snowclone Database, in an entry for 7/20/09, where she connects the joke templates to snowclones. Granted, they are both types of formulaic language (as are riddle templates, poetic forms, and much else), but I see them as significantly different. Templatic jokes and riddles (and so on) are routines embedded within larger texts — they are, in a sense, digressions — while snowclones, like idioms and clichés, are expressions fully integrated into their texts.

However, the lines are by no means clear, and there are many problematic cases (not all jokes are templatic, and there are short non-templatic digressions, like proverbs). There’s isn’t necessarily a bright line separating interruptive from fully integrated material.

Summer intern

July 21, 2009

I’ve had a number of summer interns in linguistics over the years — I have one now — but I hope I’ve given them work more useful than what’s depicted in this Rhymes With Orange cartoon:

Carrot, stick

July 20, 2009

Bizarro takes on English idioms involving a carrot and a stick:

There’s been a lot of passionate argument about whether “carrot and stick” or “carrot on a stick” is the original and/or “correct” variant of the expression. The arguments are mostly about the inherent plausibility of one or the other of the images; the textual evidence doesn’t come down clearly on one side or the other. For some recent surveys, look at Paul Brians here. Michael Quinion here, and Jan Freeman here.

Jan Freeman suggests an amicable resolution: the possibility that the two expressions arose independently, both building on the idea of a carrot as an inducement.

The patio footnote

July 19, 2009

Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky reported a few days ago that she had found an odd footnote in L. Frank Baum’s The Magic of Oz (1919), p. 73. The text goes:

The Sorceress smiled and answered:

“Come into my patio* and I will show you.”

So they entered a place that was surrounded by the wings of the great castle but had no roof …

This is in effect a definition of patio, giving the OED’s (draft revision of June 2009) older sense, ‘In a Spanish or Mexican house, a roofless inner courtyard open to the sky’, attested from 1764 (but obviously not always restricted to Spanish or Mexican houses); the external version (‘A paved roofless area adjoining and belonging to a house’) is attested from 1931 (from P.G. Wodehouse!) on.

So far so good. The footnote gives a pronunciation:

* Pronounced pa′-shi-o.

That’s the odd part: the assibilated middle syllable [ʃi], instead of [ti]. A variety of pronunciations have been reported for patio, but I haven’t seen this one before.

In any case, you can view the original by going to page 73 here.


X number

July 18, 2009

I posted yesterday on Language Log about Erdős numbers, and then paused to note that composites of the form X number come in at least two varieties, exemplified by Erdős number vs. Fibonacci number (both with nouns as their first element) and by lucky number vs. triangular number (both with adjectives as their first element). I’ll focus here on the slightly less complex N + number case.

Both Erdős number and Fibonacci number have the semantics ‘number associated in some way with N’, but  Erdős number has an additional component of meaning lacking in Fibonacci number, evoking another referent besides Paul Erdős — someone who has this number. That is, Erdős number is “inalienably possessed”, and in normal usage requires that an explicit possessor be expressed (“My Erdős number is 4”). For Fibonacci number, in contrast, there’s no such requirement (I do not have a Fibonacci number associated with me). Similarly, lucky number vs. triangular number.

Inalienable possession is a huge and much-studied topic in semantics, syntax, and morphology. In some languages, there are explicit morphosyntactic indications of inalienable possession, but English is not such a language. Languages also differ in which nouns are inalienably possessed; body-part terms (like hand) and kin terms (like sister) are especially likely to be inalienably possessed (as they normally are in English).

Searching on {“your * number”} pulls up some entertaining inalienable N + number compounds: your birth number (known under various other names), a one-digit number calculated from birth year, month, and day and used to predict personality characteristics and the like (think of it as a zodiac with only nine signs); your sex number (the number of sexual partners you’ve had); and your fuck number (for men, the number of strokes it takes until you reach orgasm), for instance.