Archive for August, 2009


August 27, 2009

I recently posted on Language Log about a Times Online story detailing several instances of excessive offense-avoidance by public or semi-public bodies in the U.K. Since shocked reports of such “political correctness” are a staple of the conservative media in the U.K., I was somewhat suspicious of the examples. But though the story had direct quotations attributed to these bodies (as well as indirect characterizations of their edicts on language use), of course it had no links, so it was left to the reader to check up on the reports. No apparatus.

I mention this because of my annoyance with Arthur Goldwag’s 2009 book Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies (“The straight scoop on Freemasons, the Illuminati, Skull and Bones, black helicopters, the New World Order, and many, many more”), which I’d seen recommended in several places. The book is fascinating, though dismaying, but it has no apparatus. I’ve pretty much come to expect no index in a book meant for a general audience, but there are also no references listed, and no notes tracing the sources of the factual material in the book (including direct quotations). Goldwag isn’t an academic, but a “freelance writer and editor”, but he clearly did a huge amount of research on the book, and we don’t see evidence of it here.

who or when

August 26, 2009

From an episode (“Denial”, 2002) of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit:

(1) You don’t have the right or the authority to tell the District Attorney’s Office who or when to level charges against.

There’s trouble with that coordination who or when to level charges against: the who “unpacks” to who to level charges against, which is fine, but the when unpacks to when to level charges against, which is not.

The problem arises in certain coordinations of interrogative WH words.

Neal Whitman has a fondness for such cases. Here’s an example he wrote about a couple of years ago:

(2) …the mouth speaking the line, the body delivering the gesture, while the mind looks back, observing, analyzing, judging, worrying, and then deciding when and what to say next. (Steve Martin, Born Standing Up, p. 1)

In (2) it’s when and what to say next that presents the problem, but this time it’s the second WH word, what, that works with the following material (what to say next), while it’s the first one that doesn’t fly when unpacked (when to say next) — just the opposite of the arrangement in (1). (more…)

Meme hybrid alert

August 25, 2009

Although in my posting on portmanteaus I declared that I wasn’t collecting them — there are just too many, and new ones are invented every day — here’s what I think is an interesting new one, from Virginia Heffernan’s NYT Magazine piece (of August 23) “The Feminist Hawks”:

Like many conservatives, [David] Horowitz appears to have come to feminist-hawkism after 9/11. But in his hands, the ideology has fast became a tenacious memebrid — as Tim Hwang, a sociologist and the director of the Web Ecology Project, calls memes that unite two or more cultural phenomena.

“The neat marriage of hawkish tendencies and feminist framing of issues does this quite effectively,” Hwang explained to me in an e-mail message. Borrowing left-wing shibboleths is one way that “conservative ideas can make it big in a generally more liberal online social sphere,” he wrote. Furthermore, to depict Islamic regimes less as terrorists than as repressors of civil liberties may appeal even to traditional isolationists, as it “plays off of the strong communities of libertarians that dominate some prominent spaces.”

Now memebrid is a portmanteau, a kind of hybrid, but the memebrid in question, feminist hawk ‘hawk who is a feminist’, is not. Instead, it’s an instance of a different scheme for combining two words to make a new word: compounding. (The OED entry for portmanteau makes the connection between the two phenomena explicit.) A compound has a dual nature: it is a word, but it also consists of two words in sequence; it has an internal structure.

In some portmanteaus, one of the contributing words appears intact (and the other appears only in abbreviated form); this is the case for memebrid, where meme appears intact, while hybrid is shortened to -brid. But many portmanteaus — brunch, spork — have both contributing words abbreviated (br- + -unch, sp- + -ork).

Still other portmanteaus have both contributors intact, but overlapping: bromance is bro + romance, with -ro- shared (in pronunciation and in spelling); the corresponding compound would be bro romance. In fact, there’s often overlapping in portmanteaus in general: Billary is Bill + Hillary, with shared -ill-; Scalito is Scalia + Alito, with shared -ali-. (Overlapping is a property these portmanteaus have in common with one large class of inadvertent blends, called “splice blends” in the literature: originary is original + ordinary, with shared -in-.)

No overlapping in memebrid, however.


August 24, 2009

I get a lot of messages, from one source or another, about portmanteau words. The most recent was from an e-mail correspondent about viewser (viewer + user), which turns out to be old news: Grant Barrett has an entry in his Double-Tongued Dictionary, with a pile of citations (the earliest from 1995 and 1997), and Paul McFedries has an entry on his Word Spy site, with further discussion.

But other finds seem to be more recent. Good places to check cases out include Double-Tongued Dictionary and Word Spy, because they specialize in innovations and have carefully researched, scholarly treatments. There are several other good sources, but don’t trust the Urban Dictionary on such things. When they achieve some currency, innovations (including portmanteaus) find their way into the regular “Among the New Words” column in the journal American Speech.

I’ll catalogue some examples of (apparently) recently innovated portmanteaus that have come by me in the past few months. (Please don’t offer me more examples. I’m not really a collector of these things. Grant Barrett is. Or you could subscribe to the American Dialect Society mailing list and discuss your examples there.) But first a few words about portmanteaus. (more…)

Ask AZBlog: googled maps NP

August 24, 2009

Ben lee Volk writes:

A friend of mine showed me the following post from the blog “texts from last night”:

(480): I just googled maps his house, and took the virtual tour back to my apartment, just so I could visualize the walk of shame in the morning. (link)

and asked: “googled maps? I’d probably say “google mapped”. I googled (not maps) for more hits, and there are few relevant ones…

This form reminded me your post on internal inflection only with “ed” suffix for past tense, rather than “s” suffix for plural (as in “shouts out”). Would you agree, or do you believe it to be something else?

My first idea was that the “last night” example was just missing a preposition: “maps of/for/from his house”. Inadvertent omissions like this do happen, after all.

Then I looked at some of those relevant hits, for instance some with “googled maps it” (where “it” is the direct object):

Beautiful place! I just googled maps it and turns out we’re only 8.5 hours away.. (link)

when i googled maps it, it brought me somewhere else.  not the other location though.  strange. (link)

There are suspiciously many relevant hits, in fact.

Then I came across examples like the following:

I also googled(maps) the NY address she gave me and it says it doesn’t exists. I personally won’t proceed with them..I think it’s a scam, so.. check it out. (link)

The form made me a bit suspicious; I googled/maps their RETURN address, several financial businesses appeared at the SAME address:… (link)

Ah. You can google maps ‘google up maps’, but you can also google (up) places or addresses using Google Maps, and some people apparently can refer to this latter activity by the verb google(maps), google (maps), google/maps, or just plain google maps:

Rich, Google maps the address once you enter it [the Toronto subway]. (link)

Hope this helps, you should be able to google maps the address. (link)

(and a number of others).

Google maps can then be used as an idiomatic combination of a head verb and a following noun; compare take part and take place. So inflection is on the head, internal to the idiom. The past tense of google maps the address is googled maps the address.

Short shot #8: more on grow

August 23, 2009

Following up on my recent posting on the noun grow … Danny Bloom has pointed me to some material that suggests a different route to it than simple nouning.

It turns out that there are plenty of hits for marijuana grow operation (and some for marijuana grow-op), and even more for marijuana growing operation (and some for marijuana growing op). These expressions are used to refer to both outdoor and indoor operations, but, crucially, they’re primarily to refer to the enterprises in question, and only secondarily (if at all) to the places where these enterprises are carried on.

Start with the fullest and most standard variant:

Officers in San Francisco uncovered a marijuana growing operation in a home in the city’s Sunset District on Wednesday afternoon. (link)

Then, clip growing to grow:

Federal and local law enforcement agents confiscated roughly 30000 marijuana plants growing among pine trees in the Pike National Forest. (link)

Then clip operation to op, either with growing:

Marijuana growing op in Miami mall storage area busted (link)

or with grow:

300-plant marijuana grow-op busted in North Van forest (link)

Then it’s just a step to marijuana grow on its own, with various senses having to do with pot growing (and of course to grow on its own, with the domain understood from context):

Tribal police raid Mexican marijuana grow site (link)

Washington’s Cannabis Eradication Response Team members raid a marijuana grow near Harrah, Wash. (link)

Record marijuana grow pulled up by the roots in Siskiyou County (link)

There are hits for parallel expressions with pot or cannabis rather than marijuana in them, but my task here is not to survey all possible expressions in this domain.

Short shot #7: ask and want

August 23, 2009

From Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky:

I just heard somebody say, into his phone on a business conversation about fees and stuff “The way it’s structured you’ll have some ask on wants.”

This has two nounings (of verbs) in a short space, which is pretty dense. The first, ask, is one I’ve posted about on Language Log, though the usage here is not quite like the ones I posted about. The second, want, is (in the sense here) of some age in English.


A grow

August 23, 2009

A New York Times story (“Deep in California Forests, An Illicit Business Thrives”, by Jesse McKinley, 8/22/09) tells us about Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department officers hunting for

… workers at one of the scores of remote, highly organized outdoor marijuana “grows” that dot the vast forests of California, largely on federal property.

Of course, I picked up on the nouning grow (a count noun meaning, roughly, ‘plot of land under cultivation for a crop’). And was shocked, shocked to realize that the English language had no word for this concept — no “word”, in the sense ‘ordinary-language fixed expression of some currency’ (see discussion here). Appalling! What simple creatures English speakers must be, able to make specific distinctions — fields, vineyards, (rice) paddies, orchards, gardens, (pot) grows, etc. — but hobbled by their inability to conceive of the overarching abstraction! But that’s the way of primitive peoples. (more…)

Short shot #6: adverbial scary

August 22, 2009

Ann Burlingham wrote me a while back with a sighting of innovative scary different, roughly ‘scarily different, different in a scary way’. It’s from Business Week, in a quote:

Even stronger government intervention may be required, several economists said on Mar. 4. “I’ve gone through a number of cycles as an economist on Wall Street, but this one’s different,” says Brian Fabbri, chief economist for BNP Paribas. “This one’s scary different.” (link)

Googling on {“scary different”} pulls up a number of instances that are pretty clearly conveying ‘both scary and different’, but also some predicative examples like the one above, for instance:

It is amazing. It is fun. It is exciting. It is always different but never scary different. It’s enlighteningly different, fun different. (link)

Note the pairing with the adverb enlighteningly. And the adverbial use of fun, conveying ‘in a fun way’ (with the innovative use of fun as an adjective). Here’s another pairing with fun:

The sushi rolls are a little different from the usual California roll and spicy tuna roll – not scary different, but a fun kind of different. (link)

Adverbial scary can modify some other adjectives:

They’re scary huge, but oh so tasty. (link)

There are probably other adjectives, beyond scary and fun, that have been adverbialized (“adved”?).

Tintin times

August 21, 2009

Yesterday at breakfast my granddaughter showed me a book she’d been given recently: volume 1 in a set of Tintin books put out in the Little, Brown Young Readers series. Each volume has three republished stories (this one has Tintin in America, Cigars of the Pharaoh, and The Blue Lotus) in hard cover, beautifully reproduced but reduced in size from the originals.

My daughter remarked that the publishers were unlikely to put out Tintin in the Congo, and indeed they decided two years ago not to republish this volume as a stand-alone or to include it in the boxed set.

Just the day before, the New York Times had a story (by Alison Leigh Cowan, entitled “An Intrepid Cartoon Reporter, Bound for the Big Screen but Shut in a Library Vault” in hard copy, “A Library’s Approach to Books That Offend” on-line) about the Brooklyn Public Library’s decision to sequester the book away from the open stacks. (more…)