Archive for October, 2009

Nose art

October 22, 2009

In my asteperious posting, I ended up talking about the nose art on WWII bombers (one of which was on the Jolly Rogers’s “Asterperious Special” plane). The art ranged from the crudely to the carefully drawn. A few comments from my 2004 explorations of the extensive websites memorializing the nose art (there are a few points of linguistic interest in there):

The iconography of the nose art is complicated.  Female figures (often in combination with the Jolly Rogers’s skull and crossbones) figured very prominently; at least two were Varga figures.  Some female-figured planes: Lady Luck, Naval Body, Surprise Attack, Sack Time, Million $ Baby, Booby Trap (yes, a pun), Lucky Strike, Peace Offering, Playmate, Shoo Shoo Baby, Photo Fanny, COD Knot For Tojo, The Peter Heater.

Then there’s Axis Nightmare (just the skeleton, no babe).  and a huge assortment of boastful and threatening figures: Big Ass Bird, Who Shives a Git, “The Flying Stud” (winged horse), Hells Angels, Lone Star Avenger, Mitsu Butcher, Tear-Ass (The Bull), Tyrannosaurus Rex, “Yanks From Hell”.

And some mysteries, like ‘Come And Get It’, with a duck figure not unlike the famous Donald; Sodpa’s Wabbit, with a rabbit figure not unlike the famous Bugs; and Wabbit Twansit, with Bugs and Porky riding a bomb.


October 22, 2009

From correspondent  G.D. yesterday:

… I had stumbled onto your blog [Language Log] by searching for the word astiperios — because a colleague of mine used it today to describe a student’s attitude.  It’s a word I had never heard before (or seen in print), so I wanted to see if it was real, and what it meant.  I’m curious how your adventure in tracing its roots started, and where it took you in the end.

G.D. is referring to a posting of mine from, omigod, 2004, in which I mentioned my travails in tracking down the word asteperious (which appears in various spellings). Things pretty much ran aground five years ago, and I never got around to writing about the quest in a proper blog entry (though most of it was documented on the American Dialect Society mailing list). Now would be a good time to tell the story.


WOO: The War On Of

October 20, 2009

Having posted about

(1) (a) half (of) a Nom


(2) a half Nom,

focusing on the use of articles in such examples, I was moved to return to another aspect of these variants, the variation between plain (no of) and of constructions following half in the patterns in (1).

As I noted in that posting, some usage writers recommend against things like a half an hour on the grounds that it’s “redundant” or “pleonastic”; the advice is to omit one of the indefinite articles, as unnecessary. Some handbooks also recommend against

(3) half of NP (e.g., half of an hourhalf of the shrubbery, half of the bushes)

as having an unnecessary of; the advice is to omit the ofhalf an hour, half the shrubbery, half the bushes. Similar advice is given for

(4) both/all of NP (e.g., both/all of my assignments, all of the shrubbery)

where once again we are told to omit the of: both/all my assignments, all the shrubbery.

All of has gotten more attention than the others. A few handbooks are resolute on this advice:

Weseen, Words Confused, p. 10: use “all my friends,” not “all of my friends”

Flesch, The ABC of Style, p, 19: a good writer or editor automatically changes all to all of

Some merely say that the of is unnecessary:

Bernstein, Dos, Don’t, & Maybes, p. 12: except with pronouns, the of following all is superfluous and may be omitted

At least one connects the of to informal style:

Garner, Garner’s Modern American Usage (3rd ed.), p. 33: All (of). The more formal construction is to omit of

Several handbooks (Burchfield, The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, p. 41; Evans & Evans, A Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage, p. 25; MWDEU) note that the all of variant is more recent than the plain all variant.

And some (Evans & Evans, pp. 12, 25; MWDEU again) simply say that both variants are acceptable, as Swan’s Practical English Usage does for all, both, and half.

So far, this is a story of Omit Needless Words, with some writers advocating omission and others admitting both variants. There might also be some additional prejudice against the of variants on the basis of their relative recency (variants that are, or are perceived to be, innovations are often disfavored) or — a probably related consideration — their relative informality (innovations are often perceived to be more informal than corresponding older variants).

But there’s more: a prejudice, plain and simple, against the word of.


Composite puzzles

October 19, 2009

From the front page of today’s New York Times, “Diverse Sources Pour Cash Into Taliban’s War Chest” by Eric Schmitt:

The Taliban in Afghanistan are running a sophisticated financial network to pay for their insurgent operations, raising hundred of millions of dollars from the illicit drug trade, kidnappings, extortion and foreign donations …

A point of linguistic interest is the composite nominal insurgent operations, in particular its first element, insurgent: noun or adjective? It has uses as a noun (OED2 has it from 1765) and uses as an adjective (from 1814 in OED2).

Either is possible. The whole nominal could be a compound noun meaning, roughly, ‘operations by insurgents’, parallel to invader operations:

US Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of US invader operations, claimed that two crewmen escaped injury and the helicopter was recovered. (link)

Or the nominal could involve a “non-predicating adjective” insurgent, in a composite with an adjective understood not as predicating some property of the head noun but as evoking some noun — as in electrical engineer (where electricity is evoked) and transformational grammar (where transformation(s) is evoked) — a type of nominal discussed several times on Language Log, for instance here.

What makes things tricky is that if insurgent is a non-predicating adjective in insurgent operations, then the evoked noun is the noun insurgent(s). Whoops.


Retrieval error?

October 16, 2009

From the October 16 issue of the Stanford Linguistics Department’s newsletter The Sesquipedalian:

… and more than a dozen of the participants are expected to join the Linguistics Happy Hour at 4 pm  after the workshop adjoins at 3.

The writer was probably aiming for adjourn but (in a Fay/Cutler malapropism moment) retrieved the phonologically similar adjoin instead. Or maybe it’s a classical malapropism, in which the writer had stored adjoin where most people have adjourn. (It’s often hard to distinguish the two phenomena in particular cases. But I can ask the Sesqui about the writer’s intentions.)

Not surprisingly, it’s not in Brians’s Common Errors or on the Eggcorn Database. You can find a few more examples on the web, for instance:

It is anticipated that the Gunnar Myrdal Lecture will be held on Wednesday, 5 March, at 4.30 in the afternoon.  The formal meeting of the Commission will adjoin at 4:30 p.m. with the lecture to be held in the same meeting room. (link)

The Symposium will commence with a continental breakfast at 8 am and will adjoin at noon. (link)

It seems to be an error of the educated, in relatively elevated contexts.

Ellipsis on an island

October 16, 2009

Malcolm Gladwell, “Offensive Play”, New Yorker 10/19/09, p. 52, quoting a football player:

(1) “They cleared me for practice that Thursday. I probably shouldn’t have. I don’t know what damage I did from that, because my head was really hurting.”

“I probably shouldn’t have ___” contains an instance of Verb Phrase Ellipsis (VPE); the underlines mark the location of the elliptical material. VPE is a type of anaphora, zero anaphora in particular, so we need to find a referent for the missing VP.

The way VPE normally works is that the referent is supplied by an overt VP in the linguistic context that serves as an antecedent for the anaphor, as in this real-life example, where the antecedent is bold-faced.

I lost weight with Jenny Craig, and you can ___ too.

(that is, you can lose weight with Jenny Craig too.)

But sometimes the referent has to be dug out from non-VP material. Some people find such examples unacceptable — they are often at least hard to process — and there’s a considerable literature about some of them, under the heading “anaphoric islands”; see the Language Log discussion here.

(1) is such a case, where the elliptical material is something like “practiced” or “gone to practice” and the referent has to be dug out “from within” the noun practice, which is derived from the verb practice.

Some further examples (some of them intentionally jokey) from my collection:

(2) Many cases go unrecorded, and those that are ___ rarely make it to court. [referent from within the adjective unrecorded]

(3) Me: That’s a gift.
Wife: And he is ___. He’s very gifted. [referent from within the noun gift; note wife’s repair.]

(4) Constants aren’t ___ and variables don’t ___. [referents from within the nouns constants and variables]

(5) Friendly fire isn’t ___. [referent from within the NP friendly fire]

(6) one of those see-through blouses you don’t even want to ___! [referent from within the adjective see-through]

(7) A Writer Who Doesn’t ___ [referent from within the noun writer]


October 16, 2009

Ian Frazier, in a New Yorker Talk of the Town piece “Scratch and Sniff” (October 19, p. 30), about police dogs that sniff out cell phones:

Captain Matthew Kyle: “We don’t want to publicate what the cell-phone smell is exactly. It’s an organic substance that’s in all cell phones–leave it at that.”

What caught my eye was the verb publicate ‘make public, advertise’ (a verbing of the adjective public via suffixation with -ate), which I didn’t recall having seen before. Was it a recent innovation?

Well, you probably know where this story is going to go now.


Pleonastic indefinite article

October 15, 2009

Caught recently in a Bowflex commercial, a reference to “guys a half my age”:

I’m having pickup [basketball] games with guys a half my age.

You can google up a small number of examples for a half POSS age, with an apparently pleonastic indefinite article, and a small number for a half of POSS age. They are similar to an apparently pleonastic construction that has caught the attention of usage critics at least since 1917: a half a.


“we believe who”

October 14, 2009

In a Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode:

… the man we believe who attacked you

Something has gone wrong here; the question is what.


Zits morphology

October 13, 2009

Jeremy confronts English morphology.

Bored is an adjective (converted from the PSP of the verb bore), so it’s easy to get a derived negative adjective in un-. Which can then be interpreted as a form of a reversative verb un-bore. And the way is clear to a repetitive re-bore.