Archive for December, 2009

Lolcats in the snow

December 30, 2009

Passed on by Erin Stevenson O’Connor in the snowclone database: an Adam Koford Laugh-Out-Loud Cats cartoon on the snowclone that gave its name to the phenomenon:

Short shot #33: the tell-tale but

December 29, 2009

From a profile of the physician A. Stone Freedberg in the NYT Magazine of December 27 (“The Lives They Lived” issue):

When Freedberg was a boy, [his grandfather] Max contracted a fatal pneumonia. An ambulance came to take him to the hospital. On his way out the door, Max stopped the attendants to speak to the family one last time. He told them that he wouldn’t be coming back but that he had no fear of death — that this was how everyone’s life ended.

Freedberg was an avowed atheist [unlike Max, who was a rabbi], but he nevertheless approached the end of his life with the same sense of tranquillity.

It’s the but, a contrastive connective suggesting that the writer expects that atheists would not face death tranquilly (presumably because they don’t have the comfort that religious belief would provide), and indeed that the writer supposes that the readers share this expectation. A lot packed into that little word.

(In the same issue, in a profile of Alison Des Forges, the word genocidaires, referring to those who perpetrated the 1994 Rwandan genocide. New to me, but immediately understandable. There’s even a Wikipedia entry.)

Portmanteau inventory: addendum

December 28, 2009

Missing from my inventory of portmanteau postings: a number of postings by Ben Zimmer that I didn’t catch because they used the term blend rather than portmanteau:

BZ, 11/2/05: Squabbles over “Scalito” (link)

BZ, 12/20/05: Merry Kitzmas! (link)

BZ, 12/26/05: Kenzi, Camerair. and other hybrid beasts (link)

BZ, 12/29/05: Does sisomo have sisomomentum? (link)

BZ, 12/30/05: From Nabisco to Nanowrimo (link)

BZ, 1/3/06: Happy Abramoffukkah! (link)

BZ, 1/29/06: The cran-morphing of –dango (link)

BZ, 3/30/06: Twonk! (link)

BZ, 4/9/06: A fishapod called Tiktaalik (link)

BZ, 9/5/06: The surreptitious history of –licious (link)

BZ, 10/5/06: Malaysia cracks down on “salad language” (link)

BZ, 1/20/07: Celeb-u-rama (link)

BZ, 12/2/07: Suggestive blending with Satchel and Bucky (link)

BZ, 4/3/08: Saying it wrong on porpoise (link)

Inventory of portmanteau postings

December 28, 2009

Another inventory, this time of postings on portmanteau words. (Postings are from Language Log unless labeled “AZBlog”.)

BZ, 10/30/05: The first “Fitzmas” (link)

BZ, : 11/1/05: A perilous portmanteau? (link)

BZ, 1/24/06: Blawgs, phonolawgically speaking (link)

AZ, 9/4/06: -Vlicious invention (link)

BZ, 9/14/06: Taxonation without representation (link) [folksonomy]

ML, 11/25/06: Morphemedar (link)

AZ, 3/1/07: Get Fuzzy gets playful (link)

AZ, 5/12/07: Zippy’s suffixiness (link)

BZ, 7/6/08: Wankerism in the Times (link) [wanksta]

AZ, 7/12/08: Muslimentalist (link)

AZBlog, 12/22/08: Portmansnow words (link)

AZBlog, 12/27/08: Manecdotes and brobituaries (link)

AZBlog, 1/29/09: Drats! (link)

AZBlog, 5/22/09: Saddlebacking (link)

AZBlog, 8/18/09: Diplomatic trip lingo (link) [townterview]

AZBlog, 8/24/09: Portmanteaus (link)

AZBlog, 8/25/09: Meme hybrid alert (link) [memebrid]

AZ, 7/6/09: Linguablog (link)

VM, 8/22/09: Quadrilingual washlet instructions (link)

BZ, 8/22/09: Bloggingheads: Of Cronkiters and corpora, of fishapods and FAIL (link)

ML, 9/9/09: The Germans have a word for it (link) [schadenfreude portmanteaus]

AZBlog, 10/11/09: Euro-words (link)

AZBlog, 11/17/09: Portmanteau crop (link)

AZBlog, 11/30/09: Douchefag (link)

AZBlog, 12/9/09: Spork (link)

AZ, 12/21/09: Buzzwords of 2009 (link)


December 27, 2009

Louis W. Thompson had an op-ed piece in the NYT on Christmas Eve (“The Finest Gifts It Brings”) on “The Little Drummer Boy” (“Yes, torture can be set to music”, Thompson wrote). It’s a little masterpiece of annoying Christmas music.

There’s the relentless drumbeat of “rum pum pum pum”, 21 repetitions per play. There’s the overall tone — in Thompson’s words, “exalted …, pompous, candied, reverential.” And then there’s the syntax. Thompson quoted:

Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum
A newborn king to see, pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum

and added:

Backwards run sentences until reels the mind.

More on this sentence later. First, some comments on the syntax of the sentences from the song.


Reverse eggcorns?

December 26, 2009

Ben Slade posted last week on his blog (Stæfcræft & Vyākaraṇa) on some phenomena in the language of reggae music, under the heading:

Overstand the downpression of the kin-dread by outformers: On what to call “reverse eggcorns” in Dread Talk

Kin-dread here is a pretty standard eggcorn (though it’s a deliberate play on words), with kindred reinterpreted as having the second element dread (metonymically referring to Rastafarians, or sometimes to people in general); the reinterpretation turns on phonology. But the other three are different (though they’re also deliberate), since the reinterpretation turns primarily on semantics, in particular the semantics of opposition.

So: overstand is an intended improvement on understand, on the grounds that the under in understand would suggest low comprehension, while its opposite over would (correctly) suggest high comprehension.

Similarly for downpress in downpression: if oppress is understood as up-press, then it would seem to mean ‘lift up’, and so it should be reanalyzed as downpress ‘press down’.

Finally, outformer replaces the usually positive in- of informer with the more explicitly negative out-.

There are more: livicate ‘dedicate’ (live vs. dead) and blindgarette ‘cigarette’ (blind vs. see).

At a loss for terminology, Slade hit on reverse eggcorns. In the spirit of the way eggcorns were named, I’d suggesting calling them overstandings.

Survey woes

December 26, 2009

In the “Feedback” section of the holiday New Scientist (p. 88):

The sign-up questionnaire on the Captain Cash money-saving website run by the London-based Sunday tabloid News of the World asks applicants to select from the following: “In a typical month, I buy the NOTW: never/less than once/1-2 times/3-4 times.”

Michael Barraclough is still trying to work out which of the first two options to tick.


Short shot #32: walking on water

December 25, 2009

In the holiday issue of New Scientist, a piece by Paul Collins on the history of water-walking (“Take a walk on the wet side”, pp. 36-7), beginning with the story of Charles W. Oldrieve, who was in 1907 (when he walked down the Mississippi) the “world’s pre-eminent aquatic pedestrian”. At one point in his career, he vanished. Collins writes:

Some assumed he had drowned: after all, humans are poorly designed for aquatic pedestrianism.

I was tickled by “aquatic pedestrian” ‘water walker’ and “aquatic pedestrianism” ‘water walking’, with the non-predicating adjective aquatic.

(Water-walking has a long and complex history, continuing to the present day. People are still designing devices for walking on water. And in 1988 Remy Bricka took 40 days to walk from the Canary Islands to Trinidad.)


December 24, 2009

It’s that season of the year, and gift-giving is in the media. The New Scientist “holiday special” (December 19 through January 8), for example, has a piece by Robert Rowland Smith on the nature of gift exchanges. But, more to the point for a blog that is mostly about language, there’s Margaret Visser’s op-ed piece in the December 23 NYT: “Why We ‘Gift'”.

Visser starts by distinguishing gifts freely given from gifts given

to people we scarcely know or for whom we feel little warmth — to clients, colleagues, children’s teachers or people we ought to remember but seldom do. Giving them spills over into the calculating, the public, the area of social pressure and of obligation.

In effect, this is obligatory giving, though in our culture we don’t think of it that way.

This leads Visser to a point of language:

The lack of a word for what for us has clearly been felt by users of American English. An obsolete verb, “to gift” … has been picked up and given new work to do. “Gifting” is often used now for handling people objects disguised as gifts for the purpose of carrying out conventions and socially imposed duties.

There are several things to worry about here. First, to gift never went fully obsolete (certainly not in Scots English). Next, more recent uses are probably fresh verbings of the noun gift, rather than revivals of the earlier verb; certainly, they attract the sort of passionate peeving that dogs so many innovations (especially verbings, nounings, and back-formations); critics say they are not only unnecessary but also pretentious or jargony.

And, finally, the idea that the innovative verb gift serves primarily to refer to obligatory giving is an interesting speculation, but one I have seen no evidence for. People who use the verb gift usually defend it — quite reasonably, to my mind — by saying that give is too non-specific, and that gift can be used to convey specifically ‘give as a gift’ (covering voluntary gifts as well as other sorts). MWDEU has a nice discussion of innovative gift, by the way.

A syntactic note: the verbs gift and give participate in somewhat different diathesis alternations:




V the N

December 24, 2009

The lyrics of Pete Townshend’s “Face the Face” (from White City, 1985):

Face the face, got to face the face
Face the face, got to face the face

You must have heard the cautionary tales
The dangers hidden on the cul-de-sac trails
From wiser men who’ve been through it all
And the ghosts of failures spray-canned up on the wall

We’ve got to judge the judge
Got to find the finds
We’ve got to scheme the schemes
Have to line the lines
We must stake the stakes
And show the shown
We must take the takes
And know the known
Try to place the place
Where we can face the face.
We got to face the face
Try to place the place
Where we can face the face
Face the face, got to face the face.
Face the face, got to face the face.

Got to
Got to

You must have tried and defied belief
Maybe found futility in insular grief
I need your hunger you need mine
A million appetites can swallow up time.

We’ve got to fool the fools
We got to plan the plans
We got to rule the rules
We got to stand the stands
We got to fight the fight
We must fall the falls
We got to light the light
We got to call the calls
We must race the race
So we can face the face
We got to race the race
We must race the race
So we can face the face
Face the face
We got to face the face
We got to race the race
We got to

Keep looking…..

New York! Chicago!
London and Glasgow!
Keep looking!

Keep on looking
Keep on cooking
Gotta stay on this case
Study the pix
Watch the flix
We’ve got to find the face.
Face the face, got to face the face
Watch the flix
Got to

We’ve got to judge the judge
We got to find the finds
We’ve got to scheme the schemes
We got to line the lines
We got to fight the fight
We got to fall the falls
We got to light the light
We got to call the calls
Try to place the place
Where we can face the face.
We got to face the face…..
Try to place the place
Where we can face the face.
Try to place the place
Where we can face the face.
Keep looking, keep looking
We must race the race
So we can face the face.
We got to race the race
We must race the race.
So we can face the face
We got to face the face
We got to race the race

(Hat tip to Joe Clark.)

This is an extended riff (mostly) on homophonous verb-noun pairs in English