Archive for January, 2010

X Nazi

January 31, 2010

Over on Language Log, Geoff Pullum has just posted about a flap over a use of the expression health Nazi, saying that

Calling someone a health Nazi strikes me as a semi-jocular (if rather abusive) way of accusing him of foisting his health ideas on others in an authoritarian way.

and noting that calling someone a health Nazi is not calling them a member of the National Socialist party. The pattern in X Nazi (or nazi) is one of

a number of N1 + N2 composite patterns, most of them non-subsective (the denotation of the composite is not within the denotation of N2), but all of them exhibiting some semantic oddities, and all of them formulaic to some degree, hence snowclone-like. In other words, “snowclonelet composites”.

(from my posting here).

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A sarcastic cartoon for weekend fun

January 30, 2010

From Hilary Price’s Rhymes With Orange:

A “no permitted” sign

January 30, 2010

Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky has now managed to photograph the “no permitted” sign I talked about here (which is slightly different in wording from what I reported in that posting):

(This took some ingenuity, since the sign is on a section of the street where pedestrians are not allowed — as you can see from the photo.)

lifelong native

January 30, 2010

From Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words, issue 674 (January 23), in the “Sic!” section:

An article of 16 January in the Arizona Republic describes a New Orleans resident as a “lifelong native”. This differentiates him, Bob Kelly guesses, from late-arriving natives.

The comment assumes that the meaning — the one and only meaning — of native is

A person born in a specified place, region, or country, whether subsequently resident there or not … Usu. with of. (OED draft revision of December 2009)

This sense, attested since 1535, sticks close to the etymology, from a Latin ‘born’ stem. In this sense, lifelong would be redundant in “lifelong native”, since your place of birth doesn’t change over time.

But there’s another sense, attested since 1800:

A person resident in a particular place or locale; a citizen.

This is a semantic extension of the sense above, preserving the component of connection to a place, but allowing for a connection other than birth. (The resultant ambiguity is also seen in be from, as in the question “Where are you from?”, which can be asking about place of birth, or at least childhood residence, or about place of current residence.) In this sense, there’s nothing odd about “lifelong resident”, a point made clearly in the World Wide Words of January 30 (issue 675):

LIFELONG NATIVE  Several readers objected to the mild mockery of this expression in the Sic! column in the last issue. For them, it has a specific meaning – of a person who was born in a place and has always lived there, as opposed to one who was born in a place, but for a period has lived somewhere else. Sharla Hardy put it like this: “I was born in California and live there, but I spent seven years living in Ohio and a couple in Michigan. So I may be a native [of California], but I’m not a lifelong native.”

Note that Sharla Hardy is a native of California in both of the senses above.

Louche Change

January 29, 2010

The January 25 New Yorker has a piece by Hendrik Hertzberg with this title (and the subtitle “Trash talk from the 2008 campaign”), reviewing Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain, and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, an inside-gossipy account of the campaign “told in the style of an airport potboiler”, as Hertzberg puts it.

Two comments. First, on the passage:

Barack Obama hits town as a newly minted senator: “He was smarter than the average bear, not to mention the average politician, and he not only knew it but wanted to make sure that everyone else knew it, too.”

Then, on the authors’

report that Presidential candidates and the nembers of their entourage are inordinately fond of the word “fuck” and its derivatives.

(with illustrations).

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iPad problems

January 29, 2010

On the front page of today’s NYT: “What’s in a Name? For Apple, iPad Said More Than Intended” by Brad Stone), about a series of problems with the name iPad.

Item 1: “Many women are saying the name evokes awkward associations with feminine hygiene products.”

Item 2: “People from Boston to Ireland are complaining that “iPad,” in their regional brogue, sounds almost indistinguishable from “iPod,” Apple’s music player. The problem may be worse outside the United States: Japanese does not even have a sound for the “a” in iPad.”

Item 3: “Two other high-tech companies already market products called iPad and are laying claim to the trademark.”

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Permitted loads

January 29, 2010

Road sign in Sunnyvale CA, reported by Elizabeth Daingerfield:

Permitted loads not allowed on Mathilda Ave.

(Side irrelevant point of local interest: Sunnyvale also has a Maude Ave. and a Mary Ave.)

The interpretation that comes most easily — ‘loads that are permitted, i.e. allowed, are not allowed on Mathilda Ave.’ — can’t be right, because it’s flatly contradictory. The intended sense must involve a verbing of the noun permit. But still the interpretation that comes most easily — ‘loads that are permitted, i.e., have permits, are not allowed on Mathilda Ave.’ — seems unsatisfactory, since  what are those permits for, if not for permission to use the roads? But in fact this is pretty much how the sign is to be read. You have to know what the permits in question are for.

There’s a photo of another variant (No permitted trucks allowed) from a different location, posted 2/20/08 on a blog as an instance of a big fail. On 4/2/09 commenter Mike Fletcher explained:

The “permitted trucks” refers to trucks that are not normally legal (oversize, overweight or carrying especially hazardous materials) and which require special permits to travel on public roads. These (and only these) types of trucks are forbidden – probably due to the steepness of the hill, or a tight corner at the bottom which could result in a stuck truck, unable to extricate itself which would block the road.

So carrying a permit is a sign that a truck is unsafe on certain roads and should be banned from them.

The same sign has been blogged about elsewhere, again with expressions of bewilderment (from non-truck drivers). These bloggers ask why the sign doesn’t say something like “No trucks requiring permits allowed” — but of course the sign works fine for the intended audience.

EDM/ODM and grade marking

January 28, 2010

I’ve been spending rather a lot of time preparing materials for my course this quarter, on this week’s topic, inflectional (infl) vs. periphrastic (periph) comparatives and superlatives (infl handsomer, handsomest; periph more handsome, most handsome). I’ve been writing on the topic for decades, and I posted to Language Log three times recently on the topic (here, here, and here), so I’ve collected an almost unmanageable amount of material. I started to assemble my responses to comments on these postings, intending to post that here. What I have so far is a kind of crude outline for my students’ use, though I’m still striving.

Here I’m pulling out a new bit, having to do with an interaction between infl/periph and another option in the structure of English, Exceptional Degree Marking (EDM) vs. Ordinary Degree Marking (ODM).

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What’s P YOUR N?

January 26, 2010

It started, so far as I can tell, with a Capital One credit card commercial in 2005, showing people repulsing marauding hordes, and avoiding other dire circumstances, by brandishing their Capital One cards. The voiceover goes, “What’s in YOUR wallet?” — an entirely ordinary English sentence, but with contrastive prosody, implicating that if viewers have something other than a Capital One card in their wallet, things could go badly for them in such circumstances, so they should get a Capital One card.

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One more -tard

January 24, 2010

Michael Quinion’s treatment of the incipient libfix –tard (quoted from World Wide Words here, discussed on his affixes site here) omits what I believe to be by far the most frequent of the words with this libfix: the insult fucktard, defined in Sheidlower’s The F Word (3rd ed., p. 166) as “a despicably stupid person” (with cites from 1994 on).

Instead, Quinion picks celebutard as the “most common” of the words in this class, while admitting that it isn’t all that common. He also cites debutard, e-tard, lame-tard, scientard, conservatard, libtard/Libtard, and Avatard.

Why would Quinion have overlooked this item? Several possible reasons, not necessarily exclusive:

(1) Quinion is British, and fucktard might be heavily American: all of Sheidlower’s cites seem to be American; the many examples of fucktard you can google up are very predominantly American; and so, apparently are the sources of the 347 (!) definitions for the item in Urban Dictionary. So Quinion might not have noticed it.

(2) The examples that make it into print are mostly in reports of speech (in publications that allow fuck and words with fuck in them to appear in print); otherwise, the word appears in informal speech and writing (as in blogs). So Quinion might not have appreciated just how common fucktard is.

(3) The word is not only an insult, but a profane one, and Quinion might have left it off his list to spare his reader’s sensibilities. Certainly, some people are offended by it: Joe Clark reports to me that he “caused offence talking to a Canadian Oxford lexicographer about the word”. (A small irony here: The F Word is published by Oxford.)

Quinion is of course welcome to comment on fucktard and his treatment of it, and he probably will.

In any case, both parts of fucktard are understood non-literally (without reference to sexual acts or mental retardation), that is, as ritual insults.

Side note: googling on the word did pull up an instance of Fucktard McFucky, a type of Mc-naming pattern related to the ones mentioned briefly on Language Log in #5 here (the type X-y McXerson, as in Drinky McDrinkerson) and in #24 here (the type X-y McY, as in Drunky McPukeshoes), in the latter case referring to a wide-ranging discussion of jocular Mc-names on ADS-L in 2007.