Archive for April, 2010

Zippy’s Gagacabulary

April 4, 2010

[Ack.  In a distracted moment this went off as published when it was merely supposed to be saved. Now for some text …]

Zippy is given to flights of playful word formation. Here he takes off on Lady Gaga:

There’s the relatively staid Gagamania, a compound of Gaga and the now-freestanding mania (in the snowclonelet pattern Xmania). And over-Gagaing, with the derivational prefix over- attached to the direct verbing of Gaga (which gives a verb to Gaga that can then take prefixes).

And the complex de-Gagafy, which has both a derivational prefix de- and a derivational suffix -(i)fy. Here, the suffix would have done on its own, since de– with secondary accent can combine with a N to yield a verb with (roughly) the meaning ‘remove N from’, as in debug, defog, and delouse. (The prefix de– with secondary accent has other uses as well.) In de-Gagafy, Gaga has apparently been verbed via the transitivizing suffix -(i)fy, and the resultant Gagafy has then gotten the secondarily accented prefix de– of removal that combines with verbs, as in decaffeinate, decalcify, and defeminize.

Semantic change on the menu

April 3, 2010

The names of food preparations are incredibly variable: the same dish goes under different names; the “same dish” (under a single name) is prepared differently by different people; and sometimes these referential differences amount to a semantic split.

Two cases that I’ve been thinking about recently. (There are ridiculously many examples, and I don’t propose to survey them. These are just two cases that happen to have caught my attention.)

Case 1: What is bruschetta? (Let’s get the pronunciation issue out of the way. In the original Italian, the SCH (with CH before E) represents [sk], but many English speakers, both in the U.S. and the U.K., have [ʃ] instead.)

The dish apparently originated as a way of salvaging bread that was going stale (any number of preparations had such frugal beginnings). There are local variants, differing in how complex the dish is, as in this March 2003 draft entry from the OED:

An Italian appetizer or side dish consisting of toasted bread spread with olive oil, usually seasoned and rubbed with garlic, and sometimes (chiefly in non-Italian versions of the dish) topped with chopped tomatoes, etc. [for the Italian word, cf. bruscare ‘to roast’]

This definition doesn’t cover the bruschetta that I regularly have at a local restaurant: a chopped tomato salad with a basil vinaigrette, no toast. That is, in an act of metonymy, the name for the whole dish is used for the topping alone (moreover, a topping that wasn’t originally part of the dish). Semantic split. Now you have to find out what a restaurant means when it lists bruschetta on its menu.

Case 2: What is marinara (sauce)? The Italian original is (alla) marinara ‘sailor-fashion’. The OED draft entry of March 2009:

Designating any of various Italian dishes or sauces (esp. a spicy tomato sauce traditionally made in Naples) whose ingredients are suggestive either of food formerly served on board ships (by the absence of fresh produce such as cheese or cream, or by the liberal use of herbs, spices, etc.) or of the sea itself (by the use of seafood). Freq. as postmodifier. Also as n.

Here the OED entertains two possibilities as to what counts as sailor-fashion in tomato sauces: specifically involving seafood, or just shipboard fare. It’s not entirely clear which is the older usage in English, though the seafood usage seems to be the dominant one outside the U.S.; Australians, for instance, are frequently baffled by the absence of clams or other seafood in the marinara they are offered in the U.S., and Americans (for whom marinara sauce is just a simple tomato sauce with herbs) feel obliged to stipulate the presence of marine protein if there’s some in the sauce.

If the seafood usage is the older one (as many people seem to assume), then the American seafood-neutral usage is a semantic widening.

Short shot #42: Championship season

April 3, 2010

In the U.S., the 2010 college basketball tournaments (for men and for women) are coming to an end — either winding down, or reaching a climax, depending on how you look at things — so let’s take a quick look at the terminology surrounding these events.

The series of championship games is known as March Madness, because it mostly takes place in March (not entirely, because the tournaments are still going on, and it’s April) and because of the fans’ frenzy over the games. Each tournament is an elimination. It starts with the Sweet Sixteen, then the teams are whittled down to the Elite Eight, and then to the Final Four.

Yes, alliteration all the way, from March Madness on down (though in Elite Eight the effect is only orthographic).

Language play, especially alliteration, assonance, rhyme, and punning, is everywhere, but it’s especially dense in certain contexts, which are not “about” joking, poetry, or the like (“ludic locales”, I’ve called them). Sports talk is one of these ludic locales.

Texting is th’ Anti-Christ!

April 3, 2010

The Zippy strip returns to the evils of electronic communications. This time it’s Griffy who’s complaining, while Zippy and Mr. Toad are too caught up in texting to credit Griffy’s objections:

Easter storm

April 3, 2010

Hilary Price’s Rhymes With Orange with a seasonal strip:

ADS-L had an extended discussion of  Northeaster/Nor’easter back in January. The expressions go back to 18th century America, with the first somewhat older than the second (not surprisingly). Some sources have them just referring to a strong wind from the northeast, but many commenters understand them as referring to the accompanying storm of rain, sleet, snow, etc. — specifically on the eastern coast of North America, roughly from New York through the Maritimes.

These storms are low-pressure systems, with the associated winds moving circularly from a low-pressure front to higher-pressure areas, so the winds in the classic nor’easter come from the northeast. (This can be confusing, because the storm itself is moving from south to north.)

There are other northeasterly winds — the Diablo winds of the San Francisco Bay area, for instance. And the Santa Ana winds of southern California are usually northeasterly.

Meanwhile, back on ADS-L, on 19 January Kelli Slimp reported Blue Norther from West Texas, for a ferocious winter storm accompanying a cold front from Canada (that is, coming from the northwest, rather than from the southwest, as in the classic Atlantic nor’easter), and others seconded this usage, which got some degree of fame from Ian Tyson’s song “Someday Soon”, with its lines:

So blow, you old Blue Northern, blow my love to me
He’s ridin’ in tonight from California

Well, that’s the way it appears on lyrics on the net, and that’s the way it’s sung on some recordings (the Ian and Sylvia version I have on my iTunes, for instance), but other recordings have Blue Norther, and many people feel strongly that that’s the way it ought to be sung.

No reported sightings of Nor-easters (or Blue Northers) with rains of Easter eggs, however, though that would look festive, while probably being as damaging as hail.

Short shot #41: Our imperious authors

April 1, 2010

From Thomas Mallon’s review of Martin Stannard’s biography of Muriel Spark, in the New Yorker of April 5:

[later in life] She battled agents and accountants and editors with unusual fierceness. [note fierceness rather than ferocity] Edith Sitwell advised her to regard book businessmen witheringly, as if “through a pair of lorgnettes.” Spark eventually refused editing altogether. “If I write it, it’s grammatical,” she informed the novelist Christine Brooke-Rose, a friend, who had brought an infelicity to her attention. The galactic perspective from which she laughed at her characters’ earth-bound follies could not keep her from waging epic combat with a paperback editor over one poorly chosen word of jacket copy.

Give your baby soda pop

April 1, 2010

Over on Language Log, there’s been a small flurry of postings celebrating April Fool’s Day, including one with a story lifted from the Onion. (Lots of people are taken in by material from the Onion and are astonished to learn that the whole thing is a joke.)

Now, passed on to me a little while ago by Chris Ambidge (not specifically in connection with AFD), this ad in the style of American ads from the ’50s (and earlier):

What’s going on? From the Ice Cream Machine blog, here:


About seven or eight years ago, I made this fake ad, exhorting parents to give soda to their babies. It was done on a bored afternoon when J.D. Ryznar asked for someone to make that very specific thing on his livejournal. I whipped it together, posted it to the web, joke over.

THEN. A couple of years later- it started showing up online, in those weird lists that pop up every so often with a “Oh man, ads sure were strange back then, weren’t they?” theme. Thing is, those ads are largely real and mine is not and very obviously so.

I’ve gotten used to seeing it out of nowhere from time to time, but this latest flare-up is high-larious. Over at the Natural News web-site, it has become the basis for an angry column about evil corporations wanting to put chemicals in your kids’ bodies.

Mr. Adams, the “Health Ranger,” seems very agitated. Also, it appears, after a search, that his column shows up on a great many sites across the internet. Hopefully, their readers will find that an organization named the “Soda Pop Board of America” is as ridiculous and unbelievable as I thought it was when I thought it up in an office in Ann Arbor, MI, all those years ago

The writer of this blog says of himself:

RJ White lives in Philadelphia. His work has appeared on various Web sites and in a couple of books. He hosts the Wasted Words podcast, edits The City Desk and occasionally writes for other sites …

Over on ADS-L, Kari Castor reports:

I’ve spent a couple of days this semester having my freshman comp classes look at materials that profess to be serious and/or scientific in nature and asking the students to evaluate those sources based on certain criteria …

I used the Open Letter to the Kansas School Board from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and we talked about and evaluated the claims being made in the letter.  (It also provided an opportunity for a quick lesson on satire, as many of my students believed that the writer was completely serious.)  I’m not sure this was as successful as I’d hoped, but I think I’ll continue to use it and tweak the discussion to get greater value out of it. (link)

I also had them evaluate the Save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus website, an activity which I found to be quite successful.  Again, many of my students were completely taken in by this website at first.  I had them work in groups, and there was a great deal of intragroup discussion to the tune of, “I think it’s real, I think the tree octopus really exists.” (link)

I’ve also talked a great deal about bias and credibility with them, and have been encouraging them to use the tools easily available to them to look up authors and sources and find out who and what they are, and what their agendas might be.

I hasten to add that though Castor was dealing with college freshmen, I don’t think that her students are more gullible than the population in general, and might well be less so. Amazing Facts are always attractive.