Two things to play with

Some of you may have noticed that I assemble playlists on my iTunes; there’s some discussion of the enterprise in the middle of this posting. I’ve just started to play with the idea of making up two new playlists with more linguistic interest.

The first is a collection of songs that use terms from linguistics or other language disciplines — the terms, not the phenomena those terms refer to. So: “Oxford Comma” by Vampire Weekend (here) and “Metaphor” from The Fantasticks.

The second is a collection of songs that turn on playful word formation — novel portmanteaus, verbings, nounings, and back-formations, playful extensions of ordinary affixal morphology, that sort of thing — especially in song titles. As in the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Californication” (which has come up on this blog twice, here and here).

The floor is open for suggestions for the Linguistic Terminology Playlist and the Playful Word Formation Playlist. Pass the word.

Oh yes, if I don’t already have the track on my iTunes (which has lots of tracks — 19,194 items, or 49.1 days’ worth of stuff — but there’s a lot more out there), it has to be something I can get hold of.

30 Responses to “Two things to play with”

  1. H. R. Freckenhorst Says:

    There’s a song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Princess Ida:

    Come mighty Must!
    Inevitable Shall!
    In thee I trust.
    Time weaves my coronal!
    Go, mocking Is!
    Go, disappointing Was!
    That I am this
    Ye are the cursed cause!
    Ye are the cursed cause!
    Yet humble second shall be first,
    I wean
    And dead and buried be the curst
    Has Been!

    Oh, weak Might Be!
    Oh, May, Might, Could, Would, Should!
    How pow’rless ye
    For evil or for good!
    In ev’ry sense
    Your moods I cheerless call.
    Whate’er your tense
    Ye are imperfect all.
    Ye have deceiv’d the trust I’ve shown
    In ye!
    Ye have deceiv’d the trust I’ve shown
    In ye!
    I’ve shown in ye!
    Away! The Mighty Must alone
    Shall be!

  2. Ilari Sani Says:

    One for the linguistic terminology playlist: a band named Snowclone. The name’s no accident — one of the members is a linguist friend of mine.

    [(amz) Does anyone have any idea what the incidence of linguists is in the Finnish population? Per capita, they might well lead the world.]

  3. arnoldzwicky Says:

    To Ilari Sani: Amazing. It turns out that there are at least two Snowclones out there. One is a Finnish duo (what is it with Finland and popular music?). I’ve now gotten their new album Blunder of the First Water. If this is the group you have in mind, would you like to suggest a particularly suitable track from this album?

    The other is a guy in Bend OR who does hiphop. If he’s the Snowclone you have in mind (his site does have a definition of snowclone on it), then let me know how I could get a suitable track.

  4. Ian Preston Says:

    For the Linguistic Terminology Playlist:

    Labio Dental Fricative by Vivian Stanshall & The Sean Head Showband

    [(amz) Cool. And this one I already had.]

  5. Jan Freeman Says:

    You probably don’t want this for your own playlist, but your granddaughter might like “Ain’t Ain’t a Word,” a nicely done prescriptivist tale for youngsters. Of course it’s wrong on the facts, but even a seven-year-old can enjoy the irony of the self-refuting sentence “Ain’t Ain’t a Word.” My toddler grandson is years away from getting the joke, but he loves the album.

    Find it at:

    [(amz) I’ve started a Grammar list, though it could quickly get out of hand, with things like the Electric Company around.]

  6. Rick S Says:

    Will you include foreign language wordplay? Rammstein’s “Du Has(s)t” plays on the German “hast/hasßt” homophone:

    Du {hast/haßt}
    Du haßt mich
    Du hast mich gefragt

    You {have/hate}
    You hate me
    You have asked me

  7. arnoldzwicky Says:

    To Rick S.: Yes, foreign language entries are fine. If we go off into pun/ambiguity territory, though, things could easily get out of hand. (Off to check out Rammstein, and wondering if any of Christian Morgenstern’s wonderful wordplay poems — Morgenstern is, roughly, the Lewis Carroll of German — have been set to music. I’m especially fond of the poem in which a werewolf (Werwolf) wonders how he is declined. There are, of course, some settings of Carroll.)

  8. Der Werwolf « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] By arnoldzwicky Having mentioned Christian Morgenstern‘s werewolf poem in a comment on a recent posting, I thought I’d pass it on to readers, with a few comments. First, the German text, from […]

  9. Sam Says:

    If you don’t know the Foremen ( ) then I highly recommend them; I believe most of the songs were written by Roy Zimmerman. A sample (from “Russian Limbaugh”, a now-dated song about Vladimir Zhirinovsky) —

    Yes, long before election
    My name was Eidelshtein
    You show me circumspection
    But I’ll never show you mine

    [(amz) I somehow missed the Foremen; thanks for the tip. Zimmerman certainly plays with words here, but I’m not sure how to classify circumspection. The word suggests both circumcision / circumcised and erection, but isn’t clearly a portmanteau of them.]

  10. Will Says:

    How about The Magnetic Fields’ “The Death of Ferdinand de Saussure”?

    [(amz) (From 69 Love Songs. And I have it already! But this is a new direction — not a bad one, just a different one from the ones I’ve already suggested — into Names of Linguists. As in “Noam Chomsky” by The Horsies, which I also have already. This might be a rather small field, I fear.]

  11. Will Says:

    Also, Alberto Ginastera has a “Suite de Danzas Criollas,” one of his “Doce Preludios Americanos” is called “Danza Criolla,” and one of his “Tres Piezas” is called “Criolla.”

    [(amz) Here we have a ambiguity between creole / criolla as the name of a specific ethnic group, as the name of a type of ethnic group, as the name of a specific language, and as the name of a type of language (a technical term in linguistics). The ethnonym is all over the place, including in music titles — in Gottschalk’s “Les yeux créoles” and “La Savane, Ballade Créole” and in a Jerome Kern song “The Creole Love Song”, which ended up not being used for Show Boat — although in the last two cases it might refer to the language (Louisiana French Creole) as well as the ethnic group.

    In any case, if language names count as linguistic terms, then we’ll be swamped with stuff; maybe this could make a separate playlist.

    And distinguishing uses as the name of a specific language from uses as the name of a type of language could be difficult.]

  12. arnoldzwicky Says:

    Further response to Will on Saussure via Stephin Merritt : I have in fact started a Linguists playlist.

    I spent some time trying to find a version of Dick Dative and the Experiencers (i.e., Charles Ulrich). The words to “Please Mr. Postal” (the track of relevance here) and “It’s a Constrained World” can be found here, but for the music, all I’ve got is an old 45 rpm vinyl recording. Which, however, Ned Deily is turning into an mp3 file for me, so at least I will have a copy on my iTunes. (I’m sending Ulrich a copy of this note, by the way.)

    [update: e-mail to the only address I had for Ulrich has bounced, so I’m stumped for the moment on that front.]

  13. Nassira Nicola Says:

    Not sure if this is too far from the theme of “technical terms,” but the Jason Mraz song “Wordplay” ( seems to deserve a spot on one or the other of these playlists. Similarly, “Speak My Language” by the Cure might be workable, if you extend “technical terms” to include any metalinguistic commentary. In French, you might want “Paroles, paroles” by Dalida and Alain Delon (

    Interpreting the theme a little more literally, there’s “Variations sur le verbe donner” by Félix Leclerc (available in the iTunes store, and elsewhere).

    My favorite metalinguistic song, though, is “C’est vraiment comme ça qu’on parle” by Les Tymeux de la Baie (a little harder to find). Some sample lyrics from the latter: “Ça ne ressemble pas/ Le langage Québécois…/ On a même changé la lettre ‘j’ pour la lettre ‘h’/ Par exemple, on dit que le chien ‘happe.'”

  14. Nassira Nicola Says:

    Actually, it occurs to me that the lyrics, if not the title, of “Raphaël,” by Carla Bruni are a good fit, too. A sample: “Quatre consonnes et trois voyelles/ C’est le prénom de Raphaël… C’est le tréma qui m’ensorcelle/ Dans le prénom de Raphaël.” (More here: )

  15. mgh Says:

    I have to mention “One Hippopotami” by Allan Sherman about singulars and plurals

    of course, if you include this, then the slippery slope leads quickly to “conjunction junction” and other schoolhouse rock immortals.

    [(amz) You put your finger right on the problem. But at least the Sherman song and the grammar songs from Schoolhouse Rock mention the grammatical terminology. Routines in which comics play with singulars and plurals are numerous, but only some of them use the words singular and plural. Neither Sherman nor Schoolhouse Rock gets us into the Zeugma Problem (see below).]

  16. HP Says:

    Back in the 1920s, Billy Jones and Ernest Hare recorded a lot of songs based on clever (YMMV) wordplay. At any rate, it knocked ’em dead during the Jazz Age. Here’s a couple from the Internet Archive:

    Like a Porcupine Pines for Pork (.mp3)

    Why Aren’t Yez Eatin’ More Oranges (.mp3)

    More here.

    I’m still looking to see if I have any linguistics terms titles in my collection.

  17. Nicholas Waller Says:

    How about the band The The, originally formed in 1979, though it would fit your needs better if it had been called The Definite Article. (You’d think The The hard to search for on Google but simply entering a double definite article in the search box gets you them at the top). It’s a while since I listened to them but the track Infected is a good one, though not language oriented.

    A bit obvious, but Suzanne Vega has a song called “Language” (and Talking Heads can be seen as where this language business all starts).

    There’s a song called “Synecdoche” by Small Time Crooks, a newish British band; it is on iTunes (well, in the UK shop anyway) and on Spotify.

    Entering Adverb, for instance, into the Spotify or iTunes search box gets you an artist of that name, though that mechanical way of going about things might be thought cheating.

  18. Peter Taylor Says:

    For your second list there’s Madeira, M’dear by Flanders and Swann, which makes notable use of zeugma.

    [This is the Zeugma Problem. The song uses zeugmas left and right, but it doesn’t mention the term zeugma. If we counted every instance of metaphor in lyrics, song titles, or artist names (rather than just those those items with the word metaphor in them), we’d be swamped, and the game wouldn’t be at all interesting. Ditto for the Oxford comma, the labio-dental fricative, puns, metonymy, etc.

    It might be an interesting task to collect lyrics, song titles, and artist names with especially wonderful examples of particular grammatical phenomena or rhetorical figures in them. (Some of this already happens when bloggers pull nice examples from rock music, country music, folk music, etc.) That would, of course, involve making aesthetic judgments about examples.

    I’d think that Flanders & Swann’s “Madeira, M’dear” would make it onto almost anyone’s list of Star Zeugma in Verse. After all, as soon as a linguablogger mentions zeugma, commenters pile on — time after time — to quote this song, so there’s some kind of consensus that it’s a prime example. (It’s on the playlist that I put together for Ellen Kaisse and her husband when they got married, in fact.)]

  19. Bas Says:

    Robert Wyatt – The Verb
    With the best linguistic lyric ever:
    We don’t even need that grammar / Hard-wired in our Chomsky heads

    And Mr Wyatt’s also involved in this one:
    Soft Machine – A Concise British Alphabet (pts. 1&2)

    And I’ll throw in a Polish one for good measure:
    SBB – Ze słowem biegnę do ciebię
    (With a Word I Will Run to You)

  20. Alex Says:

    May I suggest:

    The American Dollar – Somnambulance

  21. Bear Says:

    I’m not exactly sure what this song is about but its titled “She Likes Big Words” (lead singer is the son of Cher!)

  22. Alex Says:

    Now I looked through my own 39 days of music and came up with:

    Language-Related terms: The Shins’ “New Slang”, Spock’s Beard’s “Onomatopoeia”, System of a Down’s “Question!”, a score cue called “Haiku” by Thomas Newman from “Finding Nemo” and Yeasayer’s “Mondegreen”

    Playful words: Dream Theater’s “Instrumedley” (a live medley of some instrumental sections of their songs), The Killers’ “Enterlude” and “Exitlude” as well as The Who’s “Underture” (although these probably count as simple puns), Mew’s “Apocalypso” (which is not a new idea, I guess) and The Tangent’s “Cantermemorabilia”.

    [(amz) Lots of good suggestions here. I have “Underture” already (in two versions, the one on the original album — where it’s perhaps the best piece of prolonged climax music in rock — and the electronicized version from the movie soundtrack — and I also have the Bonzos’ “Intro and Outro”. Both titles involve a special sort of portmanteau, turning on the substitution of opposites in a large expression. That is underture is a kind of combo of under and overture, and outro a kind of combo of out and the clipping intro.

    I’m working on finding the others (as well as other suggestions people have made here and on Language Log, for which, see below).]

  23. Martyn Cornell Says:

    Not sure any of the band’s songs concern linguistic matters, but Pete Brown’s Battered Ornaments was named after the phrase invented by HW Fowler in his Dictionary of Modern English Usage.

  24. Jason Says:

    Present tense, by Pearl Jam.
    Dangling participle, by Rat-Tail Bisque.

  25. Dick Dative and the Experiencers « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] My adventures in Music with Linguist’s Names recently led me — see the comments here — back to Dick Dative and the Experiencers (Charles Ulrich and friends), from the distant […]

  26. arnoldzwicky Says:

    In an attempt to get the suggestions in one place, here are comments on my Language Log posting linking to this one:

    Neil said,
    July 5, 2010 @ 1:52 pm

    Might I also suggest for another good linguistic filled song: “The Hit Song” by DJ Format featuring Abs (Youtube version)
    Tim said,
    July 5, 2010 @ 6:17 pm

    If your language-related song titles list does not already include it : “I Palindrome I” by They Might Be Giants (on the album Apollo 18).

    [(amz) Got it, in the Terminology list, from the compilation Dial-A-Song.]
    Christine said,
    July 5, 2010 @ 7:56 pm

    Off the top of my head, there are the bands The Phonemes and Bound Stems.
    Chas Belov said,
    July 6, 2010 @ 1:53 am

    Oddly, the song Labiodental Fricative (by the Bonzo Dog Band) seems to be primarily composed of alliterative lines in which none of the alliterative sounds are labiodental fricatives, e.g. “Cannibal chiefs chew Camembert cheese ’cause chewing makes them cheeky.”

    More language titles:
    The Word by The Beatles
    and if you really want to stretch it
    The Letter by The Box Tops (sorry, I couldn’t resist)
    Aaron Davies said,
    July 7, 2010 @ 7:34 am

    My girlfriend’s band is called Lady Mondegreen. They mostly do filk; I can’t think of anything lingustics-related in their repertoire off the top of my head, unless of course you count “The Bonny Earl O’Moray” itself.
    From a clarification I added on Language Log:
    …the Bend OR connection seems to be to the SnowClone Music and Retail Festivals there, with their connection to snowboarding. The MySpace page for SnowClone Presents is where the music comes from, and that gets us to hip-hop artist Wale in D.C. and the waledance mp3 that commenter mgh links to. But there’s no hip-hop artist Snowclone, so this is a red herring. The Finnish duo is a proper find, though.

  27. I’m all about the wordplay « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] playlist, and I recalled that Mraz was on my iTunes because of suggestions from Nassira Nicola for language-related musical items (performer names, album titles, song titles, lyrics mentioning language-related stuff), among them […]

  28. Country obscenicons « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Sign #?*!”, using spoken obscenicons to achieve this effect. It’s going on a new Linguist’s Playlist, on Linguistic […]

  29. Molly Says:

    I’m coming to this post very late, but I’ve got one more suggestion:

    “The Letter Song” by Eric Lane Barnes is a break-up letter to a lover, accusing him of having “bad, bad grammar, baby.” It contains, among many other language jokes, the lyric “I’m going to find myself a future perfect lover, and he’ll be the direct object of my affection.”

    I’ve got it on the CD Fruit of the Month Club: Songs by Eric Lane Barnes, performed by Captain Smartypants.

    [(amz) Now on the Grammar playlist.]

  30. Iago González Says:

    Check out the Swedish band In Flames.
    Linguistics terms: “Metaphor”, “The New Word”, “Dialogue with the Stars”. Also in the song “Bullet Ride” the lyrics say “turning, twisting the alphabet”.
    Wordplay/pun: “Dreamscape”, “Whoracle”, “Egonomic”…

    Those are the ones I remember right now.

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