Archive for July, 2010

Data points: taboo avoidance, abbreviation

July 31, 2010

From Jonathan Dee, “Neither Straight Nor Outta Compton: Performed by gay and transgender rappers in New Orleans, the fast and profane music known as sissy bounce creates an atmosphere of sexual liberation — for women”, NYT Magazine, July 25:

The women did not dance with, or for, one abnother — they danced for [transgender rapper] Freedia [pronounced “FREE-da”], and they did so in the most sexualized way imaginable, usually with their backs to her, bent over sharply at the waist, and bouncing their hips up and down as fast as humanly possible, if not slightly faster. Others assumed more of a push-up position, with their hands on the florr, in a signature dance whose name is sometimes helpfully shortened to “p-popping.”

That’s the P-word, folks, P for pussy, in case you didn’t get it.

I can see brevity as a motive for the abbreviation, but in the context of really raunchy language and highly sexualized dancing, the word seems, well, unduly modest.

Data points: N ellipsis, ambiguity 7/31/10

July 31, 2010

Just in, from my daughter, about her daughter:

On Friday, Opal does work that she brings home. Yesterday’s included the word problem: Mother cat had 6 kittens. 5 kittens went to new owners. How many were left?

Opal’s answer, duly checked off by the teacher, was “2 cats were left.”

Thank goodness she gave a complete non-elliptical sentence as an answer. That’s what you’re expected to do in school talk, even though it totally goes against ordinary language use, which sensibly enough goes for brevity.

Opal’s answer, which chooses one of the two ways of filling in the N ellipsis in the question’s how many? — ‘how many cats?’ vs. ‘how many kittens?’ — does, however, opt for the contextually less likely reading of the question: the set-up for the question is about kittens — the discourse topic is kittens — so the expected fill-in for the ellipsis would be kittens, not cats, even though the N cat is out there in the context. That is, the expected elliptical answer would be “1”, or somewhat less elliptically, “1 kitten”, or the complete sentence “1 kitten was left”. (Ok, a kid who responded with any of these might still have the answer marked WRONG by a stickler teacher, since they all have “1”, the numeral, instead of “one”, the number word. My god, school is a minefield.)

I suspect that Opal might have learned, by experience rather than explicit teaching, to anticipate pitfalls and tricks in test questions, which you can avoid only by talking with utter explicitness. It’s still an open question whether she honestly (and unconsciously) interpreted the question in the contextually less appropriate way, or whether she was (perhaps without thinking it through) being clever and tweaking the person who wrote the question, or whether she meta-reasoned (unconsciously) that 6-minus-5 was just too stupidly easy a question, so that some answer less obvious than “1” was called for. (Not that we could find out by asking her: if she could supply an answer to the question “Why did you say ‘2 cats’?” at all, the answer she gave would be likely to be a construction based on her interpretation of the reasons behind our question, since she would have been extremely unlikely to have had insight into the springs of her behavior at the time she wrote her answer — whatever they might believe, people aren’t at all good at getting access to their unconscious thought processes — and she’s even less likely to remember these details now. So I’m having breakfast with Opal and her mother in a few minutes but won’t ask her why she gave that answer.)

Oh dear, this has gone way past just a brief reporting of a data point. So goes the academic life!

Data points: verbing 7/31/10

July 31, 2010

V< N: journal
‘write (in) a journal, keep a journal’

NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday 7/31/10: Are you journaling today?

[OED2] Chiefly in pa. pple. journaled.

1. trans. To record in a journal.

1803 J. KENNY Society 107 Oft o’er the journal’d tale she cast her eye. 1892 Idler May 461 His journaled impressions of America.

But: 7/31/10 many ghits for other forms, in particular BSE and PRP:

How to Journal for Therapy
Journaling is a great way to process everything that you’re going through, both high and low. Regularly keeping track of your emotions and the events of your life can serve as a barometer of your habits, strengths and tendencies. (link)

Journal keeping is a way to enhance your personal life and develop your professional career. We’ll look at journaling tips, prompts, quotes, books about journaling, orther journal keepers and workshops to intentionally invite the still voice of intuition into your writing. (link)

Night’s voices

July 30, 2010

From David Malki’s Wondermark (thanks to Bruce Webster), another entry for the Thoughts Without Words collection:

It’s all your own fault. The dark morning before the sun, indeed.

Maybe I’m unusually sensitive. My husband-equivalent Jacques went through a long period where he heard voices (and saw things, too) — sometimes voices saying comprehensible dreadful things, like that they were going to kill Elizabeth, but often just producing a buzz of undifferentiated menace. He was terrified, and so was I.

I realized at the time that the mechanisms that give rise to auditory and visual hallucinations are a topic of considerable scientific interest. But, still, the descent of night was not a happy time.

we need to talk, take 2

July 30, 2010

Last time, it was a Bizarro couple, now it’s Zits‘s Jeremy and his parents:

Different social setting — parent-child relationships rather than couple relationships — but the expression is just as ominous for the party who’s told the two sides need to talk.

Bonus: a nice example of quotative be all like — which, as the Stanford All Project notes in an American Speech article and in a forthcoming Language Variation and Change article, has been encroaching on the territory of quotative all (while quotative like is the dominant variant in vernacular conversation these days). Jeremy’s use looks like one of the possible sources of fused all like: quotative like modified by intensifier all ‘really, totally’.

Splitting up: collaborative word-splitting

July 30, 2010

This is an extra, a little digression from the main “word splitting” postings — so this is installment 1.5 in the series of 3 — with something similar to the

legen-…wait for it!…-dary

example in my posting on enjambment. This time it’s

antici- …say it!… -pation

Both examples have an expression (in these examples, a multi-word expression, in fact an imperative VP, though these details aren’t crucial) inserted within a word, where it functions much like a pause. Call this Filled Pause Insertion (FPI).

The obvious parallel is to one of the topics of installment 3, Expletive Insertion (EI) in English — Minne-fuckin’-sota — though

the inserted material in EI is chosen from a small set of expletive words, while in FPI the menu of interruptions is much more open;

the inserted material in EI is integrated prosodically into the matrix word (EI is a kind of word formation), while in FPI it’s truly an interruption and is set off prosodically, by pauses; and

the inserted material in EI functions semantically like a modifier of the matrix word (Minne-fuckin’-sota ~ fuckin’ Minnesota), while in FPI it performs a separate speech act (a metalinguistic one) from the surrounding material.

In fact, the inserted material in FPI can come from someone other than the speaker of the matrix word (and the rest of the surrounding utterance), which is what’s happening in “antici- …say it!… -pation”.


The Gasoline Prize

July 29, 2010

A little while back, I offered a modest prize — a copy of Gregory Corso’s Gasoline (1958), which has marrying the pig’s daughter in it — to the first person to identify the composer of a piece of Mystery Music.

It wouldn’t have been a lot of help if I’d told you that the name of the piece was “Spanish Dance #2”. On Facebook, Michael Palmer admitted that he’d listened to the recording but hadn’t tried to guess the composer, since (he said droll-ly) his acquaintance with classical music pretty much ends with Gottschalk. I replied:

Most people would probably guess Albeniz (1860-1909) or Granados (1867-1916), which means you’re excused, since Gottschalk’s dates are 1829-1869.

In fact, very few people seem to have listened to Spanish Dance #2 (well, this blog doesn’t have all that many readers, and many of them aren’t musically inclined; this is, after all, a blog mostly about language, though recently I’ve been inclined to stray), and no one even took a shot. So the Gasoline Prize goes, for the moment, unclaimed. (more…)

Splitting up: the enjambment connection

July 28, 2010

Once again, it started with something that came up on a random iTunes playlist — this time, the song “My Home Town” from the Best of the Foremen album (comic songs) in which one of the Foremen sings

Mý hóme tówn
Is Chicágo, Íllinóis,
Which ónly góes to shów
Why Í’m a bróad [long pause] shouldered gúy.

(The accent marks indicate where accents fall in the performance. So this is four trimeter lines.)

The line division is mine, and could be wrong from the Foremen’s point of view, but what’s important here is that pause, which splits a (compound) word, broad-shouldered, into two parts, leading to a temporary potential ambiguity in which “I’m a broad” will be parsed, garden-path style, as a clause on its own — a comic result, since the singer is a guy, not a broad. The comic misparsing is then dissipated, to the listeners’ relief, by the continuation of the word.

This phenomenon, which has (so far as I know) no widely used technical label, is reminiscent of a number of other phenomena. In one direction, it’s like enjambment in verse; in another direction, it’s like “broken rhyme” or (to my mind the better term) “split rhyme” in verse, and in turn that’s like various ways of splitting up words by interposing material between the parts.

This posting topic has grown over the past two weeks, thanks in part to some very helpful discussion on the American Dialect Society mailing list — grown to such an extent that the only way I can see to get on with it is to chop it into pieces. Today’s piece is about what I’ll call As/tor Bars, after another example.


Five from 2005: XXX-rated collages

July 27, 2010

[Alas, not the collages themselves (which I cannot display here), but brief analytic notes on them, linked to collage essays like the ones in my previous posting.

Another posting in the Gayland category, with nothing on language.]

From e-mail to Linda Williams 11/18/05 about:

… a set of new collages … All except one are constructed from the raw materials I had on display a week ago [at the Stanford Humanities Center exhibition].  Here are some notes on the collages that I wanted to get written out while the composition process was still fresh in my mind…

These notes have been lightly edited and somewhat expanded in 2010.


Collage essays: from concealment to display

July 27, 2010

There’s only a little bit of language stuff in this posting, which is mostly in the Gayland category, about the representation of men and male-male relationships (especially, men’s bodies and man-man sex) in material intended for (and/or appreciated by) a gay male audience.

Some of my Gayland essays are in my voice; these are “academic” in tone, despite their subject and (sometimes) their language. But others (the Collage Essays) speak in another voice, that of an alter ego (call me Alex), and are keyed to two sets of images: images in “male art” (including photography, film, and video as well as painting, drawing, etc.), gay porn, ads (for mass market audiences or specifically aimed at gay men), and so on; and the collages I make from such items as raw material.

(Most of this visual material is definitely on the wrong side of the displayable-in-public line, so I can’t show it to you here.)

In the collage essays, Alex’s talk shifts back and forth between (on the one hand) displaying his body and his sexual desires, attitudes, and activities, and (on the other) viewing other men’s bodies and so on in erotic terms —  between giving and receiving, or offering (himself) and desiring (another), or in the terms of commercial transactions, between purveying and consuming, or selling and buying, or hustler and john. Take it! / Let me have it!

(I posted one of the collage essays in my piece on shirt-lifing a while back.)

This duality in the way sexuality is configured psychologically is pretty much built into the condition of gay men, and I have simply let Alex embody the duality. (Alex is inclined to give advice to his gay readers, by the way. He fancies himself as a jazzed-up Dan Savage, and he thinks he’s cuter and hotter than Dan, but, frankly, I think he’s deceiving himself.)

This particular set of collage essays is in the Offering Your Body series, under Displaying Your Equipment, in four installments — The Basket, Peekaboo, The Hard Dick, Sweet Cock — moving from (ostentatious) concealment to display, much as with the avoidance vs. open use of taboo vocabulary.

(This material was essentially completed while I was at the Stanford Humanities Center in 2005-06. The Center was hospitable enough to sponsor (in November 2005, on the occasion of a visit from Linda Williams of Berkeley) an exhibition of my XXX-rated collages, plus some raw materials that I was working with at the time and drafts of some of these collage essays. However, the Center is not directly responsible for any of this stuff, and it certainly didn’t pay me to do it, just gave me a free space in my life to play with a project in addition to the one they were paying me for, on the advice literature on English grammar, usage, and style.)

And now I turn to microphone over to Alex.