for Mod values of Adj

At the last minute, a weekend cartoon. From Scenes from a Multiverse:

Two points. First, “for infinitesimally small values of huge”. (Later, “sausage party”.)

This is a play on mathematical expressions of the form:

(a) for (Deg) small/large values of Variable/Parameter
‘when Variable/Parameter is (Deg) small/large’

which are related to the expression-type

(b) for some value of Variable/Parameter

as in:

Show that for small values of x, … may be approximated by …

… is more accurate than … for (very) small values of time.

A bound state must exist if equation (12) is satisfied for some value of the parameter λ.

All these are literal uses for things of form (a) and (b). But they are also, in a sense, mathematical jargon, in that though the content could be expressed in other forms, and sometimes is, (a) and (b) are off-the-shelf math-talk ways of getting the job done.

But now we leave math-talk about mathematics and go on to extended uses of (a) and (b), in mathematicians’ jokes like

1 = 2 for (very) large values of 1.
1 + 1 = 3 for (very) large values of 1.

and (the first point of this posting) in things like

for infinitestimally small values of huge

The computer is free, for some value of free.
He performs magic, for some value of magic.
They walked home, for some value of walked.
It happened quickly, for some value of quickly.

Instead of a named variable or parameter, examples like these last ones have a lexical item — an Adj, N, V, or Adv (actually, the possibilities are richer than this, but I’m not trying to give a full description of the phenomenon) — with its ordinary semantics, except that these items are mentioned rather than used. So the examples above should properly be punctuated:

for infinitestimally small values of “huge”

The computer is free, for some value of “free”.
He performs magic, for some value of “magic”.
They walked home, for some value of “walked”.
It happened quickly, for some value of “quickly”.

The usage conveys doubt about the full appropriateness of the lexical items to describe the situations in question: the computer is sort of free; what he performs is, after a fashion, magic; they got home by walking, more or less; it happened what you might describe as “quickly” in this context.

And the sausages (penises) in question are huge only relative to tiny, tiny atoms (or molecules). (Oh yes, the characters have apparently parsed huge sausage party as [ [ huge sausage ] party ] ‘party (mostly) for guys with huge sausages’ rather than [ huge [ sausage party ] ] ‘party (mostly) for guys that is huge’.)

[“For small values of” is sometimes abbreviated to FSVO, and so is “for some value of”. As I noted in a Language Log posting, this latter usage — pronounced like “fizzvo” — some years ago became a catchphrase on the newsgroup soc.motss, thanks to its heavy use by my friend Ellen Evans.]

On to sausage party (aka salami party and who knows how many other variants), a slang expression denoting a gathering where guys outnumber girls; or denoting a gathering that is all guys, that is, a sausage fest or dude party. (The literal sense of sausage party ‘party for the cooking and eating of sausages’ is of course also available. If you’re a sausage, you really need to find out which kind of party you’re being invited to.)

[There’s also the cock party, but that seems to crucially involve penises, plus some male-male (but not necessarily gay) sex. And the bro party, which seems to be all-male, though beyond that I can’t be sure what goes on; I’m a stranger in this territory.]

The sausage of sausage party starts out as a slang metaphor for a penis and then is extended metonymically to the penis-bearer, that is, a boy or man. There are, of course, endless visual plays on sausages as phallic symbols, so that eating a sausage — or a hot dog or a banana or a spear of asparagus or … — suggests cocksucking, as in this altered ad for a brand of sausages:

(The only thing that’s been altered is the text, which was originally the name, in German, of the sausage company that commissioned the ad and then failed to see how it was likely to be taken. The substitution of sausage party suggests an advertisement for a cock party as described above, or more specifically, for a gathering at Blow Buddies.)

Finally, there’s the party of sausage party. Depending on the context, a party can be a much more specific event than a mere social gathering; for certain nouns X, the meaning of X party is conventionalized as a whole, as it is for circuit party as described (and illustrated) here. It seems clear that a sausage party can just happen to be mostly or entirely male, but that in certain settings it’s a gathering specifically for guys, not just of them (compare hen party). Maybe even in the vastnesses of space, where hydrogen atoms are well hung, for some value of well hung.

5 Responses to “for Mod values of Adj”

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