Archive for October, 2010


October 31, 2010

In the New York Times (September 24 on-line, September 25 in my print edition), a story (“Armfuls of Wiener Rolls, Mouthfuls of Coffee Milk and Outstretched Palms” by Dan Barry) about bush-league graft in North Providence RI, focused on Greg Stevens, owner of three Providence-area restaurants with the fascinating name Olneyville New York System (explanation of the name in the article) that specialize in wieners “all the way” (with meat sauce, diced onions, and celery salt – for $1.80) with coffee milk. There’s a host of linguistically interesting material in this description already, with more to come in the sign for the North Providence restaurant and in the story’s lead-in.


Fear the beard

October 31, 2010

Here in the Bay Area we are gripped by Beard Fever. It’s all about the San Francisco Giants. (For readers outside the U.S., that’s the San Francisco baseball team, now in the World Series against the Texas Rangers.) Spotted in Palo Alto: a car with Fear the Beard painted on it. Up in the City, everything’s gone orange for the team (including, on occasion, even the mayor), and at AT&T Park and thereabouts faux-beards abound.


Somewhere over my poncho

October 31, 2010

Pure silliness from Bill Griffith:

I’m especially fond of “where bubbles pop like malaprops”. Now to get the damn song out of my head.


Objects of desire

October 28, 2010

Obituary (by William Grimes)  in the NYT of 26 October for “Sylvia Sleigh, 94, Portraitist and Feminist”, characterizing Sleigh as

a British-born artist who put a feminist spin on the portrait genre by painting male nudes in poses that recalled the female subjects of Ingres, Velázquez and Titian …

“I wanted to give my perspective, portraying both sexes with dignity and humanism,” she once said. “It was very necessary to do this because women had often been painted as objects of desire in humiliating poses. I don’t mind the ‘desire’ part, it’s the ‘object’ that’s not very nice.”

Lots of Google images of the paintings, and also wonderful photographs of Sleigh.

The counterpart of phallic symbol

October 26, 2010

While exploring the world of phallic symbols (inventory of postings to follow), I came across two in which phallic symbols (standing for the sexually insertive organ, the penis) were depicted in combination with a counterpart representing a sexually receptive bodypart: notably, the Birthday Phallus greeting card in “Not at all innocent”, with a phallic candle inserted in a receptive cupcake; and the Phallic Veg collage in “The symbolic and the real, joined”, with a cluster of phallic vegetables surrounding a central flower.

The question is: what do we call the counterpart of a phallic symbol?

Before you rush to write a reference to yoni vs. lingam or similar sex-differentiated pairs in other languages, consider the homo-heavy context of my examples, a context in which a symbolic penis is depicted as being inserted, or insertable, in a symbolic anus (or mouth) rather than a vagina. The counterpart to a phallic symbol is an image that calls up a sexual concavity, or the external appearance of the entrance to such a cavity. Such an image can be interpreted in different ways by different viewers, depending on their sexual desires and practices: a hot dog is a symbolic penis for everyone, but the bun means different things to different viewers.

Another layer of complexity is that actual mouths and lips can serve symbolically as vaginas or anuses, in much the same way that erect nipples on a man can serve symbolically as penises — one body-part standing in for another.

Such cases might provide a route to the term I’m looking for: a bodily concavity that isn’t itself sexual but can stand in for any of the three sexually receptive concavities. I nominate the navel, in ancient Greek the omphalos. So: an omphalic symbol (omphalic already has uses as a medical term). Well, it’s my best candidate at the moment.

An inventory of phallicity postings. The story begins on this blog with “Failure to fact-check” (8/23/10 here) and “Pink Freud” (9/11/10 here) and continues in a series of posings on AZBlogX (several with XXX-rated images):

9/5/10: Phallicity: the introduction (link)

9/12/10: Phallicity: Würste (link)

9/13/10: Phallicity: innocent? (1) (link)

9/13/10: Phallicity: innocent? (2) (link)

9/15/10: Phallicity: not at all innocent (link)

9/15/10: Phallicity: the symbolic and the real, joined (link)

9/21/10: Phallicity: hi-def meets hot dog (link)

10/25/10: Phallicity: high-macho displays (link)

Determiner-head selection

October 24, 2010

In a single short editorial (“End of One Scourge”, about the elimination of the cattle disease rinderpest) in the NYT yesterday, two anomalous plurals (boldfaced below):

(1) Rinderpest spreads rapidly and kills nearly every animals it infects.

(2) [Rinderpest and smallpox] share a similar history, since both diseases were among the first to be treated by inoculation in the 18th century. Eradication was also made possible by the fact that neither diseases mutated rapidly…

(Both plurals remain in the on-line version.)


Data points: reduced coordination 10/23/10

October 23, 2010

From the editorial “Katrina, Five Years Later” in the NYT 9/2/10 (emphasis mine):

For starters, the state and federal government need to find more effective ways of working with working with community-based nonprofit programs that have a good record of helping cash-strapped property owners restore their homes.

(The highlighted wording remains in the on-line version.)

I would have written “the state and federal governments need…” And you can google up a ton of examples with “(the) state and federal governments” (a “reduced coordination”, with two coordinated modifiers for a single head noun) as subject with a clearly plural verb, as here:

Financial Management: State and Federal Governments Are Not Taking Action to Collect Unpaid Debt through Reciprocal Agreements (link)


How to say this?

October 21, 2010

Here’s the situation: you have a man who made something of a career of helping others, especially kids (president of the father’s club at his son’s elementary school, pack master for a scout troop), but also counseling women who are victims of abuse. How do you refer to this role?


Astonishing verbings

October 21, 2010

Back on August 21, Mark Liberman reported on a remarkable verbing — of the noun euthanasia, in a sign painted on a van:


(with a striking use of whom in the continuation HANG THE PERSON WHOM HIRES THEM).

Catching up on Language Log recently, Phil Jensen was reminded of the wonderful Monty Python line (with reference to a penguin on top of a tv set, a penguin that’s about to explode):

Oh, intercourse the penguin!


Writing and typing

October 20, 2010

Entertaining Deborah Solomon brief interview with biographer Stacy Schiff in the October 17 New York Times Magazine, ending with three snappy answers:

Why do you think you became a biographer?
Some people will do anything to get out of writing about themselves.

What hidden details should we know about you?
I have three children, each of whom is having an idyllic childhood, probably because I have been at the office the entire time.

Did your children celebrate when you won the Pulitzer Prize in biography, in 2000?
Yes, they understood I had won a big award for typing.

Oh my, well, what the kids saw was her typing away.

Story on my daughter at age 3. She was holed up in my University of Illinois office one day, doggedly working away at a pad of paper. She’d scribble something wildly on a sheet, tear it off, put it off to the side, and then attack the next sheet. The sheets of paper piled up.

A visitor — I think it was Haj Ross — came by, watched this scene with amusement, and asked Elizabeth what she was doing.

“I’m writing my dissertation!” she answered, in a tone suggesting that that should have been obvious. Well, it was what she saw my graduate students, and her mother, do.

I think we explained that she could take a break whenever she needed one.

Her daughter, at 6, is up to “inventing a language” in collaboration with another kid. Actually it’s a cipher for English, with a novel glyph for each letter of the alphabet. All very methodical, with all the letters, in the right order.

(I wonder if she could learn to alphabetize things. A kid who can alphabetize things — Elizabeth could at a pretty young age, and was soon better at it than many of the students I hired for such tasks — is a genuinely useful person to have around.)