Archive for December, 2010

Word associations as synonymy

December 31, 2010

From “Disappearing ink: Afghanistan’s sham democracy” by Matthieu Aikins, Harper’s Magazine for January 2011, p. 40:

The Anglicism “democracy,” for many Afghans, has become synonymous with unprecedented corruption, moral decay, and hypocrisy; it is another one of the plagues that the West has brought to this country.

So, for these Afghans, the word democracy has picked up (specific) negative connotations in certain sociocultural contexts. This is bad word association — [bad] [word association] , not [bad word] [association] — in fact, bad word association described by synonymous with in an extended sense.



December 30, 2010

In Harper’s Magazine for January 2011 (p. 17)

a September 2010 open letter to French president Nicolas Sarkozy by the Committee for the Defense of Versailles concerning an exhibition of work by the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami at the palace last fall.

signed by Pierre Charie-Marsaines, Honorary President, and Arnauld-Aaron Upinsky, President. A piece of hysterical outrage,


Speech balloons

December 30, 2010

A Zippy on speech balloons (a.k.a. speech bubbles, word balloons, etc.):

Where does the “almost 300 years” come from? Here’s the relevant part of the fascinating Wikipedia entry:

In Western graphic art, labels that reveal what a pictured figure is saying have appeared since at least the 13th century. Word balloons began appearing in 18th century printed broadsides and political cartoons from the American Revolution often used them.

Unfortunately, the link to “The Evolution of the Speech Balloon” that the article gives (and that you can find many places on the web) doesn’t work.

Some sample balloons:

From top to bottom: an ordinary speech balloon, a thought balloon, a scream balloon.

Referent finding: own

December 29, 2010

From the “Findings” column (by Rafil Kroll-Zaidi) in the January 2011 Harper’s Magazine, this note (no source provided; relevant expression boldfaced):

Discus fish rear their fry by allowing them to feed continually on their own skin mucus for the first few weeks of life, but whenever the fry have bitten one parent for about ten minutes they are sent off to bite the other.

The writer presumably thought that their by itself allowed for two choices of referent, one picked out by discus fish, the other by their fry and them, and that adding own would disambiguate things in favor of the first. But in fact it does no such thing, and to my mind actually tends to favor the second reading (though in either case the following clause clarifies whose skin mucus is being nibbled on).

Their parents’ instead of their (own) would be a considerable improvement, though it would still allow for the very unlikely reading that the fry are allowed to nibble on their grandparents’ skin mucus. With pronouns, there’s rarely a way to exclude unlikely readings.

Now, own can be a useful tool. In describing the sexual encounters in gay porn flicks, I’m often faced with complex choices of referential expressions. Here, for instance, is a portion of the summary of some action in the film Manifest (full posting here), involving the actors S and W. Warning: high explicit sexual content.

S lies down on his back and takes W up his hole.

S jacks himself off while W fucks him (W: “love that hole”). S comes on his own belly.

If you’re following the arrangement of bodies here, S could come on W’s belly or on his own; his own belly stipulates the latter, while W’s belly (with a referential full NP W’s) would stipulate the former.

Using referential full NPs (rather than pronouns) is sometimes the only way to keep the participants clear. Here’s another passage, describing a three-person encounter in Manifest (with D as well as S and W):

D lies down on his back, licks W’s hole while S blows D, then S jacks D off.

The two boldfaced occurrences of D are the crucial ones here. The pronoun him for either would be unclear as to whether D or W was getting blown / jacked off; the arrangement of bodies would allow for either.

Just a few simple examples illustrating the choices of referential expressions.


Data points: zeugma 12/29/10

December 29, 2010

Louie Anderson, as quoted in John Winokur’s “Curmudgeon Looks at Family”, in the January 2011 Funny Times:

Older brothers invented terrorism. “Louie, see that swamp? There’s a monster in it.” So for years I walked way around it. Until I got a little older, a little wiser, and a little brother.

A play on two senses of GET, ‘become’ (in the first two conjuncts) and ‘acquire’ (in the third), plus a zeugmoid on two uses of LITTLE, as a degree modifier (in the first two conjuncts) and an adjective (in the third).


Remarkable underwear

December 29, 2010

A mock underwear ad from the Snake Oil people:

(I came across this first in the January 2011 Funny Times.) The funkyfresh cline is a nice touch.

And now the underwear worn by the first family (Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel, from right to left) in anticipation of Christmas:

(From the Awkward Family Photos site, which Chris Ambidge pointed me to.) Chris comments:

I’m amused at how mama/Eve carefully has her feet in fourth position. I’m wondering how many months in therapy this photo caused Cain and Abel.

The photo was taken well before the boys grew up and Cain killed Abel. Happier times in post-Edenic SantaLand.

I’m wondering if the Stanes people make fig leaves with the Freshness Indicator.

Modification woes

December 28, 2010

From Chris Bogart:

I thought you’d enjoy this sentence from the Wikipedia page [here], since it involves either a dangling modifier or extreme word rage, depending on how you interpret it. I know Wikipedia is editable, but I can’t bear to fix this:

[(1)] “After the Semites conquered Southern Mesopotamia, most likely to make things clearer in writing, some signs gradually changed from being pictograms to syllabograms.”


A trial in Dingburg

December 28, 2010

In the latest Zippy:

Note the title, a play on “Isn’t it romantic?”.

Also note that although the decision was that she would no longer be allowed to say pundant, no punishment is attached. What happens if she flouts the decision?



December 28, 2010

From Rhymes With Orange, playing with morphophonology:

Some English nouns ending in voiceless fricatives (especially in /f/) voice these fricatives in the plural. There are three classes of cases:

(1) voicing obligatory in standard English: wife – wives, shelf – shelves;

(2) voicing variable in standard English: wharf – wharves/wharfs, dwarf – dwarves/dwarfs (see the Language Log posting here and the posting in this blog here on the plural of dwarf );

(3) no voicing in standard English: fife – fifes, oaf – oafs.

Nouns in class (1) are subject to regularization; there’s some pressure to move them into class (2). Nouns in class (3) are subject to playful irregularization — yielding things like arves.


Some deaths of 2010

December 27, 2010

Yesterday’s New York Times Magazine was the annual “The Lives They Lived” issue, containing essays on the lives of a couple dozen people who died during the year. Several of these were people whose work I admired: for example, mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot, singer and songwriter Kate McGarrigle, and caricaturist David Levine.