Archive for January, 2011

Fun with cot/caught

January 26, 2011

Passed on by Jeff Shaumeyer on Facebook, about the story “RCMP say vicious beating of gay man at St. Leon’s Hot Springs a hate crime” in the Arrow Lake News (BC):

It’s a vicious hate-crime and the RCMP should get their man, although it may take a bit longer if they keep looking for “….a Caucasian male standing at about 6 feet tall (180 cm), around 44-years-old with a stalky, muscular build.” ‘Stalky’? Like celery?

What we have here is an instance of the a-ɔ merger (the merger in cotcaught and many other pairs), in favor of ɔ, so that stocky is pronounced like stalky. And then the journalist spelled by ear. Possibly the journalist thought that stockiness had something to do with height, as in stalks, which would make the misspelling an eggcorn.

And indeed among the cot/caught mergers in the Eggcorn Database is stock >> stalk (entry here), but chiefly in stalk-still for stock-still.

a dime a dozen

January 26, 2011

From “Obama’s Jobs Search” (by Peter Baker), NYT Magazine of January 23, p. 41, a quotation from supermarket cashier Brittany Burton:

I had a hard time. I think I applied at 19 places when I was still counting, and I hadn’t found anything, so, yeah, it was pretty bad. Especially with the big-box places, because they have so many employees already, you’re not really worth much. You’re a dime a dozen.

That’s the idiom (be) a dime a dozen ‘(be) common, easy to  find, cheap, almost worthless’ (ADAD for short), here with the subject you (sg.). I realized that ADAD with many singular subjects struck me, at least initially, as odd:

I’m a dime a dozen.
Brittany is a dime a dozen.
My hat is a dime a dozen.

Such examples can be interpreted if their subjects are understood as denoting types or kinds rather than individuals: ‘someone/something like Subject, people/things like Subject’ (with the relevant sort of likeness determined from context). And so it is in the sentence from Brittany Burton, which has generic you as its subject.

Googling nets tons of ADAD examples with plural subjects: those, good ideas, eclipses here, wet rocky planets, overachievers, million-dollar homes (!), billionaires, true friends, bikini babes, online phone cards, bad teachers, people with your skills, etc. And a great number with indefinite-generic subjects: something, a thing, someone like you, a good idea, a good singer, a good short story, etc.

There are some ADAD examples with proper names as subjects, but the proper names are understood as referring to types:

Jessica Burciaga Is A Dime A Dozen (here)

meaning that women like her are commonplace, that there’s nothing special about her. And then there’s the line from Death of a Salesman:

I’m not a dime a dozen! I am Willy Loman!

with “I’m not a dime a dozen” meaning that people like me are not common; I am special, even unique.



January 25, 2011

Ann Burlingham wrote (somewhat edited here):

The first time I know of that I’ve come across (ahem) the word “acrossed”, and I only noticed it the second or third time I read a friend’s Facebook status – it completely slipped past my eyes yesterday and earlier today: “off to make the treacherous path acrossed 39 from Castile to Perry [two towns in upstate New York], wish me luck!”

Now the form in question is (in phonemic transcription) the non-standard variant /əkrɔst/ (the phonetic value of the /ɔ/ varies from dialect to dialect), corresponding to standard /əkrɔs/, spelled ACROSS.


VPE: antecedent-finding

January 25, 2011

The construction known as Verb Phrase Ellipsis (VPE) has an omitted complement (the ellipsis, usually a VP) that is interpreted by reference to an overt constituent (also usually a VP) serving as antecedent (details summarized here). Usually the antecedent is quite close to the ellipsis, but in some examples it’s more distant, and one or more potential antecedents intervene. These examples are grammatical, but not always easy to interpret; the interpretive task is quite similar to the task of finding antecedents for third-person definite pronouns.



January 25, 2011

A portmanteau of car and architecture (for ‘car-centered architecture’), appearing in “A Miami Beach Event Space. Parking Space, Too.” by Michael Barbaro, on the front page of the NYT yesterday:


The alphabet soup of sexuality and gender

January 23, 2011

I’ll start with this posting of 9/15/10 to ADS-L by Mark Mandel:

Just sent to my synagogue discussion list in response to an announcement forwarded by our rabbi:


Representatives from numerous area organizations and programs serving *LGBTQQ/SGL* youth and young people

I can’t keep up with this ever-growing initialism. I think i know LGBTQ — lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered/queer — but after that I’m lost. What does the final “Q/SGL” stand for?


(And what’s the difference between “youth” and “young people”?)

And then we were off into a discussion of the initialisms of sexuality and gender.


Arms races

January 23, 2011

Bob Herbert in an angry op-ed piece in the NYT on January 18 (“How Many Deaths Are Enough?”) takes on the position of gun enthusiasts (“gun fetishists” is the contemptuous term he uses) that the antidote to gun violence is more guns:

They want guns on campuses, in bars and taverns and churches, in parks and in the workplace, in cars and in the home. Ammunition everywhere — the deadlier the better.

Herbert doesn’t use the expression arms race, but that’s what he’s describing — a ramping up of firearms in the face of gun violence, which is likely to increase the amount of gun violence rather than damp it down.


National caricatures

January 22, 2011

On January 19 on the op-ed page of the NYT, the British writer and collector of miscellany (“curator of knowledge”) Ben Schott assembled a huge “glossary of arcane national caricatures from writers curiously fascinated with difference” (“Vive la Différence”). Some of these differences are specifically linguistic ones. A few items:

(Robert Southey) Ours is a noble language, a beautiful language. I can tolerate a GERMANISM for family’s sake; but he who uses a LATIN or a FRENCH phrase where a pure old ENGLISH word does as well out to be hung, drawn and quartered for high treason against his mother tongue.

Oh dear, the verb quarter and the noun treason both came into English through Anglo-Norman, that is, from French.

(attr. to George Gascoigne) The most ancient ENGLISH words are of one-syllable, so that the more monosyllables that you use the truer ENGLISHMAN you shall seem, and the less you shall smell of the inkhorn.

Well, he could have said “one-syllable words” instead of the pentasyllabic “monosyllables” and avoided the smell of the inkhorn.

(Karl Gutzkow) The ENGLISH tongue is as natural as passion itself. FRENCH is the language of conversation, of mutual understanding and amiable persuasion. The GERMAN language, though our poets find in it a free stream of astounding beauty, is yet far too abstract for ordinary purposes; it expresses nothing right out, is full of paraphrases, and is far too much a curial language to be all the orator requires.

Here it becomes clear that this passage, along with most of the others in fact, is about high culture; ordinary Germans have been getting along with their language just fine “for ordinary purposes” for a very long time.

My patience ran out pretty quickly.

Annals of compounding: Cock crib

January 22, 2011

From gay porn director Michael Lucas, the 2009 film Cock Cribs, thematically linked episodes in which pornstars give the viewers tours of their cribs, the places where they live (in several parts of New York City), covering all the rooms in turn (including a look at the contents of their refrigerators) and ending up in the sexual center of their places, the bedroom, where one or two guys are waiting. Hot-hot man-man sex ensues. The cover art:

(This is the front cover. I’ve cropped the back cover out, since it’s definitely not WordPressable.)

The linguistic point is the compound cock crib, combining the (mildly) obscene slang cock ‘penis’ with the street slang crib ‘home, pad, apartment’.


Paper magazines

January 22, 2011

Today’s Zippy, another one in which Griffy bemoans the digitalization of everything: