Archive for January, 2011

Data points: RNR 1/22/11

January 22, 2011

In the “reduced coordination” construction known as Right Node Raising (RNR), a constituent on the right (final) end of a clause is combined with a loose coordination of two non-constituents, while being interpreted as being in construction with each of them. A simple example:

Kim discovered, but Lee publicized, the Disappearing Cat Effect.

The Disappearing Cat Effect is the shared constituent on the right. The two preceding conjuncts, Kim discovered and Lee publicized, are not themselves constituents; each is a clause missing a direct object.

RNR examples have different prosodies, and some are much more syntactically complex than this one. Today’s datum, from a KQED-FM begathon in which the announcer was asking people to phone in pledges to volunteers:

That’s what they came here, and that’s what they gave up their Saturday morning for.

Here, the shared constituent on the right is the single P for, the whole sentence being understoood as ‘That’s what they came here for, and that’s what they gave up their Saturday morning for’. You have to wait a long time for that for.

So, grammatical, but notable.


J. C. Leyendecker

January 22, 2011

Continuing the theme of standards of male beauty in advertising, I turn now to the American artist J. C. Leyendecker (hat tip to Arne Adolfsen on Facebook). Before the Marlboro Man, before the underwear gods, Leyendecker depicted many different styles of masculinity. From the Wikipedia entry (as it was this morning):

Joseph Christian Leyendecker (March 23, 1874 – July 25, 1951) was one of the pre-eminent American illustrators of the early 20th century. He is best known for his poster, book, and advertising illustrations, the trade character known as The Arrow Collar Man, and his numerous covers for the Saturday Evening Post. Between 1896 and 1950, Leyendecker painted more than 400 magazine covers. During ‘The Golden Age of American Illustration’, for the Saturday Evening Post alone, J. C. Leyendecker produced 322 covers, as well as many advertisement illustrations for its interior pages.

… Many biographers have speculated on J. C. Leyendecker’s sexuality, often attributing the apparent homoerotic aesthetic of his work to a homosexual identity. Without question, Leyendecker excelled at depicting male homosocial spaces (locker rooms, clubhouses, tailoring shops) and extraordinarily handsome young men in curious poses or exchanging inexplicable glances. Moreover, Leyendecker never married and lived with another man, Charles Beach, for much of his adult life, who is assumed to have been his lover and the original model of the Arrow Collar Man.

Here’s an Arrow Shirt ad, with a “dandy” image:

And then the “classical” beauty of the male nude:

Then two images of rugged shirtless masculinity, complete with phallic symbols:

Finally, a Leyendecker with homoerotic overtones, repurposed in an explicitly gay context:


Mr. Sears and Roebuck

January 22, 2011

Back in my “Gay porn as a gold standard” posting, where female characters in a BBC show were discussing where standards of male beauty could be found (knitting patterns, shaving adverts, and gay porn), The Ridger tried to recall a song she’d heard from her mother that extolled the handsomeness of models in the Sears and Robuck catalog. This would be Dorothy Shay’s novelty song “Mr. Sears and Roebuck”, the lyrics for which have been transcribed here:

From: Jim Dixon
Date: 24 Apr 03 – 02:27 AM

Here is my transcription from an mp3 file found on this page. (Click here to play.) [Links removed because they no longer work.] No information there but the title and that it came from an “ancient 78 RPM record.” (It also says “Copyrights expired long ago” but he may be mistaken.) The voice is female–possibly Dorothy Shay? Anyway, there is a list on that page of other songs with mp3’s that might be worth examining.


Dear Mister Sears and Roebuck:
I been sittin’ here a-thumbin’ through your book.
Page a hundred ninety-nine
Shows a stove that’s mighty fine
And a feller in an apron like a cook.

Dear Mister Sears and Roebuck:
That electric stove’s away above my class.
It’s a beauty, yes indeed,
But the thing I really need
Is that man to teach me how to cook with gas.

Don’t send the stove. It’s the kind I’d like to buy,
But I ain’t makin’ much singin’ ballads.
I don’t need the stove, but if I could have a guy,
He could toss me around like his salads.

Oh, Mister Sears and Roebuck:
All the items in your catalog are slick,
But the gadget I’d admire
Is that man beside my fire.
Take his apron off and send him to me quick.

Dear Mister Sears and Roebuck:
I been checkin’ your supplies for tennis courts.
There is somethin’ I should get–
Not a racket or a net–
But I sure could use that rascal in the shorts.

Dear Mister Sears and Roebuck:
Your canoe on page a hundred forty-three–
Now that’s the type that I would pick,
But I’m up a diff’rent crick.
Can’t you send a feller here to paddle me?

I don’t want a bath. Soapy water makes me howl.
Don’t the folks in your ads ever mind it?
I can’t use a bath. You can keep your Turkish towel;
Only ship me the sheik from behind it.

Don’t mean to fuss, poor Roebuck,
But you’ll never fill my order, it appears.
If the shortage is acute,
I’m an easy girl to suit.
I’ll shut up if you will send me Mister Sears, if he ain’t taken.
I’ll shut up if you will send me Mister Sears.

[Information from Penn State library:
Composers: Ray Gilbert, William Okie, Al Gannay.
Arranger: Harry Simeone.
Publisher: Paul Warnow 1949 (Spec. Lyrics OK’d by Mr. McGregor)]

Detechnicalization and retechnicalization

January 21, 2011

From the op-ed page of the NYT on January 18, “Me and My Algorithm” by Seth Freeman, which begins:

Algorithms, as you probably know, are the computer programs that infer from your profile (in the case of Facebook) and the content of your e-mails (in the case of Gmail) [or your pattern of searching and buying on] your interests and preferences, enabling ads to be displayed to the customers most likely to be interested in specific products.

… The algorithms are programmed, I believe, to get to know us better over time, and rather than resent the invasion of privacy I have come to feel a grudging respect for, and even a growing sense of intimacy with, my own personal algorithm. You have to admire, for example, the inventive audacity of a program that would read an e-mail someone sent me about “Holocaust deniers” and think that I might be shopping for a Holistic Dentist.

Freeman goes on in this vein with other entertaining examples.

The term algorithm has traveled a long way from its use as a technical term in mathematics to the much broader use illustrated in Freeman’s piece.


More on swearology

January 21, 2011

My posting on AmE vs. BrE swears elicited comments here and on Facebook that took the discussion from interjections to the very much wider set of taboo and slur vocabulary in English. What I said on Facebook was that

the only way you could even entertain the idea that AmE has only 4 swearwords is to limit yourself to interjections. AmE has tons of taboo items, as does BrE, and the lists don’t overlap fully, and there are well-known differences in the offensiveness of some of the items, but the differences in interjections are minimal.

In addition, as I noted in my original posting, the interjections I cited range hugely in their perceived offensiveness (though all are slangy), from fuck at the high end to things like oh my god at the low end (where you might reasonably hesitate to call them swearing at all). Now some elaboration.


Machine of Death

January 20, 2011

The title of a new collection of stories, each illustrated, “about people who know how they will die” (it’s predicted by a machine). Edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bernardo, and David Malki (Venice CA: Bearstache Books, 2010).

Yes, the Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics (which I post about fairly often). One of the stories is his, and another is by Randall Munroe of xkcd, and still another by David Malki of Wondermark, and there are other cartoonists and writers contributing, including lexicographer Erin McKean.

The premise comes from North, in a 2005 Dinosaur Comics reproduced in the introductory pages to the volume.

It arrived today, so I’m just beginning to sample it.


Gay porn as a gold standard

January 20, 2011

From Kathryn Burlingham, this delightful quotation from the BBC show Coupling (which I haven’t seen), with three women discussing men:

W1: So who’s this new one?

W2: He moved in across the street from me about a month ago. Gorgeous!

W1: How gorgeous?

W3: Knitting pattern?

W2: Better than knitting pattern!

W3: Shaving advert.

W2: *Gay* *porn*!

W3: *Wow*!!!

So gorgeous he could star in gay porn!

Comparative swearology

January 20, 2011

From Out magazine, February 2011, p. 17, on MTV’s racy new teen series Skins, adapted from the wildly popular UK version by the creator and producer of the UK version, Bryan Elsley:

Despite variations in characters and plot, Elsley says teen angst is universal no matter the side of the pond—with one exception: “Americans use fewer swear words than British people. We have about 25 swears at our beck and call, and you have four. It’s really quite strange.”

Two points here.


Short shot #57: near

January 19, 2011

A NYT “Metropolitan Diary” entry on 1/17/11:

Dear Diary:
My husband and I were at a dinner when I was inroduced to a woman who lived on the Upper West Side. She was telling me about her grandchildren.
Thinking of my grandchildren, who live in London and Washington, I asked, “Do they live near you?”
She looked very sad. “No,” she replied. “They live in Brooklyn.”
Marian Solomon Lubinsky

Context, context, context. These things are relative to context.

My grand-daughter lived for some years in Mountain View, roughly 10 miles from me. When I told people this, the grandparents among them were mostly openly envious that Opal should live so near to me (Opal’s other grandparents live in Papua New Guinea!). Even I thought of this as close, despite the fact that I had to drive there. Now she lives a short walk away from me in Palo Alto, and people are ridiculously envious; this degree of closeness is rare in our social world.

Jeezum Crow

January 18, 2011

From Max Vasilatos in e-mail to some friends on 6/13/07:

Jeezum Crow Frank, could you work any harder?  Fa free?

I didn’t note the Jeezum Crow at the time, but then it came up in a Facebook posting of hers in October 2010, and I did ask her about it. She was baffled by my query; for her, it was just a familiar euphemism (for Jesus Christ) that she’d used since childhood, and she assumed that everyone knew it. No one had commented on it before.

Two points here: Max’s belief that the expression was long-standing and widespread — I don’t know how long it’s been around (the trail gets faint around the middle of the 20th century), but it certainly isn’t geographically widespread — and the fact that no one seems to have noticed it, as she moved from her childhood in Maine though college at Vassar (in the Hudson Valley of New York), living for some time in the Boston area, and then locating for some years now in San Francisco.