Archive for February, 2011

Seltzer aperient

February 28, 2011

Another 19th-century trade card that came by me today:



February 28, 2011

Today’s Rhymes With Orange:

The easy way to read “Aah’m not a failure” is as having the monophthongization of [aj] in I to [a], a phonetic feature widespread in the dialects of the American South. But there’s another possibility.

One of the concomitants of (certain instances of) Auxiliary Reduction in American English (and perhaps other varieties) is a laxing of a final tense vowel in the word hosting the reduced auxiliary. The phenomenon is quite specific, affecting only certain pronoun hosts, and then only when they are the complete subjects of the auxiliary (the facts are reasonably well-known, and several proposals have been made to describe them). The combination of the pronoun I and the reduced variant ‘m of the auxiliary am (as in I’m going now) is one case in point: though most speakers believe that they pronounce the combination as [ajm], in fact the pronunciation [am] prevails for many (including me, though I am not a speaker of a Southern American variety), except when the subject I is accented for emphasis or contrast. If you hear that pronunciation, you’d be likely to represent it orthographically as AAH’M, as in the cartoon.


A little more periodophilia

February 28, 2011

Ok, I swore that I wasn’t going to post any more about periodophilia in the New York Times, in initialistic abbreviations, after writing on J.F.K. referring to JFK Airport, but then two came by me in rapid succession — both of them involving initialisms that are pretty much always periodless outside the pages of the NYT, so that they look distinctly odd in Times-style, where adherence to the style sheet trumps actual usage (WF, or well-formedness, in this case according to a style sheet, winning over Faith, or faithfulness, in this case to the sources).


Annals of slurs

February 27, 2011

My posting on formations in -tard elicited some Facebook comments that were facetious (reminders of leotard and custard) and some that were dismayed at the offensiveness of these formations and the noun retard from which they derive. All this stuff is indeed offensive and is so labeled by lexicographic sources.

And behind this lies a nasty jungle of technical terms, euphemisms, semantic shifts, lexical replacements, specific slurs, and generalized insults — such a tangle that there’s no easy way to even talk about the semantic domain in question, which has to do with what once was called mental defectiveness (itself a technical term covering various vernacular terms) and then mental retardation or simply retardation (with the image of slowness or being held back). The corresponding adjectival formations are mentally retarded or (later, in another euphemistic move) mentally challenged.


On the culture beat

February 27, 2011

Recent additions to my music, on recommendations from several fronts, two very different but equally stunning performances: Kurt Elling’s jazz singing on The Gate, Bryn Terfel singing Handel arias.

Meanwhile, iTunes has managed to call up, by random good fortune, Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, Joan Jett, and Captain Beefheart (though I don’t think Opal is ready for Captain Beefheart yet). Plus several tracks from Bronski Beat’s Age of Consent.

And I unearthed a YouTube clip of the Opera Australia performance of “He is An Englishman” (from HMS Pinafore), for the enjoyment of the staff at the Three Seasons.

Data points: nouning 2/27/11

February 27, 2011

Harper’s Magazine, Feb. 2011, in “An ad creative’s glossary” (box in “A Superbowl Spot for Uncle Sam: Can Madison Avenue make us love our government”, a forum with creative officers at four ad firms, moderated by Thomas Frank and Donovan Hohn):

BUY: the purchase of advertising time or space, e.g.. “a $3 million network-television buy”

Examples in context throughout the piece.

The verb buy has been being nouned for around 130 years. From OED2:

orig. U.S. A purchase; best buy, the most worth-while purchase or bargain. Also fig. Phr. on the buy: actively buying.

with cites from 1879 (the best buy), 1890 (biggest buy), 1903 (my new buy), 1911 (a good buy), 1929 (on the buy), 1952 (the best buys), etc.

The adperson’s buy is more specific than purchase and briefer than purchase of advertising time or space, so it has a lot going for it, in the appropriate context, of course (on specificity and brevity as motivations for category conversions, see here).


Dubious diagnostics

February 27, 2011

Letter from Lucille Lang Day of Oakland in the February 2011 Harper’s:

The Method in It

In her article on prodromal psychosis [“Which Way Madness Lies,” Report, December 2010], Rachel Aviv discusses an exam said to evaluate the risk of psychosis. The exam asks patients to describe “the similarities between an apple and a banana.” This is a very poor way of diagnosing the likelihood of mental illness.

Before I quote the rest of Day’s letter, think for a moment how you would answer this question.


Education in pop culture

February 26, 2011

At breakfast this morning, my daughter Elizabeth reported on her exploits in introducing bits of music to her daughter Opal — by way of putting them in a playlist on iTunes for Opal. This involves lots of trial and error; you can’t really tell what will move Opal.

The latest experiment was in rock music. E scored big with the Rolling Stones and with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Oh, I said, all that intense energy! O essayed bits of the oeuvre, with evident pleasure.

Then E reported on Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”, which O just detested. E and I helplessly went into the boys’ chorus from part 2 (“We don’t need no education …”), in our best attempt at doing the dialect (this in the University Coffee Cafe in Palo Alto, relatively crowded at the time). O pulled a sour face. E said, forbearingly, Well, in seven years or so.

E and I mostly don’t know which bits of popular culture we picked up separately (she and her friends discovered many of her three parents’ favorites on their own — very gratifying on all sides), which she got from us, and which we got from her.

I didn’t tell Opal that I used to have an 8×10 printout of

Dark sarcasm in the classroom.

Teacher, leave those kids alone!

Pink Floyd, The Wall

posted on the wall of my Stanford office (along with lots of language- and gay-related cartoons).



February 26, 2011

From Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words #725, 2/26/11:

HARDLY A HOLIDAY?  People who travel to another country for some purpose other than simple business or pleasure have led to writers generating terms [N + N compounds] for them, whose second element is “tourism”. Among examples that have appeared in recent times are “health tourism” (travelling to another country to get cheaper medical treatment), “disaster tourism” (visiting the location of a calamity), “sex tourism” (obvious enough), even “wedding tourism” (getting married in another country). The dire financial state of Ireland is leading businessmen to spend time in the UK in order to qualify to take advantage of its much more lenient bankruptcy laws. It has become known as BANKRUPTCY TOURISM.

And then there’s volunteer tourism, portmanteau’d to voluntourism, as on the site. From the Wikipedia page as of this morning:

Volunteer travel, volunteer vacations or voluntourism is travel which includes volunteering for a charitable cause. In recent years, “bite-sized” volunteer vacations have grown in popularity. The types of volunteer vacations are diverse, from low-skill work cleaning up local wildlife areas to providing high-skill medical aid in a foreign country. Volunteer vacations participants are diverse but typically share a desire to “do something good” while also experiencing new places and challenges in locales they might not otherwise visit.

Many ghits.



Rough winds

February 25, 2011

… did shake the darling buds of …


This morning: big windstorm, driving rains, temperature falling even further than before (highs in the 40s today).