Archive for March, 2011

Unable to help

March 29, 2011

From yesterday’s “Metropolitan Diary” column in the NYT, a letter from Bernard Brown (relevant bit in boldface):

I had just been prepped for a routine test at one of New York’s prestigious hospitals, and had been left alone for a few minutes. I could not help overhear an exchange between two young female doctors at the other end of the anteroom …

This is could not help + BSE, yet another version of an idiom that already comes in a number of versions, some of which have been the target of usage advice.


Magic realism

March 28, 2011

The stories and poems in my Sundance and Butch writing (on this blog, the story “Vergissmeinnicht”, here; some history of the project, plus the poems, in “Sundance is an angel when he flies”, here; other stories gradually accumulating on my X blog, with some links here) have been characterized by some readers as “magic realism”, alluding to a modernist literary style most famously associated with Jorge Luis Borges and characterized by (among other things) fantastical content, a baroque layering of elements, multiple planes of reality, metadiscourse, and withholding of explanations about the disconcerting fictional world (Wikipedia entry here). (This characterization isn’t always complimentary, since many people feel that magic realism is passé. Nevertheless, I embrace it.)

Then there’s magic realism in visual art — the use of fantastical or surreal elements to depict realistic scenes — which is where I came across it first, in the work of American painter Jack Frankfurter, though Edward Hopper is a much more familiar artist in this vein, and Paul Cadmus also fits to some extent.


Piling on

March 28, 2011

Following up on my mention of sentence-initial plus in my positing on sentence-initial as well, Wilson Gray wrote to ADS-L about Black English:

And plus besides, an extended, fuller, sentence-initial form, and plus besides, has been used colloquially by a subset of BE-speakers for at least the past sixty years. [note use combined with mention]

Wonderful.  I collect examples of “piling on” or “reinforcement” (tad bit, tiny little, and return back, for example; brief mention here), and this is is a triple: initial and plus and and besides are well attested, but and plus besides has all three additive connectives.



March 28, 2011

From the NYT on March 23, Adam Liptak’s “Worker Complaints Need Not Be Written to Earn Protection, Supreme Court Says”, which begins:

Workers who complain to their employers about wage regulations are protected from retaliation whether the complaints are oral or written, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday in a 6-to-2 decision.

The question in the case, Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote for the majority, was whether the phrase “filed any complaint” in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 applied only to written complaints.

So the case turned primarily on what constitutes filing, not on what constitutes complaining, since in the case at hand the employee had complained to a shift supervisor and, through its grievance procedure, to his employer — but his complaint was oral rather than written.

In other settings, what counts as complaining might well be at issue.


Singing and cake

March 28, 2011

Yesterday was shapenote singing in Palo Alto. A particularly strong singing. And with several singers new to the group, which is always gratifying, along with many regulars. Among the regulars was one with a family background in the Sacred Harp tradition: Marian’s father went on the circuit teaching singing schools in West Texas back in 1903.

After two hours of singing, we repaired to the kitchen and dining room for cheese and bread and salami — and two cakes made by our host, including a sinfully gorgeous chocolate cake in honor of Marian’s 94th birthday. Yes, 94th, and Marian is still singing away and leading songs like the rest of us.

This being Silicon Valley, the chocolate cake came decorated with 94 in binary: 1011110, with candles for the 1s and Lifesavers for the 0s. We sang “Happy Birthday” for Marian, robustly and with excellent improvised harmony (well, what we do is four-part a cappella music).

All very touching. And during the singing the weather began to clear and warm up. (When we sang 335 “Return Again”, Marian guffawed helplessly at the line “Grant us, Lord, a gracious rain!”  As it happens, no one chose 188 “Spring” — “The rain is gone, the winter’s past” — or “Rose of Sharon” — “The rain is over and gone”. But, for at least the next week, the rain is indeed over and gone, and we are spared the flash flood warnings. Grant us, Lord, no more rain, however gracious.)

An engineer, not a linguist

March 27, 2011

From several sources, a link to today’s Dilbert (here), with an exchange between a female character I’ll call A and the engineer Wally (W here). I haven’t been able to unearth an image I can reproduce here, but this is the text:

A [offering piece of paper to W, who scupulously manages not to take it]: Wally, can you review this for any engineering issues?

W: What issues do you think it has?

A: I don’t know. I’m not an engineer.

W: Your request is too vague. You need to tell me what issues I’m looking for!

A: Did you just ask me to do what I just asked you to do?

☛ W: I don’t know. I’m an engineer, not a linguist.

A: I’ve suddenly lost all faith in humanity!

W: On the plus side, you found an issue.

The crucial bit is marked with the pointing finger. In it, W deflects attention away from any responsibility he might have in the matter via a version of the That’s Just Words/Semantics ploy, which continues to place the burden of responsibility on A.

(It could fairly be argued that both A and W are caught in a tricky situation, since either of them could be slammed by their manager if an engineering issue is missed, or if it takes too long to decide that there is none.)

Underwear linguistics: shapewear

March 27, 2011

In the March 28 New Yorker, Alexandra Jacobs takes a romp in the world of shapewear (more staidly known as foundation garments), mostly for women: in the Annals of Retail, “Smooth Moves” (“How Sara Blakely rehabilitated the girdle”). A recurrent theme in the piece is the naming of these garments.


The doctor will see you

March 27, 2011

Today’s Bizarro, with a pun turning on the ambiguity of see:

That’s specialized see ‘meet with in order to consult with’ and see ‘perceive with the eyes’.

The lure of electronica

March 27, 2011

In Zits today, Jeremy’s dad is taken over by his iPod:

That would be “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”, as performed by Jim Croce.



March 26, 2011

A recent Bizarro, turning on the ambiguity of the verb darn, in a perfect pun: