Archive for April, 2011

Untabooing, maintaining the taboo

April 29, 2011

I was struck recently about the delicate lines drawn around some taboo vocabulary in the media, in particular on television shows. On the series Charmed (on the WB network from 1998-2006, now endlessly in re-runs on TNT), displaced, non-literal uses of various words are fine:


Rainbow bull

April 29, 2011

From Jack Hamilton on Facebook yesterday, this striking Mallorcan bull in rainbow-flag colors:

This might be a political statement, connected to the language politics of greater Iberia. Arne Adolfsen explains:

Those huge black bull signs are common throughout the countryside in Castile and Aragon (though not so much there) and are a symbol of Spanishness, or, really, Castilianness. Painting those bull signs any color other than black could be seen as an attack on the unitary Spanish (read: Castilian) state. In Catalunya signs are in català and castellano (it’s not called español). Also, bullfighting is against the law in Catalunya. And don’t forget that Mallorca is part of the Catalan-speaking part of the world.

More detail, on this site, via Gwendolyn Alden Dean on Facebook:

The advertising hoardings of black toros (bulls) have added to the Spanish landscape since the Nineteen-fifties, when bulls first appeared in large, cut-out silhouettes promoting the famous Spanish Brandy, Veterano. Then, the Osborne spirits company erected large images of bulls in black with the maker’s name, as advertising boards on sites near to major roads throughout Spain. The bull is, by some, regarded as a semi-official national symbol of Spain. The Osborne bull can been seen looming on hillsides all over Spain. When Spain outlawed billboards on national roads in the early 1990′s, the bulls had to be taken down. Many Spaniards protested, as they had become endeared to them. The original bull was smaller and of a slightly different design. It got bigger as publicity was prohibited within 150 meters of a main road. The bulls now have a height of 14 m. There are said to be around 70 of these giants placed throughout the country. You might have seen one yourself, perhaps the only one in Mallorca, between Algaida and Montuïri.

In Mallorca, as in Catalunya, the Osborne bull is not as welcome as in other parts of Spain. The Mallorcan cut-out toro often suffers from protesting graffiti (see my earlier blog entry). A couple of days ago, the billboard was defaced again but, this time in a cheerful manner. Now the black bull appears in the colours of the rainbow (see photo). Even though this colour spectrum is usually attributed to the Gay Pride movement, it is widely speculated that the latest toro misdeed was in fact carried out by the Spanish anti-bullfight movement who are known to have converged in Mallorca during the last few days.

Whatever you might think about bullfights, Osborne bulls, anti-bullfight protesters or the gay scene, the rainbow coloured toro between Algaida and Montuïri adds a bit of colour to the landscape. One has to applaud the creative impetus of the culprits.


April 28, 2011

When I collected the remarkable “Royal wedding porn sale” offer on Michael Lucas’s blog, I came across a poll there, asking “What is your favorite euphemism for penis?” (poll announcement here, actual poll here; note that both sites are X-rated).

From the actual poll, it seems that some people take euphemism for to mean ‘word for’ (well, ‘expression for’), taking in a number of things that aren’t euphemisms as I understand them (and treating euphemism for as a relationship between an expression and a thing — “euphemism for (the) penis” — rather than, as I see it, a relationship between expressions — “euphemism for penis“).


Phoebe Snow

April 28, 2011

Dead at age 60, on Tuesday, singer-songwriter Phoebe Snow (Wikipedia page here, her own website here). Full of wry charm, with an instantly recognizable voice.

Her most famous song is “Poetry Man”, about (among other things) female desire.


Cram it in the boot!

April 28, 2011

An enthusiastic ad campaign for the Mini Cooper car (viewable on many sites, for instance this one), using suggestive, but not actually taboo, vocabulary to catch the viewers’ attention. A very old strategy, but one that can be done with a light and self-mocking tone (“Take it off. Take it all off” for Noxzema Shaving Cream, here) or in a brassy adolescent-showoff way, as here.

(First time I saw it, I thought it might be a Monty Python sketch I had somehow missed. But no.)


timesuck the verb?

April 27, 2011

A couple days ago on Facebook, in a comment on derogatory suck, Ann Burlingham expressed delight that timesuck has become a verb. Well, maybe the celebration is a bit premature.


Argument structure in porn

April 26, 2011

I take my linguistic examples wherever I come across them. In this case, the data comes mostly from porn. (Warning: a lot of sexual acts will be alluded to in very plain language in this posting.)

The story begins with a young man crying out

(1) Oh yeah, shoot my ass!

at the climactic moment of a segment in the gay porn compilation video A Bronco Named Brad (on the video, see here). The speaker is asking his partner to

(2) ‘shoot [your cum] on my ass, ejaculate on my buttocks’ [ONTO reading]

(It’s a convention of porn films, gay and straight, that the money shot must be visible to the viewer, so that guys come on someone else’s body or on their own, or occasionally on the furniture or whatever — see me on mess here. In gay porn, a fuck scene often ends with the fucker pulling out and coming on his partner’s buttocks, staying in situ but displaying his ejaculation.)

In other contexts, (1) could convey

(3) ‘shoot [your cum] in(to) my ass, ejaculate in(to) my anus’ [INTO reading]

Note the two different senses of ass here — ‘buttocks’ or ‘anus’, with the anus being the centerpiece of the buttocks, so to speak — related metonymically.

((1) on the INTO reading describes the culmination of bareback fucking, without the pull-out, so its natural home is porn writing, not porn films.)

But now for the main linguistic point, shoot ‘ejaculate’ used, exceptionally, as a transitive verb.


Weighty words

April 26, 2011

Today’s Bizarro, in which a metaphor comes vividly to life:

Weighty used of speech is venerable; OED2 subentry:

4. a. Of an argument, utterance, etc.: Producing a powerful effect; adapted to influence or convince; forcible, telling, potent. [moste weightie wordes in 1560 and other cites thereafter]

Data points: anaphora 4/25/11

April 25, 2011

An account to friends of my sighting a famous Palo Alto resident who happens to be (like me) a Princeton graduate.

Dinner at Mandarin Goumet, couple to my left, the man very familiar-looking, older, ramrod-straight, expensive but understated suit, imperious in tone. Then the guy to his right and my left mentioned Princeton, and he and I both swiveled to look at him for a moment.

The issue is the referent of the he and the referent of the him in the final clause. Two men have been mentioned, and in principle either pronoun could refer to either of them. But my little tale was about the first man mentioned, and he is clearly the referent of the he, so that the second man must be the referent of the him. I could have used the first man and the second man (or some other NPs), but 3sg personal pronouns do the trick just fine, despite the in-principle ambiguity of my version.

James Jean

April 25, 2011

I’ve been working my way (mailing things out to friends) through a book of postcards, XOXO, based on work by the prolific James Jean, an artist and illustrator with roots in comics. Fantastical drawings and paintings, often disturbing, often with figures of children in them, often with symbolic sexual content.

Three examples: the first a complex piece from XOXO, then one with a distressed child, then a coral dog sporting a bright coral phallus: