Archive for May, 2011

Today’s signal mishearing

May 31, 2011

At lunch today, a couple at the next table were engaged in some discussion in which the Army was mentioned. Then one of them went into a riff on what I heard as uncensored chaplains, who were free to use any language they wanted (obscenity, racial slurs, whatever). This struck me as bizarre, so I tuned in more closely.

Turns out the topic at that point was communications on the net, and eventually I realized the speaker was talking about uncensored chatrooms.

Just that slight original topic-biasing led me into the mishearing. Once lodged in my mind, it was hard to shake, and for a while I kept mishearing later occurrences of uncensored chatrooms, even as they became increasingly unlikely in context.

These things can stick. Some mondegreens can be annoyingly persistent, even when you know the truth. I’m still led astray by the lyrics of “Blinded by the Light“.



May 31, 2011

On Sunday I got a long-overdue haircut (no, this isn’t going to turn into an IM-like message on the moment-to-moment details of my life); I’d gotten much much too shaggy. In describing this to friends, I said that I’d gotten (satisfyingly) deshagged.

Deshagged would seem to imply a previous stage in which I was shagged, in the sexual sense. (I have in fact been shagged, often, though not for a very long time now.) But that’s not the way the morphology of deshag works.


A Princeton education

May 30, 2011

(About my life, following up on my piece for the 50th-reunion book at Princeton.)

When I talk about my Princeton education, academics are often astounded at the people I took courses from. Some of them:

in mathematics: Alonzo ChurchRay [Raymond] SmullyanAbraham (Avram) Robinson; and Bob [Robert] Gunning, who was the best teacher of mathematics (both clear and funny) I had at Princeton and was a superb adviser for my first two years

in philosophy: Carl HempelPaul BenacerrafHilary Putnam

in linguistics courses: Sam [Samuel] Atkins, a classicist who taught the intro. course that made me realize that linguistics was what I wanted to do, and Henry Hoenigswald, who commuted from Penn to teach historical linguistics (the only other linguistics course Princeton offered at the time)

Meanwhile, among my undergraduate intellectual friends were Tim [Thomas Michael] Scanlon and George Boolos (both of them in philosophy and mathematical logic).

After satisfying distribution requirements (including physics; for complex reasons, I didn’t get to take chemistry as well, though I’d hoped to), I was steered by the math department into a schedule that was as close to 100% math as possible; but I didn’t always take their direction, and Robinson (my junior-year adviser) and Benacerraf (my senior-year adviser) encouraged me in my shift towards language-related courses and research projects.

Some courses I remember with pleasure: modern European literature; social disorganization; philosophy of mathematics; philosophy of science; philosophy of language; into. to musical theory; Haydn and Mozart (I wanted to take Bach and Handel as well, but couldn’t fit it into the schedule); a series of German courses (in which I read Stifter’s “Bergkristall”, Fontane’s Effi Briest, and Schiller’s Maria Stuart); a year of Russian; and a year of Sanskrit (with Atkins). Just wonderful.


Hunk dream

May 30, 2011

(Not about language. Instead, a little poem on a dream I had the night before last, no doubt inspired by coming across a newspaper story on Brad Pitt.)

Hunk dream

Sean Connery came
to my door last night.
The mature Untouchables
Sean, not the
slick young James
Bond. Had a sexy
smile and a good line.

I asked him
in, he stayed the night,
melting away in the
morning, saying only
that the seasoned,
mature Brad
Pitt would be
along soon.

(He kissed
beautifully. We
wrapped around each
other in sleep like old

a nice man on the
phone said a friend had
given me a
subscription to
Hunk of the Week.
I am
Delirious, waiting for



May 30, 2011

Today’s Rhymes With Orange, with a wonderfully silly portmanteau:

Triceratops topiary, just the thing for the Stone Age front lawn.

Riddle me, fiddle me

May 30, 2011

(There’s a contest at the end.)

A few days ago, the phrase musk and testosterone led me to the verse form the double dactyl, and I was reminded of the doubly dactylic poet Saskia Hamilton, who got attention from Ben Zimmer on Language Log a while before that (“She’s got two sibilants, no bilabial plosives”), thanks to a song; from the song’s Wikipedia entry:

Saskia Hamilton was featured in the album Lonely Avenue as the subject of the eponymous song written by Ben Folds and Nick Hornby who ‘thought she had a fantastic name for her line of work’. The liner notes indicate that the song’s narrator is a teenage poetry nerd. Ben Folds commissioned Charlie McDonnell to make a video for the song.

And then — synchronicity! — she turned up in the June 9 New York Review of Books, in Christopher Ricks’s review (“Mixing Mystery and Intrigue”) of The Word Exchange: Anglo-Saxon Poems in Translation (ed. by Greg Delanty and Michael Matto), a book with many translations of Anglo-Saxon riddle poems. Including Hamilton’s “It is Written in Scriptures”.


Making assumptions

May 29, 2011

More variants of the “shaving cream” song, in which the listener’s assumptions about an upcoming rhyming word are frustrated; earlier discussion here.

Over on ADS-L, Victor Steinbok has now added this YouTube version of “The Assumption Song” (the ending is NSFW), and Wilson Gray has pointed out a (clean) song of  this type from the ’50’s, “Sweet Violets”, sung by Dinah Shore to the same tune:



May 29, 2011

From this weekend’s Daily Post (San Francisco peninsula), a front-page story on the “SlutWalk” at Stanford on Friday, with this wonderful photo:

The headline is the rhyming slogan:

A dress is not a yes

on the t-shirt that the young man is wearing (I want this t-shirt); the young woman’s shirt says, forthrightly:

I’m a slut
don’t rape me



May 28, 2011
In today’s Zits, Jeremy insists on understanding dishes as the plural of dish and nothing else (as a way of avoiding work), so as to put his mother into the position of having to inventory the contents of the dishwasher or refer to these contents with a phrase like everything in the dishwasher:

He’s messing with words here, deliberately disregarding dishes as a label for a higher-level category of artifacts, as in do/wash the dishes (and in fact in compounds like dishwasher and dishcloth, where the first element dish is understood as a reference to this higher-level category; a dishwasher washes dishes in the broad, not the narrow, sense). Dishes are the central members of this category, but it includes a lot more than dishes.


Zippy Zombie

May 28, 2011

Today’s Zippy, with several treats: