Archive for June, 2011

Our writers and scholars at work

June 30, 2011

In the New Yorker of July 4 (p. 19) a writer and scholar recounts writing The First Book:

[in a windowless basement] “I listened to Madonna sing ‘Like a Prayer’ over and over again, and I had one picture of Tom Cruise from when he was still hot, and I wrote for sixteen hours a day”


The Danglerology Project

June 30, 2011

I’m at the end of week 2 (of 10) of working with a Stanford summer intern, Megan O’Neil, on the Danglerology Project. There will be many more postings as we work our way through the material. Here’s the brief description:

A subjectless predicational adjunct, loosely adjoined to a clause, that requires a referent for the missing subject (a SPAR, for short) by default picks up this referent from the subject of the clause it modifies (the Subject Rule) – as “born in 1937 in Germany” does in “Born in 1937 in Germany, he was taken out of the country by his family the following year”. SPARs that don’t obey the Subject Rule – like this same expression in “Born in 1937 in Germany, his family fled from the country the following year” – are labeled “dangling modifiers” in textbooks and advice manuals, which proscribe them, though non-default SPARs are very frequent and often occasion no problem for readers and listeners. There are many different types of SPARs, involving a variety of syntactic structures. It’s clear that the acceptability of non-default SPARs depends on the structural type; on background information; and, especially, on discourse organization: the major hypothesis is that the topicality of particular referents in context is a potent factor governing acceptability.


First and bests

June 29, 2011

Teaser on the front page of today’s NYT, pointing to a quotation from A.O. Scott’s review (inside the paper) of the movie Transformers: Dark of the Moon, saying that the movie

is by far the best 3-D sequel ever made about gigantic toys from outer space.

Three restrictors to the encomium: 3-D, sequel, and about gigantic toys from outer space. Praise, but relative praise.


Big Bill Broonzy and the truth

June 29, 2011

On June 25, an NPR piece by David C. Barnett, “Big Bill Broonzy: History’s Musical Chameleon”, about the blues and folk musician who changed his style several times over the years.

Broonzy changed more than his musical style. Throughout his life, the singer also altered parts of his personal history.


Portmanteaus: juvenoia

June 28, 2011

Emily Bazelon in the NYT Magazine 6/26/11 — “The Ninny State: The danger of overprotecting your kids from technology” (about violent video games and teenage sexting) — cites David Finkelhor on juvenoia (juvenile + paranoia).


Not necessarily redundant

June 28, 2011

Heard visually see a couple of times in the past week and thought to look at the expression. Over a million raw ghits for {“you can visually see”}, so there’s a lot of visual seeing being done out there.

At first glance, it’s just redundant, pleonastic. But there’s more to it than that.



June 28, 2011

Caught in a PBS Nature program on the world’s ugliest animals, a reference to batting ‘hunting for bats’ (parallel to fishing). Nice verbing by bat-fanciers.

And in another context, having to do with a bat-hunting cat:

I’m not keen on the idea of her killing the bats, despite what our local vet said about them. They are small mostly inoffensive, mostly because they will insist on rousting in between the window and the shutters and they have this rather unfriendly habit of defecating all over the windowsill. Anyway the point of this blog is the document the fact that as a result of her night time batting adventures I decided to vaccinate her against rabies. (link)

And now I can’t get Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland out of my head:

But do cats eat bats, I wonder?’ And here Alice began to get rather sleepy, and went on saying to herself, in a dreamy sort of way, ‘Do cats eat bats? Do cats eat bats?’ and sometimes, ‘Do bats eat cats?’ for, you see, as she couldn’t answer either question, it didn’t much matter which way she put it.


Zeugma: crack

June 28, 2011

Ryan Thomas Riddle, “Saggy pants charges unlikely”, [Bay Area] Daily Post of June 25-26:

San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said yesterday that he can’t imagine his office would take a University of New Mexico football player [DeShon Marman] to court over his saggy pants [on a US Airways flight to Albuquerque].

“The only crack we prosecute is cocaine and not pants,” Wagstaffe told the Post.

Even officers of the court have their moments of playing with language — in this case, committing zeugma on crack ‘crack cocaine’ vs. ‘butt-crack’.


molest n.

June 27, 2011

From Jon Lighter to ADS-L yesterday:

An attorney on Fox News oberves that the tot mom’s defense is that she’d been victimized by repeated “sexual molest.”

A new nouning? Well, probably not.


Indifference to negation

June 26, 2011

It went past me on the radio as I was going to sleep, so I didn’t get the details of either form or context, but the crux of the matter was the possibility of either can or can’t in

I’ll see if we can/can’t [do something or other]

Huge numbers of both on the net. Compare these two:

I’ll see if we can’t do something for you in the next version. (link)

But I’ll see if we can do something for you so you can try it out. (link)

At first glance, it looks like this is a case of simple negation indifference (as Chris Potts labeled it in 2004): adding or removing a negation without change of meaning.

There are (vaguely) parallel cases that Potts inventories (and that I’ll look at in a moment), but this one has its own assemblage of features, three different factors. And, I’ll argue, the variants are semantically close but nevertheless distinct.