Archive for September, 2011

Annals of metonymy

September 27, 2011

From my files, this nice metonymic find (from Ashley Parker, “The Real World 44”, NYT Magazine 5/2/10):

Losing Edward M. Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat to Scott Brown – and with it, the Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority – was a blow. “There was a big sense of loss when Massachusetts happened, “ [special assistant to Barack Obama’s senior adviser David Axelrod, Eric] Lesser says.

Lots of similar examples, including many for “when the World Trade Center happened”, for instance:

Do you remember where you were when the World Trade Center happened? (link)

Such examples refer to an event via a reference to the place where the event happened.



Eugene Nida

September 27, 2011

Eugene A. Nida, a linguist known especially for his work on translation, died on August 25 at the age of 96. An ordained Baptist minister, he had long associations with the Wycliffe Bible Translators, the Summer Institute of Linguistics, and the American Bible Society. At the same time, he made major contributions to linguistics, via his 1943 Ph.D. dissertation at Michigan (published in 1960 by the Summer Institute of Linguistics), A Synopsis of English Syntax, an extensive phrase-structure grammar (the first such grammar of a major language); his huge textbook Morphology: The Descriptive Analysis of Words (1st ed. 1946, mostly known through the influential 2nd ed. of 1949), with its many exercises; and his work on componential analysis in semantics.


Contaminated by 9/11

September 26, 2011

(Eventually there will be some stuff directly related to language.)

Reported several places in the last week, the fate of the musical Kismet in Johnstown PA. Here’s Scott Simon on NPR on the 24th:

Canceling The School Play Won’t Avoid ‘Kismet’

There will be no Kismet in Johnstown, Pa. This week the Richland School District canceled February’s high school student production of the play.

The 1953 musical is the story of a wily beggar-poet; his unruly, beautiful daughter; and the handsome caliph who falls in love with her at first glance.

Kismet is adapted from that collection of folk tales known as Arabian Nights, with a score drawn from the music of Alexander Borodin.

Kismet won the Tony Award for Best Musical. High school groups often perform the show because the songs can be lush and funny, there are good parts for both boys and girls, and the costumes can be colorful, florid, flowing — and cover students from head to toe. Unlike the musical Hair.

“Kismet” is set in ancient Baghdad, a time historians call the Islamic Golden Age. Johnstown is in western Pennsylvania. Flight 93 flew right over our heads, school Superintendent Thomas Fleming Jr. explains. United Airlines Flight 93, of course, plowed into the ground nearby on September 11, 2001 after the hijackers were overpowered by the passengers and crew. They died to keep the plane from crashing into the U.S. Capitol. So, it’s understandable that people might be a little more sensitive perhaps to the play’s content, Mr. Fleming told the told the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat. He said several people had complained because “Kismet” features Muslim characters; the 10-year anniversary of Flight 93’s crash had just passed. Mr. Fleming says he simply doesn’t want his young students to have to face controversy and criticism.


More Zippy burlesque

September 26, 2011

Today’s Zippy has Mr. Toad back on the musical burlesque trail:


More additions to my website

September 25, 2011

Ten more papers are now available on my website, to add to the ones from last week. As before, items on methodology, argumentation, and evidence are marked with a number (from my master bibliography) and “M&A”; all the items on this topic are now on my website.

“Naturalness arguments in syntax” (Chicago Linguistic Society, 1968). [#6, M&A]

“Remarks on directionality” (Journal of Linguistics, 1971). [#19, M&A]

“On casual speech”, (Chicago Linguistic Society, 1972).

“Note on a phonological hierarchy in English” (Stockwell & Macaulay, Linguistic Change and Generative Theory, 1972).

“Taking a false step” (Language, 1974). [#24, M&A]

“Homing in: On arguing for remote representations” (Journal of Linguistics, 1974). [#25, M&A]

“Arguing for constituents” (Chicago Linguistic Society, 1978). [#38, M&A]

“”Reduced words” in highly modular theories: Yiddish anarthrous locatives reexamined” (OSU Working Papers in Linguistics, 1984).

“In and out in phonology” (OSU Working Papers in Linguistics,1986). [#78, M&A]

“German adjective agreement in GPSG” (Linguistics, 1986).


September 25, 2011

From the October 2011 issue of Out magazine, in a piece on screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (p.78) and the film J. Edgar:

Clint Eastwood directed J. Edgar, and Leonardo diCaprio plays the titular character.

I was struck by the choice of titular rather than title here; both are standard, but titular is more formal, and in the context of Out‘s breezy prose, I would have expected title character. The choice of titular caused me to entertain, for a centisecond or so, the possibility that the word was being used in contrast to actual or real, though in combination with character, that reading was preposterous.

That made me wonder about the history of titular.


Data points: idiom blends 9/24/11

September 25, 2011

From a 2006 episode of the tv series Psych, “Death is in the Air”:

Is she dead?
Shawn: As a bag of rocks.
Gus: That’s “dumb as a bag of rocks”.

(Or “dead as a rock/stone”. But not part of each.)

This idiom blend seems to be a genuine invention of Psych‘s writers. No other ghits for it.

Three classic idiom blends, illustrated here (with references): rocket surgery in “It’s not rocket surgery”, under the eight ball, another kettle of worms. A few more from net discussions of the phenomenon: by far and away, don’t take lightly to, add up the math, a kick in the bucket, knock the wind out of your sails. 

(Hat tip to Victor Steinbok.)



September 25, 2011

Rare earth elements — increasingly crucial in technology — are much in the news these days, as it’s become clear that China has the corner on most of the resources and that Afghanistan is sitting on a pile of valuable minerals, including these (though how to extract them is something of a challenge). Among the rare-earth elements is the wonderfully named dysprosium (Dy, atomic number 66).


Nation? Country?

September 23, 2011

From the front page of the September 19th New York Times, “A British Soccer Team? What’s That? Say Scots, Welsh and Irish” (by Jeré Longman and Sarah Lyall):

LONDON — The plan seems eminently reasonable: field a soccer team to represent Britain at next year’s Olympics, which after all are being held here, the home of the modern game.

But there are several problems. For one thing, there is no such thing as a British soccer team. Instead, in a country where devotion to sports is fueled by ferocious regional and political rivalries, there are instead individual teams representing Britain’s fractious, proud and fiercely competitive constituent nations — namely England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Two things: First, the use of Britain to stand for the UK (the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland). Second, the reference to England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland as the constituent nations of Britain (a form of expression that is used throughout the article).


My funny serpentine

September 23, 2011

Today’s Zippy, doing damage to Rodgers and Hart’s “My funny Valentine”:

These burlesques tend to superimpose themselves on the originals, making them hard to recall accurately, as I noted last year when Zippy featured “Somewhere, over my poncho”. So here, as a service to my readers, are the original words:

My funny Valentine
Sweet comic Valentine
You make me smile with my heart
Your looks are laughable, unphotographable
Yet you’re my favorite work of art

Is your figure less than Greek?
Is your mouth a little weak?
When you open it to speak, are you smart?

But don’t change a hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little Valentine, stay
Each day is Valentine’s Day

Oh my: “When it opens, does it reek of Swiss chard?”

Zippy strips also burlesque poetry — for instance, an assortment of poets slammed here (“I calibrate my elf”!) and Ginsberg’s Howl riffed on here.