Archive for January, 2012


January 30, 2012

In xkcd‘s telling, E-Man swoops in to battle the Etymological Fallacy and speak on behalf of common usage:

(If the cartoon displays as multicolored trash — this is some WordPress glitch — click on the image to see it properly.)


-poo- mixes

January 29, 2012

In the February 2012 Out magazine, a column (p. 87) that begins:

No longer is a dog just a poodle — it’s either a cockapoo, a poogle, a yorkipoo, a pootalian, or any number of multicultural canines that characterize the rampant trend of crossbred poo-mixes.

and ends:

Let’s all make a pact — if your dog sounds like an Urban Dictionary entry, it’s time to simplify.

A great effusion of poomanteaus.


Cardinal sin

January 29, 2012

Another report from Chris Ambidge, visiting family in England. This time it’s about a visit to the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, where he came across Banksy‘s recent work “Cardinal Sin”:


Mario Lopez stripped

January 29, 2012

(Not about language.)

It’s been a while since I posted on men’s underwear, but now from Karen Erickson on Facebook, this story (with video) on actor and tv host Mario Lopez appearing on The Ellen Show:

Ellen Helps Mario Lopez strip to his underwear

Mario Lopez proved he’s not just the Rated M underwear creator, but also a Rated M client during this impromptu striptease to promote his new line of skivvies on The Ellen Show Tuesday. And Ms. DeGeneres surprised us when she eagerly tore off Mario’s shirt and jacket before spinning him around to show the raucous audience his plump rear.

Still photo of the event:

The man is clearly keeping himself in shape.

DJ names

January 29, 2012

Listening to KFJC (Foothill College’s radio station) yesterday, I was struck once again by the names of their DJs (full list here). Some are names borrowed from a variety of sources:

Number 6 (The Prisoner), Dorian Gray (The Picture of), Ann Arbor (Michigan city), Morris Minor (British economy car), Arthur Dent (Hitchhiker’s Guide), Boo Radley (To Kill a Mockingbird), Sluggo (Nancy comic book character), Goodwrench (GM auto repair service)

Others are puns:

Abacus Finch (Atticus Finch), Sir Cumference (circumference), Austin Space (Lost in Space), Thurston Hunger (thirst and hunger), Greta Clue (get a clue), Dominic Trix (dominatrix)

Echoes here of drag names, roller derby names, and stripper names — all rich sources of language play.


Wordless cartoons, words-only cartoons

January 28, 2012

In the latest (January 30th) New Yorker, this cartoon by Sam Gross:

Completely wordless — but how much cultural knowledge it takes to understand it! You need to know about doggie/doggy doors (or dog doors, as they’re usually called in the trade), balloon animals, helium, and clowns.

At the other end of the scale there are words-only cartoons, like this Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal number (opposing social pleasures and stranded prepositions) posted by Mark Liberman a couple years ago:

Cartoons usually have both a picture and a caption (or speech bubbles), but there are limiting cases in both directions: pure sight gags and slogans presented as cartoons, for example.


Building 20

January 27, 2012

In the latest (January 30th) New Yorker, an “Annals of Ideas” piece by Jonah Lehrer, “Groupthink: The brainstorming myth”, on brainstorming as a spur to creativity (the evidence indicates that brainstorming without criticism is ineffective; that successful collaborations tend to involve people with strong social connections to one another; and that physical proximity enhances creativity). Lehrer then turns to the example of Building 20 at MIT, a famed “magical incubator” of innovation.

Building 20 (1943-98) was in fact where the linguists hung out at MIT in my days — where the department office and faculty offices were located, where Halle and Chomsky had their (adjoining) offices, and where the grad students shared a big room — and it also housed the Laboratory for Nuclear Science, the Acoustics Lab (which gave rise to the Bose Corporation), the machine shop, ROTC, a piano repair facility, a cell-culture lab, the Ice Research Laboratory, the Tech Model Railroad Club, offices for many people in the Research Laboratory of Electronics, and much more. Not bad for a temporary wooden building hastily thrown up during World War II to house MIT’s Radiation Laboratory.


Object gap + subject gap

January 27, 2012

Caught in a radio news report this morning, this quote from Barack Obama, with the crucial bit boldfaced:

Obama said of a push for less financial regulation and lower taxes. “And why we would want to adopt something that we just tried and did not work, doesn’t make sense.”


This has a relative clause (that we just tried and did not work) in which a clause with an direct object gap (we just tried ___) is coordinated with a clause with a subject gap (___ did not work) [DO + SU]. As I noted in a Language Log posting on “Amazing conjunctions” back in 2005,

coordination of a clause with an object gap … and a clause with a subject gap … is usually judged ungrammatical, though there’s some question about what condition bars it.

In fact, a 1981 paper of Gerald Gazdar’s (“Unbounded dependencies and coordinate structure”, Linguistic Inquiry 12.155-84) treats such examples as ungrammatical and attempts to give an analysis that predicts that. But examples aren’t hard to find, in writing as well as speech; I myself seem to be given to writing relative clauses with this non-parallel structure.


Today’s word reversal

January 27, 2012

From radio station KALW’s “Daily Almanac” segment this morning, in the school lunch menu for San Francisco public elementary schools, announcer Joe Burke listing a

toasted turkey ham cheese and sandwich

instead of what’s on the school district’s website:

toasted turkey ham and cheese sandwich

A word reversal, of adjacent words, of an unusual type.


Queer comics

January 26, 2012

Now playing at the San Francisco Cartoon Art Museum (655 Mission St.), under the auspices of the California College of the Arts, a show (which opened December 17th) on queer comics — a combination of two of my interests. The poster: