When English teachers snap

Passed on on Facebook by Bert Vaux, from Trust me, I’m a “Linguist”, ultimately from Funny Times, this cartoon by Kathryn LeMieux:

It’s not unknown for posses to form to “correct” signs in public places, but this almost always involves spelling and punctuation (and not actual grammar, as in this case), and so far as I know, English teachers don’t join these posses, despite the stereotype of them as peevers about vernacular English, and (especially) non-standardisms, a stereotype that’s exploited in cartoons on the theme of the rampaging English teacher.

The points at issue in this cartoon are truncated questions (a feature of vernacular spoken English), as in “You have (any) milk?”,  and the non-standard (but frequent) verb got ‘have’, as in “I got a horse right here / His name is Paul Revere”. The two occur together in the ad slogan “Got Milk?”:

Got Milk? is an American advertising campaign encouraging the consumption of cow’s milk, which was created by the advertising agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners for the California Milk Processor Board in 1993 and later licensed for use by milk processors and dairy farmers. It has been running since October 24, 1993. The campaign has been credited with greatly increasing milk sales in California though not nationwide. (link)

The two variables — truncation in various degrees, and got vs. have — combine to allow quite a range of ways of asking about milk, and further variants come from the choice of determiner for milk (zero, any, some) and the possibility of subject-auxiliary inversion with have (rather than do) in British English. The determiner variable is played with in the famous Beyond the Fringe routine about an encounter between Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore:

(Jon is Jonathan Miller, Alan is Alan Bennett.)

All three versions here have SAI with have rather than do — cf.

Do you have any apples in that basket?
Do you have some apples in that basket?
Do you have apples in that basket?

The English teacher in the cartoon has opted for any as the determiner (and of course for AmE SAI with do), though the advertising slogan has a zero determiner, and that choice isn’t a matter of formality or standardness (but rather a matter of subtle differences in semantics).

Beyond this, there are variants with have and various degrees of truncation:

Do you have milk?
You have milk?
Have milk?

and with got and various degrees of truncation:

Do you got milk?
You got milk?
Got milk?

Now the differences are matters of discourse function and formality (in the case of the truncations) and standardness (in the case of got vs. have).

So much for matters of grammar, style, and usage. Now about the cartoonist, Kathryn LeMieux. She was a founding member of the collaborative Six Chix:

Six Chix is a collaborative comic strip distributed by King Features Syndicate since it debuted in January 2000.

The series is drawn by six female cartoonists who rotate the drawing duties through the week based on a fixed schedule (link)

LeMieux left Six Chix in April 2009. She continues to cartoon in other venues and also does surrealistic oil paintings, some depicting “California Mermaids”, many involving cows, as in Cows On Bridge and Golden Gate Cows:

Clearly an artist of local interest.


2 Responses to “When English teachers snap”

  1. aka Darrell Says:

    I’m told by Spanish speaking persons here in Nevada that someone attempted to translate ”Got Milk” and the result was local Spanish jargon for “Are you Lactating”.

  2. English teachers | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] 10/15: another English teacher cartoon on this blog, "When English teachers […]

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