Archive for August, 2012


August 31, 2012

Icky news in yesterday’s NYT (“Kentuckians Take Distilleries to Court Over Black Gunk”, by Melena Ryzik), which begins:

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The sooty-looking black gunk has been here for as long as anyone can remember, creeping on the outside of homes, spreading over porch furniture, blanketing car roofs, mysterious and ever-present.

It was pollution, residents speculated, or maybe something to do with the industrial riverfront. But it turns out the most likely culprit is Kentucky’s signature product, its liquid pride: whiskey, as in bourbon whiskey, distilled and bottled across the city and nearby countryside.

[The culprit is probably the fungus Baudoinia.] … Naturally occurring, Baudoinia germinates on ethanol, the colorless alcohol that can evaporate during fermentation, making the area around whiskey-aging warehouses a prime breeding ground.



August 31, 2012

Mitticism: sounds like a portmanteau of Mitt [Romney] and witticism, right? But where are there examples of Mitt being witty?

Instead, the word refers to Romney’s verbal missteps, similar to Bushism and Palinism.


Spasticus Autisticus

August 31, 2012

In the news from current events in London,

The song [“Spasticus Autisticus”] was performed live on television and broadcast worldwide during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Paralympics, by Orbital and members of the Graeae Theatre Company.


Calvin x 3

August 31, 2012

From the Best of Calvin and Hobbes site, three strips: on inattention and question-answering; on phone answering as a linguistic routine; and on indirect speech acts.


Deer in the headlights

August 31, 2012

Today’s Zits, in which Jeremy gives computer advice to his dad:

That deer-in-the-headlights look. Note the metaphorical idiom.


Bicycle cards

August 31, 2012

Today’s Zippy:

Zippy invents a plausible story for the name Bicycle Cards for the popular brand of playing cards, using his experience with playing cards to construct an origin tale. Then he and Zerbina invent silly StateName hold ’em games, based on Texas hold ’em.


NomConjObj on the campaign trail

August 30, 2012

Ben Zimmer points me to this passage in Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech tonight:

Those weren’t the easiest of days – too many long hours and weekends working, five young sons who seemed to have this need to re-enact a different world war every night. But if you ask Ann and I what we’d give, to break up just one more fight between the boys, or wake up in the morning and discover a pile of kids asleep in our room. Well, every mom and dad knows the answer to that. (from the transcript)

In the bold-faced piece, a NomConjObj (nominative conjoined object), on which there is now a huge literature (brief account here). The structure is now widespread (especially in speech, but not only there), including among educated speakers: I have quotes from Barbara Boxer, Sonia Sotomayor, Prince Andrew of Great Britain etc., Ellen DeGeneres, Geoff Nuttall of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, and a huge number of linguists and other academics and professionals. In fact, some scholars of pronoun usage treat NomConjObjs as now the norm.

Still, many usageasters are appalled by them; see Bryan Garner‘s tweet about Romney’s usage above:

“if you asked Ann and I what we’d give….” this was a scripted speech!

Bad, bad, Mitt Romney! And this isn’t his first lapse; Mark Liberman reported here on Romney’s

I like he and Callista. (about Newt Gingrich)

I’d imagine that the structure is entirely natural for Romney (and for his speechwriters as well).


Brief mention: Chink, the slur 8/30/12

August 30, 2012

From the Economist, “A neglected crisis”, on the Assam region of India, 8/25, p. 30:

Assam [in the northeast of India], easily its biggest state, is one of India’s poorest. North-easterns look different: a Manipuri teacher in Pune [in Maharashtra, in west-central India] says everyone from passers-by to his pupils calls him, offensively, “Chinky”.

That’s Chink as in ‘Chinese’, Assam being close to China and Myanmar (the westernmost country in southeast Asia, or Indo-China). On Chink as a slur, see my “Chink files” posting.


Brief mention: writing between the lines 8/30/12

August 30, 2012

From the Economist, “Up to a point, Lord Copper”, about the press in Myanmar, 8/25, p. 32:

To get around this system [of press censorship by the military dictatorship], Mr Soe Thein, like other journamists, finessed the art of “writing between the lines”. He would fox the censors by using metaphors, literary allusions and historical comparisons to disguise commentaries on political events, hoping that his readers would understand the references better.

A strategy of indirection used by speakers about political events probably since people first started talking about them. Always chancy, of course.


Brief mention: invidious incorporations 8/30/12

August 30, 2012

From the 8/25/12 Economist, “Touchable after all”, p. 32:

The arrest shocked the country and foreign investors. [Vietnamese banking tycoon Nguyen Duc] Kien was one of the Bentley-driving, abalone-munching moguls though untouchable because of the wealth, power and connections they amassed as the ruling Communist Party followed China’s lead in opening up the economy.

Bentley-driving and abalone-munching: two synthetic compounds incorporating an object into a V in its PRP (or -ing) form, the whole used here invidiously to characterize someone’s social habits, especially what they eat and drink — a morphological construction (with its sociocultural concomitants) featured notably in the title of Geoff Nunberg’s 2006 book:

Talking right: How conservatives turned liberalism into a tax-raising, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show.

(I sometimes think of this as “Nunberg incorporation”.)