Archive for July, 2013

crescendo

July 31, 2013

In the NYT on the 29th, an op-ed piece “A Crescendo of Errors” by Miles Hoffman (the violist of the American Chamber Players and a music commentator for Morning Edition on NPR), which begins with a cry of pain over a usage:

Fitzgerald did it. Can you believe that? And in “Gatsby,” no less. It sent me reeling. The historian James M. McPherson did it in “Battle Cry of Freedom.” Twice. George F. Will, William Safire and countless other prominent journalists have done it, as have Southern writers, Northern writers, writers of science and of science fiction, novices and old pros.

All these people, and so many others — oh my goodness, so very many others — have “reached,” or have described events or emotions “reaching,” crescendos.

… But here’s the thing: as God — along with Bach, Beethoven and Mozart — is my witness, you cannot “reach” a crescendo.

… The one thing crescendo does not mean, … and never has meant, is “climax.”

Barbara Partee has responded to Hoffman’s piece on Language Log, in a piece entitled “Reaching a crescendo?”.  Here I’ll be repeating some of Barbara’s points and some of the discussion in comments on it, trying to bring out several points that tie to themes in my postings.

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Wednesday puns

July 31, 2013

Two of today’s cartoons: a Dilbert and a Pearls Before Swine, both with elaborate puns:

(#1)

This turns on the verb weasel, plus the legal phrase (beyond a) reasonable doubt (plus the derivation of adjectives in –able from verbs).

(#2)

And this one turns on the noun and verb hex, plus the food compound Tex-Mex.

In each case, “getting” the comic requires two pieces of information, from different spheres. (And both beyond weaselable doubt and Hex Mex could be viewed either as elaborate imperfect puns or as complex portmanteaus:  weaselable + beyond reasonable doubt, hex + Tex-Mex.)

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(little) fat sheep

July 30, 2013

From Chris Ambidge, this image of a road sign (from, we think, Australia):

  (#1)

(For a livestock auction, I assume.) Fat sheep to the left!

Searching on “fat sheep” suggests that the phrase has become something of a meme in certain contexts, though frankly I don’t understand its uses. But there certainly are a lot of fat sheep around.

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Annals of phallicity: the drill crotch

July 30, 2013

From the sub-annals of Unintended Phallicity, this photo on the front page of the July 25th Fort Collins Coloradoan, cropped down a bit here:

 Eli Gallegos, an electrician with Loveland-based Gregory Electric, installs an outlet box as construction continues Thursday on the Colorado State University Powerhouse Energy Institute in Old Town Fort Collins. / V. Richard Haro/The Coloradoan

From Andy Sleeper, who sent me the photo:

I had to ask whether I am the only one in Fort Collins to see what I see in the composition of this picture. Do they have editors at that paper??

Of course they do. But most people viewing photographs tend not to focus on people’s crotches, so it would be easy not to notice the phallic drill, even though it’s a big one.

More misunderstanding

July 30, 2013

Today’s Pearls Before Swine, in which Pig once again misinterprets a word:

From NOAD2:

a surgical operation to remove a breast.
ORIGIN 1920s: from Greek mastos ‘breast’ + -ectomy.

Pig recognizes the -ectomy ‘removal’ part, extracts mast as the first part, and so misunderstands mastectomy.

Groovin’ on the Glocken

July 30, 2013

Today’s Zippy has Zerbina totally in the groove:

A series of slangy panels, culminating in an air glockenspiel (a percussion counterpart of the air guitar, quite possibly a simulation of playing an electric glockenspiel). A glockenspiel gets into it because so many people think the word glockenspiel is silly.

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Interpreting photographs

July 29, 2013

(About understanding photography rather than language. Warning: high sexual content.)

Interpreting what’s going on in a photograph can be quite a task, especially if the photograph is untitled and uncaptioned, or provided with only a minimal title (“Miami Beach, 1985” or the like). Sometimes the interpretive task rivals that of discerning a narrative in projective tests that use visual materials, like the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT). (Other visual art can present similar interpretive challenges, especially if the art is unmoored to the rich matrix of historical, social, classical, and Biblical allusions that informed most Western art for centuries.)

In an exhibition, photographs can supply clues to one another, but if you’re looking at one photo in isolation, you don’t get that help. It can also help to know who the photographer was, so you can try to relate one photo to what you know about their work; knowing that the photo came from, for instance, Diane Arbus, Weegee, Garry Winogrand, or Gordon Parks can be helpful.

But without such context, you’re on your own. An example follows. One photo, out of context.

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pure bread

July 29, 2013

From Mike Speriosu on Facebook, this entertaining image:

(#1)

Yes, pure bread poodle. A simple spelling error, based on the homophony of bred and bread and the much greater frequency of bread over bred; errors like bredstick for breadstick are very uncommon, but pure bread / pure-bread / purebread in an animal breeding context is surprisingly frequent.

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Crisis talk

July 29, 2013

In the NYT on the 26th, the story “A Continent Mired in Crisis Coins a Language of Economic Pain” by Raphael Minder, which begins:

MADRID — The Portuguese have a new word, “grandolar,” which grew out of the euro crisis and means “to subject a government minister to a singing protest using a revolutionary hymn.” But now, after three years of austerity, even Portuguese children “grandolate” their parents if they do not want to take a bath.

Well, not a whole language, but a vocabulary in the economic domain.

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be toast

July 29, 2013

From Gail Collins’s NYT op-ed column on the 18th, “The Cheney in Waiting”:

So what do you think Wyoming wants? Somebody younger? [Liz] Cheney is 46, and apparently planning on suggesting — in the most discreet way possible — that [incumbent Senator Mike] Enzi is toast at 69. Since the average age of the current Senate is around 62, however, he is barely brown around the edges.

Collins is taking the slang idiom be toast and playing with it — treating being toast as the end-stage or completion of the process of doom or (metaphorical) death, so that she can refer to earlier stages of the process as analogous to earlier stages of toasting. Cute.

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