Coping with the new

In today’s One Big Happy, Ruthie and Joe are back on the track of trying to make sense of things they haven’t heard before:

  (#1)

Lots of knowledge needed here — about the words of English and about sociocultural conventions:

How is run + NP in the first panel to be understood — with run as a simple transitive (as in run a race), or, as Joe seems to think (in the final panel), a causative transitive ’cause to run’ (so that run a tenkay means ’cause a tenkay to run’)? What does leg mean in panel 2 — a body part, as at least Joe seems to think, or, in certain contexts, something metaphorical  (‘a section of a race’, as most adult readers, along with Babe Magnet, will assume)? What, in fact, is a tenkay (as Ruthie asks in panel 4, with no illumination from Joe)?

The kids are treating /ˌtɛnˈke/ — or (more likely) /ˌtɛŋˈke/ — as an unanalyzed whole, recognizing no parts in the expression, not /tɛn/ ’10’ and certainly not /ke/. And for good reason: a tenkay is, ultimately, a ten-kilometer race ‘a race (typically a foot race) that is 10 kilometers long’, with kilometer abbreviated to k; and then with ten-k picking up a new nominal meaning by truncation from ten-k race.

In addition to the linguistic moves in this process (abbreviation, nouning by truncation), there’s an enormous amount of factual and sociocultural information packed into tenkay: what a kilometer is, what kinds of races there are, what the conventions governing each type are, and so on. In a way, it’s amazing that anyone ever learns this stuff.

[Continuation on 6/3:

  (#2)

As before, plus a guess relating tenkay to turkey, on the basis of phonological resemblance.]

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