Language cartoon Wednesday

That would be today, with three language-related cartoons in my inbox: a Rhymes With Orange, a Mother Goose and Grimm, and a Bizarro:




#1. The punc band. A pun on punk ‘form of loud, aggressive, and often foul-mouthed rock music’ / punc (clipping of) ‘punctuation’. Note that the band is composed of high school English teachers and sings about the conventions of punctuation and spelling.

#2. The web. A play on the ambiguity of /wɛb/: with lowercase w in spelling, a spider’s web (‘a network of fine threads constructed by a spider from fluid secreted by its spinnerets, used to catch its prey’ – NOAD2); vs. the Web, with uppercase W, a truncation of the World Wide Web. Technically savvy spiders could use either.

#3. A UFO?  The couple in the car could be seen as disagreeing on two grounds: whether the U of the initialism UFO is to be taken as literally conveying unidentified; and whether the object that has them in its grasp is in fact unidentified (they know that it’s an alient spaceship, but does that mean they’ve identified it?).

Neither question is completely clear, and they’re related. From NOAD2 on UFO:

a mysterious object seen in the sky for which, it is claimed, no orthodox scientific explanation can be found.

That’s a definition that assigns a meaning to UFO as a whole, rather than asserting that its meaning is directly derivable by unpacking the abbreviated words — a position that is in fact in dispute in some cases (as in arguments about whether PIN number and ATM machine are redundant and therefore just wrong; but compare SALT talks and HIV virus, where many could not possibly omit the noun).

In any case, NOAD2‘s definition doesn’t require that UFOs be in fact not identifiable.

In general, initialisms are expressions on their own, expressions that can take on a life of their own. As in other cases, etymology is not destiny.

A little complaint. NOAD2 gives the origin of UFO as follows:

1950s: acronym from unidentified flying object.

This is wrong on terminological grounds, both mine and NOAD2’s. From that dictionary:

acronym: an abbreviation formed from the initial letters of other words and pronounced as a word (e.g., ASCII, NASA).

initialism: an abbreviation consisting of initial letters pronounced separately (e.g., CPU).

(Yes, many people use acronym for all abbreviations formed from initial letters of words. But that’s not what NOAD2 says.)

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