Three for the 30th

Three language-related cartoons for the day: a Zits with terms of venery; a Rhymes With Orange with an absurd portmanteau; and a One Big Happy in which Ruthie runs afoul of synonyms and homonyms:




Terms of venery. In #1 we have Jeremy and Pierce trading those collective nouns for groups of creatures known as terms of venery, an exercse that can be done just for fun (“this one is really cool”) or as a kind of competitive language play (here, the invention of an anxiety of seniors).

Note: language games tend to be strongly associated with certain sociocultural contexts. The ones I report on in this blog tend to be associated with educated white middle-class Americans; they are by no means universal. In particular, I don’t think that goofing on terms of venery is much of a thing outside of this context.

The silly portmanteau. In #2 the patient presents with the slide of a trombone projecting from one chest (the right chest, but let that pass), suggesting an affliction of the heart, like a coronary thrombosis (NOAD2 on thrombosis: ‘local coagulation or clotting of the blood in a part of the circulatory system’ — most commonly, in the heart). So the image mirrors the words: trombone + thrombosis.

Again, inventing portmanteaus for fun isn’t something that everbody’s into.

Definition. The context for #3 is that we’re looking at an at-home version of a spelling bee, a gamelike contest in which each contestant (like Ruthie’s brother Joe in the cartoon), one after the other, is presented with a word (pronounced for them by a moderator), which they then need to spell. The contestant is entitled to ask for a definition (“What does the word mean?” in the cartoon) and, in some versions, also for the word used in a sentence (to help clarify the definition).

The problem here is that definitions, no matter how carefully done, are just translations of words into other words, and not accounts of actual meaning; such an account would have to provide a way to turn linguistic expressions into pointers to things, properties, situations, etc., and that’s not at all easily done.

A further problem is that the briefest (and, apparently, most efficient) definition is just a synonym (bring up for mention) — but the briefer you get, the more likely you are to wander into ambiguous expressions. As in the case of mention: ‘refer to (something) briefly and without going into detail’ is what the kids’ dad in #3 was after, but by offering the synonym bring up instead, he opens things up to being understood as offering ‘raise (someone) to adulthood’, which is the sense Ruthie then uses in her sentence for Joe.

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