goose bumps

The One Big Happy in my cartoon feed today has Ruthie once again coping with an expression that doesn’t make much sense to her: goose bumps:

At some point, she’d heard the expression (a N + N compound), understood that it came in two parts, and that as a whole it referred o a physical manifestation of fright (and perhaps other states of mind) — but failed to grasp the identities of the two parts and so remembered them incorrectly. In the simplest of terms, there are two ways to misidentify a lexical item: on the basis of phonology or on the basis of semantics; such perception + storage errors are the counterparts to two familiar types of production errors (phonological, aiming at presentation but producing preposition; semantic, aiming at research (assistant) but producing teaching).

In the fourth panel, we see a classical malapropism from Ruthie,  a phonologically based storage error: other people think it’s shake like a leaf, but Ruthie has internalized it as shaking like a leash. (Presumably, neither version makes much sense to her; it’s just an idiom.)

Her principal storage error — chicken pops for goose bumps — is a bit more complex, since it looks like two different errors, one for each noun in the compound. The first error is clearly semantically based: goose stored (and then retrieved) as chicken; one fowl is as good as another.

The second error (bumps stored as pops) looks phonological, but there might be a semantic contribution I’m unaware of; in the real world, phonological errors are often facilitated by semantic factors, and semantic errors by phonological factors.

Now to goose bumps the things (rather than goose bumps the expression). From Wikipedia:

Goose bumps, goose pimples or goose flesh are the bumps on a person’s skin at the base of body hairs which may involuntarily develop when a person is cold or experiences strong emotions such as fear, euphoria or sexual arousal. The medical term for the effect is cutis anserina [Latin cutis ‘skin’, anser ‘goose’] or horripilation [Latin horrere ‘to stand on end’, pilus ‘hair].

The formation of goose bumps in humans under stress is considered by some to be a vestigial reflex; some believe its function in human ancestors was to raise the body’s hair, making the ancestor appear larger and scaring off predators. The reflex of producing goose bumps is known as arasing, piloerection, or the pilomotor reflex. It occurs in many mammals besides humans; a prominent example is porcupines, which raise their quills when threatened, or sea otters when they encounter sharks or other predators.

The [N + N compound] “goose bumps” derives from the phenomenon’s association with goose skin. Goose feathers grow from stores in the epidermis which resemble human hair follicles. When a goose’s feathers are plucked, its skin has protrusions where the feathers were, and these bumps are what the human phenomenon resembles.

… many other languages use the same bird as in English. “Goose skin” is used in

German, Swedish, Danish and Norwegian, Icelandic, (Modern) Greek, Italian , Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, Czech, Slovak, Latvian, Hungarian

In other languages, the “goose” may be replaced by other kinds of poultry.

A few examples from the Wikipedia article:

‘hen’ in Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, French, Catalan, Slovene. Central Italian

‘chicken’ in Dutch, Chinese, Finnish, Estonian, Afrikaans, Korean, Vietnamese

‘duck’ in (Israeli) Hebrew

So Ruthie is in good company with her chicken compound. (though she seems to have no idea why). Chico Marx asked “Why a duck?” Ruthie could be seen as asking “Why a goose?” Or, more to the point, “Why not a chicken?”


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