Just a hijink

The Adam@home strip from June 5th (recommended to me by Robert Coren):


It’s all about this hijink, with SG hijink, (roughly) ‘joke, bit of playfulness’. The usage is rare.

NOAD doesn’t even list it, though it does have an entry for the PL:

pl. noun high jinks (also hijinks): boisterous fun: high jinks behind the wheel of a car. ORIGIN late 17th century: see jink.

And for a (rare) motion verb and noun:

verb jink: [no object] change direction suddenly and nimbly, as when dodging a pursuer: she was too quick for him and jinked away every time.

noun jink: a sudden quick change of direction.

ORIGIN late 17th century (originally Scots as high jinks, denoting antics at drinking parties): probably symbolic of nimble motion. Current senses date from the 18th century.

PL high jinks is a close parallel (both in morphosyntax and in semantics) to PL antics. From NOAD:

pl. noun antics: foolish, outrageous, or amusing behavior: the antics of our political parties. ORIGIN early 16th century: from antic.

adj. anticarchaic grotesque or bizarre.

Some lexical items from the synonymy class of high jinks and antics, from the NOAD thesaurus:

antics: someday you’ll be too old to get away with such antics: capers, pranks, larks, hijinks; frolicking, skylarking, foolery, tomfoolery

(The semicolon divides the (CT) PL items from the M (SG) items.)

The referents of the nouns are all non-punctual situations, events rather than states; they unfold in time. And the start and end points of the events are irrelevant to the meaning of the noun. On the other hand, it is relevant that the events are composed of multiple subevents, rather than being homogenous and indissoluble: high-jinks events are like “many little things” substances (sand or rice), rather than like undifferentiated fluids (water or oil). But in any case the detailed organization of their referent events, in particular into particular kinds of subevents sequenced in time, isn’t relevant to their semantics.

In the vocabulary of the analysis of Aksionsarten, kinds of situations, the nouns refer to activities, the situation counterparts to substances or “stuff” in the world of spatial referents — as opposed to individuals or “things” in the spatial domain. And they belong to the more complex subtype of activities, the counterpart to the “many little things” subtype of substances.

So much, in extraordinarily lightning overview, for the semantics. As for morphosyntax, in many languages N lexemes generally belong either to a morphosyntactic category we can label C[ount] or to one we can label M[ass]. The categories have labels chosen as a bow to the default generalization I’ve called taCsiM — things are C, stuff is M — but the classification of particular lexemes depends on their morphological and syntactic properties, not on their semantics, and often differs from the classification predicted by taCsiM.

The five crucial morphosyntactic categories of N lexemes in English (SG, I, M, PL, E), in my analysis, are depicted in this diagram from my “Counting Chad” paper at the 2001 Stanford Semantcs Fest, along with examples and a few morphosyntactic indicators of class membership:

(#2) [Crucial typo in the paper: the examples in line 3.2d, for I, should read: bush/*bushes/*shrubbery; the examples were mistakenly copied over from the previous line]

The currenty relevant mophosyntactic category in this analysis is the category labeled E (meant to suggest Extended, as opposed to its complement, the category labeled I, meant to suggest Individuated). The point here is that M and PL nouns taken together make an important category; they share many morphosyntactic properties.

And that’s the category the PL Ns high jinks and antics belong to — along with M Ns like tomfoolery (and, for that matter, fun). Such Ns (some PL, some M) refer to a class of playful activities comprising a number of subactivities: each one a bit of tomfoolery, a moment of fun.

Or, if you’re willing to commit back-formation, a high jink / hijink, an antic.

On the strip. My 7/11/13 posting “More meta-cartoons” has a section about Adam@home. Where we learn:

Adam@home(previously titled Adam) is an American syndicated gag-a-day comic strip created by Brian Basset and currently drawn by Rob Harrell. Started in 1984, it follows the life of Adam Newman, a stay-at-home dad, as he juggles his family and career. Originally focusing on office-place humor, the comic’s tone shifted when Adam became a stay-at-home consultant.

That’s Adam in the car in #1, committing back-formation.



One Response to “Just a hijink”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    On Facebook, Mike Pope notes the oddity of a shenanigan. And in fact NOAD gives the noun only in the plural (like high jinks):

    pl. noun shenanigans: informal [a] secret or dishonest activity or maneuvering: widespread financial shenanigans had ruined the fortunes of many. [b] silly or high-spirited behavior; mischief. ORIGIN mid 19th century: of unknown origin.

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