Smell the roses in a field

Two cartoons in my comics feed on 2/25 (otherwise known as Yay! Pfizer1 Day! at my house) on language play: a Wayno/Piraro Bizarro playing on formulaic language (the metaphorical idiom / cliché stop and smell the roses), and a Piccolo/Price Rhymes With Orange with a play on the ambiguity of field.

Bizarro: Thor gets advice from the Hulk. Over a beer with his (sometime) buddy. About how to pull out of a down day — even superheroes get the blues:

(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 4 in this strip — see this Page.)

[Digression: Thor (and his helmet, and his hammer for smashing things) and the Hulk. To understand cartoon in #1, you need to recognize the Norse god Thor as turned into a pop-cultural icon in the comics and superhero movies (represented here with the winged helmet he has in the comics) and also the gigantic green-skinned figure of the Hulk, originally a comic-book character, then a character in an American tv show The Incredible Hulk, and finally a character in superhero movies.

(#2) Cover of the 2017 Marvel trade paperback Thor Vs. Hulk, showing Thor’s winged helmet

Thor and the Hulk first appear together in the 1988 American made-for-television superhero film The Incredible Hulk Returns. From the tv show, Bill Bixby returned as David Banner and Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk; and Eric Kramer made his first and only appearance as Thor.

The two characters then appear together in the 2012 Marvel’s The Avengers / The Avengers, with Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner [an alternative name for the character] and the Hulk, and Chris Hemsworth as Thor.

The two continued in the succeeding Avengers movies: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015); Avengers: Infinity War (2018); and Avengers: Endgame (2019).

(#3) Thor (helmetless, wielding his hammer) together with the Hulk in Avengers: Infinity War

Hemsworth first appeared as Thor in the 2011 movie Thor, followed by Thor: The Dark World (2013) and Thor: Ragnarok (2017). Thor4, Thor: Love and Thunder, is in development, scheduled for release in 2022.

(#4) Hemsworth in an advance photo for Thor4 (with a stylized version of Thor’s winged helmet) ]

Then Wiktionary on the idiom / cliché stop and smell the roses:

(idiomatic) To relax; to take time out of one’s busy schedule to enjoy or appreciate the beauty of life.

There presumably was a time when the injunction to stop and smell the roses was a fresh metaphor, understood by seeing that in a roseless context the expression couldn’t be taken literally and must therefore be understood in some figurative fashion, the details of which had to be reasoned out. But once it became a cliché, through repeated use, the reasoning-out process could be shortcut, and the expression would automatically and thoughtlessly convey advice to relax and appreciate life — in a way that a fresh metaphor like, say, take time to rest and marvel at the beauty of flowers, would not.

At that point, it becomes available as a fixed expression that can be varied by replacing some of the parts, snowclone-fashion, as the Hulk does in #1, while preserving the gist of the conveyed meaning of the model (rather than its literal meaning). So the Hulk’s version conveys something like ‘take time out of your busy work schedule to enjoy things that are pleasurable for you (like smashing stuff with your hammer)’.

Rhymes: the scarecrow employment agency. Run by scarecrows, for scarecrows:

(#5) A scarecrow applicant’s field of dreams, balked by the agent

All turning on an ambiguity in the noun field, which has a enormous number of senses. From NOAD:

noun field: 1 [a] an area of open land, especially one planted with crops or pasture, typically bounded by hedges or fences: a wheat field | a field of corn. [b] a piece of land used for a particular purpose, especially an area marked out for a game or sport: a football field. [c] Cricket defensive play or the defensive positions collectively: he is fast in the field and on the bases. [d] a large area of land or water completely covered in a particular substance, especially snow or ice: an ice field. [e] an area rich in a natural product, typically oil or gas: an oil field. [f] (the field) a place where a subject of scientific study or of artistic representation can be observed in its natural location or context. [g] an area on which a battle is fought: a field of battle. [h] archaic a battle: many a bloody field was to be fought.

2 [a] a particular branch of study or sphere of activity or interest: we talked to professionals in various fields. [b] Computing a part of a record, representing an item of data. [c] Linguistics & Psychology a general area of meaning within which individual words make particular distinctions.

3 a space or range within which objects are visible from a particular viewpoint or through a piece of apparatus: the stars drift through this telescope’s field of view. See also field of vision.

4 (usually the field) all the participants in a contest or sport: he destroyed the rest of the field with a devastating injection of speed.

5 [a] an area on a flag with a single background color: fifty white stars on a blue field. [b] Heraldry the surface of an escutcheon or of one of its divisions.

6 Physics [a] the region in which a particular condition prevails, especially one in which a force or influence is effective regardless of the presence or absence of a material medium. [b] the force exerted or potentially exerted in a field: the variation in the strength of the field.

7 Mathematics a system subject to two binary operations analogous to those for the multiplication and addition of real numbers, and having similar commutative and distributive laws.

As a scarecrow, the applicant might easily find a job in a field of corn, but not in the field of law. The scarecrow agency specializes in sense 1a (for which area is a hypernym — this sort of field is a type of area); but in #5, in speaking to the scarecrow applicant, the agent uses sense 2a (for which area is a rough synonym).

Note that the syntax of the two senses is different: field in sense 2a is obligatorily arthrous, not only definite but requiring the definite article: the field of law / the law field (while with the indefinite article, a field of law / a law field refers not to law as a field but to a subfield of law). On the other hand, field in sense 1a is an ordinary common noun, usable in indefinite and definite NPs with a full range of determiners ( a / one / the / this / etc. field of corn / corn field).

Semantically, the field of law (2a) is roughly synonymous with law (as an area of study or work), while the field of corn (1a) has ordinary definite reference, so field in the two uses is not identical in sense, and cannot count  as such for any phenomenon that requires identity of sense (in anaphoric constructions, reduced coordination, or whatever). The following are all anomalous:

I studied the field of law, but not that of corn / the one of corn / one of corn / of corn. The fields of law and corn are both fascinating.

cf. the unproblematic:

I walked through the field of wheat, but not that of corn / the one of corn / one of corn /of corn. The fields of wheat and corn are both fascinating.

All of this arguing that 1a and 2a are in fact distinct (homophonous, and etymologically related) lexical items, not merely two different shadings of a single lexical item.


2 Responses to “Smell the roses in a field”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    Some years ago, when John and I were visiting a rose garden somewhere, he conflated two common cliches by saying something about “waking up and smelling the roses”.

  2. Eleanor Houck Says:

    In the before (covid-19) time, school kids went on field trips. They were confused if I asked them which field they went to.

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