The Zits Halloween substance massification comic

For the pre-Halloween weekend, today’s Zits comic strip shows Jeremy (driving his car) and his buddy Pierce on a holiday errand for Jeremy’s mother; there is some dispute as to exactly how Connie Duncan (J’s mother) framed her instructions:

Did she ask for lots of pumpkins — using the PL[ural] C[ount] noun pumpkins — or for lots of pumpkin — using the (SG) M[ass] noun pumpkin ‘expanse of pumpkin substance’ (a special-use M counterpart of the C noun pumpkin)?

I have to say that I was not expecting to find an arcane C>M conversion — of the sort I’ve labeled substance massification — as the hinge in a Zits joke, but there it is, a wonderful holiday present for the ordinary working linguist. It certainly warmed my morning (which is now autumnally cold; as of yesterday I’m back in flannel shirts).

C > M conversions. There is a Page on this blog on C and M, where you can find links to a series of my papers on the nature of the morphosyntactic categories C and M, on the assignment of nouns to one or the other (or, on occasion, both) of these categories (yes, on the basic of semantics — things are C, stuff is M — but on other principles as well) and on special-use conversions from one of these categories to the other (in both directions). Of direct relevance to the Zits Halloween present is my 10/27/08 Language Log posting “Zero relationships”, which has a section cataloguing C>M  conversions:

C>M: the universal grinder. A C noun has a M use to denote a thing or things transformed (actually or imaginatively) into stuff (“The child took the flower and smashed it into pulp, and soon the table was covered with tulip”)

C>M: expanse massification. A C noun has a M use to denote an assemblage of things presenting themselves en masse (“We rounded a corner in the Dutch countryside and were confronted with a huge expanse of tulip”)

C>M: substance massification. A C noun denoting an individual has a M use to denote a generic substance or totality, usually in construction with a quantity determiner (“That’s a lot of horse”, “That’s more elephant than we can handle”)

C>M: meat conversion. A C noun denoting a creature has a M use to denote the edible flesh of that creature — “There’s not much rat in it!” (“We had chicken / lamb / eel for dinner”)

C>M: sex-part conversion. A C noun denoting a sexual [body]part has a M use denoting this part as a generalized object of lust (“I’m looking for some cunt / pussy / cock / dick / ass”)

C>M: give (great / good) N [for a speech-event N]. For instance: “I can still give great lecture”; “You give great interview!”; “He can really give rant” [an idiom family you might label laudatory massification; but some speakers can use the negative version — “He gives terrible / lukewarm lecture / interview” — so I would now refer to this idiom family as evaluative massification]

Yes, substance massification in the comic strips! How great is that?! (the linguist wrote, using an interrobang to convey that it is in fact hot stuff)


One Response to “The Zits Halloween substance massification comic”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    Terminological addendum. With one exception, the terms for the various C>M conversions in this posting are of my own devising (though others might have coined them independently). The notable exception is universal grinder, which is a long-familiar term from the semantics literature. Wikipedia says:

    The term “universal grinder” was first used in print by F. Jeffry Pelletier in 1975, after a personal suggestion by David Lewis.

    The proviso “in print” is crucial (and Wikipedia is probably correct in this print dating), since the term (a cute metaphor) was no doubt coined many times in the decades before Jeff Pelletier used it in print — coined and spread by word of mouth (Lise Menn has written me to say that she heard it first in the 1960s).

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