Archive for the ‘Ambiguity’ Category

the Ving N

August 9, 2016

Today’s Mother Goose and Grimm, with language play in honor of the Olympics:

V-PRP + N can be understood in several ways, sometimes subtly different, but potentially distinguished by accent pattern and often associated with ambiguities in the V. As with the opening ceremony here, with (roughly) the Olympic Interpretation ‘ceremony in which an event opens, that is, begins’ (with primary accent on ceremony) vs. the Can Interpretation ‘ceremony in which the top of something is removed to get at its contents’ (with primary accent on opening).
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Fixed expressions

August 7, 2016

Two recent cartoons turning on fixed expressions, compounds in fact: a Rhymes With Orange and a One Big Happy:

(#1)

(#2)

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Word play for 7-11

July 11, 2016

Three cartoons today (July 7th, or 7/11 in American usage; this will be important): a perfect pun (from Rhymes With Orange), using an ambiguity in local; a more distant pun (from Mother Goose and Grimm), linguistically and visually combining Bonnie and Clyde with Blondie ad Dagwood; and a Scott Hilburn (from The Argyle Sweater today) using the 50th anniversary of the Slurpee to float an almost-perfect pun
perches / purchase
(/z/ vs. /s/).

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Celebrations

July 7, 2016

The Daily Jocks ad for the 4th, featuring their very own patriotic underwear, worn by a decidely worried-looking model (with my caption):

Hank was always
Up for the
Hot-dog eating
Contest, but he was
Anxious about exploding
Fireworks in his pants

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Word times: two Ruthies, three Psychs

June 24, 2016

Annals of lexical confusions and innovations. Two word problems from Ruthie in the cartoon One Big Happy (two recent strips), a word confusion and two innovations from the tv show Psych.

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Morning spunk: same word, different word

May 27, 2016

In a sense, a re-play of an earlier posting, “spunk” of 3/16/11, which was about spunk ‘spirit, mettle, courage, pluck’ vs. spunk ‘semen, seminal fluid’. Now spunk appeared as a morning name for me a few days ago, along with the ‘pluck’ context of the interview between Mary Richards (played by Mary Tyler Moore) and Lou Grant (played by Ed Asner) in the first episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show: Grant: “You’ve got spunk … I hate spunk.”

That led me to NOAD2, where I found a single noun entry with three subentries:

1 informal courage and determination.
2 tinder; touchwood.
3 Brit. vulgar slang semen.

(Note: seminal spunk might be more common in BrE than AmE, but it is scarcely unknown in AmE, as a search will readily confirm.)

Speaking informally, this dictionary presents these three as a single word with three different uses (all of which ae available in my speech), while I would have thought these were three different words which just happened to be identical in spelling and pronunciation. What could possibly unite them?

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Ambiguity and vagueness

May 25, 2016

… in the comics. Specifically in today’s revival of a Calvin and Hobbes strip:

Just what sort of description is called for? It depends on the context.

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How long?

May 19, 2016

(The echo in the title is of the shapenote hymn traditionally sung to the tune NORTHFIELD, words by Isaac Watts, with the first line,”How long, dear Savior, O how long”.  More on the hymn below; here it’s enough to point out that the hymn is not really relevant to the cartoon in this posting, beyond the fact that its first line begins with an instance of degree how (which figures significantly in the cartoon).

The One Big Happy cartoon for today, featuring Ruthie and her brother Joe:

The subordinate clause is two-ways ambiguous, with two constituent structures and, in synch with these, two different adverbs how. For  (1) how long babies:

(1a)  [ how long ] + [ babies ]  (with degree how)
VERSUS
(1b)  [ how ]  + [ long babies ]  (with manner how)

Structural ambiguity (ambiguity in phrase structure aka constituent structure) without lexical ambiguity, and lexical ambiguity (ambiguity as to the lexical items involved in an example — specifically, different items how) without structural ambiguity are, of course, both well attested, but here they occur together.

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Monday language comics

May 16, 2016

Two Monday comics on linguistic topics: a Calvin and Hobbes with an unfortunate ambiguity (pitch the tent), and a Zits with a portmanteau for a combo sport (dodgebowl):

(#1)

(#2)

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binge-bingeing

May 7, 2016

The wonderful creation of Pierce in Zits:

binge-bingeing is the PRP form of a verb to binge-binge, which is an instance of one or the other of two different compound V constructions of the form to N + V, whose semantic and pragmatic differences are small enough to ignore here.

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