Archive for the ‘Ambiguity’ Category

They don’t get it

February 18, 2017

Short, very common words tend to have a great many senses — more exactly, in such cases there tend to be a great many homophonous lexical items from the same historical source (thanks to semantic shifts and syntactic changes). So, in its main entry for the verb get, NOAD2 has 32 subentries (and then there are lots of idiomatic phrases with get and phrasal verbs with get). And we, um, get things like this scene in a recent One Big Happy:



Ruthie on language patrol

February 8, 2017

Two recent One Big Happy strips in which Ruthie grapples with language and its uses:



Pretty Rico and telephonic conventions. #1 is the more complex strip. The easy part is Ruthie’s misinterpretation of Puerto Rico as pretty Rico — another case where she reinterprets an unfamiliar expression in terms familiar to her. The tricky part is where the caller asks, “Is this a child?”, using demonstrative this on the telephone to refer to the recipient of the call: in the telephonic context (and not generally otherwise), “Is this a child?” conveys ‘Are you a child?’

Ruthie seems not to have picked up this piece of conversational convention, but she has learned a related convention, of identifying oneself on the phone (in the U.S. at least) by the formula This is X (conveying ‘I am X’). Armed with this knowledge, she takes the question Is this X? to be just the interrogative version of This is X, thus asking whether the caller is X: she takes “Is this a child?” to be asking ‘Am I a child?’

So clever. And so wrong.

Breaking news. #2, in contrast, turns on a relatively straightforward ambiguity, in the verb break. Two senses from NOAD2:

[state-change sense] separate or cause to separate into pieces as a result of a blow, shock, or strain

[hot-news sense] (of news or a scandal) suddenly become public [especially in the formula breaking news ‘information that has just now become public’, with breaking as a PRP verb form modifying news]

What Ruthie is announcing is indeed brèaking néws in the hot-news sense, but what she intends to be announcing is bréaking nèws (with the N + N compound breaking news ‘news about breaking’, with state-change break).

Two numerical ambiguities

February 6, 2017

Two recent cases of ambiguities in numerical expressions: one on monetary value, one on identification numbers.


fudge II

February 1, 2017

A bonus to my fudge posting yesterday: an outrageous posting (playing on the ambiguity between the food and the excrement nouns fudge) on the crowdfunding / fund sourcing site Indiego (not, alas, dated, so far as I can tell):

Help Us Put Fudge in Uranus! Join us in a campaign to open the Uranus Fudge Factory and General Store on Historic Route 66: You will be part of creating the most outrageous (and the most fun) Candy Factory and Retail Store in the country.

The site claims to be seeking support both for the factory and store and for the expense of incorporating a town of Uranus MO:


A literally dirty joke, turning on the ambiguity of fudge in combination with a play on the planet name Uranus (accented on the middle syllable) vs. the phrase your anus (your asshole, where the shit comes from).


It’s a miracle!

January 13, 2017

… and a dirty joke. A ¡Toma Guasa! cartoon from October 2015:


No one’s misspelled HALLOWEEN; the O is right there, it’s just that it’s an asshole.



January 4, 2017

(Obviously, sexual content, so not to everyone’s taste.)

On AZBlogX yesterday, in “Johnny Rapid at the jizz ball”:

It started with a device for simulating ejaculation in making porn movies, called a jizz ball (or jizz-ball [or jizzball]) in an episode of (the American) Queer as Fuck (in which the character Emmett becomes an on-line pornstar). That led to jizz ball ‘orgy’, especially a gang scene with one person as focus (a scene I’m familiar with in an all-male context). And specifically to a scene from the 2012 video Jizz Orgy: Winning Ball (from in which Johnny Rapid takes on four members of a soccer team (played by Blaze, Brad Foxx, Leo Forte, and Rafael Alencar). Johnny has a jizz ball!

(with four shots of Johnny Rapid in action).


Surrealists, but especially Jess

December 31, 2016

On Thursday, back to the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford for the successor to the “California: The Art of Water” exhibition (posted on here): “The Conjured Life: The Legacy of Surrealism” (12/21/16 – 4/3/17). A lot of wonderful stuff, covering a wide range of material (artworks in several media, manifestos, poetry, and more) over a long time span, and a nice size (comprehensive but not at all overwhelming). And including one artist I had been dimly aware of but should have investigated more thoroughly long ago, the San Francisco collagist, painter, and comic-book parodist (also gay activist) Jess (Collins) — “the essential San Francisco artist” (according to Harry Parker, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco).


Calvin in chains

December 10, 2016

Today’s Calvin and Hobbes replay:


Calvin gets a chain letter directed right at him.


You can’t judge a story by its title

November 21, 2016

The One Big Happy in today’s comics feed:

The assigned story was “The Princess and the Pea”, but Joe had heard only the title (and a bit of the plot), so /pi/ could have been the letter P, or (bizarrely) the vegetable pea, or (given the mention of mattresses) urine, pee. Joe goes with what he knows, and, having not actually read the story, confabulates a tale of enuresis.


The news for cigars

November 18, 2016

Following up on yesterday’s posting “No cigar”, on a Tom Chitty cartoon with phallic foodstuffs striving to become cigars, two items: You’re no Cigar (Lloyd Bentsen: You’re no Jack Kennedy) and Sometimes a cigar is a lot more than a cigar (apocryphal Sigmund Freud: Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar).