Archive for the ‘Ambiguity’ Category

Double negatives: the big picture

January 19, 2023

In yesterday’s installment, the two kids of the Lombard family in the comic strip One Big Happy, Ruthie and Joe, advance a devious — and transparently malicious — idea about the pragmatics of conversation. As a slogan,

Two nasties make a nice.

That is, saying two nasty things about someone counts as saying a nice thing about them, yuk yuk. We-e-ell, the kids maintain, with impish speciousness, that that’s just a special case of the general principle that

Two negatives make a positive.

First thing: such a slogan is a highly abbreviated formula in ordinary language of some significant technical principle, the virtue of the slogan being that it is striking and memorable; it’s an aide-memoire. But it’s just a label, and labels are not definitions.

Second thing: the kids’ version exploits a massive ambiguity in the adjectives negative / positive, and a corresponding ambiguity in the verb make. To which I now turn.

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In the realm of the footstools

December 1, 2022

🐇 🐇 🐇 the rabbits of December take us to the hidden spot in the tropical jungle where ottomans rule among the palm trees, as depicted in this John McPherson Close to Home cartoon of 2/14/15:


(#1) A pun on Ottoman Empire, the Turkish realm, and ottoman, a kind of footstool

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Dotty Zippy

November 16, 2022

The Zippy strip of 9/10, in which our Pinhead, anticipating little balls of flash-frozen ice cream, embraces dot dot dot in two ways at once:


(#1) Ellipsis dots meet Dippin’ Dots at the carnival

Two very different uses of NOAD‘s noun dot-1 ‘a small round mark or spot’ (dot-2 is an archaic noun referring to a dowry):

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The news for wieners

September 26, 2022

(Phallic preoccupations abound in this posting, sometimes in street language — I mean, look at the title above —  so some readers may want to skip over it)

Passed on by a friend on Facebook yesterday, this German grocery-store snapshot plus a joking double-entendre intro in English (together making what appears to be a a fast-spreading meme):


(#1) Hähnchenschnitten Wiener Art ‘Viennese-style chicken cutlets’ from the (German) Vossko company, the name of the product including the German phrase Wiener Art ‘Viennese-style’ — that is, prepared like Wiener SchnitzelWienerschnitzel); meanwhile, the English-language intro alludes to wiener art, in the sense ‘penis art’, referring to artworks in which penises are significant elements (or, in an hugely extended sense, to any artworks in which human penises are visible) — the label wiener art involving the (mildly racy) AmE sexual slang term wiener ‘penis’

German Wiener Art ‘Viennese-style’ (a) leads to English Wiener art ‘Viennese art’ (b) and then to four AmE slang uses of wiener art: (c) ‘sausage / frankfurter art’; (d) ‘dachshund art’; (e) ‘penis art’; (f) ‘weenie art’. All will be illustrated below.

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The refuse joke

September 25, 2022

Passed on, back on 7/21, by a friend on Facebook, a dumpster texty (of murky origin) with a (N vs. V) pun that works in spelling (REFUSE) but not in pronunciation —

N /ˈrefˌjus/   vs.  V /rəˈfjuz/

— plus, as commentary, Dylan Thomas expanding on the improbable (not to mention grotesque) V reading of the text (as opposed to the obviously intended N one). Which will then take us to Harry Diboula’s “Je refuse”, a French zouk song of lost love, which ended up in romantic Paris from the Kingdom of Kongo by way of the French Caribbean.


(#1) Like all right-minded people, I reject the idea that I — or, more precisely, my bodily remains — should be stored in black plastic sacks and placed in dumpsters. Ick. Je refuse!

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Great age

September 8, 2022

A note from my sister-in-law Virginia Transue (my (late) man Jacques’s (late) older brother Bill’s wife — Virginia and I are the survivors) on Facebook yesterday, in the matter of my 9/6 birthday, this year my 82nd:

VT: Funny how every single year you are 5 weeks ahead of me [her birthday is 10/12]. What a great age we have both reached.

AZ > VT: Yes, always those five weeks. What a great age we have both reached: I’d like to read that as having great ‘of ability, quality, or eminence considerably above the normal or average’ — at an apogee — but you might well just have meant ‘of an extent, amount, or intensity considerably above the normal or average’ — exceptionally large. Well, whatever, somehow we’ve gotten here.

A little lexicography, some personal history involving my first male lover (also a survivor), and it will end with Elaine Stritch singing.

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Three greetings for 9/6/22

September 6, 2022

For Woo(l)ly Mammoth’s #82: a fresh greeting formula, a morning hummer, and a fairy woodland bouquet. To which I’m adding some carrot cake and coffee ice cream: it’s not only my birthday, it’s also National Coffee Ice Cream Day, which I’m honoring all aslant (with coffee gelato), as I do so many things. To alter a family saying (If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly): If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing eccentrically (for other occasions: If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing outrageously).

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The character of a creature

September 5, 2022

… as explored in the playful animal artwork of photographer Yago Partal, available for inspection in his 2017 book Zoo Portraits and for sale from his on-line site. The book cover, which shows a panda character holding a portrait of a koala character:


(#1) The portraits are meant to bring out characteristic features of a creature — not, however, as abstractions, but as embodiments in highly individual animal personages, with their own personal names: Bao the giant panda, Cooper the koala

Yes, I’m playing with two senses of character. From NOAD:

noun character: 1 the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual: running away was not in keeping with her character. … 2 a person [AZ: perhaps, better a personage / a figure / an individual] in a novel, play, or movie: the author’s compassionate identification with his characters.

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Breaking through the wall

August 30, 2022

Today’s Piccolo / Price Rhymes With Orange strip is a play on specific American tv commercials (with some gentle old-age mockery folded in), so will be baffling to any reader who doesn’t recognize the Kool-Aid Man mascot or know the wall-breaking “Oh Yeah!” tv ads featuring KAM:


(#1) There is, however, a hint to the reader in the “So not kool” (with kool instead of cool) in the title panel; note also the generational disparity reinforced by the GenX so there (see my 11/14/11 posting “GenX so“)

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Three peanuts meet in a bar

August 18, 2022

Today’s Wayno / Piraro Bizarro, requiring a boatload of popcultural knowledge to understand:


(#1) The easy part: these are three anthropomorphic peanuts, M, M, F from left to right, and they are sitting at a bar, with drinks in front of them (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 3 in this strip — see this Page.)

Somehow the meeting of these three exemplifies the N1 + N2 compound N wingnut / wing-nut / wing nut (which has 4 senses in NOAD, plus a bunch more you can imagine). But how?

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