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.
Archive for the ‘Errors’ Category
(Only a little about language — but one in a series on movies and tv and on race and ethnicity.)
Watching an NCIS re-run recently, I reflected, not for the first time, on the actor Michael Nouri in the role of Eli David, director of Israeli Mossad, thinking, “Wait! Isn’t Nouri Lebanese?” So, it turns out, he is, though his Wikipedia page and his own website don’t mention this, providing only minimal personal information about the man (his birthdate and place), concentrating otherwise entirely on his acting career.
In any case, another chapter in the great story of Ethnic Versatility: one actor of Mediterranean ancestry (or looking like such a person, as many Latins do, or simply having a dark complexion) can play the role of any other. Lebanese-American? Hey, you’ll be fine as an Israeli Jew, with some dialect coaching. You already look the part.
The 3/13 One Big Happy, recently in my cartoon feed:
Ruthie and Joe are both mishearing parts of the Lord’s Prayer (in one of its many variants). Ruthie, line 1: “Our Father, who art in heaven”. Joe, line 2: “Hallowed be His name”. This is a highly formulaic text, in a strange variety of English, most often heard recited by groups of people mumbling out of synch with one other. The text is odd, and hard to make out: a perfect breeding place for mishearings.
About as good as texts sung to music. Songs often have remarkable words — poetic, allusive, dialectal, archaic, idiosyncratic, whatever — and singing itself and musical accompaniment deform and conceal wording. Hence classic mondegreens. Rote recitation of texts nurtures something very similar to mondegreens (often classed with them).
A One Big Happy that appeared in my feed yesterday, though it’s dated 3/2:
I’m enormously fond of Ruthie’s attempts to find meaning in expressions that were unfamiliar to her when she first (mis)heard them, as here. She’d heard “read ’em and weep” used at a triumphant moment in playing poker, and clearly interpreted the beginning as the name Rita, but she isn’t entirely sure what the rest was, though she makes a try at M. Weep. (I think Rita M. Weep would be a fine character to weave a fantasy around. Maybe she’s the famous “lovely Rita, meter maid”.)
I note that the kids have picked up a good bit of poker talk. Trip jacks for “three jacks” is especially nice.
Yesterday’s Rhymes With Orange::
Two things here. One, the fact that English has both riffle through and rifle through, with different histories, but with very similar pronunciations (riffle with /ɪ/, rifle with /aj/) and very similar meanings. But both endure. In the case of the cartoon, I would have said riffle, but it all turns on the starling’s intentions in going through that underwear drawer.
And two, how we are to understand invasive. And that takes us into a great morass of uses for this word and for the word alien, the starling being an alien species in North America, in the technical sense that it is not a species native to the continent, but was introduced from abroad.
Today’s One Big Happy, in which Ruthie mishears a phrase by dividing it into words not in the intended way:
grave event > gravy vent. It’s possible to distinguish the two in speech, but in ordinary connected speech, they’re homophonous. Of course, gravy vent doesn’t make much sense, but then that’s true of many other mishearings as well.
Word division mishearings are not uncommon, and word division is sometimes also exploited in jokes.
Yesterday’s Rhymes With Orange, with a word exchange (also known as word reversal, word metathesis, and word-level spoonerism):
Here’s where the bodies are buried
–> Here’s where the berries are bodied
I’m not at all clear about the story unfolding here, but formally we’ve got a word exchange, occurring (in the world of this strip) as some kind of mistake; such things are reasonably common in real life, and so are word exchanges as a form of language play.
From Kim Darnell, a link to a Meriwether of Montana page offering (for sale) “Hilarious Mistaken Lyrics Stainless Steel Glasses”: pints with mondegreens on them. One example:
(Hey, you might be a dick, but at least you practice safe sex.)
The original: addicted to love.
This is the one mondegreen in the set with sexual vocabulary in the mishearing. Three others are food-related; go figure.
Back on December 27th, Doug Harris sent me this example (crucial bit boldfaced), from that day’s Daily Beast, in the article “U.S. Health Care Is Failing My Patients: From chronic conditions to mental health, our system is failing patients and doctors alike” by Farah Khan:
(1) Substance abuse, easily one of the most widespread mental health problems in this country, has yet to be adequately addressed by the current health care system. Rehab services are far and few between for patients who are addicted to drugs and alcohol.
Formally, this looks like what’s known in the speech errors business as a word reversal (Vicky Fromkin’s preferred term), word exchange (my preferred term), word metathesis, or (more colorfully) word-level spoonerism: the conventional form of the boldfaced expression is few and far between. There’s no question that such reversals or exchanges do occur as inadvertent speech errors, but there are reasons for thinking that (1) is not in fact an inadvertent error, but is more like a classical malapropism, in which the speaker or hearer produces exactly what they intended, but their production doesn’t accord with the practices of the larger community. And there’s a third possibility: that the practices of the larger community have changed to such an extent that it can no longer be claimed that (1) is clearly not in accord with them.