Archive for the ‘Errors’ Category

Today’s idiom blend

July 13, 2017

An exchange reported on Facebook this morning, by one of the participants, EF:

JK: It’s a matter of which came first, the horse or the egg.
EF: [stares at him] Do you realize what you just said?
JK: [long silence] This is going to end up in a Facebook post, isn’t it?
EF: Yes. Yes it is.

Meanwhile, don’t put the cart before the chicken.


Typo time

June 23, 2017

In writing yesterday’s posting on MLB Pride logos, I intended to type the name Aric Olnes, but anticipated the S at the end of Olnes in typing Aric, and so typed

Aris Olnes

A very common sort of typo, in this case creating the name of a hermaphoditic deity of war,

Aris = Ares (Greek god of war) + Eris (Greek goddess of discord)


Prepositions matter

May 22, 2017

Today’s Zits:

V + P~Ø (V with oblique object, marked by a P, vs. a direct object, with no P) was the topic of my 2009 Stanford SemFest paper; detailed handout here.


Ruthie faces the unfamiliar, again

May 19, 2017

The One Big Happy in my comics feed today:

Rockefellers / rocky fellows. How was Ruthie to know her grandmother was using a proper name? And fellers is a familiar dialect variant for fellows – and an old one (Americans have been labeling feller an “impropriety” or “provincialism”, with an “excrescent” r, since at least 1795, according to DARE).

Ruthie undoubtedly also didn’t know that the Rockefeller family has long been seen as the richest family in the world, hence as the, um, gold standard of wealth. Which gives We’re no / not Rockefellers as an idiom meaning, roughly, ‘We’re not rich’.


Annals of blending: a raucus

May 3, 2017

From Max Vasilatos on Facebook today:

Wow how psyched am I to have new neighbors who’ve been causing a raucus for the past week.

I noted the noun raucus and speculated that it was some combination of the adjective raucous and the noun ruckus. Turns out it was an inadvertent blend, a slip of the fingers.


Ruthie in the sky with O’Ryan

April 29, 2017

Just a few days ago I was wondering how Calvin Trillin was doing — he’s in my age cohort, five years older than me, so I have a certain fellow feeling — and then Andy Sleeper pointed me to a Shouts and Murmurs piece of his in the most recent (May 1st) New Yorker: “The Irish Constellation: Until about five years ago, I was under the impression that Orion was spelled O’Ryan”. Andy was reminded of Ruthie from One Big Happy, who does her best to turn the unfamiliar into something she recognizes.

But good to see Trillin doing what he does so well.


Ruthie and Joe work with what they know

April 22, 2017

Two recent One Big Happy strips show Ruthie and Joe coping as best they can with unfamiliar words: thoroughfare and boycott:




Privative vocabulary in Ruthish

April 14, 2017

A One Big Happy from last month, in which Ruthie explores hitherto-unrecognized privative vocabulary in English:

Ruthie sees not– as a privative prefix in English, appearing in the cheese name mozzarella (which she hears as not-zarella; who know exactly what zarella means, but then lots of words have mysterious parts in them, so why not this one?). Once Ruthie’s dad sees through the misunderstanding, he goes on to mischievously offer another privative-not– word: not-zoball, which others think of as matzo ball (try not to worry about the alternative English spellings matzo, matzoh, matza, matzah). An appropriate remark for the season, since we’re now in the middle of Passover, the time of (among other things) unleavened bread, in the form of matsos and matso meal.


Objects in compounds

February 22, 2017

A recent One Big Happy:

Ruthie has heard her father use the N + N compound student loan but doesn’t know the conventional meaning of the compound (in which the first N functions as Indirect Object: ‘a loan (of money) to a student’), so she (erroneously) gets another possible reading for student loan (in which the first N functions as Direct Object: ‘a loan of a student (to someone)’.


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).