Archive for the ‘Errors’ Category

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).

Cedar Rapids

February 5, 2017

A recent One Big Happy, with Ruthie once again interpreting the unfamiliar (in this case, the place name Cedar Rapids) in terms of the familiar:

Cedar Rapids / see the rapids.

Ruthie’s grandfather has gotten to be an expert at back-tracking from what Ruthie understands to what was actually said.

Meanwhile, Ruthie’s “Yeah, okay” comes very close to “Whatever”.

And venison is from Venus

December 19, 2016

Marsupials are from Mars, according to Ruthie in One Big Happy:

Faced with marsupial, which looks like it has Mars as its first element (and sounds pretty close to that), Ruthie chops out the Mars and comes up with a second element upial. So she’s treating the whole word as a N + N compound, which means that upial is the head N, and if the compound is as simple as possible, it’s subsective: a marsupial is then a kind of upial — a variety from Mars.

Ruthie has then given marsupial the demi-eggcorn treatment, analyzing Mars in it and flying with the possibility that upial is an English noun (with a meaning she doesn’t happen to know).

Correct it, Joe

November 7, 2016

Today’s One Big Happy has Joe making a classic response to his dad’s attempt to get him to “correct” a sentence.


His dad is working from the position that the sentence is in fact incorrect, and incorrect in a specific way, namely grammatically: it contains the grammatical triple-threat ain’t got no. As far as Joe is concerned, there’s nothing wrong with the form of the sentence, so his dad must be asking for a correction of the content. Joe recognizes that his sister Ruthie does in fact have cereal, but thinks that she lacks sense, so he offers that as a correction.

Two issues here. First, the sentence is grammatically ill-formed only in a particular variety of English, formal standard English, while Joe is speaking an informal non-standard (but extremely widespread) variety, in which don’t got no is entirely well-formed. What Joe’s dad is asking him to do is shift from his everyday variety to another variety, one you’re supposed to use in school and some other social contexts.

Second, ordinary people frequently (and children quite regularly) understand requests for correction (and requests for judgments on particular examples) to be about matters of fact, not matters of form. Judging sentences on their form, rather than their content, is something you learn to do in school — a special skill that doesn’t come naturally or easily.


Two cartoons for month’s end

October 31, 2016

.. and Halloween, though, pleasingly, neither has anything to do with All Hallows’ / All Souls’ / All Saints’. A One Big Happy that’s a study in American (and Antipodal) phonology; and a Zippy with a fallen roadside fiberglass hero, the Green Giant of Pahrump NV:




Idiom blends, with wine and roses

October 26, 2016

Yesterday’s Doonesbury, with Lacey and Jeremy in the senior dating scene:

Wonderful idiom blends (also mixed metaphors): march to a different kettle of fish (march to a different drummer + a different kettle of fish), have both sails in the water (have both oars in the water + have the wind in one’s sails), play with a full house of cards (play with a full deck (of cards) + a full house (in poker) + house of cards).


October 1, 2016

Heard in the documentary Bridegroom, a character saying she had to call 911 for an ambliance (rather than ambulance) a number of times during her son’s childhood. The substitution has been reported in child language, as part of a more general shift

C/jul/ > C/li/

(facilitating ease of production) also affecting, for instance, ridiculous (> ridiclious). And it’s moderately common in adult speech (as in Bridegroom), presumably as a holdover from the child form.