Archive for the ‘Blends’ Category

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).

The miracle of the penises

October 4, 2013

In the NYT on the 2nd, in “To Venezuelans, Heir of Chávez Is a Poor Copy” by William Neuman, this anecdote:

In one of his most infamous verbal flubs, in August, [Venezuelan president Nicolás] Maduro sought to make a reference to the biblical story of Jesus’ multiplying the loaves and fishes — only to have it come out of his mouth as “the multiplication of the penises.” Mr. Maduro apparently conflated “peces” (fish) and “panes” (loaves) to produce “penes” (penises). He quickly apologized and corrected himself, but the damage was done.

“A person who doesn’t know how to speak will never know how to run a country,” said Jorge Flores, 30, a messenger at a government-run hospital, who voted for Mr. Maduro but now bitterly regrets doing so.

A perfectly ordinary inadvertent blend, but one with an especially laughable result.

Peter and Paul

March 5, 2013

Bartender R at 3 Seasons in Palo Alto, on February 23rd:

That would be robbing Peter to Paul Mary.

A complex error, in which one fixed expression, the proper name Peter, Paul, and Mary, interferes with the production of another sort of fixed expression, the idiom to rob Peter to pay Paul. The two expressions share the parts Peter and Paul (in that order), so R’s error is an inadvertent blend of the two.


Brief mention: a racy sandwich blend

November 27, 2012

Michael Krasny, on KQED’s news and public affairs program Forum this morning, interviewed SFSU philosophy professor Jacob Needleman about his recent book “An Unknown World”. Krasny set the stage by summarizing Needleman’s work and his credentials. Along the way, we got Krasny saying:

He’s also genital … general editor of the Penguin Metaphysical Library.

I don’t see anything in the context that would have set this off — but it’s a nice example of an inadvertent sandwich blend, with a piece of one contributor sandwiched in between pieces of the other.


Brief mention: toolbook

November 7, 2012

An NBC news analyst, reporting on the U.S. Presidential election last night:

We need to look at our toolbook — I mean our toolbox, our playbook…

A blend of two (somewhat) idiomatic compounds, conveniently identified for us in the speaker’s own correction.

Note that the contributors to the blend are very similar in structure: both are N + N compounds, both Ns are monosyllables, and box and book are already very similar phonologically. General principle:

The greater the degree of morphological and phonological similarity, the more likely semantically similar items are to interfere with one another in blends.

Related blends: pitchfork from pitch pipe + tuning fork (from a musician); rocket surgery from rocket science + brain surgery (dismissively, in contexts like It’s not ___); jerry-rigged from jerry-built + jury-rigged; heart-wrenching from heart-breaking + gut-wrenching; Achilles’ tooth from Achilles’ heel + sweet tooth.

And note that toolbook also exists as a deliberate portmanteau, presumably of toolbox and handbook:

ToolBook is a Microsoft Windows programming environment, released in 1990 by Asymetrix Corporation (later known as click2learn and SumTotal Systems). In that day ToolBook was a competitor to Visual Basic as a programming environment. Over the years ToolBook has been enhanced to allow for the creation of web-based (HTML) content as well. (link)


razor tight

October 29, 2012

Yesterday on ADS-L, Gerald Cohen noted:

Today on “Meet the Press” David Gregory spoke of the polling in Ohio, with Obama and Romney each at 49 percent. And he described it as “razor tight”.  This is a blend in regard to the margin: “extremely tight” +  “razor thin”.

Now, Cohen is a scholar of syntactic blends, notably in his 1987 book, Syntactic Blends in English Parole, a substantial compendium of real-life examples, almost all of them inadvertent and quite plausibly resulting from a conflict in language production in which two contributors compete for a slot in planning, giving a hybrid expression with the first part of one contributor and the second part of the other (We will discuss this at some detail, combining …in some detail and …at some length); any particular example will likely be very rare, and the person who produced it will usually recognize the expression as not what they intended.

In addition, given a particular blend, it’s usually easy to see, in context, two (or at least a very few) specific candidates for each of the two contributors

But razor tight isn’t like this at all. It’s a horse of a very different color.


Another round of repropriation

October 27, 2012

In the last installment, we looked at an example of a verb repropriate intended to convey ‘reproduce, procreate’ — an error I suggested was an approximation to reproduce, probably blended with portions of other verbs. On ADS-L, Joel Berson proposed (not entirely seriously) a simple blend of reproduce and propagate — not a bad idea, but imperfect syntactically and phonologically. Garson O’Toole offered the image of a stew [amendment 10/28: Garson reminds me that Larry Horn used the image first, and that Garson picked it up from him], with ingredients from several different sources. And then, in a comment from Éamonn McManus:

“Make up your mind that you will say both words, but leave it unsettled which you will say first.” It seems to me that squishing together reproduce and procreate would be enough, but We May Never Know.

So: just two contributors, but with their parts combined in complex ways, more complex than the bulk of blends. This turns out to be a very attractive idea.



October 25, 2012

Jon Lighter reported on ADS-L on the 22nd that:

A fellow opposed to gay marriage argued in All Things Considered a few minutes back that if you’re married to somebody of the same sex, “How can you repropriate?”

Well, it hadn’t been a good day for me, and as sometimes happens with these wrong-word examples, I couldn’t figure out what the speaker was aiming (unsuccessfully) at. I was thrown into a mild tip-of-the-tongue (TOT) state, came up with two possibilities that I knew were wrong (because they didn’t fit the context) — the verbs (re)appropriate and reciprocate — and appealed to the ADS-Lers for help.


Brief mention: an inadvertent blend

September 7, 2012

From a discussion yesterday with Elizabeth Traugott and Melissa Carvell (about linguistics in the comics), Elizabeth saying:

It’s a cycular process

and then pausing in confusion, and correcting cycular to cyclical. (And I of course took notes on the event.)

Cycular is an inadvertent blend, a combination of cyclical and circular, which were in competition with one another as Elizabeth was framing her sentence. The competition was especially acute because the alternatives are so similar to one another phonologically.

A couple more word blends in conversation from the past few years:

Jackstone Merlot (Jackson + Blackstone) (AMZ, 1/30/08)

It’s ledged in there. (lodged + wedged) (Ned Deily, 9/3/09)

In both, the phonological similarity of the competitors facilitates the error.


Calling resumptive pronouns

June 21, 2012

From Chris Waigl yesterday, a sentence from an article on the consequences of flooding at the Lake Superior Zoo in Duluth MN:

[All but one of the animals in the barnyard exhibit — sheep, lambs, goats and the donkey — died in the flooding.] The zoo also lost a snowy owl and a turkey vulture and possibly a raven, which zoo officials can’t determine whether died or escaped.

Here we have relativization “from inside” a subordinate clause (in whether), yielding an “island violation”:

… which zoo officials can’t determine [ whether ___ died or escaped ]

Chris found this straightforwardly unacceptable, and I agree. But we can wonder how the writer ended up with this relative clause, especially when such island violations are usually rescued through the use of a resumptive pronoun:

… which zoo officials can’t determine [ whether they died or escaped ]

This strategy results in a semi-grammatical (but easily processed) clause, which I’ve calledResIsland (for Resumptive – Island) gapless relative. Examples are easy to find — so easy that I don’t collect all the ones that come past me.

So why go with a “zero subject” clause?