Archive for the ‘Expressive language’ Category

oo-(w)ee!

April 29, 2016

/ˌuˈ(w)i/, used as an exclamation. OED3 (Sept. 2013):

N.Amer. colloq. Expressing astonishment, admiration, dismay, etc. [first cite 1910]

(No one seems to have looked at actual usage in any detail — a tough task for colloquial expressions in general, but especially tough for exclamations.)

Why do I mention it? Because of my posting “sg /u/, pl /i/” a couple days ago — with sg / pl pairs involving these vowels, but also nonoccurring pairs like noose / neese. And then, in the April 2016 Funny Times, this Mark Stivers cartoon starting with the sg / pl pairs tooth / teeth and foot / feet, and then immediately branching off into silly play with pairs like toon / teen:

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nookie

April 13, 2016

(On sexual vocabulary and its uses, but not in street language.)

Back a few days, in my sexy-playful posting “Magnitude boys” (underwear with captions), the Rocky character calls out (to two other men), “Move over boys, Daddy needs nookie!” What he wants is sexual intercourse, but he’s saying this playfully. He could have used much earthier and more direct phrasing (and he could also have been more specific about what role he wanted to take in intercourse), but he chose instead to use the lighthearted, even sweet, word nookie (variant spellings nooky, nookey, nookee).

Three things about the word: its range of meanings (narrowly focused on sexual matters); its etymology (disputed and unclear, but culturally fascinating); and its penumbra of associations, which makes it sound “cute”, so much so that it can be used (albeit still with sexual overtones) in the name of an Australian brand of clothing for hip young women, Nookie Nation (with its cheeky mascot, the Nookie Girl).

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Tasty names 2

August 30, 2013

Follow-up to the Häagen-Dazs gelato campaign here, with its tasty names: a story in Stanford Magazine of July/August about research by my colleague Dan Jurafsky: “Why Ice Cream Sounds Fat and Crackers Sound Skinny: Words carry weight. A linguist explains”. The brief version:

… front vowels are used in words for small, thin, light things, and back vowels in words for big, fat, heavy things

… Since ice cream is a product whose whole purpose is to be rich, creamy and heavy, it is not surprising that people seem to prefer ice creams that are named with back vowels.

… In a study for an upcoming book based on my freshman seminar The Language of Food, I checked to see whether commercial ice creams (like Häagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s) make use of this association by using more back vowels in their names, and conversely whether thin, light foods like crackers would have more front vowels. I found more back vowels in ice cream names — Rocky Road, Jamoca Almond Fudge, Chocolate, Caramel, Cookie Dough, Coconut — and more front vowels in cracker names: Cheese Nips, Cheez-It, Wheat Thins, Pretzel thins, Ritz, Krispy, Triscuit, Chicken in a Biskit, Ritz bits.

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Language evolution, cartoon summary

June 21, 2013

Today’s Bizarro:

The Pooh-Pooh theory of language evolution.

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smartass

May 12, 2013

An eCard:

Well, smartass isn’t directly a compound of the adjective smart ‘impertinent’ and the noun ass; instead, -ass serves here as an expressive extension of smart (as in sweet-ass ‘really sweet, big-ass ‘really big’, dumb-ass ‘really dumb’, etc.) — note He’s always asking smart-ass / dumb-ass questions — and the extended adjective was then nouned, giving an alternative to smart aleck, smartypants, and in fact the noun smarty.

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Exclamatory -S?

May 26, 2011

Possible addition to the cases of “extra -S” listed in this earlier posting: the -S on exclamations like yipes, yikes, gee whillikers, and possibly some others.

The /z/ in zounds represents a historical plural (in wounds), though only students of language appreciate that these days.

The /s/ in cripes probably reflects that segment in Christ, but again that might not be appreciated by people who use the expression.

Then there’s the final element of the testicular exclamations balls, bollocks, and nuts: a plural marker, historically, but why did these forms get chosen for this purpose?

Further nominations are welcomed.