Archive for the ‘Formulaic language’ Category

Words at the Java Lanes

June 27, 2022

Today’s Zippy strip is a triple riff on masspop culture — on bowling as recreation, on the Googie style of architecture, and on Polynesian-stye “Tiki” culture (architecture, food and drink, and entertainment) — enlivened by our Pinhead’s fascination with words (and the images they call up), here with: bowl, Java, lane, cocktail, alley, ball. Cocktail, with its combination of sexual associations (plus penumbral associations with mai tais and other Polynesian-associated drinks), gets a panel all to itself, so setting the tone for interpreting the rest:


(#1) As usual, the setting is taken from real life; those are drawings of Java Lanes in Long Beach CA (3800 E. Pacific Coast Highway) — but a Java Lanes from the past, since the place was demolished in 2004, almost 20 years ago, to be turned into condos

The historical setting, first from the bowling point of view, then from the architectural and Tiki-culture point of view:

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Pride feet!

June 12, 2022

So announced Gwendolyn Alden Dean on Facebook yesterday, as she modeled her astonishing new Teva Rainbow Pride platform sandals (black straps, rainbow soles):


(#1) The platforms are 2.5ʺ  in the back, and those stripes are separate laminated layers, not just dye jobs; these particular sandals are “all-gender”; meanwhile, I note that Gwendolyn has definitely shapely feet (something I notice because no one would ever say such a thing about my feet; I’ll spare you the details)

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The compounds of commerce and the comics

June 3, 2022

A little study in N + N compounds in English, their great utility and versatility (they pack a lot of content into two-word expressions), and their consequent massive potential ambiguity (so that divining the intended meaning can require vast amounts of background knowledge and appreciating details of the context in which the compound is used). You can have (great) brevity, or you can have (great) clarity, but you can’t have both at once.

From the world of commerce, the compound dog spot (which many of us will not have encountered before, or will take to be a reference to the coat pattern of Dalmatian dogs). From the comic strips, two compounds that have conventional interpretations but can also be understood in fresh and unconventional ways: from One Big Happy, dancing school; from Bizarro, cowboy.

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The discovery of smoke

May 8, 2022

A Mick Stevens cartoon from the New Yorker of 4/18:


(#1) The giant black cloud of smoke, largely obscuring its discoverer, made me laugh out loud when this issue arrived last month

But I didn’t post about the cartoon because it seemed to have neither a linguistics point nor a gender & sexuality point (nor to engage with other of my passions — music, art, food, plants, animals, mathematics, men’s bodies, shapenote singing, Switzerland, my medical conditions, and so on).

Ah, man of little faith. There is almost always a linguistics point to be found; and, if I’m willing to exercise some ingenuity, a gay point too. And so it is here.

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How do I look?

April 6, 2022

(Yes, this is going to dwell on men’s bodies and man-on-man sex, among other things, much of it in street language, so not appropriate for kids or the sexually modest)

Today’s Daily Jocks ad — headline: KINK PRIDE: IS ‘FETISH’ THE NEW BLACK? [AZ: snowclone alert! snowclone alert!] —  offering their “party-wear poster boy, Jacob, aka DJ Debbie”, as a pinnacle of butch fagginess:


(#1) A fabulous performance that I found at once really hot (in part because of my life history, but also, look at him, he’s fucking cute) and really funny (because he’s toying with (masculine) gender and with (male) dominance of other men, two topics that most guys take very seriously indeed)

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pit beef snow ball girl

March 28, 2022

The Zippy strip from yesterday, 3/27:


(#1) Help wanted at the pit beef restaurant: a female server for their pit beef (the house entrée) and snow balls (the dessert), with the ensuing mantra that afflicts Zippy: PIT BEEF SNOW BALL GIRL (prosodically SW SW S; add a strong fourth beat — a shout YEAH!,  a drum beat, cymbals, whatever — and you can conga to it)

So, the obvious stuff: Zippy’s onomatomania, his attraction to certain words and phrases; pit beef (especially associated with Baltimore); snow balls / snowballs, shaved ice confections especially associated with the Italian communities of Philadelphia and New York. Plus the gender stuff, a girl needed to serve guy-food: grilled meat, especially beef, being at the peak of masculinity in the American food world (with the gender association reinforced by serving it in a bun); not to mention that beef with balls is covertly phallic.

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Zippyphrases 2

March 11, 2022

Some riffing on yesterday’s posting “Catchphrases for sale”, about this Zippy strip:


(#1) Offering fresh phrases — not already in circulation as catchphrases, sayings, proverbs, slogans, famous quotations, well-known names and titles, and the like — chosen at random

Zippy’s fresh phrases sound like catchphrases — roughly, free-standing expressions that you recognize as coming from a stock of quotations widely known in your culture, which then (if you wish) can be conventionally used to make some point — but are in fact novel. The things called catchphrases are then exquisitely embedded in particular cultures (note: “widely known in your culture” and also “can be conventionally used”).

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Catchphrases for sale

March 10, 2022

(I’m struggling with medical issues and sleeping away much of the day, so this posting will serve as a kind of intro to a host of related topics having to do with formulaic expressions. Bear with me.)

Yesterday’s Zippy strip has our Pinhead (accompanied by Claude) selling fresh catchphrases from a van:


(#1) Zippy’s Guaranteed Random Phrases — meaning, in this case, fresh phrases (not already in circulation as catchphrases, sayings, proverbs, slogans, famous quotations, well-known names and titles, and the like) chosen at random; and not, say, strings of (in some sense) randomly chosen words, like can building of lease my out if I zombies get legally my bought (the 13 words of Zippy’s fresh catchphrase in random order) or level righteous quicksand join sedate nine songs murky promise arrange blind man voice (13 content words selected at random from the English vocabulary)

But in the air we can sniff the sense ‘(informalodd, unusual, or unexpected’ (NOADof the adjective random. So we can wonder about expressions like see how they snide and semolina pilchard (from the Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus”; or Burnt Weeny Sandwich and Weasels Ripped My Flesh (Frank Zappa album titles from 1970); or runcible spoon (Edward Lear nonsense verse) and slithy toves (Lewis Carroll nonsense verse); or portmanteau jam and Jelly Roll Morton’s saltwater Taffy was a Welshman (a POP chain / portmanteau jam from my 1/31/22 posting “The portmanteau truck”).

Meanwhile, Claude asks, “How do you make money out of stringin’ a few unrelated words together?”

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Paisley weather

November 29, 2021

Today’s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro, with weather forecasting in action:


(If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 3 in this strip — see this Page.)

Ah, a bit of word play: a pun on pattern.

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Cooking with gas: a guest posting

November 21, 2021

Grant Barrett (of the Barnette-Barrett radio show A Way with Words — and a real lexicographer, one of the lexicographers I sometimes hang out with, even though I’m not of that tribe) tried to post this as a comment on my posting yesterday, “Now we’re cooking with carrots”, but it appears to have been indigestible to WordPress, so I’m publishing it here as a guest posting. Remember: what follows below the line is Grant, all Grant, not me (except for some formatting).


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