Archive for the ‘Formulaic language’ Category

The elephant and plum

April 9, 2021

Not Frog and Peach, but Elephant and Plum, in a kid joke as told by Ruthie in the One Big Happy strip from 2/22 (in my comics feed on 3/21):

(#1)

Four things: kid jokes, of which the Elephant and Plum variant above is a particular clever example; the saying about elephants on which it depends; elephant jokes, of which the joke above is not the classic Elephant and Plum exemplar; and the ambiguity of “When did you laugh at it?”, which turns on the defining property of deictic elements like the interrogative when.

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Pig mistake

March 20, 2021

Headline in a brief box story (on Price controls in the Philippines) in The Economist of 3/6/21 (p. 35). An obvious piece of word play: the story is about a big mistake on pigs.

In this brief story (five paragraphs plus a captioned picture), there are five bits of language play: two imperfect puns (the title Pig mistake and the caption The sow must go on, an imperfect pun based on spelling — the show must go on — rather than pronunciation); plus three allusions to formulaic language:

— in the subhead (A) ham-fisted (decree is trampled by market forces)

— in (it will be some time before) those little piggies get to market

— in (If pork adobo … is to remain the national dish, the taxman will need to) go the whole hog

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Treading down the thorny path

March 16, 2021

Two evergreen topics in grammar and usage: so-called “split infinitives”, where some usage critics have insisted that they must always be avoided, however unnatural the results of this avoidance are; and modifier attachment, where jokes are often made about one of the potential attachments, however preposterous the interpretation associated with this attachment is.

The two topics are connected through their unthinking devotion to dogmas of grammatical correctness: avoid split infinitives, avoid potential ambiguity. A devotion that leads adherents down the thorny path of usage rectitude to using unnatural syntax and entertaining preposterous interpretations.

But first, the thorny path. The (tough) counterpart to the (easy) primrose path.

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Smell the roses in a field

February 26, 2021

Two cartoons in my comics feed on 2/25 (otherwise known as Yay! Pfizer1 Day! at my house) on language play: a Wayno/Piraro Bizarro playing on formulaic language (the metaphorical idiom / cliché stop and smell the roses), and a Piccolo/Price Rhymes With Orange with a play on the ambiguity of field.

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Hello, sailor

February 16, 2021

(This posting is about (real or fictive) sexual encounters between men, sometimes discussed in street language, so it’s not for kids or the sexually modest.)

The Daily Jocks ad from 2/15, under the header:


(#1) With the motor boat emoji (there’s a ferry emoji that might have done the job here, with a bad pun as a bonus)

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Slip and pipers

February 14, 2021

Today’s Bizarro offer some transposition (spooneristic) word play, involving the exchange of the initial syllables of the two accented words in the clichéd expression pipe and slippers — giving the eminently depictable slip and pipers:


(If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 9 in this strip — see this Page.)

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Frequently asked questions

January 31, 2021

A Roz Chast cartoon in the latest (2/1/21) New Yorker:

Questions asked often enough that they border on clichés. They’re frequently asked questions — but they’re not Frequently Asked Questions, Frequently Asked Questions being an idiomatic expression usually reduced to an alphabetic abbreviation, the noun FAQ.

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Every picture tells a story

October 28, 2020

(This posting starts with a homoerotic Daily Jocks ad — nothing close to the line visually or textually, but you might still want to exercise your judgment — moves through Doan’s pills and ends with musician Rod Stewart.)

… but what story? They’re just pictures, after all, subject to many interpretations. Even when the creator’s intentions are clear, there are often two (or more) intended stories for the same picture — typically, one literal and one allusive (consider still lifes with moral messages). In any case, other viewers are free to see stories the creator did not. And sometimes the pictures have no clear interpretation.

Which brings me to the Daily Jocks mailing of 10/26:


(#1) At the gym, two hunks eye each other’s crotches with facial expressions that would be heavy sexual cruises if exchanged face to face

Well, it’s a menswear ad, and comes with no explicit clues as to how it’s to be interpreted — maybe just as a generic homoerotic encounter (certainly homoerotic). But still you wonder: what’s their story? Are they an established couple, shown here appreciating each other’s bodies for the camera? Or did they just come across one another in the gym and are now setting up a trick? Or maybe merely complimenting each other through their gaze and facial expressions, each conveying that he thinks the other is really hot? (Nice body, buddy.)

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A New Yorker trio

October 23, 2020

Three cartoons from the 10/26 New Yorker: two of linguistic interest (by Amy Hwang and Roz Chast), one (by Christopher Weyant) yet another Desert Island cartoon.

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Parallelism, metaphor, chiasmus

September 25, 2020

On the slogan in my posting yesterday “Come a long way, long way still to go” (A), a chiastic formula conveying:

Things have improved, but still we’re far from the goal (and there are constant threats to take back the gains)

(A) is a poetically compressed version of (B):

We have come a long way, but we have a long way still to go

(which presents two metaphorical idioms in parallel, with their contrast between the opposed motion verbs come and go).

So there’s a lot of linguistic interest here.

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