Archive for the ‘Formulaic language’ Category

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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Crossed folk stories

September 9, 2020

Yesterday’s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro cartoon:


(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 4 in this strip — see this Page)

The strip explicitly refers to the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, but also alludes to the Piper’s son as having stolen a pig. This is baffling unless you know a particular English nursery rhyme, so we have another exercise in cartoon understanding.

Ok, let’s assume you get that. Then the cartoon is a kind of conceptual portmanteau, a cross between the Piper legend and the Piper’s son nursery rhyme. Then set in a modern law-enforcement context, juxtaposing some (stereotyped) version of the real world with the world of these two folk stories. Cool.

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cherchez la femme

September 8, 2020

Today’s morning name, a French expression whose literal meaning is straightforward, but whose uses in context are anything but.

From Wikipedia:

Cherchez la femme is a French phrase which literally means ‘look for the woman’. It is a cliche in detective fiction, used to suggest that a mystery can be resolved by identifying a femme fatale or female love interest.

The expression comes from the novel The Mohicans of Paris (Les Mohicans de Paris) published 1854–1859 by Alexandre Dumas (père) [an adventure story, not a detective story]. The phrase is repeated several times in the novel

… The phrase embodies a cliché of detective pulp fiction: no matter what the problem, a woman is often the root cause.

The phrase has thus come to refer to explanations that automatically find the same root cause, no matter the specifics of the problem.

Two plays on the phrase (from among many), below the fold:

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Donut alliteration

July 30, 2020

Today’s Zippy takes us to a perished donut shop (in Niceville FL), which gives him play for his well-known fascination with the sheer sounds of words:

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In panel 1, it’s alliteration with /d/: defunct donut dispensary with dismay. In the other two panels, with /ɛks/ (or with a more reduced vowel): examined the extent of extinguished excretions … not exasperated but exuberant. (In the latter case, the choice of vocabuary items is seriously strained, to get alliterative words.)

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