Archive for the ‘Formulaic language’ Category

The Long Hello

September 15, 2023

(Warning: after the McPhail, there will be some tasteless jokes, including two sexual ones)

By Will McPhail, a delightful Ascent of Man (in this case, a self-possessed young woman) cartoon in the latest (9/18/23) issue of the New Yorker:

(This blog has a Page on comic conventions, including cartoon memes (like Ascent of Man); and also a Page on Will McPhail cartoons)

So: the cartoon meme, plus a joke meme that plays on liking long walks on the beach as a stock sentiment in American personals ad (I don’t know the history of the formulaic expression).


It is the grief of love

August 26, 2023

Most of my day today was taken up with the Palo Alto Sacred Harp all-day singing (shapenotes from 10 to 3!); I’m pleased to say I was not only able to participate in this event (via Zoom), but managed to last through the whole thing, sometimes singing quite powerfully. I wasn’t physically there, and people couldn’t hear me (I had to mute myself because of the way Zoom works), but I got to choose a couple of songs (Confidence SH270 and Bridgewater SH276), and managed a really big contact high — a tonic for my life of solitude these days.

Early in the singing someone chose a song that I found moving but didn’t recall ever having sung before: SH83t, Vale of Sorrow: brief and easy to sing, a haunting minor melody, and a text I found deeply moving: the words of an earnest Christian who hopes to have earned his place with Jesus in heaven, but is nevertheless saddened that his death will take him from those he loves. He is experiencing what he thinks of as the grief of love.

The music (from the 1991 Denson revision of The Sacred Harp (first compiled in 1844)):

A reminder: the melody is in the tenor line, the third from the top (the treble line, at the top, has either high harmony or a counter-melody); the different shapes of the notes locate them in a scale (sort of a visual DO-RE-MI)

The text comes on two parts: one stanza of background, one with the grief of love:

While in this vale of sorrow,
I travel on in pain;
My heart is fixed on Jesus,
I hope the prize to gain.

But when I come to bid adieu
To those I dearly love,
My heart is often melted —
It is the grief of love.

The phrase comes at you out of the blue, after some conventional imagery and conventional expression (vale of sorrow, the heart being fixed on something, gaining a prize, bidding adieu, the heart melting with emotion).

The cuke protrusion

August 12, 2023

The weekend winner in the phallic vegetable competition; all cucumbers are phallic, but this one takes cuke phallicity to a new level. From Kristin Landis Lowry on Facebook yesterday, reporting from her growhouse:

— KLL: This was bound to happen 😂😂😂


SUMC moments: NPO

June 27, 2023

On the nurses’ board, under “diet”, it said NPO; and if you asked if you could have some juice or whatever, nurses would tell you no, you were NPO — and then maybe they’d explain that meant ‘nothing by mouth’.

Why should NPO be an abbreviation of Nothing By Mouth? If they’d once learned why, they’d forgotten, and now it was just medical jargon with this meaning, and many of them no longer realized that ordinary people might be baffled by the claim that NPO was an abbreviation for Nothing By Mouth (for which the alphabetic abbreviation would be NBM).

But it is an abbreviation. Of Latin Nil Per Os — more exactly, Nil / Nihil Per Ōs, where nil is a contraction of nihil ‘nothing’ (as in English nihilism) and ōs (the object of the preposition per) is the acc sg of the 3rd-declension ‘mouth’ noun with nom sg ōs and gen sg ōris (as in English oral).

But in any case, users of jargon — expressions associated with particular occupations or activities — are very often not aware of its in-group status and aren’t prepared to explain it to outsiders; it’s just the way you talk in this context.

Breakfast of champions

June 12, 2023

(Like Mary, Queen of Scots, I am not dead yet  — but my right hand barely works because the finger joints are seized up so terribly I can’t straighten the fingers, and painfully swollen, and I am mightily pissed; had to apply ice packs at dusk yesterday, when the air pressure went way low and the pain got intolerable. This is, blessedly, a brief posting with not much typing to do.)

Max Vasilatos on Facebook on 6/10, with a smiling selfie:

(#1) Max’s header: “Breakfast of champions” — Twizzlers (twists of licorice-like candy, in various flavors) as a guilty pleasure, possibly even for breakfast

The Wiktionary entry for breakfast of champions:

(ironic) Beer, junk food, or other foods implied to be unhealthy. ETYMOLOGY Originally an advertising slogan for Wheaties breakfast cereal. Used ironically in Kurt Vonnegut’s 1973 novel Breakfast of Champions to refer to a martini.


Raisin d’Ȇtre

May 23, 2023

Today’s Bizarro continues the Wayno / Piraro explorations of outrageous puns:

(#1) The title raisin d’être is an extraordinary pun on the French nominal raison d’être (literally ‘reason for being’), but with English raisin [ˈrezn] ‘dried grape’ in the place of French raison [ˌreˈzɔ̃] ‘reason’ (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 3 in this strip — see this Page)

English [ˈrezn] ‘dried grape’ and French [ˌreˈzɔ̃] ‘reason’ share the initial segmental phonology [rez], but otherwise are phonetically quite distant (aside from being in two different languages) — utterly different prosody (accent + accentless vs. secondary accent + primary accent), with final syllables that share only an element of nasality (syllabic nasal consonant, nasalized vowel).

The basis of the pun, from NOAD:

noun raison d’être: the most important reason or purpose for someone or something’s existence: an institution whose raison d’être is public service broadcasting. ORIGIN French, literally ‘reason for being’.

What makes the pun so — forgive me — delicious is the fact that French raisin does not mean ‘dried grape’ but in fact  ‘grape’; a raisin in French is a raisin sec (literally ‘dry grape’). French raisin d’être would presumably mean something like ‘grape of being’.

Earlier from Bizarro in the outrageous pun genre, from my 5/21 posting “It’s endive!”: alive [ǝˈlajv] in It’s alive! vs. endive [ˈɛnˌdajv] in the pun, sharing the final segmental material [ajv], but utterly different prosodically (accentless + accented vs. primary accent + secondary accent) and in their initial segmental material ([ǝl] vs. [ɛnd]).

But phonetically very imperfect puns can succeed as jokes if their basis is a well-known formula: a quotation (as in It’s endive!), an idiom (as in raison d’être), whatever.

Such a clean old man

May 22, 2023

(considerable talk about male genitals, man-on-man sex, masturbation, and excretion, mostly in street language — pretty much a dirty jackpot — so not for kids or the sexually modest)

In conversation with my caregiver Erick Barros on 5/18, he complimented me on my being well-groomed and smelling good; this was not mere pleasant social talk, but a significant professional opinion from an experienced employee of Bay Area Geriatric. Who has no doubt seen aged folk who have tended to disregard grooming and bodily hygiene in the face of pain and concern with more pressing matters of life; and especially some men who tend to see things through the lens of a normative masculinity that (as part of a rejection of anything that smacks of femininity) views disregard for grooming and cleanliness as an assertion of masculinity — the attitude that leads to all-male getaways where the guys defiantly don’t shave, bathe, or change into fresh clothing and generally behave crudely (as an escape from the strictures of women).


From parts unknown

March 21, 2023

In yesterday’s (3/20) Wayno / Piraro Bizarro, a cowboy — call him FM —  bellies up to the bar in a saloon in the fabled Old West:

(#1) Though he’s wearing jeans and  a handsome Western dress shirt, FM’s greenish pallor, eccentric hair, and neck bolt mark him as an outsider, not from these parts, not from around here; meanwhile, FM is a composite being, cobbled together from random parts — bodyparts — by Victor Frankenstein (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 4 in this strip — see this Page)

So there’s parts and there’s parts. And FM’s from parts unknown  is a parts ‘bodyparts’ pun on the model of parts ‘places’ in what is now a rather formal and poetical expression from parts unknown ‘coming from an unknown place’. The Frankenstein world superimposed, absurdly, on the Gunslinger world.


An exchange of childish ritual taunts

March 5, 2023

Of the form

V1 ya, wouldn’t wanna / shouldn’t hafta V2 ya (where V1 and V2 rhyme)

In a One Big Happy strip from the backlog on my desktop:

(#1) Ruthie and the tough neighborhood kid James trade taunts, until Ruthie’s mother drags her away from the encounter

This is a competitive performance of verbal skills, designed to insult without wounding. James’s first move is a pre-existing model, and then they go on from there.


Team X

January 28, 2023

The Zippy strip of 7/27/22:

(#1) At the Pig ‘N Whistle Diner in Brighton MA, immersed in the Team X snowclonelet

Two things here: the Team X snowclonelet; and Pig ‘N Whistle as the name of an eating establishment. Let’s dive right in with Team X, and look at Pig ‘N Whistle afterwards.