Archive for the ‘Grammatical categories’ Category

cubeb

October 15, 2020

Today’s morning name, surely triggered in my mind by a line from the song “Ya Got Trouble” from the musical The Music Man (about kids in pool halls): “They’re … tryin’ out cubebs” (referring to cubeb cigarettes).

Brief background, from NOAD:

noun cubeb: [a] a tropical shrub of the pepper family, which bears pungent berries. Genus Piper, family Piperaceae: several species, including the Asian P. cubeba [b] the dried unripe berries of the cubeb, used medicinally and to flavor cigarettes. [also, not given by NOAD: [c] a cubeb cigarette] ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French cubebe, from Spanish Arabic kubēba, from Arabic kubāba.

Note: most uses of the noun cubeb are M[ass] nouns, but the use for ‘cubeb cigarette’ is C[count], and so pluralizable, as in the quote from The Music Man.

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The goblet with the hobbit has the wine that is fine

May 13, 2020

Yesterday’s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro, about gobs and goblets:


(#1) Wayno’s title: “Liquid Economics” (if you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 3 in this strip — see this Page.)

Start with the straightforward stuff: goblet vs. gob, with goblet playfully treated here as if it were gob + diminutive –let.

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Minnesota hotdish

May 7, 2020

Today, Alex [Alessandro Michelangelo] Jaker (posting from Toronto) on Facebook:

So unfortunately I can’t go home and visit my family in Minnesota 🚗🚗🚗🛣🏡 because of the virus, so I decided to just go ahead and make my own hotdish 🍄🥕🍅.

… Although actually, it’s sort of a hybrid between hotdish and lasagna 🍅🧀🇮🇹.


(#1) Jaker Hotdish (photo from the author)

… [about hotdish] Apparently it is what people from other places call a “casserole”. In the present case, I used ground mutton 🐑, onions, celery, carrots 🥕, a leek, tomatoes 🍅, mushrooms, a can of cream of mushroom soup 🥫, parmesan cheese 🧀, and noodles. And beans. First stir fry all the ingredients except the noodles, and boil the noodles separately, then combine into a baking dish and bake for ~40 minutes.

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A pandemic meta-cartoon

April 25, 2020

By JAK (Jason Adam Katzenstein), the New Yorker daily cartoon from yesterday:


“Personally, I worry that, with everyone wearing masks, readers won’t be able to tell who in the cartoon is speaking.”

The masks are part of daily life in plague time, and they conceal the wearers’ mouths. So in a cartoon you can’t tell who’s speaking. (In real life, there might be other clues, like vocal timbre.)

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The caritive

October 26, 2019

An e-mail announcement from Sonya Oskolskaya (СА Оскольская) on 10/21:

The Institute for Linguistic Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences is pleased to announce the conference “Caritive Constructions in the Languages of the World”, to be held in Saint Petersburg, Russia on April 21–23, 2020.

The conference aims to bring together studies on caritive (a.k.a. abessive or privative) constructions in different languages.

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What was We thinking?

September 30, 2019

The header is the beginning of a piece in the NYT Opinion section on-line on 9/25/19 (in print 9/26), “Open Offices Are a Capitalist Dead End: One story from WeWork’s inevitable blow-up: Our offices offer few spaces for deep work” by Farhad Manjoo. The first two paragraphs:

What was We thinking? That’s the only question worth asking now about the clowncar start-up known as The We Company, the money-burning, co-working behemoth whose best-known brand is WeWork.

What’s a WeWork? What WeWork works on is work. The We Company takes out long-term leases on in-demand office buildings in more than 100 cities across the globe (lately, it’s even been buying its own buildings). Then We redesigns, furnishes and variously modularizes the digs, aiming to profitably sublease small and large chunks of office space to start-ups and even big companies. Well, profitable in theory: The We Company lost $1.7 billion last year.

The business story is remarkable — you don’t see expressions like clowncar start-up in the pages of the NYT very often — but my point here is a narrow linguistic one and (at first glance) an extremely simple one, which is that

Names Is Names (NIN): A proper name is a name.

Which is to say:

A proper name is a (meaningful) expression, and not merely a form. So that, in general, a proper name has the morphosyntax appropriate to any expression with the referent of that name.

/wi/ (conventionally spelled We) is the name of a company and consequently has the morphosyntax of such a name: 3sg verb agreement (We is ambitious), possessive /wiz/ (We’s business model), etc.  — like /ǽpǝl/ (conventionally spelled Apple): Apple is ambitious, Apple’s business model. The fact that English also has a 1pl pronoun /wi/ (conventionally spelled we) — (we are ambitious, our business model) — is entertaining, but essentially irrelevant, even though the name of the company was chosen with the pronoun in mind. The name was a little joke, a pun on the slant, and now Farhad Manjoo for the NYT has wielded it for a bigger joke, salting his article with instances of conspicuously 3sg (rather than 1pl) We.

Well, I will say a bit about the business story, because it’s funny-awful all on its own, and I’ll say a little more about NIN, both when it’s sturdy and straightforward (as here) and when it’s entangled in complexities.

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Lemon is the vanilla of Italian ices

June 9, 2019

The 6/7 Zippy takes us to the Jersey Shore for some water ice in a squeeze cup:


(#1) At the Strollo’s Lighthouse Italian Ice shop in Long Branch NJ: Zippy (alarmed at climate change) speaking on the left, Claude Funston (who denies climate change) on the right

On the setting. On Strollo’s. On lemon as the vanilla of Italian ices. On the relevant C(ount) noun ice, the nominal Italian ice, and the compounds water ice and squeeze cup. On Italian ice and the family of similar confections.

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On the dog food watch

May 29, 2019

The 5/27 Wayno-Piraro Bizarro strip, set in the Land of Dogs:


(#1) (If you wonder about the secret symbol in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there’s just one in this strip — see this Page.)

A dog food with Quibbles in its name is of course not going to agree with you, in one sense of agree with. So you can understand the cartoon, and see that the pun on agree with in it makes it amusing — and still miss the extra joke that Wayno and Piraro threw in for you.

The cartoon would have been funny if the dog food had been named just Quibbles. But Quibbles and Fits is a lot funnier, because it’s another pun, on the name of the (actual) dog food Kibbles and Bits. But of course you have to know about this particular commercial product to get that joke.

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Why is he calling her his thesaurus?

May 28, 2019

Today’s morning name was the Italian phrase il mio tesoro, and there’s no mystery where it came from: on my overnight iTunes, the 1959 Carlo Maria Guilini recording of Don Giovanni had reached Luigi Alva singing “Il Mio Tesoro” just as I woke. What was odd was that my still sleep-addled brain was puzzling over why Don Ottavio was calling Donna Anna his thesaurus.

Attribute it to an overactive mental-association apparatus connecting It. il tesoro ‘treasure’ (but also ‘darling, honey, dear’) to Engl. thesaurus referring to a specialized type of dictionary (derived ultimately from Greek). In this case, one reproducing a historical connection between It. tesoro ‘darling’ and It. tesoreria ‘thesaurus’, which are, etymologically, second cousins, more or less.

After this, on to the aria, with performances by Alva, Araiza, and Domingo.

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homeworks

May 21, 2019

A facebook exchange back on the 6th, between Andrew Carnie (professor of linguistics and dean of the Graduate College at the Univ. of Arizona) and Karen Chung (associate professor at National Taiwan University, teaching courses on linguistics and English).

Andrew: [Student], who only came to class less than 50% of the time, and turned in a bunch of assignments (really) late: These homeworks are way. too. hard. It’s unfair.

Karen: “Homework” as a countable noun? Is he/she a native speaker of English?

Academics will recognize Andrew’s note as the plangent lament of a professor facing the grading tasks at the end of a term, confronted with a self-entitled student who believes they are really smart, so preparation outside of class shouldn’t take much work (and they should be able to ace the final without much studying).

But what Karen picks up on is the use the noun homework as a C(ount) noun, clearly so because it occurs in the plural form homeworks here; for the M(ass) noun homework, the usage would be: This homework is way. too. hard. Or else: These homework assignments are way. too. hard.

Much as I sympathize deeply with Andrew’s lament — having had nearly 50 years of similar experiences (fortunately far outweighed by students who were a delight to teach) — what this posting is about is the C/M thing. There’s a fair amount to get clear about first, and then I’ll have some analysis, some data, and some reflections on larger matters (language use in particular communities of practice, the tension between brevity and clarity as factors in language use).

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