Archive for the ‘Grammatical categories’ Category

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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French 2sg pronouns

February 10, 2019

On the Language Nerd Facebook page yesterday, this playfully framed, but seriously intended, flowchart, “Your guide to being polite in French”, for choosing between the 2sg pronouns tu (‘familiar’) and vous (‘polite’) in current French — a bow to the treatment of T and V pronouns in Brown & Gilman 1960:

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Give Head for Christmas!

December 13, 2018

(Significant sexual content, not for children or the sexually modest.)

Making the rounds on Facebook, this photo from a store sportswear department, with a sign that appears to be exhorting Christmas shoppers to give head ‘perform oral sex’:

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Not that some prime seasonal head wouldn’t be a fine holiday gift — but the exhortation is, alas, only to give products of the Head company, which sells (among other things) sportswear.

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A vernacular construction?

December 10, 2018

Ben Yagoda on the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Lingua Franca blog on 12/5/18, “Why Do I Really, Really Want to Say ‘Had Went’?”

… You see what [actor and director Jonah] Hill and [director Bryan] Fogel were doing, grammatically. They were using the preterite (ran, went) instead of the past participle (run, gone). This is by no means a new thing. Writing in 1781, John Witherspoon decried the “vulgarisms” had fell, had rose, had broke, had threw, and had drew.

Such constructions have long flourished in the American vernacular.

Standard English uses the PSP (past participle) form of a verb in the perfect construction and the passive construction (among other places). Ben says that some speakers and writers have different (syntactic) constructions here, using the PST (past, aka preterite — nothing hinges on the name) form instead of the PSP.

I maintain that Ben has seriously misunderstood the phenomenon here, and that Vern, the vernacular variety, doesn’t differ syntactically from Stan, the standard variety, with respect to the forms used in the perfect and the passive; it’s the PSP for both. It’s just that for some verbs, Vern pronounces the PSP differently from Stan; for Vern, the PSP form for these verbs is pronounced the same as their PST.

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What do you have?

November 25, 2018

The One Big Happy from October 12th, a dialogue between Joe and James in which we experience a tiny bit of the fabulous flexibility of the English verb have:

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James seems not to have registered the noun hobby (‘an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure’ (NOAD)) and so takes hobbies in have hobbies to be the name of a disease, infection, or medical condition, like (the) mumps. For him, chickenpox and the mumps, but not hobbies is just an ordinary coordination, but for the rest of us, it’s prime-grade zeugma, like (I had) asthma and artistic inclinations — with the extra wrinkle that though both chickenpox and mumps end in a plural-resembling /s/ (and so superficially resemble the PL hobbies), both are grammatically SG:

chickenpox / (the) mumps once was / *were a common childhood disease, but vaccines have nearly eliminated it / *them [SG for subject-verb agreement and also for anaphor selection]

Two notes: on the morphosyntax of disease names; and on the extraordinary versatility of have (which just invites zeugmas and zeugmoids).

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Fruit cream tarts, one with pansy

September 14, 2018

(Not suitable for Facebook, because double entendres and incidental naked men, but not actually X-rated. Mostly about food.)

Fruit cream tarts, one with pansy. Plus a little Echeveria plant. These are more birthday presents from the 6th, from Juan Gomez and the aging care company he works for (a big tart — not merely una tarta, but un tartone — plus the little succulent) and from Kim Darnell (a cute fruit cream tartlet with a pansy).

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Just a hijink

June 28, 2018

The Adam@home strip from June 5th (recommended to me by Robert Coren):

(#1)

It’s all about this hijink, with SG hijink, (roughly) ‘joke, bit of playfulness’. The usage is rare.

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