Archive for the ‘Language play’ Category

Unaccompanied

October 13, 2019

This touching Sara Lautman pun cartoon from the 10/14 New Yorker:


(#1) “You know, sooner or later we’re going to have to let her go out unaccompanied.”

It all depends on what you mean by unaccompanied.

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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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Quid pro Joe

September 30, 2019

From the Washington Examiner, “[REDACTED] campaign calls Biden ‘Quid Pro Joe’ and says whistleblower is ‘in favor of one of the corrupt 2020 Democrats’” by Mike Brest on 9/29/19:

The [Helmet Grabpussy] campaign flipped the script on allegations of a “quid pro quo” between President [Grabpussy] and Ukraine, instead labeling former Vice President Joe Biden as “Quid Pro Joe” and alleging the whistleblower is politically motivated.

Ah, a political pun, based on what was once a Latin term mostly from the legal and political worlds, but is now a more generally used plain English noun /kwɪdprokwó/ (with a regular plural, /kwɪdprokwóz/.

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79

August 29, 2019

As we slide into a US holiday weekend — leading to Labor Day, the first Monday in September, this year on the 2nd — my birthday (on the 6th) looms as well. Coming up is a prime-th birthday, the 79th, an auspicious number to my mind, just one short of the 80th, which many view (like the similarly vigesimal 20th, 40th, and 60th) as a landmark birthday, in this case the gateway into old age. But for the moment I’m prime, baby.

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News for penguins: cache and carry

August 24, 2019

From correspondent RJP, a link to a story on the My Modern Met site, “Adorable Egg Holder Transforms Your Produce into a Pack of Penguins” by Sara Barnes on 8/23/19:


(#1) Egguins: portmanteau in name, portmanteau in function

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Sexy Dark Swiss

August 22, 2019

Specifically “pinksalt floyd rocks” Sexy Dark Swiss. Oh, it’s chocolate and it’s really trendy, because it’s prebiotic, and it’s whimsical too (the name Gutsii playing on gutsy and alluding to the gut, the playful allusion to the rock band Pink Floyd), plus it parades itself as dark and sexy, like a forbidden lover who steals into your bed in the dark of night. It came to me from the snack drawer at LiveJournal, brought by Kim Darnell, who works there.

From the Food Navigator site, the piece “Prebiotic chocolate? Gutsii enters US market on a mission to make gut health simple” by Mary Ellen Shoup on 2/11/19:

(#1)

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Pedaltecture

August 18, 2019

Saturday’s Zippy takes us to southeastern Pennsylvania, the land of my childhood:

(#1)

Not in escrow, but in Hellam Township, in York County PA. Specifically, in the Haines Shoe House. Which is a house in the form of a shoe (rather than a shop that sells shoes, or a storage place for shoes, or …).

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Blue and black at the Gamble Garden

August 15, 2019

In anticipation of a visit to Palo Alto’s Gamble Garden with motss.conners on Saturday, two items from my last visit to the garden (on 7/31): blue flax-lilies, which are neither flax nor lily plants, but do have bright blue berries; and dark purple, almost black, hollyhocks.

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“as cleverer than people as people are than plants”

August 4, 2019

From The Economist of July 27th. Yes, it’s grammatical, but it’s fiercely hard to parse — you might feel the need to get out pencil and paper to graph the thing — and it’s also a big show-stopper flourish: stop reading the news to admire how clever we are!

In this case, the magazine has committed a nested clausal comparative (NCC), somewhat reminiscent of nested relative clauses (also known in the syntactic literature as self-embedded relative clauses) like those in the NP with head the rat modified by the relative clause that the cat that the dog worried ate:

[ the rat ]-i

… [ that [ the cat ]-j [ that [ the dog ] worried ___-j ] ate ___-i ]

(where an underline indicates a missing (“extracted”) constituent, and the indices mark coreferential constituents). Both nested relatives and NCCs require the hearer to interrupt the processing of one clause to process another clause of similar form.

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Briefly noted: the disavowal drill

August 4, 2019

In today’s NYT Magazine (in print), a Jason Parham comment “This is not a drill”, on a 7/21 (in print) piece by Claudia Rankine, the comment turned into a thumbnail illustration by Giacomo Gambineri:

The Magrittean disavowal Ceci n’est pas une perceuse ‘This is not a drill’ (referring to une perceuse, a device for making — piercing — holes in things), but playing on the English catchphrase This is not a drill, conveying  ‘This is the real thing, this is serious’.

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