Archive for the ‘Lexicography’ Category

All about /aj/: the trisyllables

October 4, 2022

The Zippy strip of 9/29 interjects:

(#1) The strip is all about eyeglasses (with the wonderful name Thelma Nesselrode as a bonus), but this posting is about oh!, interjections / yeah!, exclamations / and, like, discourse markers and stuff

So, what’s up with eye-yi-yi!? This is presumably an orthographic representation of an English exclamation /aj aj aj/, with the accent pattern /àj aj áj/, and pronounced as a single phonological word /àjajáj/. In fact, I’m aware of — and at least an occasional user of — three English exclamations /àjajáj/, with three syllables: one a borrowing from (Latino) Spanish; one in Yinglish (taken from Yiddish); and one in PDE (Pennsylvania Dutch English, taken from Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch, that is, Pennsylvania Dutch / German). (There are probably more, in other German-based varieties of English, in particular.) They have somewhat different contexts of use and a wide variety of ad hoc spellings, though ay-ay-ay seems to be the closest there is to a conventional spelling for all three of them (my childhood spelling for the PD and PDE exclamation was ai-ai-ai / ai ai ai, and it’s still the only one that looks right to me).

So: something about the range of the phenomena in this exclamatory domain, with special attention to my personal history. In this posting, just about the exclamatory triples, but folding in the de facto national ballad of Mexico, “Cielito Lindo”, and some Texas klezmer music.

Then, in a later posting (bear with me, my life is over-full), my discovery that OED3 has relatively recent entries for the interjections ai, aie, and ay, and my subsequent disappointment in the content of these entries — as against, say, the rich OED3 entries for the interjections oh and ah. And finally, some aimless wandering about in the world of interjections, exclamations, discourse markers, and related phenomena.


Stilettoed on the balcony

August 3, 2022

The killing of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri by a targeted U.S. drone strike (taking him down as he stood on a balcony) over the weekend in Afghanistan was described by an MSNBC commentator yesterday morning as

a stiletto strike:  with the N1 + N2 compound N stiletto strike ‘sudden (military) attack resembling a stiletto (in being very narrowly focused lethal weaponry)’; the sense of the N2 strike here is NOAD‘s 2 [a] a sudden attack, typically a military one

Possibly it was stiletto airstrike; it went by very fast, I haven’t seen another broadcast of it, and it’s not yet available on-line, so I can’t check — but I am sure of the N stiletto and the N strike and the intent of the commentator to commend the pinpoint accuracy of the operation.

It seems that the metaphor has been used occasionally in military circles for some years, but very rarely outside these circles, so that it came with the vividness of a fresh, rather than conventional, metaphor — but while it worked well for me (evoking the slim, pointed, lethal daggers of assassins), it might not have been so effective with others, whose mental image of a stiletto is the heel of a fashionable women’s shoe (slim and pointed,  but alluring rather than lethal).

Yes, the two senses (plus a few others that I won’t discuss here) are historically related, with the dagger sense the older and, in a series of steps, the source of the shoe sense. But of course ordinary speakers don’t know that, nor should they be expected to (such information is the province of specialists, historical linguists and lexicographers); what they know is how stiletto is used in their social world, and that’s likely to involve trendy footwear rather than medieval weaponry.


Faces and phalluses

May 26, 2022

(The title is an indictor of what’s to come. No visible phalluses, but plenty of references to them, in plain speech, so not suitable for kids or the sexually modest.)

Brief musings on this morning’s ad from the Gay Empire company, with a sale on their DVDs:


A masculinity meze: face men

April 27, 2022

(This has turned out to be quite a large meze, but it’s only about one idiomatic slang expression. Well, men and masculinity come into the thing, and you know what can happen then.)

Reflecting a couple days ago on my Princeton days (1958-62) and the tangle of the attitudes of the (all-male) students at the time towards (among things) masculinity, male affiliation (as systematized in a pervasive system of male bands, the eating clubs of the time), women, homosexuals, race, and social class. The topic is vast, also deeply distressing to me personally, and I suspect that I’ll never manage to write about the bad parts of it in any detail — note: there were some stunningly good parts — but in all of that I retrieved one lexical item of some sociolinguistic interest (and entertainment value), one slang nugget: the idiomatic N1 + N2 compound noun face man / faceman / face-man.

A common noun frequently used among my friends, which was then also deployed as a proper noun nicknaming one of our classmates, a young man notable for his facial male beauty: everybody had to have a nickname (mine was Zot, for the Z of my name and the cartoon anteater), so we called him Face Man because he was a face man.


The Aussie firedog

April 8, 2022

(There will be a few excursions in passing about men’s bodies and man-on-man sex. If you can manage an appearance or two of the sexual verb fuck, you’ll be ok.)

From Ann Burlingham a couple days ago, a greeting card with a photo from the 2020 Australian Firefighters calendar, showing a man and his dog:

(#1) How to read the man, how to read the dog, and how to read the relationship between them

It turns out that there’s an amazing amount of content packed into this photo — I’ll try to reveal a bit of it here — and the photo leads to much more, including andirons, Dalmatians, lexicography, and the cartoonist George Booth.


Cooking with gas: a guest posting

November 21, 2021

Grant Barrett (of the Barnette-Barrett radio show A Way with Words — and a real lexicographer, one of the lexicographers I sometimes hang out with, even though I’m not of that tribe) tried to post this as a comment on my posting yesterday, “Now we’re cooking with carrots”, but it appears to have been indigestible to WordPress, so I’m publishing it here as a guest posting. Remember: what follows below the line is Grant, all Grant, not me (except for some formatting).


Zippy’s pod-ophilia

April 25, 2021

In today’s (4/25) Zippy strip, our Pinhead — no podophile ‘foot fetishist’ — instead celebrates the linguistic formative pod — as a word, in one of its many meanings (here, its ‘small building’ sense); as part of a fixed expression pod people (using pod referring to a plant part); and as piece of the word podcast (where it’s a piece of the proper name iPod, and that takes it back to a functional unit on an aircraft or spacecraft):

(#1) There’s more, lots more, but the pods here are all trace metaphorical flourishes, to the plant parts


I ween

April 24, 2021

In “When I was a lad”, from Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore (1878), Sir Joseph Porter, the First Lord of the Admiralty, sings:

Of legal knowledge I acquired such a grip
That they took me into the partnership.
And that junior partnership, I ween,
Was the only ship that I ever had seen.

A still from the 2017 Stratford Festival performance of this song; you can watch a YouTube video of the this performance here

It came by on my iTunes a couple days ago, causing me to realize that the only occurrences of the verb ween — meaning, to judge from the context, something like ‘think, believe’ — that I can recall having experienced were in parenthetical I ween in G&S operetttas.  Notably, in Pinafore, which I’ve been listening to (or watching, or assisting in productions of) for over 60 years, but also in this couplet in “Kind sir, you cannot have the heart”, from The Gondoliers, so memorable to me because of its potential for queer wordplay:

Oh, ’tis a glorious thing, I ween,
To be a regular Royal Queen

But what of this strange, stilted-sounding verb that seems to occur only in parenthetical I ween?


The Avocado Chronicles: 2 etymology and etymythology

July 13, 2019

The text for today, a piece from the NPR Kitchen Window site (“A weekly peek into the kitchen with tasty tales and recipes”), “What’s in a Name? The Avocado Story” by Howard Yoon, from 7/19/06: a monstrous tapestry of confusion, error, and fabrication, tracing the English food name avocado to a 1914 coinage by California farmers who became the California Avocado Association (an organization that was probably the source of most of the balled-up fantasy below).


High 5 from a bison

May 25, 2019

(After the cartoons and the lexicography, John Rechy will take this posting into the world of mansex, in some detail and in very plain talk; that section is not for kids or the sexually modest, but I’ll warn you when it’s looming on the horizon.)

Two bison greet each other in a John Baynham cartoon with a wonderful pun:


That’s numbers (roughly ‘amount’, but as a PL C noun) — and indeed large numbers of buffalo did once roam the plains of North America — vs. numbers referring to physical models, or simulacra, of symbols for certain abstract mathematical entities — in this case, the natural numbers. Such physical models are also familiar: think of the letters in the HOLLYWOOD sign, or the numbers on the building at 666 Fifth Ave. in NYC (with its own kind of fame as a Jared Kushner property). But people don’t walk around with, much less inside, giant versions of such models. That’s deliciously absurd.

Looking at the lexical items involved will take us deep into the lexicographic weeds and then to the secret places of mansex, starting with the dim recesses of Griffith Park in Los Angeles.