Archive for the ‘Inflection’ Category

Lexeme confusion

January 5, 2015

Some time ago, John Wells reported on Facebook:

Friday’s London Evening Standard, reporting on the inquest into a fatal collision between a bus and a cyclist: “[The] bus driver … told police ‘As he started to turn, the bike slipped from under him. I broke … and he went under. I could feel him. I broke and put the handbrake on…'”.

There’s a confusion here between the lexemes BRAKE and BREAK, which are homophonous in their BSE/PRS forms. But not in their PST forms: BRAKE with regular PST braked, BREAK with ablaut PST broke.

The homophony leads to spelling confusions, usually with the much more common verb (break) prevailing over the less common (brake). In the Evening Standard quote, this confusion extends to the morphology, with the PST of break prevailing over the PST of brake (in both speech and writing).


Conjugal visit

January 4, 2015

Today’s Bizarro:

(See this 5/6/11 posting for cartoonist Scott Hilburn’s take on conjugational visits, with information on the adjective conjugal and on conjugal visits.)


The curious morphology of Canada

December 28, 2014

Ann Burlingham writes from Canada to report two non-standard verb forms she found there:



And she asked: are Canadians regularizing verbs faster than USAns?

Well no, but she’s noticing the verb forms more when she’s away from home (western New York state): a version of the Local Color Illusion.


The plural of Miss Subways

October 24, 2014

In the current (10/27/14) New Yorker, an entertaining “Where Are They Now Dept.” feature by Michael Schulman, “Underground Beauties”, beginning:

Long before Dr. Zizmor and Poetry in Motion, beauty on the subways came in the form of the Miss Subways competition, which ran from 1941 to 1976. The idea, hatched by the New York Subways Advertising Company, was to prettify the train cars while drawing eye traffic to the surrounding ads for chewing gum or cigarettes. Every few months, a new glamour shot would appear on posters underground, along with a few lines describing the winner’s hobbies (“modern dance, piano and ceramics”) and aspirations (“plugging for B.A. but would settle for M.R.S.”). Nearly two hundred women claimed the title.

Over the years, nearly two hundred women served as Miss Subways. So there were nearly two hundred Miss Subwayses? No that can’t be right: Subways is already plural. The obvious solution is a zero plural, with only one realization of plural inflection: nearly two hundred Miss Subways. And that’s the solution in the New Yorker piece.


Morphology Friday 3: the verbing screen-shot

October 3, 2014

From Dennis Preston yesterday, a report from the Twitterverse on Wednsday (10/1), in which:

Apparently a Grand Jury member in the Ferguson [MO] shooting put up a message which suggested outside contact and immediately took it down. But not before somebody “screenshotted” it.

From @ShaunKing:

Within seconds of posting this, her friends told her to delete it and she did. It was screenshotted first.

Start with the N + N compound screenshot. Then verb it (convert it directly to a verb), to get to screenshot, which will then be inflected regularly, to give PST/PSP screenshotted.


Noir 1949

June 14, 2014

The Zippy from the 11th takes Zippy back, in a Pontiac, to a cinematic 1949:


The film noir movies in question (from that year) are, in order, The Big Steal and Cover Up. And the first features one of the major figures of film noir, the icon of masculinity Robert Mitchum:

Robert Charles Durman Mitchum (August 6, 1917 – July 1, 1997) was an American film actor, author, composer and singer. … Mitchum rose to prominence for his starring roles in several major works of the film noir style, and is considered a forerunner of the anti-heroes prevalent in film during the 1950s and 1960s. (Wikipedia link)


OBH roundup

March 28, 2014

It started with this One Big Happy cartoon, clipped from a newspaper and sent to me by Benita Bendon Campbell:



God’s Grammar Cactus

February 7, 2014

Found via the net, this cartoon:

Inflectional morphology and (somewhat absurdly) social context.


Playing with French morphology

September 15, 2013

From Benita Bendon Campbell, this reminiscence of a moment during her time in Paris with Ann Daingerfield Zwicky, many years ago:

Ann and I and aother friend were having afternoon tea at our local café on the Boulevard Saint Germain. The patron and patronne had just acquired a German shepherd puppy named Rita. In French, a German shephejrd is “un berger allemand.” Our friend remarked that Rita must be “une bergère allemande” — or a Gereman shepherdess. That is funny in French as well as in English. (The correct form is “une femelle berger allemand.” The name of the breed is invariable.)

Bonnie’s sketch of une bergère allemande:


Another OBH roundup

May 16, 2013

From Benita Bendon Campbell, three more One Big Happy strips: on questions, compound nouns, and tense in nouns. And then, as a bonus, four strips on Ruthie’s interpretations of words.