Archive for the ‘Naming’ Category

CalWord: the Calvin Theory of Word Use

September 1, 2022

🐇 🐇 🐇 (the commencement of September) The Calvin and Hobbes comic strip from 9/1/92, reprised in my comics feed on 8/30:


(#1) We can achieve intergenerational incommunicability! Yes we can!

Calvin articulates a view of word use, call it CalWord, which comes in two parts:

Endless lability. Any word can be used to convey any meaning. In the CalWord view, a word is merely substance — pronunciation or spelling — that can be put to any use.  So words are the stem cells of the linguistic world. From NOAD:

compound noun stem cellBiology an undifferentiated cell of a multicellular organism which is capable of giving rise to indefinitely more cells of the same type, and from which certain other kinds of cell arise by differentiation.

Social fencing. Socially distributed variants can serve as social fences, separating the Ins from the Outs and impeding the Outs’ ability to comprehend and communicate with the Ins — impeding, for example, one generation’s ability to comprehend or communicate with the generations after it. The fencing effect is very noticeable for lexical variants — different bits of substance for the same use (soda vs. pop, say); or, especially relevant here, different uses for the same substance (gay ‘lighthearted, carefree’ vs. ‘homosexual’ vs. ‘foolish, stupid, unimpressive’, say).

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Knuckle macaroni

August 17, 2022

Yesterday’s Wayno / Piraro Bizarro, at the grocery store:


(#1) Wayno’s title: Joint Replacement (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 5 in this strip — see this Page.)

So: let’s start with elbow macaroni and go on from there.

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The second-greatest of these is monosyllabicity

July 8, 2022

Zippy’s guide to food-buying in today’s strip: packaging, monosyllabicity (hereafter 1-icity), and collectibility, in that order:


(#1) As ever, thoroughly steeped in pop / mass culture: in the 3rd panel, not just the orange-flavored drink mix Tang, but also the astronaut allusion (“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”); it then turns out that the panel also takes us to orangutans (which are neither orange in color — ok, some reddish tones, but not orange, see #3 below — nor have a tang in their name, but but …)

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The reverse of me

July 5, 2022

(The customary warning: male sexual parts, man-on-man sex, and street language about all of it, so not for kids or the sexually modest.)

Zach Astor, a porn name that caught my eye this morning (while I was engaged with various recent CockyBoys porn offerings, for reasons both personal and professional) — because it’s ZA, while I’m AZ. The reverse of me. (Alas, the bearer of the name isn’t from South Africa, and I’m not from either Azerbaijan or Arizona, but then nobody’s perfect.)

It turns out that ZA is (of course, being a gay porn actor) young, young enough to be my grandson, or maybe even my great-grandson; with curly hair that is sometimes mostly blond, sometimes brown with blond highlights (vs. my very fine very straight brunet-gone-gray); with a slim build (vs. my fat one); with a smooth body (vs. my hairy one); with a really big dick (a thick 8ʺ — vs. my svelte 5ʺ); and he’s a devoted top (while I’m an enthusiastic bottom). Well, we’re both gay men, both born in Pennsylvania (ZA in Philadelphia, AZ in Allentown), and both circumcised — but that’s not a lot of common ground. I should ask him if he’s thought about trying … linguistics:


(#1) Not, as you will soon see, ZA, but a different porn actor, the one I put in this collage (set on Potrero Hill in SF) long ago

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Born on the same day

September 18, 2020

Today is the birthday of my second mother-in-law, Monique Serpette Transue (born 1912). And also of Samuel “Dictionary” Johnson (born 1709). A coincidence of dates that entertains me. When I noted this on Facebook yesterday, Ned Deily wrote:

The interwebz assert that no single word exists, in English at least, to describe people who share the same birthday anniversary. Time to invent one? A lexicographer’s work is never finished.

After a digression on what lexicographers do and another on Samuel Johnson and a note about Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette, I’ll make a stab at coining.

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perennial, evergreen, hardy

June 4, 2019

From an exchange on Facebook a few days ago, in which (at least) two of the participants use the term perennial to refer to plants that are green all year round, that don’t lose their leaves for a dormant season. The discussion was set off by DA (not knowing the privacy wishes of the participants, I refer to them by their initials), posting about a practice that puzzles him:

DA: I never understood why [people] bother to plant [fruit] trees that don’t bear fruit.

To which DS replied with a number of reasons for the practice, but along the way introducing perennial in the sense ‘green all year long’ (relevant materal boldfaced):

DS: They provide many other benefits, for birds, shade, soil augmentation … they hold together hills so they don’t wash away .. and much more. Besides, they can be lovely. As far as I know, there are no perennial fruit trees so they can’t be used for privacy.

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Follow-up: magenta greens

June 1, 2019

Following up on my posting yesterday, “Flirting with magenta” (about three plants with magenta flowers), Randy McDonald has sent me a piece from the site Speed River Journal: An urban naturalist’s progress: “Magenta spreen, a worthy spring green” on 5/29/19 by Van Waffle — about the plant often known as tree spinach:


(#1) Close-up of Chenopodium giganteum leaves (from Wikipedia)

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Revisiting 27: Lilo, Stitch, Bouba, and Kiki

March 25, 2019

Mike Pope on Facebook, following up on my posting of the 25th “Lilo & Stitch”, with a question about the naming of the characters in the movie:


(#1) Stitch and Lilo

MP: Do you think the animators consciously followed a kiki/bouba paradigm?

AZ:  Almost surely not consciously; they just chose names that “sounded right” to them.

In general, writers’ name choices for fictitious characters are inscrutable in detail; even if the writers have an explicit account of where the names came from, unconscious preferences for certain kinds of names can usually be seen to be at play.

One of these preferences is the bouba/kiki effect, which has to do with the visual appearance of the referents (see the images above). Also involved are effects having to do with the gender of the referents (Stitch is male, Lilo female). No doubt there are more.

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A stay in medical Antarctica

August 4, 2017

Yesterday’s medical adventure, set off by my shortness of breath during exertion, especially in hot weather (which we’ve been having a lot of; my symptoms became worrisome on a weekend in May when the temperature in Palo Alto reached 107 F). I was referred to a cardiologist; alarmed, she set up yesterday’s myocardial perfusion imaging (MPI) test, specifically via single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT). Details to follow.

The test involved hours at Palo Alto Medical Foundation, much of it sitting around between its parts. The actual imaging parts of the test took place in astonishingly icy rooms — which I came to refer to as medical Antarctica — so that I was shivering with cold when I left after 5 hours.

In the sitting-around parts of the event, I read through most of the latest (August 7th and 14th) issue of the New Yorker. To leaven the stark medical details, I’ll report on one of the pieces (Lauren Collins’s “Identity crisis: Notes from a names obsessive”), one of the cartoons (by Joe Dator), and a set of “spots”, small illustrations by Nishant Choksi sprinkled throughout the issue.

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Non-standard sex talk

May 26, 2017

I’ll start with the steamy gay sex talk from an on-line messaging site — sensitive readers are hereby warned about this content — and then go on to focus on a non-standard syntactic construction in this exchange, what the YGDP (the Yale University Grammatical Diversity Project: English in North America) calls the Needs Washed construction (using as a label an instance of the instruction), involving a PSP complement of a head V.

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