Archive for the ‘Pragmatics’ Category

Water source of questionable information

April 7, 2018

This New Scientist cartoon by Tom Gauld:

Five nominals of the form N1 of Mod N2. The first panel has the model for the other four: the metaphorical idiom family fount of all N2, where N2 refers to a kind of information. The last four are somewhat snide plays on this original. In effect, the cartoon supplies a template for generating fresh — in two senses —  metaphorical idiom families on the basis of an attested one.


Bits of culture

March 29, 2018

… and truncated expressions. From Sam Anderson’s “New Sentences” column in the NYT Magazine on the 20th (on-line) and 25th (in print), “From Morgan Parker’s ‘There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé’”, about ‘Summertime and the living is extraordinarily difficult’:

Every culture is a vast carpet of interwoven references: clichés, fables, jingles, lullabies, warnings, jokes, memes. To be a part of that culture means that it only takes a few words, the tiniest head fake, to set your mind racing along a familiar track. You can lead a horse to. There once was a man from. When the moon hits your eye. If you liked it then you shoulda.

One trick of art is to constantly invoke — and then manipulate and complicate — these familiar mental scripts. The artist sets your mind on a well-worn road, and then, just as you settle into that automatic groove, yanks you suddenly in another direction. It’s the same trick as a crossover dribble. Great art is always, if you will, breaking your mind’s ankles.


V-headed compounds

March 27, 2018

I’ll start with the seasonally relevant compound verb to snow blow / snow-blow / snowblow and go on from there to an animus, in some quarters, against such V-headed compounds (on the grounds that they are unnecessary innovations, because the language already has syntactic means for expressing their meanings — in this case, to blow (the) snow away from).



scratch and sniff card

March 10, 2018

The One Big Happy from February 10th:

The sign says (but with reduced and):


Is that to be parsed as conjoined imperatives — you are to scratch and to sniff cards — or as an NP describing some cards — these are cards you can scratch and sniff, cards for scratching and sniffing?


He meant to say “supine”

February 11, 2018

Wilson Gray on ADS-L on the 6th:

“She was lying on her back, when she was stabbed, in the prone position.”

He meant to say, “in the supine position,” of course.

There’s no “of course” here. No, that is almost surely not what the speaker meant to say; I’d wager he intended to say exactly what he did say. It’s just not what Wilson thinks the speaker should have said. (Or he’s mocking people who talk this way, though I failed to detect any raised eyebrows in what he wrote so briefly and dismissively.)

We have here a widespread vulgar confusion, a failure to distinguish

between inadvertent errors, things that are “wrong” for the person who produces them, and advertent errors, things that are ok so far as the producer is concerned but “wrong” from the point of view of at least some other people. (Faced with [the first], you call in the psycholinguist; faced with [the second], you call in the sociolinguist.) (Language Log link)

On top of that, Wilson has the sociolinguistic facts wrong, through a confusion between ordinary language and technical language: supine is a technical term for a bodily postion (lying flat on one’s back), used in certain specific domains (anatomy, sport, and shooting, in particular); in those domains, its counterpart (referring to lying flat on one’s belly) is prone, but in ordinary language, outside these specific domains, prone can refer to lying flat in general, and supine isn’t used at all.

The mistake here lies in assuming that technical, domain-specific (medical, botanical, technologcal, etc.) vocabulary is the true, correct, uniquely valid scheme for naming. From my 7/27/15 posting “Misleadingly named animals”, on zoological names:

The terminology “true fly” and “true bug” (etc.) here arises from the attitude that the naming practices of biologists are the only valid (true) naming schemes — what I’ll call technicalism. In the case of fly and bug, technicalism is remarkable from the historical point of view, since the specialized use of these nouns represents a decision to use perfectly ordinary vocabulary as technical terminology by drastically restricting its reference.


they kitchen-kissed again

December 23, 2017

A Xmas data-gift from Larry Horn, from a novel (Sylvia Brownrigg, Pages for You (2001)) about an affair between an undergraduate and her universty TA. The two excerpts Larry sent are, in his words,

separated by various (recoverable) activities, but the reader is expected to remember what had gone on between the lovers on pp. 93-94 [They kissed in the lit kitchen] when she gets to pp. 99-100 [They kitchen-kissed again].

So, in the latter: the verb to kitchen-kiss, either a 2pbfV (a 2-part back-formed V) based on the (well-attested) synthetic compound kitchen-kissing ‘kissing in the kitchen’ or a verbing of the (also well-attested) N + N compound kitchen-kiss ‘a kiss in the kitchen’. It turns out that kitchen-kissing and kitchen kisses are a (sociocultural) thing, which has attracted websites, Pinterest boards showing the activity, and the like — so it’s no surprise that there’s a one-word (compound) verb referring to the activity.



December 20, 2017

A SPAR message from reader Josh Bischof, with this bulletin from the internet:

From Ragan’s PR Daily “Ultimate grammar cheat sheet” by Brendan Brown on 12/6/17:  “6 grammar errors that can affect your story telling”

At issue is the interpretation of the PP = after + NP here, after a long day at school; the grammar tip presupposes that this PP is, in my terms, a SPAR, a subjectless predicative adjunct requiring a referent for the missing subject — I’ll refer to this as the Referent (for the SPAR) for short —  in which case general principles predict that the missing subject is the dog, which is both the nearest NP to the SPAR (the Nearest Rule) and the subject of the main clause the SPAR is adjunct to (the Subject Rule).

But PPs with the temporal P after don’t generally count as SPARs; only certain ones do — those with an NP object denoting a time span (as above) — and then those SPARs are subject to the complexities of interpretation that attend all SPARs, according to which factors of syntax and discourse context come into play (making the Subject Rule only a default and not a hard constraint).


Is that all there is? Just platypi and clichés?

December 19, 2017

Today’s Zippy has our Pinhead hero trading diner thoughts with a Pinhead named Nesbitt:

For two panels, Zippy spouts the idea that nothing represents, or stands for, something else; things are what they are, and that’s all there is. Meanwhile, Nesbitt runs through two idioms that he thinks of as clichés (rock s.o.’s world, takeaway), and the pair ping-pong plural platypi.


Xmas follies 2017: the clothing

December 15, 2017

Inspired by office groups gathered for holiday celebrations in local restaurants, with lots of participants in seasonal sweathers, variously festive, garish, raunchy, or ridiculous. It turns out that the Ugly Christmas Sweater is a thing: large retailers like Macy’s and Target sell the things under that name, and there are companies specializing in them. Here, for example, is an UCS that incorporates another Xmas follies theme: the shirtless men of Christmas:

(#1) Blizzard Bay Men’s Shirtless Santa Ride Ugly Christmas Sweater


Ruthie falls into the deontic-epistemic pit

December 12, 2017

The One Big Happy cartoon from 11/4, in today’s comics feed:

You can’t sell candy without a license.

Compare: I can’t talk.