Archive for the ‘Pragmatics’ Category

No offense (intended)

October 15, 2020

From the American tv series Emergency! S7 E11 “The Convention” (from 7/3/79), a tv movie following the regular series. Two women end up serving as a paramedic team together — female paramedics were a new thing at the time, only grudgingly accepted, and they were normally paired with a male partner — so a male paramedic tells them the watch commander wouldn’t approve of the women teaming up. One of the women good-naturedly but pointedly snaps back at him:

(1a) How would you like a thick lip, to go with your thick head? No offense.

With the idiomatic tag No offense — a shorter version of No offense intended — literally meaning something like ‘I intend/mean you no offense by saying this’, but almost always conveying something more complex than that.

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The library hookers and booze joke

September 25, 2020

The joke, which was new to me and entertained me enormously:

(#1)

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candy-ass faggots

September 4, 2020

(Tons of abusive and offensive language; some sex talk, but only in passing.)

Another posting from the back files, which somehow got disregarded. Investigating the slang candy-ass, I was taken back to this tale of invective from Peter Cavanaugh’s WordPress blog entry “Rocket to Stardom” from 3/26/09 about radio station WNDR in Syracuse NY (the crucial bit is boldfaced):

WNDR’s News Director was Bud Stapleton, a good “friend of the Judge”. He was tough and mean, a former Marine. Bud was a World War Two vet who spent several serious years “island hopping” in the South Pacific and to whom a peaceful return to civilian life was “a fucking pain in the ass”. He was a certified American hero.

… Syracuse, New York is also the home of Syracuse University and the celebrated Newhouse School of Communications.

The Newhouse faculty regarded “WNDR Action Central News” as professionally falling somewhere in between pig semen and rat vomit. They went out of their way expounding with exhausted exasperation upon the degrading, disgusting, depraving journalistic waste product available every hour on the hour at good old 1260 on their AM dial.

It was a classic case of unbridled mutual contempt.

Bud Stapleton characteristically categorized the Newhouse professors as “Candy-ass faggots who can suck my cock on the 6-0-Clock News”. He made frequent reference to “shoving their fucking ivory tower right up their baby-boy butts”.

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Last-naming professors

September 4, 2020

Most of this posting is in effect a guest column by Ben Yagoda: a re-posting of a thoughtful column of his from, omigod, 2017, from the Chronicle of Higher Education’s blog on language and writing in academe, Lingua Franca, which was discontinued in (apparently) December 2018, and is currently inaccessible.

I’d saved Ben’s column because it dealt with one of my long-term interests, address terms — there’s a Page on this blog with an annotated inventory of my postings on address terms — but now that you can’t get to it on-line, I think it’s important to give it an audience, even without further commentary from me.

From 11/13/17, Yagoda on Last-Naming Professors:

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Before or after?

July 26, 2020

In the 9/14/19 One Big Happy, Ruthie wrestles with a workbook question, apparently something along the lines of “Does 4th Street come before 6th Street or after it?”:

(#1)

There’s a lot packed in here. Crudely. the strip is about what before conveys, and that turns out to be dependent on the context. Ruthie takes before to refer to the ordering of a particular 4th and 6th Street in her own actual neighborhood, taking herself to provide the point of view for the spatial ordering (every spatial ordering via before rests on some point of view). But what’s the point of view of a workbook exercise? Who’s asking the question? For what purpose?

Now we’re out in the pragmatic weeds. Crucially, Ruthie has to understand that the workbook question is not an attempt to elicit useful information from her, but instead aims to get her to perform in a test of her sociocultural knowledge.

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The teddy bears’ drink

July 10, 2020

The coincidental juxtaposition of two things: yesterday’s Zippy strip about the drink Yoo-hoo; and the annual occasion, today, of Teddy Bear’s Picnic Day. Yes, one thing leads to the other, and the crucial link is the American baseball player Yogi Berra.


(#1) Zippy goes to his Kelvinator, and it calls “Yoo-hoo” to him

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Smearing and taunting

June 17, 2020

(Adapted and expanded from a Facebook comment of mine a while back. Some coarse sexual language, notably from American newsmakers, but also enough about sexual bodies and mansex from me to make the posting dubious for kids and the sexually modest.)

Every so often, MSNBC commentator Ali Velshi tartly notes — alluding to the Imperator Grabpussy’s smears of President Barack Obama as a Muslim born in Kenya — that he is a Muslim who was born in Kenya (though he grew up in Canada).

There’s a linguistic point here, having to do with relevance and implicature. Why does Velshi say this? Yes, it’s true, but then “The freezing point of water is 32F” is true, but if Velshi had said that it would have been bizarre, because it would have been irrelevant in the context. So Velshi’s religion and nativity are relevant in the context. Cutting through a whole lot of stuff, I would claim that Velshi is implicating something like “Being one myself, I know from Muslims born in Kenya, and I know that Barack Obama is no Muslim born in Kenya”. And THAT brings me to a piece I’ve been wrestling with some time, about Grabpussy Jr. jeering at Mitt Romney, taunting him by calling him a pussy. (I have a Velshian response of my own to that.)

Hang on; this will go in several directions.

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Annals of the AIC: the African American vote

June 14, 2020

Ali Velshi, on MSNBC on 2/23 (yes, yes, I am absurdly far behind in my posting, maybe irretrievably; life has been very hard), talking about:

(a) … the African American vote, and what is motivating them in the coming elections [in South Carolina]

African American vote is understood here as ‘the vote of/by African Americans’, and African Americans is what the later anaphoric personal pronoun them refers to, though the noun African American(s) doesn’t occur in the example, only the adjective African American. So the example would once have been seen as a violation of a purported condition on grammatical well-formedness, the Anaphoric Island Constraint (AIC) — but in fact, in the context, it seems scarcely problematic, if at all.

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The voice of authority

June 3, 2020

Yesterday on FB a query from my friend P (exchanges edited to remove personal chitchat):

A company is creating an outgoing voice message and they have come to blows over sentence structure. My suggestion to them is to fight bigger battles — but, alas, here we are.

They are going to the mat on “how can I” vs “how I can.”

Given your expertise, which is better?

“Thanks for calling COMPANY. Please tell me, in detail, how CAN I help you?
OR
“Thanks for calling COMPANY. Please tell me, in detail, how I CAN help you.”

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Our reclusive pangolinists

May 4, 2020

On the dangler watch, a report by Ben Zimmer on 4/29 about this Reddit posting, which seems to have appeared without any preceding context:

TIL [Today I Learned] Due to their reclusive nature, scientists are unsure how long a pangolin lives in the wild.

(now entry Z4.87, coded SUB(due to)-I-EMB-3P, in my collection of examples)

The writer of Z4.87 was no doubt intending to write about the endangered animal the scaly anteater, or pangolin, and the creatures were paramount in their consciousness; and they also wanted to introduce an observation on scientists’ knowledge about pangolins. All of that is fine. But we can’t be mind-readers, and what they wrote fell afoul of a general strategy in sentence comprehension that leads even well-intentioned readers to understand, at least for a perceptible moment, the claim to be that scientists, not pangolins, are reclusive.

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