Archive for the ‘Pragmatics’ Category

this

December 28, 2020

A Boxing Day cartoon by Wayno (with Dan Piraro at Bizarro studios North):


(#1) Wayno’s title:”New Year, New Symbol: Introducing the Pipe of Ambiguity”

Here, this picks out, or points to, the image just above it, which is indeed a symbol. In general, this has no fixed meaning, instead gaining its meaning from the context it’s in.

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Knowing how vs. knowing that/what

December 22, 2020

The grilling of the One Big Happy kids on their social / cultural knowledge as evidenced in their language use continues in the 11/30 strip (previous episode: my 12/20/20 posting “What question are you asking?”):


(#1) Note the context. One person could ask another whether they used sarcasm, just as chat or small talk, but that’s not what’s going on in the strip. This is some kind of test — note the dad’s laptop — and Joe is perfectly aware of that, though he has no idea what’s being tested.

Then there’s something of a trap in the question “Do you use sarcasm?” It’s perfectly possible to know how to use sarcasm without knowing that the contemptuous verbal practice you’re engaging in is in fact called sarcasm: you know how, but you don’t know what it’s called. As turns out to be the case for Joe: he can wield sarcasm just fine — he uses a sarcasm-devoted linguistic form in Like I know what X is, conveying that you don’t know what X is and expressing contempt for someone who expects that you should.

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What question are you asking?

December 20, 2020

The 11/27 One Big Happy strip, which came up in my comics feed recently:

The father’s question, asking for a choice, appears to be an opinion-seeking question, of a sort that adults often exchange amongst one another to make pleasant small talk or as a kind of game. But note the father’s open laptop: the opinion-seeking question is being used here as a form of test question, in which the kids are supposed to display their knowledge of culturally significant people. And the kids are perfectly aware that the exercise is some kind of test.

There is, unfortunately, another variable here: the father’s question offers choices at two points: what person (that’s the question he’s intending to ask) and living or dead (which the father intends to be clarifying the range of persons that could be possible answers, but which the kids take to be the question at issue.

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Denials

December 18, 2020

The One Big Happy cartoon from 11/26, just up in my feed:

Crucial fact: if the question had been “Are you decisive?”, Ruthie’s answer would have been different: “I don’t know — because I don’t know what that means”. Instead, the question was linguified — it was about what Ruthie would say about her decisiveness, not directly about her decisiveness. So she answered that question.

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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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