Archive for the ‘Pragmatics’ Category

Ruthie on language patrol

February 8, 2017

Two recent One Big Happy strips in which Ruthie grapples with language and its uses:

(#1)

(#2)

Pretty Rico and telephonic conventions. #1 is the more complex strip. The easy part is Ruthie’s misinterpretation of Puerto Rico as pretty Rico — another case where she reinterprets an unfamiliar expression in terms familiar to her. The tricky part is where the caller asks, “Is this a child?”, using demonstrative this on the telephone to refer to the recipient of the call: in the telephonic context (and not generally otherwise), “Is this a child?” conveys ‘Are you a child?’

Ruthie seems not to have picked up this piece of conversational convention, but she has learned a related convention, of identifying oneself on the phone (in the U.S. at least) by the formula This is X (conveying ‘I am X’). Armed with this knowledge, she takes the question Is this X? to be just the interrogative version of This is X, thus asking whether the caller is X: she takes “Is this a child?” to be asking ‘Am I a child?’

So clever. And so wrong.

Breaking news. #2, in contrast, turns on a relatively straightforward ambiguity, in the verb break. Two senses from NOAD2:

[state-change sense] separate or cause to separate into pieces as a result of a blow, shock, or strain

[hot-news sense] (of news or a scandal) suddenly become public [especially in the formula breaking news ‘information that has just now become public’, with breaking as a PRP verb form modifying news]

What Ruthie is announcing is indeed brèaking néws in the hot-news sense, but what she intends to be announcing is bréaking nèws (with the N + N compound breaking news ‘news about breaking’, with state-change break).

Yesterday’s hot guy

January 28, 2017

posted on him here in a BE FUCKING POLITE t-shirt, giving us the finger. In that posting, I hadn’t identified the model, but now ace mandentifier David Preston has named Daniel M. Sheehan, of the L.A. men’s fashion firm Sheehan & Co., as the hunky silver fox in the photo. As it turns out, the aggression in that photo was entirely mock aggression: Sheehan the man is sweet, earnest, and funny — there are videos on the company’s site — and he describes the photo as “ironic”. Here’s another version of the shirt, fingerless and affectionate (a single red rose symbolizing love), but still oxymoronic (though now the context moves the intensifier fucking in the direction of sexual fucking: towards ‘be fucking politely’):

(#1)

Sheehan seems to have a huge following of women (who presumably fantasize about doing him) and a substantial following of straight men (who presumably fantasize about being him) and a huge following of gay men like me (who can indulge in both fantasies). The FUCKING shirts can be read as aimed at any one of these audiences, or of course all of them.

Now, since I find the man physically attractive and his presentation of self (some compound of macho and gay) equally attractive, six more photos of him and his work.

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Poppin’ Fresh in a pink dress

January 22, 2017

(It starts with dough and cross-dressing and eventually touches on several sexy topics. So: definitely racy, but probably not enough to frighten the horses in the street.)

Today’s Rhymes With Orange portrays the kinky side of the Pillsbury Doughboy, Poppin’ Fresh (the advertising icon and mascot of the Pillsbury Company):

(#1)

The Doughboy cross-dressing in an adorable pink skirt — a fluted cupcake liner, from the set on the kitchen counter.

Now: some remarks on cupcakes; a note on sexual undercurrents in the Poppin’ Fresh ads; and extensive discussion of sentient, speaking figures (often anthropomorphic, as here) in advertising, cartoons, or fictions of other kinds, figures that are in fact foodstuffs.

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re-up syntax

December 28, 2016

From Jon Lighter on ADS-L early in the month:

CNN advises us … to “get re-upped on” our MMR [measles / mumps / rubella] vaccinations. I.e., join the crusade against vaccine avoidance: get the kids their booster shots, you nut-case parents!

And W Brewer recalls the connection to

re-up ‘to re-enlist’ (U.S. military slang), with possibility of getting a re-enlistment bonus

The military usage we’ve looked at on this blog. It goes back over a hundred years, with early cites having especially simple syntax: no object, either direct or oblique, but interpreted as having an oblique object referring to a branch of the service: to re-up understood as ‘to re-enlist in/with (branch of service)’, with the specific branch understood from context. Call this the objectless re-enlistment use.

My earlier posting was primarily focused on the issue of external vs. internal inflection for this verb (PST re-upped vs. re’d-up). Here I’m interested in the syntax and semantics of the verb, getting from the objectless re-enlistment use to the oblique-object renewal use in get re-upped on.

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“an infamous pincher of ladies’ bottoms”

December 28, 2016

(Eventually about a set of social practices and the vocabulary — mostly transparent — referring to them.)

A standout phrase from a moving, and also wryly funny, Gail Collins op-ed column in the NYT on the 22nd, “The Senate Bathroom Angle”. The infamous pincher in question is the monstrous Strom Thurmond, a stridently anti-black and anti-gay politician and notorious sexist pig, also the U.S. Senator from South Carolina for 48 years.

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Annals of cartoon understanding

November 28, 2016

Here’s a cartoon I once came across:

“If the recount doesn’t work, it’s up to us.”

How do we understand what the cartoon is about?

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Two negatives make a positive

November 19, 2016

The One Big Happy in today’s comics feed:

“Two negatives make a positive” is one way to state a principle of logic, that the negation of the negation of X is equivalent to X. The principle is irrelevant to an account of the syntactic phenomenon that’s popularly called “double negation” (or more generally, “multiple negation”) — often labeled negative concord by linguists — according to which all susceptible elements in a negated clause themselves appear in a negative variant (I didn’t see nobody nowhere, corresponding to standard English I didn’t see anybody anywhere); in languages or varieties or styles with negative concord, two negative elements are just the expression of one negation.

But Joe takes us into new territory, with his novel interpretation — actually, willful misinterpretation —  of the principle of logic (or of algebra, as her father puts it): according to Joe’s interpretation, saying two negative (that is, deprecatory or insulting) things counts conversationally as saying something positive (that is, favorable or complimentary). All to take the opportunity to double down on nastiness.

How’s that coming?

September 5, 2016

A P.C. Vey cartoon in the latest (Sept. 5th) New Yorker:

Three things: the parallel between a steak on the grill and a book in progress; authorial anxiety over writing on something and completing it; and the pragmatics of the idioms in how’s it going? and how’s it coming?

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“What you done, sunshine, is criminal damage”

August 21, 2016

The 1975 quotation (in Green’s Dictionary of Slang) is from a (British working-class) policeman, who “levelled a finger at” a man and made this accusation. My interest here is in the address term sunshine, which has become familiar to me though British (occasionally Canadian) police procedural tv shows, where the cops (or private detectives) often use this form of address, aggressively, to male suspects. From the New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (ed. Tom Dalzell & Terry Victor, 2015), p. 2192:

used as a form of address, often patronizing with an underlying note of disapproval or threat UK, 1972

A (very natural) extension of literal sunshine to ‘cheerfulness, happiness’ has been around for some time, as has the extension to someone who exhibits or elicits cheerfulness or happiness, in both referential and vocative uses. Then, the address term sunshine (like any other) can be used sarcastically, aggressively, or truculently, but the conventionalization of such uses specifically in British (and not American) English, for use to men by men, especially by official authorities, is yet a further development, one that I hadn’t experienced until I got into modern police procedurals, in books and on tv.

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Morning name: The Right Honourable The Lord Rees-Mogg

August 16, 2016

… as Baron Rees-Mogg of Hinton Blewitt was to be properly addressed (from 1988 until his death in 2012). Before that, he was just William Rees-Mogg, of The Times:

  (#1)

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