Archive for the ‘Pragmatics’ Category

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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deontic+, deontic-

July 28, 2016

(On the semantics and pragmatics of deontic should.)

I have a real-life example in mind here, from the NYT Magazine on the 17th, but I’m going to inch up to it, starting with these simpler examples:

(1) I should talk to my father.

(2) I should have talked to my father.

Both examples have the modal verb should, in its deontic sense, indicating obligation, duty, or correctness, incumbent upon some person, persons, or human institution; this is to be contrasted with its epistemic sense, indicating grounds for a judgment of truth — compare (1) and (2) with

(3) A sample this size should weigh about 10 kilograms.

(There are various ways to represent this difference, but that’s not my concern here.)

Then it turns out that deontic should can be used in (at least) two ways.

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guv

July 21, 2016

I’m a fan of the ITV police procedural series Midsomer Murders and also a sometime scholar of address terms, so my ears perked up in S16 E1 of the show, in which DS Charlie Nelson (N), played by Gwilym Lee, joins DI John Barnaby (B), played by Neil Dudgeon, for their first case together and B tells N to investigate recording devices at the scene of the murder. Then:

N: I’m on to that, guv.

B: I’m sure this is the start of a successful working relationship, DS Nelson, but it’ll go a lot more smoothly if you don’t call me “guv”.

N: Sir.

B objects to N’s guv ‘sir’ (used for a boss). B sees it as inappropriately informal: too matey. B is middle class, while N is depicted as of working class origins — guv is notably working class  — and also quite informal in his dress and approach to social relations. So N probably sees guv as respectful within his bounds of class and formality (though he understands how to use sir), but for B it’s doubly out of bounds; it’s hard to imagine B ever using guv to anyone, except playfully.

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More British slurs

July 17, 2016

A follow-up to yesterday’s posting on “oiks, yobs, and prats”, about British social slurs, especially in the tv series Midsomer Murders: Facebook comments from John Wells (on the slurs in my posting, plus chav) and Don Steiny (on the status of cunt in British (also Australian) English).

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Ambiguity and vagueness

May 25, 2016

… in the comics. Specifically in today’s revival of a Calvin and Hobbes strip:

Just what sort of description is called for? It depends on the context.

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Gentle mockery

May 11, 2016

Today’s Calvin and Hobbes:

Calvin in one of his roles, as a 6-year-old boy in love with the clash of titans and destruction on a massive scale (he also has his moments of knowledge and opinion beyond his years, about art, for instance), and Hobbes in one of his roles, as an affectionate older-brother figure (he also has his moments as a tiger with tigerish instincts and as a playmate for Calvin). But what is Hobbes’s gently mocking speech act here.

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Bad bro days

April 28, 2016

The story of the address term bro in relatively recent years begins with its use by black men to black men, roughly (but not exactly) like the widely used American buddy — a term of male affiliation. It then spread into the wider culture, serving as a mark of male solidarity. This is what I called in a 4/12/16 posting “good”, positive, bro. But male solidarity tends to come with a dark side: rejection of anything perceived as feminine, played out as sturdy misogyny and homo-hatred in general; and the elevation of boys’ clubs (formed for whatever reasons) to boys-only clubs, aggressively hostile to women and to men perceived as inferior. When these guys use bro to address (or refer to) one another, then we’ve got what I called “bad”, negative, bro.

Regular use of bad bro between men in groups, for instance by fraternity boys and so-called brogrammers, has led to a steady pejoration of the term for people outside those male groups; bro is now a tainted term for many people, calling up unpleasant images of aggressive masculinity.

A brief review of these matters on this blog, then two recent entries in the conversation. And a cartoon too!

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think of the Xs

April 19, 2016

Start with my 3/31 posting “A kitten-killing God?”, where I looked at a slogan (and caption for an image), with the crucial part bold-faced:

Every time you masturbate, God kills a kitten. Please think of the kittens.

A formulaic pattern Please think of the Xs (with minor variants: Think of the Xs!, Won’t someone (please) think of the Xs?, Won’t anyone think of the Xs? What about the Xs?) — some sort of snowclone, call it Think Of The Xs, exhorting the addressee to stop some activity, on the grounds that it does some damage to the Xs or sets a bad example for the Xs. Nancy’s comment on this posting of mine:

Not wank-related, but “Catmageddon,” the new anti-smoking ad campaign from Truth, makes the following equation: “SMOKING = NO CATS = NO CAT VIDEOS.” Think of the cats!

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