Archive for the ‘Pragmatics’ Category

Messages in the ABCs

October 22, 2022

The One Big Happy in my comics feed today (released to newspapers on 9/4) shows Ruthie finding messages in the ABCs — the letters of the alphabet in their conventional order in modern English (A B C D E F G …):


friendly greeting H I  … descending to prohibitive N O

But wait! Go on a bit further and we get to T U, spelling a pronoun of friendly address in French (and sort of, in Spanish, too). Oh, you changeable ABCs, with your many moods!

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Where to door knock and cold call

October 19, 2022

… and, eventually, how to abracadabra things out of sight. Yes, it’s Verbing Day on AZ Blog!

Politics and real estate: to door knock. It started on the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC on 10/11, with the cite presented here in its larger context:


(#1) to door knock / door-knock ‘knock on doors’ (in political canvassing): a N + V verb, whose origin lies in a back-formation from the synthetic compound door knocking / door-knocking

The semantics / pragmatics of the synthetic compound is specialized — not merely knocking on doors, but doing so in specific sociocultural settings (political canvassing and door-to-door solicitations by real estate agents, in particular) — and this specialization is shared by the 2pbfV (two-part back-formed V)

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Bro insults

October 15, 2022

The Zits strips for 10/10 and 10/11, on bro insults: what bros do instead of complimenting one another. Because actually complimenting another guy would be kinda faggy, totally not according to the Boy Code. And girls just don’t understand this basic fact.


(#1) Not any old insults, but ritual insults, like baboon-butt, which won’t be taken seriously; there’s no injury here


(#2) And monkey-heinie and flame brain, all of them serving not as insults but as signs of male bonding — male friendship and mutual regard

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The proverbial dead cat

October 12, 2022

The 10/10 Piccolo / Price Rhymes With Orange cartoon is delightful, but incomprehensible if you don’t know the proverb whose standard form is now Curiosity killed the cat:


(#1) If you see that the proverb is the key to understanding the cartoon, you’ll be able to appreciate the pun on curiosity — with one sense given explicitly in the cartoon (in curiosity shop), the other available only implicitly, through the proverb and the reference to killing in the cartoon

The two senses, from NOAD:

noun curiosity: 1 a strong desire to know or learn something: filled with curiosity, she peered through the window | curiosity got the better of me, so I called him. 2 a strange or unusual object or fact: he showed them some of the curiosities of the house.

Sense 2 gives us curiosity shop, a store (like the one in the cartoon) that offers curiosities for sale; and cabinet of curiosities, a collection of curiosities for display. And from sense 2 we get the noun curio for the sorts of thing (visible in the cartoon) on sale at a curiosity shop:

noun curio: a rare, unusual, or intriguing object: they had such fun over the wonderful box of curios that Jack had sent from India. ORIGIN mid 19th century: abbreviation of curiosity. (NOAD)

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It’s a satire, son!

October 2, 2022

… paraphrasing Looney Tunes’s Foghorn Leghorn, describing a discussion of how to trap and then dispatch predatory coyotes in a suburban neighborhood of Cleveland Heights OH — in which Tim Evanson reported putting out a roadrunner (aka road runner), tied to a stake, as a lure (another Looney Tunes allusion) and I suggested as an alternative bait “the superfluous infants of the poor” (alluding to a Jonathan Swift pamphlet of 1729).

Tim and I both spoke satirically; we both wanted our satirical intent to be recognized; and we were both reluctant just to flag our suggestions with a smiley 😀 that shouts out “It’s a satire, son!” But readers often fail to discern satirical intent (especially if they don’t know what sort of person the writer is), so Tim and I jacked things up with those preposterous allusions, both of which wear their own satirical intent on their sleeves. (No actual greater road runners, Geococcyx californianus, or desperately impoverished infants are implicated in our proposals.)

(I will confess that it took me half an hour to get the two sentences of my proposal just so.)

It all began on Oakridge Dr. in Cleveland Heights yesterday, with Tim posting this photo to FB:


(#1) — TE: Very big male coyote on Oakridge Dr. this morning. A couple doors down from my house. [photo from a neighbor walking her dog; note that TE has a relatively small dog of his own, so that neighborhood coyotes are unwelcome news]

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Mortal power

September 9, 2022

The 8/11/22 Rhymes With Orange, exploiting an ambiguity in the noun killer as the modifier N1 in N1 + N2 compounds, in this case in killer abs (literal ‘abs that are killers, abs that kill’ vs. figurative ‘abs that are killer / remarkable’):


(#1) In the worlds of advertisements featuring beautiful people, the health and fitness literature, and soft porn, figurative killer abs are commonplace; abs that kill, however, have (so far as I know) never once appeared on a police blotter

Wider topic: the figurative modifiers of mortal power — premodifying killer (killer abs, a killer app), postmodifying of death (the cruise of death, referring to a penetrating sexual facial expression).

Male body parts and sexual connections between men plus a ton of linguistic expressions in their social contexts, what more could I ask for?

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Three greetings for 9/6/22

September 6, 2022

For Woo(l)ly Mammoth’s #82: a fresh greeting formula, a morning hummer, and a fairy woodland bouquet. To which I’m adding some carrot cake and coffee ice cream: it’s not only my birthday, it’s also National Coffee Ice Cream Day, which I’m honoring all aslant (with coffee gelato), as I do so many things. To alter a family saying (If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly): If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing eccentrically (for other occasions: If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing outrageously).

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CalWord: the Calvin Theory of Word Use

September 1, 2022

🐇 🐇 🐇 (the commencement of September) The Calvin and Hobbes comic strip from 9/1/92, reprised in my comics feed on 8/30:


(#1) We can achieve intergenerational incommunicability! Yes we can!

Calvin articulates a view of word use, call it CalWord, which comes in two parts:

Endless lability. Any word can be used to convey any meaning. In the CalWord view, a word is merely substance — pronunciation or spelling — that can be put to any use.  So words are the stem cells of the linguistic world. From NOAD:

compound noun stem cellBiology an undifferentiated cell of a multicellular organism which is capable of giving rise to indefinitely more cells of the same type, and from which certain other kinds of cell arise by differentiation.

Social fencing. Socially distributed variants can serve as social fences, separating the Ins from the Outs and impeding the Outs’ ability to comprehend and communicate with the Ins — impeding, for example, one generation’s ability to comprehend or communicate with the generations after it. The fencing effect is very noticeable for lexical variants — different bits of substance for the same use (soda vs. pop, say); or, especially relevant here, different uses for the same substance (gay ‘lighthearted, carefree’ vs. ‘homosexual’ vs. ‘foolish, stupid, unimpressive’, say).

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Breaking through the wall

August 30, 2022

Today’s Piccolo / Price Rhymes With Orange strip is a play on specific American tv commercials (with some gentle old-age mockery folded in), so will be baffling to any reader who doesn’t recognize the Kool-Aid Man mascot or know the wall-breaking “Oh Yeah!” tv ads featuring KAM:


(#1) There is, however, a hint to the reader in the “So not kool” (with kool instead of cool) in the title panel; note also the generational disparity reinforced by the GenX so there (see my 11/14/11 posting “GenX so“)

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Some people call me Piggie

July 11, 2022

Appearing in my FB as a response to my 7/4 posting (for Fathers Day) “I am a good Boy for you, Daddy” (about Daddy – Boy relationships), this remarkable billboard (without identification or comment), featuring a pig-cop character — Mister Piggie — getting oral with an inert character Boy :


(#1) Pig Kisses Boy! Pig because he’s a cop? Pig because he’s unable to control his sexual impulses? (or, of course, both); I suppose that’s supposed to be life-saving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but still: ick

The text looks like a book title (or maybe a quotation from a book), attributed to some Bobby Peters we’re expected to recognize. Is the billboard advertising a book by football player and game analyst Bobby Peters? About whom I had trouble getting much information, but then that’s an alien world to me. I spent maybe half an hour fruitlessly trying to chase Bobby Peters down, and then a search on “some call him pig” turned up a Boing Boing posting “Some call him pig!” by Rob Beschizza from 3/3/22. To start with, the football Bobby Peters has nothing to do with it; it’s about a Columbus GA mayor named Bobby Peters. And there’s a 50-year history of “Some call him Pig!”.

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