Archive for the ‘Psychology of language’ Category

I’m silently labeling you an asshole

October 5, 2017

Accidentally encountered on the net yesterday: this t-shirt triumph of supercilious peeving:


It’s also available on signs, mugs, plaques, and goodness knows what else. Dare I hope for underwear?


Associative thinking

May 27, 2017

Today’s (5/27-28/17) Daily Post (SF mid-peninsula) front-page headline:

Caltrain to cut 1,000 trees*

And what my mind took me to immediately was

Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire

Associative thinking strikes!


Words. words, words

May 7, 2017

From a King Features Comics Kingdom posting on the 3rd, “Ask a Cartoonist: Words to Live By” (by tea), three cartoons on words in comics: a Dustin on adolescent sniggering over potential double entendres and two Zippys about repeating words for sheer pleasure.


Morning spunk: same word, different word

May 27, 2016

In a sense, a re-play of an earlier posting, “spunk” of 3/16/11, which was about spunk ‘spirit, mettle, courage, pluck’ vs. spunk ‘semen, seminal fluid’. Now spunk appeared as a morning name for me a few days ago, along with the ‘pluck’ context of the interview between Mary Richards (played by Mary Tyler Moore) and Lou Grant (played by Ed Asner) in the first episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show: Grant: “You’ve got spunk … I hate spunk.”

That led me to NOAD2, where I found a single noun entry with three subentries:

1 informal courage and determination.
2 tinder; touchwood.
3 Brit. vulgar slang semen.

(Note: seminal spunk might be more common in BrE than AmE, but it is scarcely unknown in AmE, as a search will readily confirm.)

Speaking informally, this dictionary presents these three as a single word with three different uses (all of which ae available in my speech), while I would have thought these were three different words which just happened to be identical in spelling and pronunciation. What could possibly unite them?


Coffeenyms and reservation names

October 7, 2014

From Andras Kornai, a link on my Facebook timeline, tagged as “for Mr. Alexander Adams”: a Schwa Fire piece, “The Name on the Cup: Brewing the Perfect Coffeenym” by Greg Uyeno. About choosing a name for ordering in a coffee shop with lots of background noise. A related task is choosing a name for making reservations over the phone (I have a small amount of local fame in some circles for using Alexander Adams as a reservation name.)

Then there’s Uyeno’s playful coinage coffeenym.


Earworm therapy

September 10, 2014

A Leigh Rubin Rubes cartoon, via Facebook:

Brain surgery to remove the notes of the offending tune, now kept in a jar, like captured fireflies.


garden pathing

September 5, 2014

From Chris Waigl on Facebook:

Garden path alert. After reading this for the first three times, I was left with an extraneous “appear to have been a loan”. Got it the fourth time.

Both McDonnells, who now face years in prison, were acquitted of lesser charges of making false statements on loan applications, while Ms. McDonnell was convicted on a charge she alone faced, of obstructing a grand jury investigation by trying to make a gift of $20,000 worth of designer dresses and shoes appear to have been a loan. (link to NYT)

At first (second and third), Chris understood that Ms. McDonnell was convicted of trying to make a $20,000 gift of dresses and shoes (to some person or organization). She thought the sentence was finished – but then it went on!

A classic garden path sentence, to use the term of art (in linguistics and the psychology of language) that has been around since 1970 and has often been used on Language Log and this blog.


Go back, reader, go back

April 24, 2014

In the April 18th issue of Psychological Science, an article by Elizabeth R. Schotter, Randy Tran, and Keith Rayner (all of UC San Diego), entitled “Don’t Believe What You Read (Only Once): Comprehension Is Supported by Regressions During Reading”.

(I came across this first on the Association for Psychological Science site (behind a wall), but there’s an account of the research available for non-members here.)


Is That Jesus in Your Toast?

April 12, 2014

In last Sunday’s NYT Sunday Review, a piece under this title by Ana Gantman and Jay van Bavel (NYU Psychology). The lead-in:

Take a close look at your breakfast. Is that Jesus staring out at you from your toast?

Such apparitions can be as lucrative as they are seemingly miraculous. In 2004, a Florida woman named Diane Duyser sold a decade-old grilled cheese sandwich that bore a striking resemblance to the Virgin Mary. She got $28,000 for it on eBay.

The psychological phenomenon of seeing something significant in an ambiguous stimulus is called pareidolia. Virgin Mary grilled cheese sandwiches and other pareidolia remind us that almost any object is open to multiple interpretations. Less understood, however, is what drives some interpretations over others.


Three for Pi Day

March 14, 2014

Three cartoons this morning: A Dilbert on writing conventions, a Pearls Before Swine with yet another word avalanche (a repeated theme in this strip), and a Zits on reading and listening: