Archive for the ‘Punctuation’ Category

Language in the New Yorker

April 4, 2015

In recent weeks, two New Yorker pieces on language matters: one on punctuation (by Mary Norris) and one on endangered languages (by Judith Thurman).


Big D

November 27, 2014

No, not Dallas, but Deaf vs. deaf, a meaning distinction (a sociocultural identity vs. merely hearing-impaired) easily made in print, but not so easily in speech, as I noted in a 11/22/14 posting. But in speech, Susan Fischer tells me, the distinction can be made as “big-D deaf” vs. “little-d deaf”. (I was hoping for the briefer /dɛf/ vs. /dif/.)

Then I asked Susan about how this worked in ASL, hoping for something more interesting. But no; apparent you just sign BIG-D DEAF vs. LITTLE-D DEAF.


Strunk & White and Strunk/White

October 11, 2014

Going the rounds on Facebook, this xkcd cartoon from 7/11/11:

Mouseover text:  The best thing about Strunk/White fanfiction is that it’s virtually guaranteed to be well written. (Geoff Pullum would take issue with that.)

When the cartoon first came out, it was immediately snapped up by Mark Liberman on Language Log, in the posting “Important editorial advice” — with discussion of fan fiction, including the classic slash fiction, like Kirk/Spock. Strunk/White would be an instance of what has come to be known as RPF (real person fiction), in which the erotic fiction involves real people, for instance baseball players.

Of course, once Randall Munroe posted this cartoon, people set themselves to the task of creating Strunk/White fan fiction.

On this blog: “Baseball days” of 7/21/13, on RPF and shirtless baseball players; and “slashclip” of 8/23/13 on, inter alia, the clipped term slashfic.

Sweet rainbow food

September 13, 2014

In a continuing series, more food with a rainbow theme, this time from the sizable Flickr site Rainbow Sugar, which says:

Anything that is rainbow color and sweet, belongs in this group

(The comma between subject and predicate, marking a breathing point in the sentence (especially with a complex subject), once very common, is now treated as non-standard punctuation, an error.)

(Hat tip to Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky.)

Two examples: rainbow cookies and rainbow (jelly) fruit slices (with only part of the rainbow shown here; we need purple and blue at the left end):



Huge numbers of rainbow cakes, of course, ranging from the subtle to the garish.

Apostrophes for the season

June 26, 2014

On Facebook, Chris Hansen (looking forward to London Pride this weekend) reports this advert for Fortnum & Mason:

You wouldn’t expect the venerable F&M to get their apostrophes wrong (they are in fact Grocers to the Queen), and indeed this punctuational choice was entirely intentional.


A comma, doctor!

April 29, 2014

From a letter to the editor (written 4/24) in the NYT today, from Peter Balakian (a professor of the humanities at Colgate University) of Hamilton NY, on “Turks and Armenians” (the crucial piece is boldfaced):

… For Turkey to deal with this history in an ethical way, it must acknowledge the consensus on the historical record that is detailed in the open letter from the International Association of Genocide Scholars to Prime Minister Erdogan in June 2005.

The association notes that the intended mass killing of the Armenians by the Ottoman Turkish government constitutes genocide in every aspect of the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention. It also notes that Raphael Lemkin, a legal scholar, was the first to apply the term “genocide” to the extermination of the Armenians, in the 1940s

This says that Lemkin was the first to use the term for the extermination of the Armenians and suggests that it had been used previously for other exterminations: the PP to the extermination of the Armenians is functioning as a restrictive modifier of the VP apply the term “genocide”. But that’s almost surely not what Balakian intended; certainly, it’s not what he should have intended, since the OED tells us that Lemkin’s use of “genocide” is in fact the first recorded use of the term.


Three for the day (Easter)

April 20, 2014

Today’s crop of cartoons includes a Bizarro, a Zippy, and a Mother Goose and Grimm:





Pesky capitalization

April 12, 2014

From Chris Waigl on Facebook, this image of a headline.

Among the most common functions of initial caps are marking the first word of a sentence and marking proper names. Both are, at least at first, here. But the ‘annoying memorabilia’ interpretation is very unlikely. Then you need to know that Johnny Pesky was a baseball player — a fact immediately made clear in the body of the story,

Today’s holiday

February 17, 2014

This is an odd American holiday. This Washington Post piece from yesterday — “Why Presidents’ Day is slightly strange” by Valerie Strauss — explains why.


Comma time

February 8, 2014

Today’s Bizarro has yet another version of the Comma Joke, repeated in many places over the years:

The contrast is between expressions that are tightly connected syntactically to the rest of their syntax (as in Kiss the cook) vs. those that are loose adjuncts of one type or another — vocatives or, as in this case, appositives.

(Note: this was originally posted under the heading Apostrophe Time. My mental gears slipped between apostrophe and comma, as several readers have pointed out. Some days I’m not very sharp.)