Archive for the ‘Semantics’ Category

Phosphorus and Hesperus

June 2, 2021

(Folded into this posting there will be some discussion of male-male sexual acts, and paintings of these, so the posting isn’t suitable for kids or the sexually modest.)

🐇🐇🐇 To greet the new month — Pride Month, though that’s no doubt an accident — my Facebook ads on 6/1, yesterday, included one new to me, for art.com, offering giclee or canvas prints of Evelyn De Morgan’s 1882 painting Phosphorus and Hesperus:

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An embodiment of complementarity: two half-brothers (sharing their mother, Eos), one (Phosphorus) lighter haired, eyes open, facing up, bearing a flaming torch aloft; one (Hesperus) darker haired, eyes closed, facing down, holding a cold torch pointing down; with their arms intertwined and their bodies aligned complementarily, in a 69, or sideways astrological Cancer, or yin-yang pattern (with Hesperus as yin, Phosphorus as yang).

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The Raw and the Cooked

May 30, 2021

The title of the first book of Claude Lévi-Strauss’s monumental 4-volume work Mythologiques — a title that served as the model for the title of my posting yesterday, “The hairy and the smooth” (referring to male body types) — one of three conceptual oppositions treated in that posting, the other two being raw – refined (referring to crudeness, naturalness, or simplicity vs. artfulness, in the presentation of these bodies in underwear ads) and authentic – synthetic (referring to natural materials, like leather, vs. various imitations, mostly based on plastics, in the garments the models are wearing).


(#1) A cover for a French edition

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The hairy and the smooth

May 29, 2021

(Much attention to men’s bodies, wearing nothing but what’s billed as fetishwear / kinkwear. Not over the raunch line, but possibly not to some readers’ tastes.)

It starts with some photos of ensembles of bulldog harness plus jockstrap, all in high-macho black, but differing in significant details — of the model’s body, the way his body is displayed in the photos, and the garments he is wearing. With respect to the oppositions

hairy – smooth
raw – refined
authentic – synthetic

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Reversed meanings

May 19, 2021

In the One Big Happy strip of 4/25, Joe is being grilled by his father on the meanings of words — “defining words” being a common task for schoolchildren — and, on being challenged by the word /tæktɪks/, whose meaning is unclear to him, he proposes to break the word down into recognizable meaningful parts, from which the meaning of the whole can be predicted. A perfectly reasonable strategy, but one that is stunningly often useless.

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Joe appears to have isolated the parts /tæk/, /tɪk/, and the plural /s/, but didn’t identify the first as any item spelled tack or the second as any item spelled tick; instead his attention was caught by the combination /tæktɪk/, so similar to /tɪktæk/, the trade name Tic Tac.

And went on to assign some meaning to the reversal of the two parts, reasoning (apparently) that reversing the order should correspond, iconically, to reversing (in some way) the meaning of Tic Tac. What would be the reverse of a breath mint? Well, the function of a breath mint is to sweeten the breath, to make it smell good —  so the reverse function would be to make the breath smell bad.

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trade and trick

April 16, 2021

(About the language of sex, with plenty of discussion of sexual acts, some of it in very plain terms, so not for kids or the sexually modest.)

Sexual vocabulary day, inspired by my puzzling about the syntax of the item trade (in examples like He’s looking for trade to service and He’s trade), which led me to a 2004 e-mail exchange — yes, still relevant — with a colleague about this item and its sexual lexical cousin trick.


Ajaxx63 Rough Trade t-shirt, on offer on the DealByEthan (men’s fashion shopping) site

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gay therapy

April 13, 2021

An ad in my Facebook feed for a Gay Therapy Center, which briefly gave me pause because of an ambiguity in the Adj + N composite gay therapy. Now, Adj + N composites, like N + N compounds, are notoriously open to multiple understandings, even if we restrict ourselves to general patterns for the semantic relationship between the two parts. In this case, I had a moment of deep unease that gay therapy was to be understood as a treatment composite, parallel to treatment compounds: pain therapy, flu therapy, cancer therapy, etc. ‘therapy to treat condition or disorder X’. Thus viewing homosexuality as a disorder, which would make gay therapy here a synonym of the now-conventional label conversion therapy, for a scheme that proposes to treat homosexuality and cure it.

But, whew, no. The Gay Therapy Center in San Francisco (with a satellite center in Los Angeles) offers “LGBTQ therapy to help LGBTQ people love themselves and each other” — with the composite gay therapy understood as ‘therapy for gay people, to help / benefit gay people’. Indeed, the Facebook ad offered brief videos showing male couples embracing affectionately (other ads have female couples as well). A still from one of these:

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The elephant and plum

April 9, 2021

Not Frog and Peach, but Elephant and Plum, in a kid joke as told by Ruthie in the One Big Happy strip from 2/22 (in my comics feed on 3/21):

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Four things: kid jokes, of which the Elephant and Plum variant above is a particular clever example; the saying about elephants on which it depends; elephant jokes, of which the joke above is not the classic Elephant and Plum exemplar; and the ambiguity of “When did you laugh at it?”, which turns on the defining property of deictic elements like the interrogative when.

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Assuming the position

April 7, 2021

(Men’s bodies as sexual objects — women’s, too — and sex between men, all of this discussed in street language, with edgy images, so not for kids or the sexually modest.)

At the intersection of the pinup-girl world (AZ Page here) and the premium men’s underwear world (AZ Page here), two recent ads from the Daily Jocks people: from 3/28, under the mail header “Model of the week: Freddy”, an ad for OnlyJox subscriptions, already of interest to me for its display of male buttocks as sexual objects for a male audience and for pushing the line between softcore and hardcore porn in doing so; and from 4/2, an ad for the DJ Easter sale, already of interest to me for its display of the front surface of the model’s body as series of sexual objects for a male audience, from the framing of his penis in a jockstrap though the sexualized presentation of his armpits, pectoral muscles and nipples.

The 4/2 ad is also quite clearly the photographer’s carefully composed re-creation of a classic pinup pose using a male model. And then I realized that that the 3/8 ad was in fact a bow to yet another classic pinup pose.

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Calvin becomes a personage

April 6, 2021

Two Calvin and Hobbes cartoons recently — yesterday and today (originally from 4/8 and 4/9/91) — in my comics feed, in which Calvin takes on a title (the epithet the Bold) and adopts illeism (referring to himself in the third person):

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Yes, it’s all about linguistics.

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Ripped from the headlines

April 3, 2021

Well, actually, the headline — from CNN Politics, “Gaetz showed nude photos of women he said he’d slept with to lawmakers, sources tell CNN” by Jeremy Herb, Lauren Fox and Ryan Nobles yesterday — isn’t problematic, but very early in the body of the story, we get this:


(hat tips to Mike Pope and Michael Covarrubias on Facebook)

Which is.

I was (actually) shocked at the idea that congressman Matt Gaetz (R of FL) — admittedly, an extraordinarily arrogant bully with the contempt for ordinary people and customary social conventions so often displayed by children of privilege — would have sex with women on the floor of the US House of Representatives. Then I saw the ambiguity in modifier attachment and realized that what was alleged was merely deeply boorish behavior: passing around, wink wink nod nod, naked photos and videos of his sexual conquests to other legislators and their staffs.

Now, about that modifier attachment…

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