Archive for the ‘Semantics’ Category

A New Yorker trio

October 23, 2020

Three cartoons from the 10/26 New Yorker: two of linguistic interest (by Amy Hwang and Roz Chast), one (by Christopher Weyant) yet another Desert Island cartoon.

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Film blanc

September 27, 2020

From my posting backlog, this Wayno/Piraro Bizarro from 1/17/20:


(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 3 in this strip — see this Page.)

If there’s a film noir, there must be a film blanc, right? If there’s black comedy, there must be white comedy, right? If there’s an X, there must be a ~X, the opposite of X.

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All they will call you will be “escapees”

September 13, 2020

Well, maybe also “escapers”, or even “escapettes”, as in this One Big Happy cartoon from 8/17, which taps into a much-studied phenomenon in English morphology:

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From my 1/9/15 posting “-ee” (warning: this goes, unavoidably, pretty deep into the technical weeds of syntax and semantics):

The great resource on [the English derivational suffix] –ee is a 1998 paper by Chris Barker in Language (74.695-727), “Episodic -ee in English: A thematic role constraint on new word formation” (stable URL here), which uses a database of “fifteen hundred naturally occurring tokens of some five hundred word types” to analyze the semantics of the suffix; it also has a full bibliography of relevant literature on the subject.

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candy-ass faggots

September 4, 2020

(Tons of abusive and offensive language; some sex talk, but only in passing.)

Another posting from the back files, which somehow got disregarded. Investigating the slang candy-ass, I was taken back to this tale of invective from Peter Cavanaugh’s WordPress blog entry “Rocket to Stardom” from 3/26/09 about radio station WNDR in Syracuse NY (the crucial bit is boldfaced):

WNDR’s News Director was Bud Stapleton, a good “friend of the Judge”. He was tough and mean, a former Marine. Bud was a World War Two vet who spent several serious years “island hopping” in the South Pacific and to whom a peaceful return to civilian life was “a fucking pain in the ass”. He was a certified American hero.

… Syracuse, New York is also the home of Syracuse University and the celebrated Newhouse School of Communications.

The Newhouse faculty regarded “WNDR Action Central News” as professionally falling somewhere in between pig semen and rat vomit. They went out of their way expounding with exhausted exasperation upon the degrading, disgusting, depraving journalistic waste product available every hour on the hour at good old 1260 on their AM dial.

It was a classic case of unbridled mutual contempt.

Bud Stapleton characteristically categorized the Newhouse professors as “Candy-ass faggots who can suck my cock on the 6-0-Clock News”. He made frequent reference to “shoving their fucking ivory tower right up their baby-boy butts”.

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The three Ds: debased, degraded, and decadent

August 16, 2020

(Well, it’s about lexical semantics and the conventions of social life, but there will be, right at the outset, dips into references to mansex in very plain language, so not suitable for kids or the sexually modest.)

It started with my 12/29/19 posting “The time of mildly debasing oneself”, about one of Nathan W. Pyle’s weirdly quirky Strange Planet cartoons looking forward to New Year’s Day:


(#1)  “Until then I will mildly debase myself” — “To maximize contrast”

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empathetic

August 14, 2020

Standardly, ‘exhibiting or expressing empathy’, but now also, in some contexts, ‘eliciting empathy’. A semantic development now prominent in the U.S. because of (former vice-president, now presidential candidate) Joe Biden, who is famously empathetic in the first sense (he appreciates our feelings) — subject-oriented EXHIBIT — but because of his life history is also empathetic in the second sense (we appreciate his feelings) — object-oriented ELICIT.


EXHIBIT empathetic (sense one), from cartoonist Baloo’s site

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Towards the high end of the hardness scale

August 4, 2020

(All I need to tell you is that this posting takes off from a line of Cumdump jockstraps offered by the Breedwell company in deliberately provocative ads, and you should see that it’s totally not for kids or the sexually modest.)

A Daily Jocks ad from 11/4/19 shows us the jock in red, with a model presented faux-naturalistically as a tough working-class guy in a blue-collar setting (a railyard, shipyard, or truckyard). Ad copy for the jock:

The new Breedwell Cumdump Jock [available in white, black, red, yellow, and blue] is a take on the classic, old-school woven jock.

Features a black centre patch with the Breedwell logo and signature “Dirty By Choice” motto. The back of the jock features ‘Breedwell’ across the entire back.

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Before or after?

July 26, 2020

In the 9/14/19 One Big Happy, Ruthie wrestles with a workbook question, apparently something along the lines of “Does 4th Street come before 6th Street or after it?”:

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There’s a lot packed in here. Crudely. the strip is about what before conveys, and that turns out to be dependent on the context. Ruthie takes before to refer to the ordering of a particular 4th and 6th Street in her own actual neighborhood, taking herself to provide the point of view for the spatial ordering (every spatial ordering via before rests on some point of view). But what’s the point of view of a workbook exercise? Who’s asking the question? For what purpose?

Now we’re out in the pragmatic weeds. Crucially, Ruthie has to understand that the workbook question is not an attempt to elicit useful information from her, but instead aims to get her to perform in a test of her sociocultural knowledge.

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Smearing and taunting

June 17, 2020

(Adapted and expanded from a Facebook comment of mine a while back. Some coarse sexual language, notably from American newsmakers, but also enough about sexual bodies and mansex from me to make the posting dubious for kids and the sexually modest.)

Every so often, MSNBC commentator Ali Velshi tartly notes — alluding to the Imperator Grabpussy’s smears of President Barack Obama as a Muslim born in Kenya — that he is a Muslim who was born in Kenya (though he grew up in Canada).

There’s a linguistic point here, having to do with relevance and implicature. Why does Velshi say this? Yes, it’s true, but then “The freezing point of water is 32F” is true, but if Velshi had said that it would have been bizarre, because it would have been irrelevant in the context. So Velshi’s religion and nativity are relevant in the context. Cutting through a whole lot of stuff, I would claim that Velshi is implicating something like “Being one myself, I know from Muslims born in Kenya, and I know that Barack Obama is no Muslim born in Kenya”. And THAT brings me to a piece I’ve been wrestling with some time, about Grabpussy Jr. jeering at Mitt Romney, taunting him by calling him a pussy. (I have a Velshian response of my own to that.)

Hang on; this will go in several directions.

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Annals of the AIC: the African American vote

June 14, 2020

Ali Velshi, on MSNBC on 2/23 (yes, yes, I am absurdly far behind in my posting, maybe irretrievably; life has been very hard), talking about:

(a) … the African American vote, and what is motivating them in the coming elections [in South Carolina]

African American vote is understood here as ‘the vote of/by African Americans’, and African Americans is what the later anaphoric personal pronoun them refers to, though the noun African American(s) doesn’t occur in the example, only the adjective African American. So the example would once have been seen as a violation of a purported condition on grammatical well-formedness, the Anaphoric Island Constraint (AIC) — but in fact, in the context, it seems scarcely problematic, if at all.

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