Archive for the ‘Semantics’ Category

Collocation restriction

January 17, 2021

Today’s Ada@Home cartoon by Rob Harrell exemplifies the restriction of lexical items to specific collocations:


secret cabal

January 13, 2021

(Hanging in my posting queue for some considerable time, but just as relevant now as then.

From John McIntyre on Facebook on 9/6/18:

Guardian writer refers to a “secret cabal” in the Trump administration. What other kind does he think there is?

The crucial point is the definition of cabal. From NOAD:

noun cabal: a secret political clique or faction: a cabal of dissidents.

That is, cabals are by definition secret, and secret cabal is pleonastic, so is to be avoided (in favor of plain cabal). The general principle is the Strunk / White Avoid Needless Words dictum. (Yes, we can dispute the applicability of the dictum in particular cases. More below.)

In my mental filing cabinet, the relevant drawer is labeled pilotless drone, after a specific example I discussed at some length back in 2007. Then, of course, the question will be whether my treatment of pilotless drones carries over to secret cabals


Time, and intellectual community

January 7, 2021

In the latest (December 2020) issue of the journal Language (vol. 96, no. 4), Brian Joseph’s “What is time (and why should linguists care about it)?”, an article that originated as his presidential address at the Linguistic Society of America (LSA) annual meeting in New Orleans on 4 January 2020. The article (abstract below) combines broad humanistic scholarship with fine-grained philological and dialectological research on the Greek language.

Meanwhile, the article is thick with thanks to all sorts of people, a characteristic that is not just personal niceness — though in some cases it is certainly that — but reflects a view about the nature of intellectual community.


A lexical surprise

January 5, 2021

Yesterday, a very rare occurrence for me: in non-technical writing for a general audience — specifically, on yesterday’s (1/4/21) New York Times opinion page — a lexical item (one of sufficient currency to appear in the one-volume New Oxford American Dictionary) that I don’t recall ever having experienced before.

The find, in Kara Swisher’s “My Tech Predictions for 2021”:

I have never thought, as many have, that [REDACTED] should have been de-platformed during his term as president. As flagitious as he can be, [REDACTED] has been a legitimate news figure and thus, what he had to say should be aired.

(But Swisher goes on, after January 20th, no more.)

Yes, flagitious.


The lexicon of masturbation

December 30, 2020

(A spin-off from today’s posting “Manual labor”. Obviously inappropriate for kids and the sexually modest: it’s all about sex, and a lot of it is raunchy.)

This is a compact summary of usages, confined here to male masturbation (all participants are men), in particular such acts involving men who have sex with other men.


Once more with the mice

December 29, 2020

Today’s Mother Goose and Grimm cartoon has the cat Attila appealing to the Pied Piper for his help in the mice-delivery business:

mice-delivery business is a N+N compound with first element mice delivery — itself a N+N compound, with first element mice. And mice is quite clearly a plural form.

It then turns out that compounds of the form mice + N (with a clearly plural first element) have a certain degree of fame in linguistics.



December 28, 2020

A Boxing Day cartoon by Wayno (with Dan Piraro at Bizarro studios North):

(#1) Wayno’s title:”New Year, New Symbol: Introducing the Pipe of Ambiguity”

Here, this picks out, or points to, the image just above it, which is indeed a symbol. In general, this has no fixed meaning, instead gaining its meaning from the context it’s in.


long / tall

December 25, 2020

A recent Strange Planet cartoon by Nathan Pyle has the aliens not quite getting the English distinction between long and tall:


— while introducing the subsidiary theme of tall people graciously accepting the social function of fetching items for their shorter companions (as someone who’s lost 3 inches in height over the years, I am grateful to those who’ve been willing to take on this role).


It’s always 4 a.m.

December 6, 2020


(Another posting from my time in rehab in Palo Alto, this one — about my body’s schedule — originally written up on 12/4. As before, it’s very much a bare-bones posting — there’s a lot about posting to my blog that is still a cognitive mystery to me, thanks to alcohol poisoning.)

For a long time, my “natural” schedule was to go to sleep around 8 p.m. (unless the prednisone I was taking made me crazy and unable to get to sleep until exhaustion took over as midnight approached) and woke around 4 a.m. (one hour into MSNBC’s Morning Joe show, which begins at 6 a.m. Eastern time. I generally awake on my own, within about 15 minutes of 4 a.m. So it’s “always 4 a.m.”

As I emerge from alcohol poisoning and alcohol withdrawal syndrome, a natural schedule has asserted itself very clearly. I become sleepy at about 7 p.m. and doze off then, despite interruptions for medication, checks of vital signs, blood draws, and the like.

I then wake up, on my own, at very close to 3 a.m. on the nose. I am in fact jerked into consciousness suddenly at 3 a.m. And I’m up and into my day. I started writing this piece at just after 3 a.m. in fact.

So: now it’s always 3 a.m.

I puzzled over this for some time, until I realized that 3 a.m. PST is in fact 4 a.m. PDT. My body is still on Daylight time.

I’m not sure how to fix this, or indeed whether it needs fixing. Here at the rehab facility, I get CNN rather than MSNBC, but when I go home — tomorrow morning! — I’ll be up for the beginning of Morning Joe.

I have long been an unfan of the Standard – Daylight time alternation, which I find surprisingly hard to adjust to. I would like us to pick one scheme and stick to it. I don’t really care which one.

[The aftermath. Back home on 12/5 and full of excitement over how easily I managed physical movements I had fretted about; I had in fact been cleverly prepared for these by the rehab’s therapists. So I was giddy and my mind raced on until way late, until I eventually dropped off to sleep. Thinking: well, at least this should reset my body clock. But no: up at 3 a.m. again, dammit.]


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.