Archive for the ‘Semantics’ Category

Dotty Zippy

November 16, 2022

The Zippy strip of 9/10, in which our Pinhead, anticipating little balls of flash-frozen ice cream, embraces dot dot dot in two ways at once:


(#1) Ellipsis dots meet Dippin’ Dots at the carnival

Two very different uses of NOAD‘s noun dot-1 ‘a small round mark or spot’ (dot-2 is an archaic noun referring to a dowry):

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Google translates

October 29, 2022

I’ve been sleeping most of my days away, not happily, so not advancing on raunchy appetizer boards and the like. Thanks to Hana Filip, reporting on Google Translate, for today’s Mary, Queen of Scots Not Dead Yet posting.

Today on Facebook, from Hana:

Discussion (somewhat edited):
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Where to door knock and cold call

October 19, 2022

… and, eventually, how to abracadabra things out of sight. Yes, it’s Verbing Day on AZ Blog!

Politics and real estate: to door knock. It started on the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC on 10/11, with the cite presented here in its larger context:


(#1) to door knock / door-knock ‘knock on doors’ (in political canvassing): a N + V verb, whose origin lies in a back-formation from the synthetic compound door knocking / door-knocking

The semantics / pragmatics of the synthetic compound is specialized — not merely knocking on doors, but doing so in specific sociocultural settings (political canvassing and door-to-door solicitations by real estate agents, in particular) — and this specialization is shared by the 2pbfV (two-part back-formed V)

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Mortal power

September 9, 2022

The 8/11/22 Rhymes With Orange, exploiting an ambiguity in the noun killer as the modifier N1 in N1 + N2 compounds, in this case in killer abs (literal ‘abs that are killers, abs that kill’ vs. figurative ‘abs that are killer / remarkable’):


(#1) In the worlds of advertisements featuring beautiful people, the health and fitness literature, and soft porn, figurative killer abs are commonplace; abs that kill, however, have (so far as I know) never once appeared on a police blotter

Wider topic: the figurative modifiers of mortal power — premodifying killer (killer abs, a killer app), postmodifying of death (the cruise of death, referring to a penetrating sexual facial expression).

Male body parts and sexual connections between men plus a ton of linguistic expressions in their social contexts, what more could I ask for?

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Cartoon-cat fame-naming your cat

September 5, 2022

From my 8/15 posting “Fame-naming and family history”:

My intention was to get on with Cats 4, about naming cats for / after famous cats — in particular, famous fictional cats; in further particular, cats in cartoons and comics. If I name my cat Stallone (after the actor) or Rocky (after the fictional pugilist), I’m fame-naming a cat; if I name my cat Cheshire (from Alice in Wonderland) or Pyewacket (from the Salem witch trials and then various films, for example the wonderful Bell, Book and Candle (1958)), I’m cat-fame-naming my cat; if I name my cat Garfield or Sylvester, I’m cartoon-cat-fame-naming my cat. This is intricate, but pretty straightforward. And the topic of Cats 4 will in fact be the cartoon-cat-fame-naming of cats.

This is Cats 4. Where you could, if you were so moved, name your cat Garfield:


(#1) A lined notebook / journal for cat lovers (available via Amazon)

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CalWord: the Calvin Theory of Word Use

September 1, 2022

🐇 🐇 🐇 (the commencement of September) The Calvin and Hobbes comic strip from 9/1/92, reprised in my comics feed on 8/30:


(#1) We can achieve intergenerational incommunicability! Yes we can!

Calvin articulates a view of word use, call it CalWord, which comes in two parts:

Endless lability. Any word can be used to convey any meaning. In the CalWord view, a word is merely substance — pronunciation or spelling — that can be put to any use.  So words are the stem cells of the linguistic world. From NOAD:

compound noun stem cellBiology an undifferentiated cell of a multicellular organism which is capable of giving rise to indefinitely more cells of the same type, and from which certain other kinds of cell arise by differentiation.

Social fencing. Socially distributed variants can serve as social fences, separating the Ins from the Outs and impeding the Outs’ ability to comprehend and communicate with the Ins — impeding, for example, one generation’s ability to comprehend or communicate with the generations after it. The fencing effect is very noticeable for lexical variants — different bits of substance for the same use (soda vs. pop, say); or, especially relevant here, different uses for the same substance (gay ‘lighthearted, carefree’ vs. ‘homosexual’ vs. ‘foolish, stupid, unimpressive’, say).

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Fame-naming and family history

August 15, 2022

My intention was to get on with Cats 4, about naming cats for / after famous cats — in particular, famous fictional cats; in further particular, cats in cartoons and comics. If I name my cat Stallone (after the actor) or Rocky (after the fictional pugilist), I’m fame-naming a cat; if I name my cat Cheshire (from Alice in Wonderland) or Pyewacket (from the Salem witch trials and then various films, for example the wonderful Bell, Book and Candle (1958)), I’m cat-fame-naming my cat; if I name my cat Garfield or Sylvester, I’m cartoon-cat-fame-naming my cat. This is intricate, but pretty straightforward. And the topic of Cats 4 will in fact be the cartoon-cat-fame-naming of cats.

Fame-naming is a special case of after-naming. I am named after my father (Arnold Melchior Zwicky), and he was named (in a complex way) after his father (Melchior Arnold Zwicky), but no famous persons or characters were involved in these namings. On the other hand, my grandfather was named after one of the Three Wise Men, or Magi (Melchior; and his brothers Balthasar and Kaspar were named after the other two); this is fame-naming.

Meanwhile, my daughter, Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky, is named after two forebears: her mother’s mother, Elizabeth Walcutt Daingerfield; and her father’s great-aunt, Elizabeth Pickney Daingerfield. That’s just after-naming. On the other hand, according to her mother, my mother Marcella Zwicky was fame-named (not merely after-named) for the fictional character Marcella in the Raggedy Ann books for children.

I was about to go on to compare schemes for the naming of pets (in modern American culture) to those for the naming of children — given our attitudes towards pets, the two are unsurprisingly similar — when I went to get illustrative material about Marcella and Raggedy Ann and discovered that, sadly, my grandmother’s story about my mother’s name could not possibly be true.

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Stilettoed on the balcony

August 3, 2022

The killing of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri by a targeted U.S. drone strike (taking him down as he stood on a balcony) over the weekend in Afghanistan was described by an MSNBC commentator yesterday morning as

a stiletto strike:  with the N1 + N2 compound N stiletto strike ‘sudden (military) attack resembling a stiletto (in being very narrowly focused lethal weaponry)’; the sense of the N2 strike here is NOAD‘s 2 [a] a sudden attack, typically a military one

Possibly it was stiletto airstrike; it went by very fast, I haven’t seen another broadcast of it, and it’s not yet available on-line, so I can’t check — but I am sure of the N stiletto and the N strike and the intent of the commentator to commend the pinpoint accuracy of the operation.

It seems that the metaphor has been used occasionally in military circles for some years, but very rarely outside these circles, so that it came with the vividness of a fresh, rather than conventional, metaphor — but while it worked well for me (evoking the slim, pointed, lethal daggers of assassins), it might not have been so effective with others, whose mental image of a stiletto is the heel of a fashionable women’s shoe (slim and pointed,  but alluring rather than lethal).

Yes, the two senses (plus a few others that I won’t discuss here) are historically related, with the dagger sense the older and, in a series of steps, the source of the shoe sense. But of course ordinary speakers don’t know that, nor should they be expected to (such information is the province of specialists, historical linguists and lexicographers); what they know is how stiletto is used in their social world, and that’s likely to involve trendy footwear rather than medieval weaponry.

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The pickle slicer joke The pickle slicer joke

July 31, 2022

On this blog, a Bob Richmond comment on my 7/29 posting “Many a pickle packs a pucker”, with an old dirty joke that turns on the line “I stuck my dick in the pickle slicer” — with Bob noting, “I’m sure Arnold can provide an appropriate grammatical analysis”. The hinge of the joke is a pun on pickle slicer, which is ambiguous between ‘a device for slicing pickles’ and ‘someone who slices pickles (esp. as a job)’. You don’t need a syntactician to tell you that, but what I can tell you is that this isn’t some isolated fact about the expression pickle slicer, but is part of a much larger pattern that a linguist like me can bring to explicit awareness for you, so that you can appreciate something of the system of English that you (in some sense) know, but only tacitly, implicitly.

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Classic joke #444

July 22, 2022

We might as well just give them numbers. (This particular joke is 2/3 of a devil.) From Verdant on my Twitter on 7/15/22, this old Shoe strip:


(#1) Body-location (of the tattoo) vs. event-location (of the tattooing); Verdant provides this as a comment on my 2/27/19 posting “Body-location, event-location”, where #444 appears in a One Big Happy strip and is traced back at least as far as the antique Joe Miller’s Jest Book

To which Verdant adds yes-I-said-yes Molly Bloom’s:

confession when I used to go to Father Corrigan he touched me father and what harm if he did where and I said on the canal bank like a fool but whereabouts on your person my child

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