Archive for the ‘Compositional semantics’ Category

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.

(#1)

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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Lemon is the vanilla of Italian ices

June 9, 2019

The 6/7 Zippy takes us to the Jersey Shore for some water ice in a squeeze cup:


(#1) At the Strollo’s Lighthouse Italian Ice shop in Long Branch NJ: Zippy (alarmed at climate change) speaking on the left, Claude Funston (who denies climate change) on the right

On the setting. On Strollo’s. On lemon as the vanilla of Italian ices. On the relevant C(ount) noun ice, the nominal Italian ice, and the compounds water ice and squeeze cup. On Italian ice and the family of similar confections.

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Angerland

September 26, 2018

The One Big Happy from 8/30, in which Ruthie hopes for semantic transparency in morphology:

Ruthie’s reading from a book, so she can see the LAND in IRELAND (in pronunciation, it’s reduced to unaccented /lǝnd/ and might not be so easily identifiable). So she hopes the IRE part will be another word she knows that will make sense in combination with LAND in the way that the first elements in, say, ICELAND and WOODLAND do.

And her dad helpfully explains IRE.

 

Christian Sauce

July 29, 2017

As on this advertisement, recently noticed in New Orleans by John Dorrance, who posted it in Facebook with only the comment “Seriously?”:

(#1) Available at the French Market, next to the Voodoo Sauce?

Well, yes, seriously. It’s a Hispanic man’s name Christian Sauce /krístian sáwse/, not an English compound noun Christian sauce, though commenters on John’s page (including the one who provided the basis for the caption of #1) preferred to have sport with the English compound noun, which affords a number of entertaining understandings.

Then there’s Christian Sauce, un abogado bilingüe practicing in Gretna LA, especially providing services to the Hispanic community (though not restricted to that). Of some linguistic interest with regard to both parts of his name.

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Superficial oxymorons

July 21, 2017

A John Atkinson Wrong Hands cartoon:

An assortment of expressions (almost all Adj + N) that might at first glance seem to be internally contradictory — that is, oxymorons — but which are nevertheless sensical.

It would be a useful exercise to go through these examples and show how they gain their meaning.

(Note: there is now a Page on this blog on John Atkinson cartoons.)