Archive for the ‘Implicature’ Category


October 26, 2015

I start with a Mark Stivers cartoon (from 11/16/14) that was reprinted (in b&w) in the November Funny Times:


Reubenesque in the cartoon (referring to the Reuben sandwich, illustrated there), playing on Rubenesque (referring to the painter Peter Paul Rubens, known, among other things, for the plump — “full and rounded” in OED3 — female figures in his paintings), both pronounced /ˌrubɪnˈɛsk/. The Reuben sandwich in the cartoon is metaphorically Rubenesque: plump with its components, as it should be.

This play on words will take us in several directions; here are some preliminary comments, in no particular order.


Routine and sub-routine

October 4, 2015

Today’s Zits:

True, she just asked him to unload the dishwasher, and he did that. But the point of unloading the dishwasher is to put the clean dishes away, so that unload the dishwasher implicates put the clean dishes away. Or to put it another way, the routine of unloading the dishwater has a sub-routine of putting the clean dishes away.

As usual, Jeremy takes what his mother says as literally and narrowly as possible, so as to avoid work.

Or what?

May 22, 2015

A Meg Biddle cartoon in the June 2015 Funny Times:


Yes-no questions with the tag or what? are regularly used to emphatically assert the truth of the questioned proposition. So

Is this a great country, or what?

has the effect of proclaiming that this is indeed a great country. But the question has at least one other reading, merely asking for an alternative answer to Is this a great country?, and that’s the reading Biddle is playing with in the cartoon.


Assorted cartoons

June 7, 2014

A recent accumulation: a Scott Hilburn strip with a pun; a Zits on X-free foods; a very meta Zippy; and a Pearls Before Swine with heavy use of implicature.


-less and -ness

August 14, 2013

Back on July 11th, I posted this:

Unlike my other postings this morning, shirtless men will not come into it. That is, this posting is shirtlessnessless.

Yes, shirtlessnessless. The formal pattern here is indefinitely extendable, but rapidly yields words of vanishing utility in real life.


Flouting Quantity

July 10, 2013

Today’s Dilbert has the devious Wally flouting Grice’s maxim of Quantity:

(On Grice’s maxims, see this posting.) Saying “not two” implicates — conversationally implicates — not two or more, but Wally disregards this in favor of treating not two as ‘not exactly two’. But the pointy-headed boss has enough experience with Wally to suspect his deviousness.

Penguin cartoons

June 12, 2013

Today’s cartoon crop includes a Tundra strip (passed on by Chris Waigl) with a penguin as the central character (and a pun and an implicature) and a penguinless one (today’s Pearls Before Swine) that’s about characters from one strip appearing in another — but then leads to another cartoon penguin (and portmanteau animals and a hand signal):




Word avalanche

May 26, 2013

Today’s Pearls Before Swine, with a type of language play I have no ready name for:

(The human in the last panel is the cartoonist, Stephan Pastis. And Rat’s question is rhetorical, conveying ‘the word shame means nothing to you’.)

In this form, you pile up phonologically identical words or parts of words to make a gigantic expression that is almost impossible to parse (without the context that sets up the expression): pen the writing implement, the pen– of penultimate, Sean Penn the actor, and Penn the university; the ultimate ‘final’ of penultimate, ultimate ‘very best’, and the ultimate of Ultimate Frisbee. (On penultimate, ultimate, etc, see this posting.) The effect of the set-up is to license what sounds like a massive attack of stuttering.

Relevance and unspoken assumptions

September 21, 2012

In a David Brooks NYT op-ed column (“Après Rahm, Le Déluge”) of a week ago:

The Chicago school system is a classic case of a bloated, inefficient Economy II organization. The average Chicago teacher makes $76,000 a year in a city where the average worker makes $47,000 a year. Rising school costs have helped push the system deep into the red. Meanwhile, the outcomes are not good.

This passage begins by asserting that the Chicago system is bloated and inefficient. The next sentence asserts that the average Chicago teacher makes 1.6 times as much as the average Chicago worker, leaving us to calculate by Gricean relevance that the second sentence follows the first because teachers’ salaries are bloated, bloated implicating that these salaries should be much smaller (perhaps around the average worker’s salary, or even less). All of these are arguable propositions.


Calvin x 3

August 31, 2012

From the Best of Calvin and Hobbes site, three strips: on inattention and question-answering; on phone answering as a linguistic routine; and on indirect speech acts.