Archive for the ‘Lexical semantics’ Category

Frank Viva

June 21, 2016

The cover of the latest (June 27th) New Yorker, by artist Frank Viva: “Love”, a defiant response to the Orlando Pulse massacre:


We throw vibrant love — rainbow kisses — in the face of death


You should really look at the text

June 10, 2016

… or maybe you think that any publicity is good publicity — if you are the author of this e-mail that came to me yesterday:

Dear Arnold Zwicky, We would humbly request that you consider adding [site X] as a dating site link on your page [1/20/12, “Christians”]:

We are the largest free Christian dating site in the world and have been around since 2007. We are currently working hard on our memberships and have marketed the latest versions of our Google Play Android app and iOS app to the Christian community. Thank you for your consideration. God Bless, David



Nefarious morning name

June 1, 2016

Yesterday’s morning name: the adjective nefarious. From NOAD2:

(typically of an action or activity) wicked or criminal: the nefarious activities of the organized-crime syndicates. ORIGIN early 17th cent.: from Latin nefarius, from nefas, [stem] nefar– ‘[a] wrong’ [that is, ‘something contrary to divine law’] (from ne- ‘not’ + fas ‘divine law’) + -ous.

Two notes on usage, the first having to do with ‘something contrary to divine law’ — directly following from the Latin nefārius (embedded in Church teachings) — the second an ordinary extension of the sense ‘wicked or criminal’ (of an action or activity’).


Morning spunk: same word, different word

May 27, 2016

In a sense, a re-play of an earlier posting, “spunk” of 3/16/11, which was about spunk ‘spirit, mettle, courage, pluck’ vs. spunk ‘semen, seminal fluid’. Now spunk appeared as a morning name for me a few days ago, along with the ‘pluck’ context of the interview between Mary Richards (played by Mary Tyler Moore) and Lou Grant (played by Ed Asner) in the first episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show: Grant: “You’ve got spunk … I hate spunk.”

That led me to NOAD2, where I found a single noun entry with three subentries:

1 informal courage and determination.
2 tinder; touchwood.
3 Brit. vulgar slang semen.

(Note: seminal spunk might be more common in BrE than AmE, but it is scarcely unknown in AmE, as a search will readily confirm.)

Speaking informally, this dictionary presents these three as a single word with three different uses (all of which ae available in my speech), while I would have thought these were three different words which just happened to be identical in spelling and pronunciation. What could possibly unite them?



May 13, 2016

(About masturbation and its accompanying vocabulary, so probably not for kids or the sexually modest.)

The news for penises: the occasion is (International) Masturbation Month (the merry month of May), the news is the sexual verb stroke ‘masturbate, wank, jack off’ (both intransitive and transitive) — a specialization of the tactile verb — and the impetus for this posting is a Kink Store ad touting masturbation sleeves (aka cocksleeves) under the names stroking toys, cock strokers, and auto strokers. In particular the ONYX device, vividly illustrated in action in an image on AZBlogX.


Wine tartar and Asian tartar

May 4, 2016

The One Big Happy in my comics feed today (from April 5th originally), with Ruthie putting together the tartar of dental hygiene (as held in check by toothpaste) and the tartar of tartar sauce, going on the resemblance between toothpaste and the sauce commonly accompanying fish:

Here, Ruthie adopts the widespread attitude that Sound/Spelling Rules: an element with the phonology /tártǝr/ or the spelling TARTAR is “the same word” as any other such element (or, at least, is very closely related to it). The opposed attitude — Sense Rules — is also well-known, as evidenced (for example) in some speakers’ hot denials that gay ‘foolish, stupid, unimpressive’ (NOAD2) has anything to do with gay ‘homosexual’.

In the case of tartar, there are two clearly different etymological sources, one having to do with the production of wine (the ultimate source, believe it or not, of the tartar of dental hygiene), the other with inhabitants of Central Asia (the ultimate source, believe it or not, of the tartar of tartar sauce). This is a case where, spectacularly, etymology is not destiny, the two sources of tartar having each split semantically a number of times, each developing into a collection of elements that have nothing much to do with one another beyond sound/spelling, indeed not much more than the descendants of wine tartar have to do with the descendants of Asian tartar; from the point of view of modern speakers, what we’ve got is either a big assortment of distinct lexical items (if you follow Sense Rules resolutely) or a single lexical item with a big heterogeneous assortment of uses (if you follow Sound/Spelling Rules resolutely) — or something in between.


Cucumber soap

April 6, 2016

Today’s One Big Happy (from a bit earlier), in which Ruthie copes with the N + N compound cucumber soap, meant as a source compound (soap with cucumbers, or their scent, as the principal or most significant ingredient in it), while Ruthie takes it to be a use compound (soap used for (cleaning) cucumbers):



Morning name: bullhorn

March 28, 2016

Yesterday’s morning name, a word that evokes for me a piece of electronic technology for amplifying the human voice, like a megaphone but with a lot more power built into it. An example, with a pistol handgrip for turning it on and off:


The older non-electronic object, which I refer to simply as a megaphone, deployed by a German lifeguard in 1969 and by a swimmer in an Archie comic from 1967:



The device in #2 and #3 obviously came first (though it seems not to be especially old), since it was, as I can attest from personal experience, around for some time before devices like #1 appeared, because the electronic devices weren’t possible before the invention of the transistor.


Annals of naming (and lexical semantics and libfixes)

March 22, 2016

Today’s Zippy wanders across a surreal landscape, with at least two items of linguistic interest: the name of the character Premium Cruiseline (with its modifying noun premium) and the form poodle-napping (with the libfix -nap):

These ingredients, in order:


When was this place founded?

March 15, 2016

In the NYT yesterday, a cute piece “Resolving the Nagging, if Minor, Mysteries of New York City”, looking at two of these little mysteries: When was this place founded? Is the lagomorph in the Alice fountain in Central Park the White Rabbit or the March Hare? The first of these is in significant part a linguistic question: what does founded mean?



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