Archive for the ‘Lexical semantics’ Category

Bring out your lukewarm etymythologies

October 26, 2016

The instructions said to use lukewarm water, and Kim, being a linguist, wondered about the luke of lukewarm; we don’t, after all, have luke + anything else, even lukecool, lukecold, or lukehot.  I said that she wasn’t going to be satisfied with the standard story, and she wasn’t. A brief version, from NOAD2:

(of liquid or food that should be hot) only moderately warm; tepid. ORIGIN late Middle English: from dialect luke (probably from dialect lew ‘lukewarm’ and related to lee [‘shelter from wind or weather’]) + warm

This account is suppositious, and unclear on many points (what dialects, how, and why? and is lukewarm really etymologically ‘lukewarm’ + warm?). So it occurred to us to just invent more satisfying etymologies — or, better, to invite others to invent them, to devise etymythologies. This is that invitation: to suggest better stories than the truth (as far as we know the truth), IN A COMMENT ON THIS BLOG (I will disregard e-mail to me or Kim and comments on Facebook or Google+ or ADS-L or wherever else; I cannot possibly spend time amalgamating suggestions from half a dozen sources). But before you jump in, read the rest of what I have to say about lukewarm and about etymythology. And, eventually, some suggestions as to what you might use to play with for ideas about lukewarm etymythologies.


Unfetching cats

October 5, 2016

Today’s Mother Goose and Grimm:

An instance of the  No Word for X meme, here applied to cats’ deep resistance to obeying commands: there’s no word for ‘fetch’ in Cat.


A compound puzzle

August 21, 2016

Thursday on ADS-L, a report from Wilson Gray, with his baffled reaction (shared by others in the mailing list):

Headline of political ad: “Meet TPP Champion [Name]!”

Body of political ad: “Among a handful of shining examples of fighters for social, economic, and environmental justice stands [Name], who has opposed the TPP and TTIP since before most of us had even heard about them!” [TPP: Trans Pacific Partnership; TTIP: Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership]

Is this headline meant to convey the idea, somehow, that [Name] is a “TPP champion” not in the obvious sense that he champions the TPP against the left, but, instead, in the opposite sense, that he champions the left against the TPP?

How are we to interpret X champion? It’ll be helpful to get away from the particulars of this particular example by introducing an X that (I hope) will have no political associations for my readers: Fosdick. What might Fosdick champion refer to? In NPs like:

a Fosdick champion, the Fosdick champion, our Fosdick champion

an early Fosdick champion, the celebrated Fosdick champion, our greatest Fosdick champion



August 19, 2016

My breakfast this morning — my breakfasts are often hearty — was Cajun meatballs with sauteed vegetables (prominently, okra) and rice. Quite pleasant, but I can’t help thinking that meatballs are intrinsically funny. Maybe it’s the balls thing, or maybe the assortment of deprecatory uses of meatball(s), or maybe just the appearance of four sizable stolid globes of ground meat on a plate. (I would blame the kid song “On Top of Spaghetti” — see here — if I could, but it wasn’t written until well after my childhood.)

An arrangement of (as it happens, Italian) meatballs on a platter, looking much like an array of cannonballs:


Then I began wondering about the conventionalized phrase meatball surgery, which I remember from the American television show M*A*S*H and also from an overheard argument among my surgeons about how to handle the necrotizing fasciitis advancing on my right arm.

And now my meatball bulletin.



August 11, 2016

Yesterday’s One Big Happy, with Ruthie coping with figurative language hidden in everyday expressions:

Here it’s facelift, with its image of treating sagging facial tissue by surgically lifting it up. But how is Ruthie to know that? Especially since facelift has been extended to related surgical procedures.


Fixed expressions

August 7, 2016

Two recent cartoons turning on fixed expressions, compounds in fact: a Rhymes With Orange and a One Big Happy:




Taking things literally

August 3, 2016

(It starts in a candy store and eventually works back to my grade school years.)

A recent One Big Happy has Ruthie trying to buy some candy:


Well, it’s called penny candy, but that’s just its name, not a description. You can’t take the name literally.


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’).