Archive for the ‘Lexical semantics’ Category

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’).


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.