Archive for the ‘Semantics of compounds’ Category


September 26, 2023

Received in e-mail this morning, from Dave Sayers on the Variationist mailing list:

We are delighted to announce the next in the 2023-24 series of online guest seminars here in the English section at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland — open to all!

On Tues 10 Oct at 11:00 East European Summer Time Mie Hiramoto (National University of Singapore) and Wes Robertson (Macquarie University, Australia) will give a talk titled ‘Framing masculinity and cultural norms: A case study of male VIO hair removal in Japan’.

That’s it. I was baffled by VIO hair removal; it has two possible parsings, and some large number of possible interpretations. And I was baffled by what looked like an unfamiliar initialism, VIO. Masculinity and cultural norms being one of my areas of interest within the G&S (gender and sexuality) field, I wasn’t willing to let these puzzles just slide.

Two parsings (and many interpretations).

 [ VIO [ hair removal ] ‘hair removal related to VIO’, where VIO is one of: a social group, the removers of hair (cf. born-again hair removal, transsexual hair removal, Ainu hair removal, Japanese hair removal ‘hair removal by Japanese (people)’), a method of hair removal (cf. laser hair removal), a philosophy of hair removal (cf. Buddhist hair removal), a place where hair removal is practiced (cf. Japanese hair removal ‘hair removal in Japan’), or any number of other interpretations

[ [ VIO hair ] removal] ‘removal of VIO hair’, where VIO hair is hair related to VIO, VIO admitting of a wide variety of interpretations: an area of the body (cf. armpit hair, pubic hair), a racioethnic group (cf. Black hair, Jewish hair), an evaluative characterization (cf. ugly hair, unwanted hair), a physical characterization (cf. kinky hair), a color (cf. gray hair), and much more

The (apparent) initialism VIO. Acronym dictionaries list a great many unpackings for VIO, but none even remotely hair-relevant. Searching on “VIO hair removal”, I eventually discovered that VIO is Japanese terminology for the bikini zone, with the initials standing for

V line (the pubes and genitals), I line (the perineum), O line (the anus)

So: the three Latin letters are to be understood as iconic signs, as (highly abstract) pictures of the three bodyparts, not as an acronym, not as the initials in an abbreviation. I don’t think that such an interpretation would ever have occurred to me.

No doubt it never occurred to Hiramoto and Robertson, steeped as they are in Japanese sexual culture, that the letter-sequence VIO would be utterly opaque to outsiders, but it is; I had no clue as to what their paper is about, except that hair removal and males are involved, and that the removal takes place in Japan.

Missing lexical items. A recurrent theme on this blog is that languages regularly lack ordinary-language, widely used lexical items for referential categories of things that are in fact relevant in the sociocultural context the language is embedded in.

So it is for English and the body region that extends from the waistline under the crotch to the anus: the pubes, genitals, perineum, and anus, taken together. This is a region of modesty, and it’s socioculturally highly salient in English-speaking communities generally, but English has no lexical item covering just that territory.

The composite phrase private parts would have been a good choice, but it’s already taken, as a euphemism for the central portion of the region of modesty, the genitals. In this case, it’s hard to see how we could get by with a narrow sense of the phrase (the current usage) alongside a broad sense (for the region of modesty). So we’ll bump along with things as they are, as we do in lots of other cases; people cope. Maybe someone can start a fashion for VIO in English.

Cover your VIO, dude! Were you born in a barn? (And while you’re at it, close the front door!)

Annals of error: the carptenters of Southwest Ohio

August 18, 2023

A typo in writing — CARPTENTER, with an anticipation of the T in CARPENTER — which was then not caught by a proofreader, so that it got published looking like CARP-TENTER ‘someone or something for tenting carp’, but written solid. Exposed by Michael Palmer on Facebook on 8/15. The published display, with the beginning of the accompanying news article:

US Senator Sherrod Brown August 15 at 11:09 AM: Today our Butch Lewis Act saved the pensions of 5,400 carpenters in Southwest Ohio, restoring full benefits with NO cuts. When work has dignity, workers can take comfort that the pensions they’ve earned over a lifetime will be there for them when they retire

And then, of course, the playful Facebook comments, starting with Michael Palmer’s initial salvo:


The states of matter: coconut X

August 9, 2023

I discovered the melting point of coconut X several summers ago. My air-conditioning aims to cool things to 80 F, so when it gets hot outside, inside my condo the spreadable coconut fat (used for daily treatment of my feet, legs, hands, and arms) melts (at around 77 F) to to a free-flowing liquid that’s very hard to cope with.

So this morning I put the jar in the refrigerator (where it’s probably between 35 and 40 F) — and discovered another state of the substance, a very firm solid that is also almost impossible to deal with; I have to chip away chunks of the stuff with a pointed implement, chunks that alas, do not spread (though I can get small amounts of the liquid state by using the (roughly 97 F) body heat in my hands to melt a chunk).

So now it’s back at room temperature, turning to oil again.


A Daily Jocks flash offer

July 29, 2023

(A male model in nothing but totally revealing cotton briefs, mention of penises and stud hustling, so not suitable for kids or the sexually modest.)

A Daily Jocks sale ad that came in my e-mail yesterday:


This year’s wiener on wheels

May 19, 2023

Coming on the heels of my 5/18 posting “A fellatio-adjacent pitch for The Wiener the World Awaited”, Oscar Mayer’s heralding their new wiener on wheels, the Frankmobile. Here’s the story from the Out Traveler website (for Out magazine), “Say Goodbye to America’s Favorite Wiener on Wheels: The unexpected move is part of the rollout of Oscar Mayer’s beefy new hot dog recipe” by  Jordan Valinsky of CNN Business on 5/17:

(#1) THE ALL BEEF BEEF FRANK FRANKMOBILE, that’s what it says on the label


Stick figure drawing

April 21, 2023

— Wayno’s title for today’s (uncaptioned) Wayno / Piraro Bizarro cartoon, in which Popsicle, Creamsicle, etc. artists gather to draw a model popsicle stick:

(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 2 in this strip — see this Page)

The cartoon juxtaposes two worlds:

— the world of (what I’ll call) -sicles, quiescently frozen snacks on a stick: ice pops and ice-coated ice cream on a stick (which is conventionally known as a popsicle stick, from its use in making Popsicle® ice pops)

— and the world of life classes, in which artists draw a human figure, traditionally nude, from observing a live model


ice show

April 18, 2023

A footnote to yesterday’s posting “DISNEY ON ICE”, which was about (among other things) ice shows, in the sense ‘shows on ice, entertainment productions primarily performed by ice skaters’. The N + N compound ice show is then a location compound, conveying that the referent of N2 is located with respect to the referent of N1, as being in or on it. So now a few words about the (many) interpretations of compounds.



April 9, 2023

It starts with a Jacquie Lawson e-card “Auricula Theatre”, sent to me by Benita Bendon Campbell for Easter. The auriculas in question are cultivars of Primula auricula (aka the mountain cowslip or bear’s ear), a species of primrose.

The final image of the e-card:

(#1) On the left, the Auricula Theatre


Kentucky country ham

April 9, 2023

An exercise in nostalgia (much transformed) for Easter lunch today: sandwiches of slices of Kentucky country ham — KCH for short — and melted cheddar cheese. The nostalgia is in the ham:

(#1) Thinly sliced ham from Broadbent B & B Foods in the little country town of Kuttawa KY (in Lyon County in far (south)western Kentucky)

To come: on country ham the compound noun and country ham the foodstuff; on my personal history with KCH (associated in my household with Christmas rather than Easter); and on the Broadbent company.



March 16, 2023

Passed around in various forms on the net recently, this truly distant, extremely imperfect, pun, partly in German, partly in English, which does, however, come with the signature of its putative maker (Ella Niemans, who, alas, I’ve been unable to find anything about — perhaps because her name might be a joke, playing on German niemand ‘nobody’):

(#1) A monstrously complex joke alluding to  US President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 speech at the Berlin Wall, in which he declared (in his American-accented German) Ich bin ein Berliner, asserting that he was figuratively, in spirit, a citizen of Berlin

So it’s about bin liners and it’s about the Kennedy speech. Complexities on both counts.