Archive for the ‘Semantics’ Category

Lexical adventures: kinks

September 2, 2019

Recently in Facebook postings from Steven Levine, issues of a Popular Mechanics annual supplement Home Kinks from the 1940s and 1950s, supplying illustrated advice on home maintenance. Two things: some of the covers are entertainingly sexually suggestive, just as pictures. But then there’s the title of the series, with a sense of kink that seems now to have been swamped by the sense ‘mental twist, esp.in sexual matters’; it’s now easy to see these illustrations as images of fetish practices.

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bricks ˈnˈ mortar

August 31, 2019

Roz Chast in the September 2nd New Yorker:

(#1)

An exercise in the semantics of N + N compounds, exploiting an ambiguity that might not have occurred to you:

in the semantics of the modifying N, N1 (here, the coordinate N bricks and mortar);

in the semantics of the head N, N2 (here, the understood N store);

and in the semantics of the relation between N2 and N1  (here, ‘N2 for N1, (specifically) N2 selling N1’, in this case ‘store selling bricks and mortar — rather than the ‘N2 (made) of/from N1’ relation in the familiar conventionalized compound brick(s) and mortar store ‘store (made) of/from bricks and mortar’.

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Annals of category labels: food from a hole in the ground

August 28, 2019

… or edible roots (with root covering any underground plant organ), or whatever you call the stuff. In the 7/30 One Big Happy, Ruthie, confronted with /hol fudz/, takes it to be just such a label, hole foods, when her mother is referring instead to a grocery store, Whole Foods:

(#1)

The conventional (semi-technical) label for the category in question is root vegetables.

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Revisiting 32: Exception-triggered alternation

August 27, 2019

The phenomenon, from my 8/25 posting “Exception-triggered alternation”, involves:

Two contrarily opposed states — good vs. bad [in a joke routine], forestressed vs. afterstressed [in the accentuation of N + N compounds] — for some phenomenon, with the choice between them determined by context, the choice flipping between the two as the context narrows more and more (with each flip, the contextually more specific choice overrides the contextually more general one).

“More specific overrides more general” is a familiar principle, known by many names; what the statement above emphasizes is that this overriding can cascade, through a number of iterations.

Now, as an addition to these two examples Larry Horn (Laurence Horn of Yale Univ.) offers another, from formal semantics: Sobel sequences. Here I’ll turn the floor over to Larry, for a guest posting on them. As background, the cover of David Lewis’s Counterfactuals book (in the paperback edition, much more visually exciting than the severe cover of the edition I once had):

In Larry’s words, from here on out:

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shaker of salt

August 26, 2019

Today’s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro collabo:


(#1) A parade of unidiomatic prepositional alternatives (with the P of) to the synthetic compounds cheese grater, nutcracker, meat cleaver, egg timer

(Wayno’s title: “Rhyme & Punishment”; see comments below)

To understand the relevance of these nominals, you need to know not only who Jimmy Buffett is and that his most famous song is the notoriously ohrwurmisch “Margaritaville”, you actually need to know a crucial couplet from the song:

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Exception-triggered alternation

August 25, 2019

Exhibit A: the joke routine That’s Good / That’s Bad from an Archie Campbell comedy sketch — discussed in my 7/22/19 posting “Oh that’s good”.

Exhibit B: the principles that predict when a N + N compound in English has primary accent on the first (modifier) N (front stress, or forestress) and when that accent falls on the second (head) N (back stress, or afterstress) — discussed in my old paper “Forestress and afterstress”, (OSU Working Papers in Linguistics, 1986, viewable on-line here).

From a sufficiently abstract point of view, these two phenomena can be seen to be manifestations of a single scheme, which I’ll refer to as exception-triggered alternation.

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Sexy Dark Swiss

August 22, 2019

Specifically “pinksalt floyd rocks” Sexy Dark Swiss. Oh, it’s chocolate and it’s really trendy, because it’s prebiotic, and it’s whimsical too (the name Gutsii playing on gutsy and alluding to the gut, the playful allusion to the rock band Pink Floyd), plus it parades itself as dark and sexy, like a forbidden lover who steals into your bed in the dark of night. It came to me from the snack drawer at LiveJournal, brought by Kim Darnell, who works there.

From the Food Navigator site, the piece “Prebiotic chocolate? Gutsii enters US market on a mission to make gut health simple” by Mary Ellen Shoup on 2/11/19:

(#1)

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Pedaltecture

August 18, 2019

Saturday’s Zippy takes us to southeastern Pennsylvania, the land of my childhood:

(#1)

Not in escrow, but in Hellam Township, in York County PA. Specifically, in the Haines Shoe House. Which is a house in the form of a shoe (rather than a shop that sells shoes, or a storage place for shoes, or …).

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Gloating over them apples

August 6, 2019

In an advertising poster, for actual apples:

(#1)

and on a tongue-in-cheek sticker, reproducing a gloat:

(#2)

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“as cleverer than people as people are than plants”

August 4, 2019

From The Economist of July 27th. Yes, it’s grammatical, but it’s fiercely hard to parse — you might feel the need to get out pencil and paper to graph the thing — and it’s also a big show-stopper flourish: stop reading the news to admire how clever we are!

In this case, the magazine has committed a nested clausal comparative (NCC), somewhat reminiscent of nested relative clauses (also known in the syntactic literature as self-embedded relative clauses) like those in the NP with head the rat modified by the relative clause that the cat that the dog worried ate:

[ the rat ]-i

… [ that [ the cat ]-j [ that [ the dog ] worried ___-j ] ate ___-i ]

(where an underline indicates a missing (“extracted”) constituent, and the indices mark coreferential constituents). Both nested relatives and NCCs require the hearer to interrupt the processing of one clause to process another clause of similar form.

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