Archive for the ‘Relevance’ Category

Annals of indirection

January 1, 2019

Chip Dunham’s Overboard strip from December 28th:

(#1) Captain Crow and his dog Louie

An exercise in both syntax/semantics and semantics/pragmatics: on syntactic constructions and their semantics, and on the indirect conveying of meaning in context.

Above, what will become example (c) in the syntactic discussion:

(c) I don’t think I’ve told you today what a wonderful dog you are

which will lead to a related example, Sir Van Morrison’s song line in (d):

(d) Have I told you lately that I love you?


What’s he like?

October 18, 2018

In today’s comics feed, the One Big Happy for September 21st:

Playground Lady intends a WH question with (a reduced variant of) the auxiliary V is + a predicative PP headed by the P like ‘similar to’. Ruthie, ever keen on the reading not intended, hears a WH question with (a reduced variant of) the auxiliary V does (a PRS form of the V lexeme DO) + a complement VP headed by the BSE form like of the V lexeme LIKE ‘find enjoyable’. What is he like? (possible answer: He’s short and blond and funny-looking ) vs. What does he like? (possible answer: He likes playing video games).


Attaching an 8-page essay at Wheaton College

September 30, 2018

Reported back on the 19th, a stunner of a 2017 headline about Wheaton College (IL) events dating back to 2016. First, the story from a source other than the one that produced the remarkable headline: from the Daily Mail (UK) by Jennifer Smith on 2/14/18: “Christian college ‘punished’ football players who ‘kidnapped, beat and sexually assaulted’ freshman in brutal hazing ritual by asking them to write an eight-page essay and complete community service”:


Haiku Robot

March 25, 2018

An Instagram site that searches for posted material that can be treated as a haiku (a 3-line poetic form with 5, 7, and 5 syllables in the lines). Recently, the robot took on sex between men (not at all graphically).

An example of a found haiku, based on a posting that went:

I suppose ant-man’s boss could be considered a micromanager

— to which the robot responded with the 5-7-5 version:

i suppose ant-man’s
boss could be considered a


Edible adjectives

December 22, 2016

The xkcd cartoon (#1774 Adjective Foods) from the 19th:

Mark Liberman posted this on Language Log on the 19th, with a link to a 2004 posting of his and with the video of Monty Python’s “Crunchy Frog” sketch. Ordinarily, I’d just add that link to my Page on postings about xkcd cartoons, but this time I want to elaborate some on my own.


Helping the kid out

December 2, 2016

From the most recent  NYT “Metropolitan Diary” (on-line on the 26th, in the national edition on the 28th), a contribution from Michael Joseloff that begins:

Two teenagers with clipboards were stopping passers-by on the Upper East Side. I was in a hurry to get to the bank, so I tried to maneuver past them and avoid their pitch. No luck.

“Me and my friend are trying to raise money to buy uniforms for our basketball team,” one of the boys began, before rattling on with the rest of his memorized speech. To paraphrase Renée Zellweger in “Jerry Maguire,” he had me at “me and my friend.” He seemed sincere. I decided to help.

I was desperately hoping that he was going to help the kid by making a contribution. But no: he proposed to help by correcting the kid’s grammar.


Zippy nonsense

February 7, 2014

Today’s Zippy, which incorporates the comic-within-the-comic, Fletcher and Tanya:

F&T is a recurrent feature in Zippy. It’s a masterpiece of (Gricean) irrelevance, in which the conversational partners flagrantly talk past one another. What each of them says is grammatical English, though often peculiar in content. But the exchanges don’t cohere at all.


Taboo not appropriate

November 7, 2012

Mark Leibovitch interviewing Sen. Joe Lieberman (“The Last Days of Joementum”) in the NYT Magazine on Sunday (the 4th), p. 14:

[Leibovitch] I’m told you recently enjoyed a Shabbat dinner with Senator McCain in Israel. [Lieberman] He said that traveling with me compelled him to put up with all this Shabbat stuff — well, he actually used another term, but it’s not appropriate.

We’re to suppose that McCain said shit, not stuff — which Lieberman judges to be “not appropriate”. Lieberman could have meant “not appropriate to appear in the New York Times“, and that’s certainly the NYT‘s opinion. But probably he meant something like “not appropriate in talking about the holy day of the week”. Then the question is: Why is Joe Lieberman telling us this? How is McCain’s word choice relevant to the story of the visit to Israel? Lieberman could, after all, just have said “Shabbat stuff” and left it at that.

The usual point of quoting exact wording in cases like this is to shed some light on the personality or character of the person quoted — in this case, to communicate something of McCain’s coarseness and his disregard for Judaism (as Lieberman judges these things). “Shabbat stuff” would have done for the second, but not the first, and to do that Lieberman had to convey something of the flavor of McCain’s actual speech. Lieberman could have reported “Shabbat shit”, but that would have been unprintable in the Times, and it would also have tarred Lieberman with the same brush as McCain.

So we got: “he actually used another term, but it’s not appropriate”.


The domestic relevance duels

October 28, 2012

In today’s Zits, Jeremy and his mother spar over dirty dishes:

Another Zits in which Gricean relevance plays a central role.


Relevance and unspoken assumptions

September 21, 2012

In a David Brooks NYT op-ed column (“Après Rahm, Le Déluge”) of a week ago:

The Chicago school system is a classic case of a bloated, inefficient Economy II organization. The average Chicago teacher makes $76,000 a year in a city where the average worker makes $47,000 a year. Rising school costs have helped push the system deep into the red. Meanwhile, the outcomes are not good.

This passage begins by asserting that the Chicago system is bloated and inefficient. The next sentence asserts that the average Chicago teacher makes 1.6 times as much as the average Chicago worker, leaving us to calculate by Gricean relevance that the second sentence follows the first because teachers’ salaries are bloated, bloated implicating that these salaries should be much smaller (perhaps around the average worker’s salary, or even less). All of these are arguable propositions.