Archive for the ‘Tense-aspect-mood’ Category

Chocolate-covered amidst the statuary

September 21, 2019

Today’s Zippy takes us to the shore of Lake Erie, in the roadside realm of Dolly Dimples (but, startlingly, it will end with the minstrel-show character Rastus and the Cream of Wheat box; you never know where things will go these days):


DD is actually selling chocolates, statuary, and tchotchkes, not hamburgers. Her head is indeed unrealistically gigantic, but even with this selling point she’s probably not going to leave Silver Lake NY to pursue a failed movie career in L.A. (note the whimsical tense-aspect-mood semantics of intending to pursue a failed career).


Aspectual distinctions in the comics

July 22, 2018

Today’s Zippy involves a distinction in the interpretation of the VP own thirty-one muu-muus:

Does Zippy happen to own (only) 31 muu-muus at the moment? Griffy asks how many muu-muus Zippy owns, and that’s what Zippy apparently says in reply.

Or is Zippy’s way of life such that he always has (only) 31 muu-muus in his possession? That would indeed predict that Zippy has (only) 31 at the moment, but it would also predict that if you took one away, he’d have to get a new one to replace it, and that if you gave him a new one, he’d have to get rid of an old one — all to maintain the stable state of owning 31 muu-muus. That’s what Zippy says in his reply.

The distinction is aspectual, corresponding very roughly to the circumstances in which you’d choose a ‘to be’ verb in Spanish: estar (roughly) for temporary situations, not necessarily extending beyond the reference time period (hence mutable, contingent), ser (roughly) for enduring, even permanent situations, extending through time before and after the reference time period (hence unchanging, even necessary).


missing it

May 13, 2017

Yesterday’s Mother Goose and Grimm:


Ok, a simple ambiguity. The relevant subsenses of the transitive verb miss, from NOAD2, with my sense id codes:

— in the set of 12 failure-miss senses:
[1f] fail to attend, participate in, or watch (something one is expected to do or habitually does): teachers were supposed to report those students who missed class that day. [Mother Goose’s sense]

— in the set of 3 absence-miss senses:
[2c] feel regret or sadness at no longer being able to go to, do, or have: I still miss France and I wish I could go back. [Grimm’s sense, a willful misunderstanding of Mother Goose]


The now present and the futurate present

August 17, 2016

Today’s Calvin and Hobbes re-play:

In panel 2, Calvin produces a progressive clause in the PRS (I’m watching television), conveying a “now present”: ‘I’m watching television now’ (and so can’t come to the table). But his PRS progressive clause could also be a “futurate present”, announcing an intention or plan to watch television: ‘I’m going to watch television tonight’. And that’s the interpretation his mother gets, and disputes loudly.

Tenses here, tenses there

May 12, 2014

Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky offers this passage from the Ask a Manager blog of the 12th:

Managers and the possessive tense

I have a new manager who has placed his desk in the middle of the room, and conducts all of his conference calls in a rather loud fashion. In doing so, he constantly refers to the employees (myself and my peers) as “his” — e.g. “my team,” “my testers,” “my people.”

Am I wrong to feel a bit demeaned that my new manager is placing himself as a king among the common employee? His self-placement of prominence above those that he rules is causing quite a bit of resentment amongst “we the people.”

Elizabeth reports that this is otherwise an excellent blog (offering good advice on managing), but possessive tense is nonsensical as a technical term of grammar.


Rainbow cone

June 18, 2013

Via the Princeton LGBT Center on Facebook, this cone for Pride Month:

Most recent rainbow food posting: “More rainbow fruit” of 11/27/12, with links to four earlier postings with rainbow food.

Telling jokes

April 25, 2013

Lane Greene, on the Economist blog:

Ben Yagoda at Lingua Franca doesn’t like the “historical present”: the tendency to use the present tense to describe past (and literary) events

… Mr Yagoda concludes that describing the past this way is a crutch: “it’s essentially a novelty item. It’s tacky. Give it a rest.” I don’t quite agree, but his description of the historical present prompted this digression on another use of the present tense that he points out: jokes. (More specifically, jokes in the form of a funny story.)

… But that’s not how all languages work. In looking around at joke websites, I found that conventions vary a bit.


Cyanide and Happiness roundup

March 24, 2013

Five strips from the webcomic Cyanide and Happiness, with various points of linguistic interest (some incidental to the humor of the strip).


Football grammar

June 3, 2011

Via Jack Hamilton, this Spanish cartoon on soccer and inflectional categories:



July 7, 2010

[poetry, not about language]


Richard Starkey 7/7/40
Arnold Zwicky [not a Beatle] 9/6/40
John Lennon 10/9/40
Paul McCartney 6/18/42
George Harrison 2/25/43

July 7, once again
Ringo ages
A year, just
Two months before
I do.

The senior
Beatle is
Older than
I am,
But just barely;

John was, is, a month older,
Paul and George older
Still, a couple of
Years, yet

They all were a
After me.
Ringo especially.

Ringo welcomes the
New decade, so
I guess
I should
Go along.


A photo, not of Ringo (or any Beatle), not of me — but of a guy, possibly Swedish, photographed by Walter Hirsch — as amended by Robert Cumming for my 60th birthday:

Ok, I changed my mind. Here’s a version of something about language (and Ringo Starr) I just posted to the American Dialect Society mailing list:

All over the media: the news that “former Beatle” Ringo Starr celebrates his 70th birthday today. It’s clear what is meant; the reference is to his having been a Beatle before they split up, oh so long ago now.  So he was a Beatle and he isn’t now, but that’s not because of a change in him (as with “former President”), but because of a change in the Beatles.

In tensed clauses, the verb be in the past is neutral as between the ways in which it could come about that

SUBJ be INDEF-NP (“Ringo was (once) a Blupp”)

was true at a time in the past but is no longer true now.  So is

once INDEF-NP (“Once a Blupp, Ringo …”)

However, for me

ex-NOM (“ex-Blupp”) and former NOM (“former Blupp”)

have only the understanding that the status of the referent of the larger expression has changed, and not that the status of the referent of the NOM has changed.

Alas, I have no easy way to pack this second understanding into a NOM.  Some other people seem to allow both understandings for “ex-Blupp” and “former Blupp”, with the appropriate one picked out using real-life knowledge, the way “once a Blupp” works for me.

Of course, I understand these people perfectly well; it’s just that I wouldn’t say it their way.