Archive for the ‘Use and mention’ Category

Proper nouns

June 16, 2018

In the One Big Happy of May 30th, Ruthie falls into the pit of use and mention:

There’s an adjective proper as defined by Ruthie’s mother. Then there’s the adjective proper in the idiomatic nominals proper noun / name. And that’s just the beginning of the problem.


Call me by your name

March 1, 2018

The Mother Goose and Grimm, from February 21st:


A joke playing on use and mention: Grimmy mentions the name of the Oscar-nominated movie Call Me by Your Name, but Ralph understands him to be using the expression call me your your name, so he calls Grimmy Ralph.

That leads us to the movie and so to a thicket of issues about language, sexuality, gender, and the law.


¡Albondigas! ¿No te dije?

November 22, 2017

“New Sentences: From Duolingo’s Italian Lessons” by Sam Anderson, in print in the New York Times Magazine on Sunday the 19th:

‘Gli animali rimangono nello zoo.’ (‘The animals remain in the zoo.’)

From Duolingo, a “science-based language education platform” available on Apple, Android and Windows smartphones and online.

Language-learning sentences are always slightly funny. They exist to teach you linguistically, not to communicate anything about the actual world. They are sentences that are also nonsentences — generic by design, without personality or ambiguity: human language in merely humanoid strings. [They are, as the philosophically inclined among us sometimes say, mentioned, not used.] The subtext is always just “Here is something a person might say.” It’s like someone making a window. What matters is that it’s transparent, not what is being seen through it.


Common names that are also descriptions

April 3, 2016

Dinner Friday with Amanda Walker at Three Seasons (fusion Vietnamese), with wonderful plants (especially orchids) and cut flowers all over the place. Which moved Amanda to ask me (as a plant person) about a flowering shrub used in plantings on the Google campus: “It looks like a bottle-brush”, she said. “Oh, that would be a bottle-brush plant”, I replied. She stared at me for a moment, until she realized I was not just repeating her description, but was in fact offering a common name. She searched for it under that name on her iPhone, and was immediately rewarded with a photo of a Callistemon in flower, along the lines of this bottlebrush, the Callistemon citrinus variety ‘Spendens’:


The probkem is that the common name for the plant is also a pretty good brief description of it, so there’s room for uncertainty as to whether you’re being offered a name or a description.

The problem arises especially with people who aren’t well-acquainted with the culture the common names come from: tourists and recent immigrants. In at least two cases in my experience (both involving birds rather than plants) some confusion has arisen for such speakers, who were inclined to see what was offered as a name as instead a puzzling repeat of a description they had just given.


Morning names: the two Gracies

February 23, 2016

This is a tribute to the associative abilities of the human mind. When I woke this morning, my iTunes was playing what I recognized as comic songs by Gracie Fields, and what came into my mind was a bit of imagined comic dialogue:

(1) A to B: Say hello to the kids.  B: Hello to the kids.

in which there’s a quotational scope ambiguity, over how much of what A said is used and how much mentioned.

I quickly figured out the route from Gracie Fields songs to (1): from Gracie Fields to Gracie Allen (both comic actors with the first name Gracie) to this famous but (as it turns out) apocryphal exchange:

(2) Burns to Allen: Say good night, Gracie.  Allen: Good night, Gracie.

to (1) as a new variant of the joke in (2). But this path was beneath the level of my consciousness, producing an almost instantaneous short-circuiting from the music to (1).


Bizarro: use and mention

August 21, 2015

Yesterday’s Bizarro:

The student’s query, as represented by the punctuation in the strip, mentions the words “I” and “you”; the query is about words. The teacher has access only to what the student says (not her intentions as indicated by the punctuation), so the teacher takes the question to be about people, expressed in non-standard subject-verb agreement (“What is you?”) — and the teacher then uses non-standard agreement as well (“I is the teacher”).


Quiz questions

February 2, 2015

A linguistic Get Fuzzy passed on to me by Jack Hamilton:

Satchel Pooch, taking a general knowledge quiz, is subverted by Bucky Katt.


Hu on base

March 30, 2014

Pointer from Dan Everett on Facebook to this image:

(#1) (more…)

Use, mention, anaphora

September 2, 2013

Noted in an episode of the old tv show The Rifleman, this bit of dialogue. The main character, Lucas McCain, has just explained to his son, Mark, that Mark is quite a psychologist (after Mark’s deft handling of  difficult situation). Lucas explains (in brief) what a psychologist is, and Mark struggles to pronounce the word psychologist. Mark:

I may be one, but I’ll never be able to pronounce it.

Ok, one ‘a psychologist’ plus it ‘the word psychologist‘. Use, mention, and an anaphoric connection between them.


Noun incorporation in Gayland

December 10, 2012

For some time now, I’ve been analyzing gay male porn flicks from several points of view: the construction of various gay identities, genre conventions, and so on. Every so often, points of linguistic interest turn up in the flicks; well, they are, after all, sources of data like any other, and I’m giving them very close attention, so I pick up things I might have missed in other data. A recent find, in a long-running analysis of Jeff Stryker flicks — on b/t (roughly, bottom/top relations between men), the Total Top role, functions of mess in depictions of (fantasy) gay sex, the organization of sex talk, etc. — is a striking bit of syntax from the Falcon Studios description of Stryker’s first movie, Bigger Than Life:

Jeff Quinn watches superstar Jeff Stryker showing his rock star charisma as he struts his stuff on stage with his big-haired band. And like his song says, he’s “Bigger Than Life!” The infatuated fan waits like a stagedoor Johnny hoping to realize his dream of meeting his hero, and better yet, getting starfucked by Stryker’s monster cock.

The datum is: get starfucked by Stryker’s monster cock. Could have been just fucked, but the writer went for the more colorful starfucked instead.