Archive for the ‘Use and mention’ Category

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’:

(#1)

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.

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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).

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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”).

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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.

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Hu on base

March 30, 2014

Pointer from Dan Everett on Facebook to this image:

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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.

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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.

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Proper anaphoric islands

August 11, 2012

Posted by Victor Steinbok on ADS-L:

When it was announced that Romney will “unveil” his VP pick Paul Ryan on/in front of USS Wisconsin, I knew someone was going to say it. And [political commentator] Steve Benen did not disappoint–within minutes, his post on the Ryan pick [on the Maddow blog] included this line:

The announcement will be in front of the U.S.S. Wisconsin – which just happens to be Ryan’s home state.

(Actually, Benen was quoting Domenico Montaro and Mark Murray on NBCNews, here.)

Victor noted that the meaning was clear, but still the sentence seemed problematic to him, adding that “the number of examples of this type is not negligible”.

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Knowing

July 22, 2012

In a comment on my recent Pogo posting, Bob Richmond gave a link to a posting of his (“Hum a few bars and I’ll fake it”) on the joke template that begins with the question “Do you know X?” and has some variant of the “Hum a few bars” reply as the punch line. (Several of these are from comic strips.) The joke turns on the ambiguity of the verb know, a use-mention ambiguity, and the speech-act ambiguity of Do you know? questions.

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From talking about the word to using it

November 10, 2011

Heard this morning on KQED, in an opinion feature about African-American males in Oakland schools, by Pendarvis Harshaw, a teacher in one school program: a report on “I don’t give an f-bomb” and “I don’t give a flying f-bomb” heard from students in the school’s hallways.

F-bomb has an entry in Jesse Sheidlower’s The F Word, of course, but as a (euphemized) mention of fuck, not as a (euphemized) use of it:

the word FUCK or one of its variants or compounds, esp. with reference to it as a shocking or inappropriate term. Often in to drop the F-bomb. (3rd ed., p. 36)

and all the cites (from 1988 through 2008) are for this sense. But Harshaw’s piece has F-bomb (euphemistically) quoting an expression used by people, including high school students, not mentioned by them.

Plenty of cites on the net (14k raw ghits for {“don’t give a flying f-bomb”}), mostly spelled f-bomb. For example,

The thing that REALLY galls the elitists about the South: We Southerners TRULY don’t give a flying f-bomb about your opinion of us.
We are very happy with our simple lives and want to be left alone…. (link)

Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t give a flying f-bomb about the games. I can’t stomach to watch such unstructured and talentless basketball. (link)

I don’t give a flying F-bomb what it [a guitar] looks like if it sounds good. I think I’ll have to get the hot pink one so no one steals it. (link)

Pretty much bound to happen. There are a few hits for “oh, f-bomb it!” ‘oh, fuck it!’ and “f-bombing idiot” ‘fucking idiot’, more for “what the f-bomb!” ‘what the fuck!” Even a report of a t-shirt with the legend “F-bomb that S-bomb” ‘fuck that shit”; now, that’s really ostentatious avoidance.



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