Archive for the ‘Words and things’ Category

Annals of normalization: on the Santa Claus watch

April 7, 2017

From HuffPo on the 4th, this advance announcement about a Christmas book, “Santa Claus Will Be A Gay Black Man In A New Children’s Book: He’ll also be married to a white man”, by Curtis M. Wong:

Get ready to see Santa Claus in a new (and refreshingly diverse) light this holiday season, courtesy of a forthcoming parody children’s book.

On March 28, publisher Harper Design announced plans to release Santa’s Husband, which re-casts Kris Kringle as a black man in an interracial, same-sex relationship. Slated for an October release, the book will follow Santa’s life in the North Pole, except in this version, he’ll have a white husband who fills in for him at shopping malls around the world.


The invention of the X job

March 24, 2017

(Sex acts up the wazoo, so very much not for kids or the sexually modest.)

Passed on by Gregory Ward, this entertaining Onion video “This Day In History: The Invention Of The Handjob”, in which

Handjob inventor Fred Gilgoff describes the inspiration for the two-person masturbation technique [invented this day 60 years ago].

The conceit is that the hand job technque was devised, much in the way that the Heimlich maneuvre was devised, and that before Gilgoff’s great discovery, people had no effective technique for manually getting one another off. (According to the video, the hand job breakthrough was followed by a string of others: the blow job, the rim job, and fisting.)


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.


Unfetching cats

October 5, 2016

Today’s Mother Goose and Grimm:

An instance of the  No Word for X meme, here applied to cats’ deep resistance to obeying commands: there’s no word for ‘fetch’ in Cat.


Tom Toro

June 9, 2016

Caught in the May 9th New Yorker, this Tom Toro cartoon:


A little slideshow on time adverbials and the times they refer to, understood figuratively.

Toro hasn’t appeared on this blog before, but he’s a prolific cartoonist with an ear for language and an inclination to play with classic cartoon memes (like the desert island or, as below, penguins and their discriminability).


Undermining marriage

June 27, 2015

Tom Tomorrow’s This Modern World on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision (yesterday) guaranteeing marriage as a right for same-sex couples throughout the United States:

Scalia insists that marriage has been unchanged for centuries, so that it must continue to be unchanged; two observers dispute the claim of changelessness. (Meanwhile, essentially all of the Republican candidates for President frame their opposition as being to “a redefinition of marriage“, as if this were a matter of words rather than things, and appeal to a definition that they see as given by God — He doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage — and not by lawyers or judges.)


Four at midweek

May 14, 2014

Four recent cartoons, on varied subjects: two One Big Happy strips; a Bizarro with a portmanteau; and an ecard-like strip.



June 14, 2013

The June 9th NYT Magazine was an “Innovations Issue”, with pieces on the histories of devices (the Brannock Device, for measuring shoe size, the Cuisinart, the digital camera, keys, the salad spinner), products (the Band-Aid, diet soda, Liquid Paper), and sociocultural practices (brunch, the dog park, gay marriage, the nose job, prom, timeouts for children, 12-step programs) — plus a few linguistic items, notably the metaphorical idiom glass ceiling and the tv formula previously on …

In most cases of innovations (of devices, products, or sociocultural practices), there’s a substantive innovation, plus a linguistic innovation, the choice of a name or label for it: the device for washing and drying salad greens plus the synthetic compound label salad spinner; the product that covers up typing errors plus the metaphorical brand name Liquid Paper; the practice of offering and eating a late-morning meal that combines characteristics of breakfast and lunch plus the portmanteau name brunch.

On occasion, however, the referent has been around for some time but then achieves prominence when someone provides a label for it, as was apparently the case for glass ceiling.

And in still other cases, the innovation is itself linguistic, as for formulaic expressions like previously on … ‘in earlier episodes of …’

Brief mention: words and things

October 8, 2012

Daniel Mendelsohn in the New Yorker of April 16th, in “Unsinkable” (p. 66):

The aura of significance that attends the Titanic’s fate was the subject of another, belated headline, which appeared in a special publication of the satirical newspaper the Onion, in 1999, stomping across the page in dire block letters:

A figure in which metaphor stands for the ship. Iceberg sinks metaphor!

Mendelsohn continues:

The Onion’s spoof gets to the heart of the matter: unlike other disasters, the Titanic [note metonymy: participant in the disaster for the disaster] seems to be about something. But what?

A parable about the scope, and limits, of technology? A morality tale about class? A foreshadowing of the First World War? Or what?

language ‘content’

March 30, 2012

From the NYT yesterday, a story by Michael S. Schmidt and Charlie Savage, headlined:

Language Deemed Offensive Is Removed From F.B.I. Training Materials

No, not swearing or racial/ethnic slurs. Not any kind of rewording. Not actually language, in fact, but content; language comes into the matter only because content is conveyed via language. (more…)