Archive for the ‘Short shots’ Category

Short shot #57: near

January 19, 2011

A NYT “Metropolitan Diary” entry on 1/17/11:

Dear Diary:
My husband and I were at a dinner when I was inroduced to a woman who lived on the Upper West Side. She was telling me about her grandchildren.
Thinking of my grandchildren, who live in London and Washington, I asked, “Do they live near you?”
She looked very sad. “No,” she replied. “They live in Brooklyn.”
Marian Solomon Lubinsky

Context, context, context. These things are relative to context.

My grand-daughter lived for some years in Mountain View, roughly 10 miles from me. When I told people this, the grandparents among them were mostly openly envious that Opal should live so near to me (Opal’s other grandparents live in Papua New Guinea!). Even I thought of this as close, despite the fact that I had to drive there. Now she lives a short walk away from me in Palo Alto, and people are ridiculously envious; this degree of closeness is rare in our social world.

Short shots #45: maple-apple scrapple

May 8, 2010

Yesterday Ned Deily reported on his Facebook page on a visit to the Farmer’s Market in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where he found

maple-apple scrapple

for sale. A wonderful rhyming and /p/-ful compound, suitable for chanting or cheering.

For those of you not in the Pennsylvania Dutch area or close by, scrapple is, according to NOAD2:

scraps of pork or other meat stewed with cornmeal and shaped into loaves for slicing and frying, esp. characteristic of eastern Pennsylvania

The Wikipedia entry goes into a lot more detail (specifying “hog offal, such as the head, heart, liver, and other scraps” and fleshing out, as it were, the cooking procedure), which might well put you off the dish (as many people are put off by the somewhat similar  Scottish dish haggis, also inspired by the thrifty instinct to use whatever you can of the edible materials available to you).

Fried scrapple, part of a complete breakfast in the part of the world I grew up in, though scarcely part of a heart-healthy diet.

Short shots #44: Money talks

May 5, 2010

Two things from Patricia Marx’s “Shouts & Murmurs” column “The Money Whisperer” in the May 3 New Yorker, p. 33.

First, an idiom understood literally, followed by a slinging of phonetic terminology:

I’d heard rumors. They said that he could move decimal points telekinetically, that he owned the global rights to the number three quintillion seventeen, that he could make a penny feel like a million bucks. Everyone knows that money talks, but only he, it was said, knew how to talk back. It had to do with fricatives and glottal stops.

Then later, an ambiguity in how a sentence is used in context: request or offer?:

At my wit’s end, I suggested that we see a financial counsellor, but my money curtly told me that if I came near it Mrs. Sherbet would move it into escrow. I took to roaming the streets. “Spare change?” a man on the corner said. I was about to accept the offer when I spotted my money and Mrs. Sherbet, clinking champagne glasses at an outdoor hummus café.

Short shot #43: Manhattan sensibility

May 1, 2010

Not really about language, but it tickled my sensibilities: Stephen Holden’s NYT music column of May 1 about the biographical revue “Sondheim on Sondheim”:

For all his songs’ universality, the Sondheim philosophy is specific and exclusive. Directed toward his own class — an urbane, well-educated, culturally cosmopolitan gentry — his lyrics define what might be called the Manhattan sensibility: humanist, proudly intellectual, psychologically sophisticated, hyper-articulate, liberal, Jewish and disenchanted.

I can but aspire to some of that.

Short shot #36: exact terminology

February 12, 2010

Susan Orlean, “Riding High”, in the New Yorker of 15 & 22 February, on the use of pack animals, mules in particular, in the U.S. military. One captain working with a reconstruction team in Afghanistan

said that there was authorization for his unit to rent pack animals when they were “essential to mission accomplishment.” He told me, “The category is ‘animals for missions.’ ” Then he interrupted himself and said, “No, the exact terminology is ‘live animals for training aids and cargo and personal transport.’ “

Hard to imagine a situation where anyone would use the exact terminology in speech. Even the less technical “animals for missions” scarcely trips off the tongue. I wonder what the captain and others like him actually say on the job.

Short shot #35: paratactic conditionals

February 4, 2010

Conditionals can be expressed hypotactically, with the antecedent in a subordinate clause marked by if; or paratactically, with the antecedent and consequent simply juxtaposed:

[hypotaxis] If you break it, you bought it.

[parataxis] You break it, you bought it.

In paratactic examples the semantic relationship between the two clauses is not explicitly marked and has to be “worked out”.

Parataxis can be taken one step further, as in this example I overheard at a neighborhood restaurant last week, from a man interviewing a candidate for a job:

Any questions you have for me, just give me a call.

with the first part of the sentence conveying ‘if there are any questions you have for me; if you have any questions for me’.

I’m not sure what the range of such conditionals is. The any appears to be crucial, since some won’t do to convey ‘if there are some questions you have for me; if you have some questions for me’:

??Some questions you have for me, just give me a call.

But other any-words work:

Anything you want to know, just ask me.

Anyone you’d like to see, just tell me.

Short shot #30: up and Adam

December 17, 2009

Over on his blog, John McIntye posted a little while back (December 6) on editing slip-ups in various newspapers, including this one from the NYT:

It is the breakfast hour, the day before Thanksgiving and the lobby is busy with clean-looking families who are up and Adam, ready to set off in their varsity-letter jackets and Rockports for some holiday shopping, maybe a show. (link)

Eggcorn Forum contributor Jill caught this one too. And it turned out that there already was a thread there on up and Adam for up and at ’em, focusing on whether the expression was an eggcorn. Certainly, you can google up lots of hits for it, and some of them look like intentional puns, but many do not. For the latter, the question is whether up and Adam is just a demi-eggorn (in which an opaque expression is interpreted as containing some familiar material, even if that doesn’t make full sense) or a straightforward eggcorn (with Adam contributing meaning to the whole).

It’s probably a demi-eggcorn for many people who use it, but some of the forum contributors reported having rationalized it as involving a reference to be biblical Adam, as in this commen from charsnyder:

There was imagery for me. I didn’t know much about Adam and Eve but I’d seen the Michelangelo painting segment where God’s finger is sort of commanding Adam to “get up”. I wasn’t sure about Adam and didn’t think “up and Adam” meant it was an exhortation to DO anything, but just to sort of “spring forth” into the world. So that made some sense in terms of my Mom wanting me to get out of bed.

The impulse is fairly strong not only to see meaningful elements in partially opaque expressions, but also to make the whole expression meaningful. So one person’s demi-eggcorn can be another person’s full eggcorn. Chris Waigl reported on ADS-L on August 16 about another case:

I was mentioning B-line [for bee-line] as a very questionable eggcorn to an interested friend a while ago, and she surprisingly said she used to think it came from the letter B, thinking of the vertical line in it as the very image of a straight line. So this is just to show (once more, after many times) the subjective nature of making sense of some lexical item.

(There are also hits for up and atom, not all of them plays on words. I am of course reminded of the 1960s television cartoon The Atom Ant Show, the motto for which was “up and at ’em, Atom Ant”. There was also a later computer game Up and Atom, Atom Ant.)

Short shot #26: the tyranny of the style sheet

December 9, 2009

In an op-ed piece (“The Next Surge: Counterbureaucracy”) in the NYT on December 8, Jonathan J. Vaccaro describes the baleful effects of bureaucracy on the conduct of the campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan; multiple approvals from many different authorities are required before action can be taken. And then:

The red tape isn’t just on the battlefield. Combat commanders are required to submit reports in PowerPoint with proper fonts, line widths and colors so that the filing system is not derailed.

No report, however, of requirements on punctuation, spelling, and the like, not to mention grammar and usage.

Short shot #25: setting a record

December 8, 2009

Reporters often feel that it’s not enough to just report a story, that they need to set the story in some perspective. So instead of writing that it was very cold locally on December 1, and reporting the temperatures for the day, they’ll add that this was the coldest December 1 since 1997.

That’s a made-up story, but here’s a real one, about a school stampede in China’s Hunan province in which 8 were killed and 26 injured. This sad event was described on this morning’s Morning Edition on NPR as “the deadliest school stampede in China since 2002”.

According to Yahoo! News,

Despite harsh punishments aimed at forcing improvements, deadly stampedes continue to occur repeatedly in China’s schools, usually as students are rushing to exams or charging out of class down tight corridors and narrow stairwells.

This story cautiously described the Monday stampede as “among the deadliest since the crushing deaths of 21 children in a northern China middle school in 2002”.

(Early hits on {“school stampede”} include stories on a September stampede in Delhi, India, and a March 2002 stampede in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Until this morning I hadn’t thought of school stampede as a category of events.)

Short shot #24: douchefag

November 30, 2009

A recent Language Log posting of mine on the rise of douche as an insult (directed at people) elicited a number of comments on the older, longer insult douchebag. And now (I suppose predictably) we have the portmanteau douchefag, which I came across in a feature in the December 2009 issue of Details magazine but which seems to have been around for a while.

(Details is aimed at cool guys, both straight and gay.)

The piece is entitled “The Rise of the Douchefag” — announced on the cover as “Introducing the G-Bag: A Guide to the Gay Douchebag” and summarized inside this way:

The fist-bumping, Bluetooth-wearing dude’s dude isn’t the only tool in the box. Meet the douchefag–a plucked, preened party boy who’s taken being gay to new depths of tackiness.

After that it’s a side-by-side snarky comparison between Gay and Gay Douchebag, with items like:

Bleaches teeth VS. Bleaches anus

Dead lifts to shape his butt VS. Buys shapewear to dead lift his butt

Buys a Beckham jersey on eBay VS. Buys Beckham’s underwear on eBay

Posts sleeveless pictures on Connexion VS. Posts pantsless pictures on Manhunt

It goes on and on.