Archive for the ‘Style and register’ Category

WTF? headline omission

April 30, 2016

The original datum, from the SF Peninsula Daily Post for the April 30th weekend, on p. 1, printed here as a single line (rather than broken into three lines):

(1) Guard posted at crossing where woman killed

intended to convey something like

(1a) A guard has been posted at the crossing where a woman was killed

— where the omission in (1) of the underlined form of BE (in a subordinate passive clause) gave me an extended WTF? moment. Looking at parallel examples didn’t make me any happier. Maybe there are those for whom (1) and similar examples are unproblematic, but there is variation from speaker to speaker in all things, and in this case, (1) and its kin are problematic for me. Now, some background, then back to (1).


Lower bangs higher

January 28, 2016

(Some genuine language stuff in here, but in the context of serious man-man sex described in very plain language, so not for kids or the sexually modest.)

On the 25th, this ad (from a gay porn aggregation service using the name Genuine Lust), under the heading “Crossed Swords”, referring both to weapons and to penises:


This is serious role reversal, on (at least) three fronts: class, status, and race/ethnicity. Meanwhile, the text (in the dialogue above, and in some ad copy) is both bizarre and rife with errors (of various kinds) in English. The ad copy:

Beautiful themed movies with only the best actors shot with the best cameras the humanity ever known. Watch these sirs.


Cute-sounding ailments

June 9, 2015

Today’s Calvin and Hobbes:

We have a problem in style and register here. The vocabulary Calvin has for talking about what afflicts him comes from a kind of babytalk — owwy ‘painful’, boo boo ‘small injury’ — so doesn’t get taken seriously. (But note that Calvin’s internal monologue, like his talk to Hobbes on other occasions, is decidedly adult: ailments, sympathy.)

What a difference 30 years makes: take 2

May 31, 2015

A paper given at Stanford on the 29th: “Pronouncing the Z’s: Epenthesis in English plural possessives” by Simon Todd (a Ph.D. student in linguistics). The beginning of the abstract:

The interaction between the English regular plural affix (PL) and possessive clitic (POSS) presents a theoretical puzzle (Zwicky, 1975). Both have the form /z/, and so the OCP [AZ: Obligatory Contour Principle] (Yip, 1998) predicts their combination (PL+POSS) should trigger epenthesis. Yet, in cases like my friends’ /fɹenz/ car, only PL is overtly realized. Why does the OCP fail to apply?

Two previous theories address this non-application of the OCP in PL+POSS constructions. The POSS-suppression theory (Stemberger, 1981; Zwicky, 1987) claims that POSS essentially inspects the morphological composition of its host and is actively suppressed by adjacent PL /z/, without exception. The alternative POSS-allomorphy theory (Bernstein & Tortora, 2005; Nevins, 2011) claims that POSS has a phonologically null allomorph, which is chosen when the possessor has the plural feature. Either POSS allomorph may be chosen for a singular possessor with embedded PL; thus, contra the suppression theory, epenthesis may be triggered in cases like the son of my friends’s /fɹenz ~ fɹenzəz/ car.

(Some of this is seriously technical, but try to get the drift.)

The crucial paper of mine comes from about 30 years ago, and the question can now be examined with tools that weren’t available then.


Reading out loud

May 18, 2015

In yesterday’s NYT Book Review, a set of reviews of audiobooks, including one by by Kathryn Harrison of Jo Nesbo’s Blood on Snow as read by Patti Smith. Harrison sees a mismatch between the novel’s protagonist Olav as she understands him and Olav in Smith’s speech style (which Harrison refers to as diction).


Judge Judy: the early days

May 14, 2015

Today’s Zippy, featuring Judge Judy and her hectoring courtroom speech style:

Judge Judy is something of a preoccupation in Zippy, often in combination with Donald Trump (for instance, #2 on 3/17/14, #1 on 5/26/14), sometimes with other pop culture icons (JJ, Howie Mandel, and Dr. Phil on 8/17/13).


Dinosaur connoisseur

April 23, 2015

Today’s Bizarro, with a portmanteau:

Dinosaur + Connoisseur. With some entertaining play on the style of wine writing.

whom from long ago

March 19, 2015

In the NYT Magazine on Sunday (the 15th), an article, “The Last Volunteer”, with an account, as told to Dan Kaufman, from Del Berg:

Del Berg, 99, is the last known surviving veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a contingent of nearly 3,000 Americans who fought to defend the democratically elected government during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s.

The beginning of his story:

It was 1937, and the Fascists had already revolted in Spain. I was walking down a street in Hollywood when I saw a sign — “Friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade” — written on the side of a building. I turned the corner, opened the door and went in. The people inside said, “What can we do for you?” I said, “I want to go to Spain.” They couldn’t legally send people to Spain, they told me, but did I want to help? I did. My life started with poverty and then came the Depression. I felt a certain responsibility to help the Spanish workers and farmers.

They told me to go to an organization called the Medical Bureau to Aid Spanish Democracy. I was put to work there helping organize meetings and collecting clothes for the Republic. There was a younger guy working with me. One day he turned to me and said, “Do you want to go to Spain?” I said yes, I sure do. He said, “I’ll tell you whom to go see.”

That whom caught my eye; it sounded awfully formal for the context.



January 24, 2015

Passed on to me, this 2007 Phil Selby cartoon:


A take-off on door-to-door evangelizing, by (in particular) Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, using the pun Jesuscheeses to move things to the world of mice, who are famously fond of cheese.


Calvin’s genre competence

January 23, 2015

A while back, we witnessed Calvin’s competence in writing tabloid headlines. Yesterday he took on talk radio:

“Imagine getting paid to act like a six-year-old!”