Archive for the ‘Syntax’ Category

All they will call you will be “escapees”

September 13, 2020

Well, maybe also “escapers”, or even “escapettes”, as in this One Big Happy cartoon from 8/17, which taps into a much-studied phenomenon in English morphology:


From my 1/9/15 posting “-ee” (warning: this goes, unavoidably, pretty deep into the technical weeds of syntax and semantics):

The great resource on [the English derivational suffix] –ee is a 1998 paper by Chris Barker in Language (74.695-727), “Episodic -ee in English: A thematic role constraint on new word formation” (stable URL here), which uses a database of “fifteen hundred naturally occurring tokens of some five hundred word types” to analyze the semantics of the suffix; it also has a full bibliography of relevant literature on the subject.



August 14, 2020

Standardly, ‘exhibiting or expressing empathy’, but now also, in some contexts, ‘eliciting empathy’. A semantic development now prominent in the U.S. because of (former vice-president, now presidential candidate) Joe Biden, who is famously empathetic in the first sense (he appreciates our feelings) — subject-oriented EXHIBIT — but because of his life history is also empathetic in the second sense (we appreciate his feelings) — object-oriented ELICIT.

EXHIBIT empathetic (sense one), from cartoonist Baloo’s site


Annals of ambiguity: I feel like making it rough for Schrödinger

June 24, 2020

Playing with ambiguity:

— a One Big Happy cartoon with: I feel like a tuna fish sandwich

— a domestic exchange about: I will make a dessert of my youth

— a Pearls Before Swine cartoon with: Tell me roughly

— a photograph, labeled Schrödinger’s Dumpster, of a dumpster with the signage: EMPTY WHEN FULL


Duolingo’s Latin cheese

June 20, 2020

From Mike Pope on Facebook yesterday, this Duolingo exercise:

(#1) Mike’s note: “Duolingo is really great for learning those phrases you need every day”; word by word: ‘Marcus cheese greatly smells’ (with verb-final syntax)

A little hymn to Marcus as a cheesy comestible:

Marcus smells greatly of cheese

ripe, redolent of cheddar, his
pubic bacteria broadcasting his
manscent to any intimate nose, a
deeply tasty hunk, serve him up
with a young cabernet

Well then: some Latin, and some reflections on cheese and male sweat.


Exulting in Pride

June 18, 2020

This afternoon my grand-daughter Opal arrived at my house (dutifully standing about 7 feet away and wearing a mask (as I was) to deliver two items: the DVD of Woody Allen’s Take the Money and Run (“It says GUB”), which she’d borrowed from me, oh, three years ago; and a celebratory Pride t-shirt from my daughter Elizabeth, whose bold NSFW message in Pride rainbow colors I defer to under the fold.


Smearing and taunting

June 17, 2020

(Adapted and expanded from a Facebook comment of mine a while back. Some coarse sexual language, notably from American newsmakers, but also enough about sexual bodies and mansex from me to make the posting dubious for kids and the sexually modest.)

Every so often, MSNBC commentator Ali Velshi tartly notes — alluding to the Imperator Grabpussy’s smears of President Barack Obama as a Muslim born in Kenya — that he is a Muslim who was born in Kenya (though he grew up in Canada).

There’s a linguistic point here, having to do with relevance and implicature. Why does Velshi say this? Yes, it’s true, but then “The freezing point of water is 32F” is true, but if Velshi had said that it would have been bizarre, because it would have been irrelevant in the context. So Velshi’s religion and nativity are relevant in the context. Cutting through a whole lot of stuff, I would claim that Velshi is implicating something like “Being one myself, I know from Muslims born in Kenya, and I know that Barack Obama is no Muslim born in Kenya”. And THAT brings me to a piece I’ve been wrestling with some time, about Grabpussy Jr. jeering at Mitt Romney, taunting him by calling him a pussy. (I have a Velshian response of my own to that.)

Hang on; this will go in several directions.


Annals of the AIC: the African American vote

June 14, 2020

Ali Velshi, on MSNBC on 2/23 (yes, yes, I am absurdly far behind in my posting, maybe irretrievably; life has been very hard), talking about:

(a) … the African American vote, and what is motivating them in the coming elections [in South Carolina]

African American vote is understood here as ‘the vote of/by African Americans’, and African Americans is what the later anaphoric personal pronoun them refers to, though the noun African American(s) doesn’t occur in the example, only the adjective African American. So the example would once have been seen as a violation of a purported condition on grammatical well-formedness, the Anaphoric Island Constraint (AIC) — but in fact, in the context, it seems scarcely problematic, if at all.


Higashi Day cartoon 3: sentence-initial anymore

June 9, 2020

Background, from my 3/12/20 posting “Higashi Day cartoon 1: grim Bliss surprise” about the series of 6 cartoon postings (of which this is the 3rd)

to celebrate March 15th: Higashi Day, formerly known in these parts as (spring) Removal Day, marking the day when, for roughly 10 years in the fabled past, Jacques and I set off to car-trek east, from Palo Alto (and Stanford) to Columbus OH (and Ohio State).

The Frazz strip of March 8th:

(#1) School custodian Edwin “Frazz” Frazier and 8-year-old bored genius Caulfield take on “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”

In more or less reverse order: (a) the positive anymore of Caulfield’s

(ex1) Anymore, I just believe what rhymes

in the last panel; (b) the song and some of its most famous performances; and (c) the quote in the first panel,

(ex2) Believe half of what you see, and none of what you hear


The voice of authority

June 3, 2020

Yesterday on FB a query from my friend P (exchanges edited to remove personal chitchat):

A company is creating an outgoing voice message and they have come to blows over sentence structure. My suggestion to them is to fight bigger battles — but, alas, here we are.

They are going to the mat on “how can I” vs “how I can.”

Given your expertise, which is better?

“Thanks for calling COMPANY. Please tell me, in detail, how CAN I help you?
“Thanks for calling COMPANY. Please tell me, in detail, how I CAN help you.”


Our reclusive pangolinists

May 4, 2020

On the dangler watch, a report by Ben Zimmer on 4/29 about this Reddit posting, which seems to have appeared without any preceding context:

TIL [Today I Learned] Due to their reclusive nature, scientists are unsure how long a pangolin lives in the wild.

(now entry Z4.87, coded SUB(due to)-I-EMB-3P, in my collection of examples)

The writer of Z4.87 was no doubt intending to write about the endangered animal the scaly anteater, or pangolin, and the creatures were paramount in their consciousness; and they also wanted to introduce an observation on scientists’ knowledge about pangolins. All of that is fine. But we can’t be mind-readers, and what they wrote fell afoul of a general strategy in sentence comprehension that leads even well-intentioned readers to understand, at least for a perceptible moment, the claim to be that scientists, not pangolins, are reclusive.