Archive for the ‘Syntax’ Category

Knuckle macaroni

August 17, 2022

Yesterday’s Wayno / Piraro Bizarro, at the grocery store:


(#1) Wayno’s title: Joint Replacement (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 5 in this strip — see this Page.)

So: let’s start with elbow macaroni and go on from there.

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Fame-naming and family history

August 15, 2022

My intention was to get on with Cats 4, about naming cats for / after famous cats — in particular, famous fictional cats; in further particular, cats in cartoons and comics. If I name my cat Stallone (after the actor) or Rocky (after the fictional pugilist), I’m fame-naming a cat; if I name my cat Cheshire (from Alice in Wonderland) or Pyewacket (from the Salem witch trials and then various films, for example the wonderful Bell, Book and Candle (1958)), I’m cat-fame-naming my cat; if I name my cat Garfield or Sylvester, I’m cartoon-cat-fame-naming my cat. This is intricate, but pretty straightforward. And the topic of Cats 4 will in fact be the cartoon-cat-fame-naming of cats.

Fame-naming is a special case of after-naming. I am named after my father (Arnold Melchior Zwicky), and he was named (in a complex way) after his father (Melchior Arnold Zwicky), but no famous persons or characters were involved in these namings. On the other hand, my grandfather was named after one of the Three Wise Men, or Magi (Melchior; and his brothers Balthasar and Kaspar were named after the other two); this is fame-naming.

Meanwhile, my daughter, Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky, is named after two forebears: her mother’s mother, Elizabeth Walcutt Daingerfield; and her father’s great-aunt, Elizabeth Pickney Daingerfield. That’s just after-naming. On the other hand, according to her mother, my mother Marcella Zwicky was fame-named (not merely after-named) for the fictional character Marcella in the Raggedy Ann books for children.

I was about to go on to compare schemes for the naming of pets (in modern American culture) to those for the naming of children — given our attitudes towards pets, the two are unsurprisingly similar — when I went to get illustrative material about Marcella and Raggedy Ann and discovered that, sadly, my grandmother’s story about my mother’s name could not possibly be true.

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The pickle slicer joke The pickle slicer joke

July 31, 2022

On this blog, a Bob Richmond comment on my 7/29 posting “Many a pickle packs a pucker”, with an old dirty joke that turns on the line “I stuck my dick in the pickle slicer” — with Bob noting, “I’m sure Arnold can provide an appropriate grammatical analysis”. The hinge of the joke is a pun on pickle slicer, which is ambiguous between ‘a device for slicing pickles’ and ‘someone who slices pickles (esp. as a job)’. You don’t need a syntactician to tell you that, but what I can tell you is that this isn’t some isolated fact about the expression pickle slicer, but is part of a much larger pattern that a linguist like me can bring to explicit awareness for you, so that you can appreciate something of the system of English that you (in some sense) know, but only tacitly, implicitly.

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O tasty Tweety! O Tweety, my prey!

July 26, 2022

… What a delicious Tweety you are!

The 7/24 Mother Goose and Grimm strip, with a police line-up of cartoon cats, for little Tweety to pick out the threatening pussy cat that he thought he saw:


(#1) The potential pussy predator perps on parade, left to right: 1 the Cat in the Hat (Dr. Seuss picture book), 2 Stimpy (Ren & Stimpy tv animation), 3 Sylvester (Looney Tunes film animation), 4 Catbert (Dilbert strip), 5 Attila (MGG strip — note self-reference), 6 Garfield (Garfield strip)

The number of domestic cats in cartoons is mind-boggling — there are tons of lists on the net — and then there are all those other cartoon felines: tigers, panthers, lions, leopards, and so on. Out of these thousands, the cops rounded up the six guys above — all male, as nearly all cartoon cats are, despite the general cultural default that dogs are male, cats female — as the miscreant. (It might be that male is the unmarked sex for anthropomorphic creatures in cartoons as for human beings in many contexts; females appear only when their sex is somehow especially relevant to the cartoon.) And that miscreant, the smirking Sylvester, is the only one of the six known as a predator on birds, though in real life, domestic cats are stunningly effective avian predators, killing billions of birds annually.

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Classic joke #444

July 22, 2022

We might as well just give them numbers. (This particular joke is 2/3 of a devil.) From Verdant on my Twitter on 7/15/22, this old Shoe strip:


(#1) Body-location (of the tattoo) vs. event-location (of the tattooing); Verdant provides this as a comment on my 2/27/19 posting “Body-location, event-location”, where #444 appears in a One Big Happy strip and is traced back at least as far as the antique Joe Miller’s Jest Book

To which Verdant adds yes-I-said-yes Molly Bloom’s:

confession when I used to go to Father Corrigan he touched me father and what harm if he did where and I said on the canal bank like a fool but whereabouts on your person my child

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Prone, splayed, and humped up

June 13, 2022

(Warning: this posting starts out being about food, but quickly shifts into man-on-man sex, in very plain anatomical and interactional language, so it’s not suitable for kids or the sexually modest.)

The morning name from 6/7: spatchcock. From NOAD on spatchcock:

noun: a chicken or game bird split open and grilled. verb [with object] [a] split open (a poultry or game bird) to prepare it for grilling: these small spring chickens can be bought already spatchcocked. [b] informal, mainly British add (a phrase, sentence, clause, etc.) in a context where it is inappropriate: a new clause has been spatchcocked into the Bill. ORIGIN late 18th century (originally an Irish usage). [but in any case, the cock in question refers to poultry and not to penises]

Illustrated on the Fifteen Spatulas site, in “Spatchcock Chicken” by Joanne Ozug on 12/7/18:


(#1) [from the site:] Spatchcock Chicken roasts in half the time of a whole trussed chicken, and also cooks more evenly. … Once you spatchcock, you don’t go back to roasting whole chickens.

I had two visceral responses to the photo: one, as an umami-loving carnivore, my mouth watered in pleasurable anticipation of consuming that spatchcocked chicken; and two, as a hookup-loving pedicant, my sexual parts all tingled in pleasurable recollection of past encounters in which I was that spatchcocked chicken. On my belly, legs apart, buttocks in the air. Or, more briskly: prone, splayed, humped up. (You have to make some allowances for the anatomical differences between your typical roasted chicken and me in heat, so that drumsticks ≈ buttocks.)

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What do we want? Change!

May 31, 2022

The Mother Goose and Grimm strip for 1/29

turns on an ambiguity in the VP, which is of the form:

want/need + NP1 + in NP2

The ambiguity appears more generally, in VPs of the form:

 want/need + NP + PredicativeComplement

The ambiguity involves two different constituent structures for the VP, with concomitant differences in the argument structures, and indeed, in the semantics of the primary verbs of desire, want and need: desiring a thing — the much more common semantics, seen in Mother Goose’s assertion:

I want that dress in the window

— versus desiring a change of state (an inchoative ‘I want that dress to be in / get into the window’ or causative ‘I want that dress to be put into the window’ reading), presupposed by Grimmy’s objection:

But that dress is in the window

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The logic of syntax

March 27, 2022

I had two postings in preparation about moments of great joy from yesterday: one from the music that greeted me on awakening in the morning; the other from the plants in Palo Alto’s Gamble Gardens, visited yesterday morning on my first trip out in the world for many weeks.

Then fresh posting topics rolled in alarmingly, and a search for background material led me by accident to a great surprise, a link to a tape of a public lecture (a bit over an hour long) at Iowa State University on 4/11/90, 32 years ago. Title above. The subtitle: Thinking about language theoretically.

I listened transfixed as the lecturer, speaking to a general university audience, took his listeners into the wilds of modern theoretical syntax, along the way deftly advancing some ways of thinking that guided his own research. An admirable bit of teaching, I thought. With some pride, because that lecturer was, of course, an earlier incarnation of me.

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Two cartoons on familiar themes

March 24, 2022

In my comics feed recently: a One Big Happy (from 4/6/10) on masculinity for boys; and a Wayno / Piraro  Bizarro (from 4/23) with an Ahab and the whale cartoon (but with a whole lot more packed into it).

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Four approaches to sucking someone’s socks off

February 4, 2022

(Full of linguistic expressions referring to genitals and sexual acts, but not depicting these acts or treating them as cultural practices.)

A heavy-linguistics follow-up to my 11/5/21 posting “I want to suck your socks off”, which told the moving tale of a sexual encounter between the characters Alex and Jake, the center of which is a sub-episode beginning with Jake declaring to Alex:

I want to suck your socks off (A)

conveying, roughly, ‘I want to give you enormous satisfaction by fellating you to orgasm’, that is, ‘I want to give you a truly fabulous blow job’ — a vow that Jake then proceeded to make good on.

This posting isn’t about raunchy acts like Jake’s — I hope to, um, flesh out the tale of Jake and Alex in another posting — but about English VPs like the one underlined in (A), Jake’s raunchily colloquial

suck your socks off (B)

Call VP (B) syoso for short; I’ll have a lot to say about syoso. It turns out that it’s at least four-ways ambiguous, though in the sex-drenched context of the Jake and Alex story, you’re probably going to recognize only sense 4, sexual syoso.

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