Archive for the ‘Syntax’ Category

not agree with

September 16, 2017

The One Big Happy in my comics feed yesterday has Ruthie v Idiom, once again:

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Obsolete technologies and middle verbs

September 5, 2017

A pair of Zits strips, from yesterday and today:

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The theme is the looming obsolescence of technologies and their supporting infrastructures and social practices, in this case the system of mail delivery (cue Thomas Pynchon’s novella The Crying of Lot 49), with all its parts and accompaniments: postage stamps, envelopes and postcards, mail boxes, mail transport and delivery systems, posthorns and their tunes, delivery personnel in uniforms, mail slots, post offices, conventions for the form of letters, and more. If you’re young and well wired these days, this all could be as mysterious and exotic as analog clocks.

Jeremy is wary of the whole business.

And yes, Pynchon is relevant.

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Annals of NomConjObj: Miss Adelaide

August 24, 2017

Yesterday from Ben Zimmer, e-mail saying that he’d recently seen a performance of the musical “Guys and Dolls” and thought I’d appreciate an exchange in the song “Marry the Man Today” (one of the songs that was cut for the movie adaptation), a duet for the characters Adelaide (Miss Adelaide of the Hot Box girls) and Sarah (Sister Sarah Brown in a Salvation Army band):

Adelaide: At Wanamaker’s and Saks and Klein’s
A lesson I’ve been taught
You can’t get alterations on a dress you haven’t bought.
Sarah: At any vegetable market from Borneo to Nome
You mustn’t squeeze a melon till you get the melon home.
Adelaide: You’ve simply got to gamble.
Sarah: You get no guarantee.
Adelaide: Now doesn’t that kind of apply to you and I?
Sarah: You and me.

(referring to Adelaide and Nathan Detroit, who runs a crap game; and Sarah and Sky Masterson, a high-rolling gambler)

You can listen to the song, in the original cast album, here.

A NomConjObj (nominative conjoined object) from Adelaide, corrected by Sarah. The first instance of NomConjObj in my life that I actually noticed — surely not the first that came past me, but the first I was conscious of, and tried to locate in its social world (working-class NYC low-lifes, in the show) — also part of my first experience of a live performance of a musical, in the original Broadway production, which opened in 1950. I was 10, and it was stunning.

(#1) Playbill from the original production

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Bluto says: join or else

August 23, 2017

Aggressive days in the men’s underwear world, in my adaptation of a Daily Jocks ad from the 11th. There will be hot men in their underwear, suggestive captions, and a certain amount of syntax, semantics, and pragmatics; use your judgment.

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Reduced coordination, joke forms, and sociocultural categories

August 13, 2017

Two days ago, I set a competition for readers:

Compose a follow-up to the following lead-in to a joke:

Tom, Taylor, and Jonathan Swift walk into a bar…

Three matters, having to do with reduced coordination, joke forms, and sociocultural categories.

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look pretty Adj

July 24, 2017

In a recent One Big Happy, Ruthie and her mother stumble through Ambiguityland:

An ambiguity both lexical and structural.

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No moths, no squirrels, no rats

July 24, 2017

Also no blue jays, but the three-NP version has the best music.

This is mostly about pests and my life, but there’s language and music in there too. Also a pro wrestler performing angry rejection:

(#1) Daniel Bryan of WWE’s SmackDown show

I’ll start with my pests (in more or less chronological order) and go on to uses of negation.

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Briefly: a demented p.r. pitch, an off-the-rails headline

June 18, 2017

In the past few days, some tidbits from Facebook friends: from Margalit Fox, another demented p.r. pitch in her mail; from Jean Berko Gleason, an unfortunately ambiguous headline.

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An old resultative joke

June 8, 2017

From Wilson Gray on ADS-L on the 6th, in a discussion of a joke that turns on a structural ambiguity, a totally different joke of this sort:

A drunk is staggering along the sidewalk muttering to himself, “It can’t be done! I couldn’t do it!” A passer-by comments, “Damn, man, you all fucked up!, It must have been something terrible! What couldn’t you do?!” The drunk answers, “Drink Canada dry!”

The joke doesn’t quite work in print like this, unless you use all-caps, the way artist Richard Prince did in this “joke painting”:

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Untitled (Drink Canada Dry), acrylic and silkscreen on canvas, 1998

The joke of course also works fine in speech. (Early occurrences in print have only either Canada Dry or Canada dry, with text that points the reader towards the other.)

Two things: the joke and its history

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Non-standard sex talk

May 26, 2017

I’ll start with the steamy gay sex talk from an on-line messaging site — sensitive readers are hereby warned about this content — and then go on to focus on a non-standard syntactic construction in this exchange, what the YGDP (the Yale University Grammatical Diversity Project: English in North America) calls the Needs Washed construction (using as a label an instance of the instruction), involving a PSP complement of a head V.

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