Archive for the ‘Comparison’ Category

“as cleverer than people as people are than plants”

August 4, 2019

From The Economist of July 27th. Yes, it’s grammatical, but it’s fiercely hard to parse — you might feel the need to get out pencil and paper to graph the thing — and it’s also a big show-stopper flourish: stop reading the news to admire how clever we are!

In this case, the magazine has committed a nested clausal comparative (NCC), somewhat reminiscent of nested relative clauses (also known in the syntactic literature as self-embedded relative clauses) like those in the NP with head the rat modified by the relative clause that the cat that the dog worried ate:

[ the rat ]-i

… [ that [ the cat ]-j [ that [ the dog ] worried ___-j ] ate ___-i ]

(where an underline indicates a missing (“extracted”) constituent, and the indices mark coreferential constituents). Both nested relatives and NCCs require the hearer to interrupt the processing of one clause to process another clause of similar form.


Jumping higher than a house

October 2, 2018

The One Big Happy from 9/5 has Ruthie enmeshed in the syntax and semantics of comparison:

The reduced comparative X can jump higher than your house: ‘jump higher than your house is’ (Grandpa’s intended reading), OR ‘jump higher than your house can jump’ (Ruthie’s perceived reading ).


The literalist on Fathers Day

June 9, 2016

Fathers Day comes on the 19th. For the occasion, a Tom Toro cartoon that didn’t get into my earlier posting about him:

Well, there can be literally only one greatest dad in the world, but then not all language is literal — as in this case, where the sentiment on the mug is a piece of hyperbole, exaggeration for effect.


More memories

December 16, 2011

In the tradition of my Chicken Verdicchio, Peking on Mystic, and musical memories postings, more recollections of the Boston area in the early 60s. Something of a focus on food and dining, with occasional linguistic interludes.


Double comparatives

February 4, 2010

Caught in a Lumber Liquidators ad in the New York Times Magazine on January 24, a testimonial from satisfied customer Aurelia C.:

We love our new floor, we couldn’t be any more happier …

A double comparative on the hoof.

MWDEU‘s article on double comparatives notes that

more and most came to be used in intensive function with adjectives already inflected for comparative and superlative” – “the most unkindest cut of all” (Julius Caesar) – from the 14th to the 17th century, after which criticisms by grammarians of the 18th century pretty much wiped it out from standard writing, and “the strictures on the double comparative and superlative became part of every schoolchild’s lessons—and they still are.”

(There’s another type of doubling in things like mostest, bestest, worser.)

Schoolteachers might still be striving to root out doublings, but the evidence from informal writing suggests that intensive more and most are flourishing. Googling on {“any more happier”} (as in the testimonial above), for instance, nets a huge number of examples, especially in negative and interrogative contexts, most of them exclamatory in tone. Apparently, a great many people feel that “I couldn’t be any happier” is insufficiently emphatic, so they need a more to get the full effect.

EDM/ODM and grade marking

January 28, 2010

I’ve been spending rather a lot of time preparing materials for my course this quarter, on this week’s topic, inflectional (infl) vs. periphrastic (periph) comparatives and superlatives (infl handsomer, handsomest; periph more handsome, most handsome). I’ve been writing on the topic for decades, and I posted to Language Log three times recently on the topic (here, here, and here), so I’ve collected an almost unmanageable amount of material. I started to assemble my responses to comments on these postings, intending to post that here. What I have so far is a kind of crude outline for my students’ use, though I’m still striving.

Here I’m pulling out a new bit, having to do with an interaction between infl/periph and another option in the structure of English, Exceptional Degree Marking (EDM) vs. Ordinary Degree Marking (ODM).