Archive for the ‘Constructions’ Category

Buzzcut 4: books and epithets

July 30, 2021

The last in the series of pairings of my new buzzcut with impudent gay t-shirts new to my wardrobe (earlier: BIG FAG on a pink shirt, rainbow FAGGOT in block letters, and, yesterday, a rainbow tyrannosaurus):

(#1) Posed in front of part of the Zwicky GSU (Grammar, Style, & Usage) collection, now housed in my condo, where the piano used to be, and supported by my indoor walker (which sports new purple walker balls, not illustrated here)

The t-shirt is a new version — bigger, bolder, more intense — than my first GAY AS FUCK shirt, below, which has worn over time until the colors are muted and delicate and the fabric is pleasantly soft. I see fatal holes in its near future.

(#2) Catalogue photo, not of me. With an (entertaining) asterisking strategy for taboo avoidance, unlike the flat-out FUCK of #1


Lessons from the English Auxiliary System

January 18, 2019

The title of a remarkable paper in Journal of Linguistics 55.1 (Feb. 2019) — published on-line on 1/3/19 — by an international panel of 11 authors, realizing a plan of the senior author, my Stanford colleague Ivan Sag, who died in 2013 before the project could be completed.


Syntext: basic concepts

February 10, 2018

Continuing my 1/23/18 posting “Syntax assignments from 20 years ago”, now with a section of these materials on some basic concepts in syntax.


Expletive syntax: I will marry the crap out of you, Sean Spencer

December 27, 2017


[Oh, crap! It’s Shawn Spencer, not Sean.]

The quote is from the American tv show Psych — illustrating a construction I’ve (recently) called Vexoo (V Expletive out-of Object), an emphatic alternative to V + Object. So, in the title quote above,

V: marry + Ex: the crapout of + Object: you

conveying ‘really, really marry you; totally marry you’.

Vexoo is a syntactic construction, an assemblage of formal elements, with restrictions on what lexical items can occur in specific slots (Ex in Vexoo is the + {crap, shit, hell, heck, fuck, piss, snot, stuffing, tar, daylights,…}), with an associated semantics (crudely expressed in the gloss for the example above), and with associations to particular sociocultural, stylistic, and discourse contexts.

English expletives occur in many very specific idioms (a fuck-up, raise hell, shitgibbon, etc.), but they’re also central elements in a number of syntactic constructions. Coming up below: a brief inventory of some of these constructions.


100 years of independence

December 6, 2017

Though today is one of the dark days of early December alluded to in my recent posting — it’s Mozart’s death day, a sad occasion indeed — it’s also St. Nicholas’s day (gifts!), and Chris Waigl’s birthday (eggcorns, remote sensing of wildfires in the Arctic, Python, knitting, and more, in three languages!), and Independence Day in Finland. As Riitta Välimaa-Blum reminds me, this year’s Independence Day is something spectacular: the centenary of Finland’s declaration of independence from Russia.

(#1) The Finnish flag

So raise a glass of Lakka (Finnish cloudberry liqueur) or Finlandia vodka, neat, to honor that difficult moment in 1917 — the year should call to your mind both World War I (still underway then) and the Russian revolution, and these enormous upheavals were in fact crucial to Finland’s wresting its independence from Russia.


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.


Packaging content into words

November 26, 2012

A 2005 Savage Chickens cartoon (by Doug Savage) with what’s labeled as a “future perfect passive”:

The label isn’t exactly wrong — it alludes, somewhat indirectly, to the semantics of the material will have been disappointed with subject you and complement with your life — but the label invites comparison to material like amāverō ‘will have loved’ in Latin (expressing the “future perfect”). But English and Latin work very differently in how they package content into words.


until the eagle grins

September 14, 2012

Susan Cheever in Newsweek for August 13th and 20th, p. 6,“Gin Without the Tonic”, on the rich:

There are still titans with a conscience in the 21st century — Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Oprah Winfrey, for instance — but some of the rich hang on to their money until the eagle grins.

The point of interest here is until the eagle grins, an idiom that will probably baffle most non-Americans (and some Americans as well).


Who(m) to V

April 18, 2012

From a Comcast (cable tv) program description:

(Airdate January 9, 2007)  Stabler and Benson are at odds over whom to believe in a “he said, she said” rape case involving a husband and wife (Blair Underwood, Michael Michele) in the middle of an extremely bitter child-custody dispute.

I was struck by the whom of whom to believe. Not unacceptable, but very much not what I would say or write.

Meanwhile, Stan Carey has posted about a kerfluffle on Twitter, in which various tweeters have objected strongly to the name of the Twitter feature Who to follow. Carey finds this variant entirely acceptable (and the whom variant stilted), as do I. But Business Insider thinks it’s “bad English”; GalleyCat calls it “one of the most viewed and easily overlooked grammar mistakes on the Internet”, adding that it’s “reassuring to watch a major social network struggle” with grammatical rules; Jay Rosen, who teaches journalism at NYU, believes it’s a “grammatical error”; and other Twitter users are variously bothered, disappointed, or annoyed by the phrase. Carey provides lots of quotes, with links.

He maintains that all the critics are wrong and provides a long and detailed account of the who/whom issue, with many citations of sources. Well worth reading.

Here my concern is with the choice of pronouns in the specific construction in the Comcast and Twitter examples.


as would’ve

August 9, 2011

A little while ago Geoff Pullum wrote me with what he thought might be a counterexample to our treatment of Auxiliary Reduction in English (in “Cliticization vs. inflection” and in the longer, still unpublished version of  “Licensing of prosodic features by syntactic rules: The key to Auxiliary Reduction”). The relevant bit is the third instance of would’ve in this passage from a review in Slate (all three instances boldfaced here):

It’s fun to think about what Cowboys & Aliens might have been if any creativity had crept past the title page. Instead of bonding over their shared humanity, it would’ve been fascinating to see the cowboys and Indians take opposite sides in the movie’s climactic intergalactic battle. Cowboys & Aliens vs. Indians would’ve been a far superior film, as would’ve Cowboys vs. Aliens & Indians. Or Cowboys vs. Aliens & Indians & Predator. What we’re left with instead is a dumb movie that thinks it’s smart. (link)

[extracted from this] (1) Cowboys & Aliens vs. Indians would’ve been a far superior film, as would’ve Cowboys vs. Aliens & Indians.

The crucial fact is that the third instance seems to be in an occurrence of Subject-Auxiliary Inversion (SAI); the other two are instances of Subject+VP (SVP), which (while they might set the scene for the third would’ve) doesn’t involve inversion. The problem is that SAI inverts a single auxiliary, while on the Z&P analysis of reduced auxiliaries, would’ve is, from a syntactic point of view, a sequence of two auxiliaries.