Archive for the ‘Constructions’ Category

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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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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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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.

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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).

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