Archive for the ‘Modification’ Category

How does Wilderrama sleep at night?

September 4, 2021

From the tv series NCIS, Season 14 Episode 6, “Shell Game”, an exchange between the NCIS-Agent characters Tim McGee (played by Sean Murray) and Nick Torres (played by Wilmer Valderrama, whose name I am forever telescoping into the portmanteau-like Wilderrama) that turns on joking with senses of the interrogative adverb how — in McGee’s question “How do you sleep at night”, intended to convey modal + means how ‘by what means is it possible?’; and Torres’s response “On my back. Naked.”, conveying truth-functional + state how ‘in what state?’.


(#1) Torres and McGee in the NCIS episode “Love Boat”, Season 14 Episode 4

Then I turn to WV the man, as a hunk with a wonderful smile (two things I post about on a fairly regular basis), and as a performer with a notable actorial persona.

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Ripped from the headlines

April 3, 2021

Well, actually, the headline — from CNN Politics, “Gaetz showed nude photos of women he said he’d slept with to lawmakers, sources tell CNN” by Jeremy Herb, Lauren Fox and Ryan Nobles yesterday — isn’t problematic, but very early in the body of the story, we get this:


(hat tips to Mike Pope and Michael Covarrubias on Facebook)

Which is.

I was (actually) shocked at the idea that congressman Matt Gaetz (R of FL) — admittedly, an extraordinarily arrogant bully with the contempt for ordinary people and customary social conventions so often displayed by children of privilege — would have sex with women on the floor of the US House of Representatives. Then I saw the ambiguity in modifier attachment and realized that what was alleged was merely deeply boorish behavior: passing around, wink wink nod nod, naked photos and videos of his sexual conquests to other legislators and their staffs.

Now, about that modifier attachment…

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Treading down the thorny path

March 16, 2021

Two evergreen topics in grammar and usage: so-called “split infinitives”, where some usage critics have insisted that they must always be avoided, however unnatural the results of this avoidance are; and modifier attachment, where jokes are often made about one of the potential attachments, however preposterous the interpretation associated with this attachment is.

The two topics are connected through their unthinking devotion to dogmas of grammatical correctness: avoid split infinitives, avoid potential ambiguity. A devotion that leads adherents down the thorny path of usage rectitude to using unnatural syntax and entertaining preposterous interpretations.

But first, the thorny path. The (tough) counterpart to the (easy) primrose path.

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secret cabal

January 13, 2021

(Hanging in my posting queue for some considerable time, but just as relevant now as then.

From John McIntyre on Facebook on 9/6/18:

Guardian writer refers to a “secret cabal” in the Trump administration. What other kind does he think there is?

The crucial point is the definition of cabal. From NOAD:

noun cabal: a secret political clique or faction: a cabal of dissidents.

That is, cabals are by definition secret, and secret cabal is pleonastic, so is to be avoided (in favor of plain cabal). The general principle is the Strunk / White Avoid Needless Words dictum. (Yes, we can dispute the applicability of the dictum in particular cases. More below.)

In my mental filing cabinet, the relevant drawer is labeled pilotless drone, after a specific example I discussed at some length back in 2007. Then, of course, the question will be whether my treatment of pilotless drones carries over to secret cabals

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A fresh approach to English dangling modifiers

December 29, 2020

Recently defended:

Control in Free Adjuncts: The “Dangling Modifier” in English by James Donaldson. Ph.D. dissertation, Univ. of Edinburgh, 2020 (supervisors: Geoffrey K. Pullum and Nikolas Gisborn).

Donaldson presents a fresh approach to the topic, uniting a huge body of commentary on observed examples by reference to sentence processing in real time.

Below, the dissertation abstract and a “lay summary”. These are not (yet) for quotation: this is not yet the final form of the dissertation — as is common in academia, there will be some editorial revisions before final submission, though it’s to be expected that there will be no substantive changes. I provide the abstract and lay summary here because I think the leading ideas deserve to be heard and appreciated.

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Our reclusive pangolinists

May 4, 2020

On the dangler watch, a report by Ben Zimmer on 4/29 about this Reddit posting, which seems to have appeared without any preceding context:

TIL [Today I Learned] Due to their reclusive nature, scientists are unsure how long a pangolin lives in the wild.

(now entry Z4.87, coded SUB(due to)-I-EMB-3P, in my collection of examples)

The writer of Z4.87 was no doubt intending to write about the endangered animal the scaly anteater, or pangolin, and the creatures were paramount in their consciousness; and they also wanted to introduce an observation on scientists’ knowledge about pangolins. All of that is fine. But we can’t be mind-readers, and what they wrote fell afoul of a general strategy in sentence comprehension that leads even well-intentioned readers to understand, at least for a perceptible moment, the claim to be that scientists, not pangolins, are reclusive.

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Revisiting 43: the Socka Hitsch nominal on the rural Swiss roadside

February 15, 2020

In my “Socka Hitsch” posting yesterday, Christian Zwicky / Socka Hitsch described by the nominal

old eccentric rural Swiss roadside sock vendor ‘old, eccentric sock vendor on the roadside of rural Switzerland’, ‘seller of socks along the road in the countryside of Switzerland who is of advanced age and exhibits unconventional behavior’

An unusually long nominal — I was showing off some — but not one with unusual components, put together in unusual ways. In the middle of it, rural Swiss roadside, with the complex adjectival rural Swiss, modifying the compound noun roadside — a perfectly routine and unremarkable expression    (compare rural Dutch in the attested rural Dutch landscape, urban English in the attested urban English roadworks, etc.), but one of some interest to people who fret about how the form — the morphology and syntax — of expressions (like rural Swiss) links to their meaning — their semantics and pragmatics.

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As a Business Professional, …

February 6, 2020

On the SPAR patrol, this message in my e-mail yesterday:

I balked on that first sentence, which I understood, as it unfolded, as conveying that the writer was a business professional (or, as they would put it, a Business Professional). But then I got to the further reaches of the sentence (with its you) and realized they were addressing me as a business professional. So the sentence begins with a failed X-SPAR, a bad classic “dangling modifier”.

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Resources: dangler examples

March 2, 2019

Having worked on non-canonical SPARS — called dangling modifiers (or danglers, for short) on Usage Street — for several decades now, my files of SPAR examples have piled up alarmingly. I’ve cited a fair number of the examples in my postings on danglers (see the Page on this blog on dangler postings), but in line with general urgings to make data sources publicly available wherever possible, I’ve now posted the files here as a Page (where, like the dangler postings Page, I can update it regularly).

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Ask not for whom the reaper scythes

December 20, 2018

Two Grim Reaper memic cartoons: today’s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro collab, and a Harry Bliss cartoon in the current (12/24&31) New Yorker, both requiring signficant background information for understanding (beyond recognizing the figure of Death with his scythe):

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