Archive for the ‘Morphology and syntax’ Category

troop ‘servicemember’

August 3, 2023

(From a while back, but this exchange, on a very small bit of usage, between SRA (Stephen R. Anderson, the Dorothy R. Diebold Professor of Linguistics Emeritus at Yale University, now living in North Carolina) and AMZ (me), came during various medical crises on my part, so never got posted. But now …)

The usage issue set out in 7/18 e-mail from SRA to AMZ:

I guess lots of people send you weird things they saw online for commentary. Let me join that crowd.

In a story today on NPR about the soldier (apparently on his way to discipline on an assault charge) who ran across the demilitarized zone in Panmunjom into the arms of the North Koreans, we read that

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he expected to have more information on the man in the coming hours and days.

“I’m absolutely foremost concerned about the welfare of our troop,” he told reporters during a Tuesday briefing, offering little other information than what has already been confirmed.

He obviously is referring to this individual guy as the troop he’s concerned about. I can’t find any instances of troop as a singular referring to an individual and not a group, but I’m not all that good at Google-searching for that kind of thing. The singular exists, of course, but it’s not the singular of [our] troops. Is this somehow a usage in the military?


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.


The caritive

October 26, 2019

An e-mail announcement from Sonya Oskolskaya (СА Оскольская) on 10/21:

The Institute for Linguistic Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences is pleased to announce the conference “Caritive Constructions in the Languages of the World”, to be held in Saint Petersburg, Russia on April 21–23, 2020.

The conference aims to bring together studies on caritive (a.k.a. abessive or privative) constructions in different languages.


Syntactic phrase, compound word, portmanteau

May 24, 2018

(Gay sex talk in street language: use your judgment.)

Encountered today in reports of the slang of young gay men, three words for ‘male anus viewed as a sexual organ, male sexcavity, (figurative) vagina of a man’:

munt /mʌnt/; mussy /’mUsi/, bussy /’bUsi/ (bunt /bʌnt/ is not recorded, but has probably been coined on occasion)

These are portmanteaus derived from the compound nouns man / boy + cunt / pussy, as examined in my 7/26/13 posting on expressions for the male anus viewed as a sexual organ.

Three steps in the tightness of connection between the elements participating in an expression:


Psychiatrist Meme Day

May 14, 2018

… at King Features Syndicate, or so it seems. In my feed today, three cartoons (of my five regulars from King) with a psychoanalyst and his couch: a Bizarro/Wayno with an empty couch; a Zippy with Zippy on the couch; and a Mother Goose and Grimm with the dog Grimm on the couch.


Books from Stanford

February 13, 2017

Recent books from Stanford-connected authors, some my colleagues, some my former students (so I have warm feelings). Two in sociolinguistics / educational linguistics, one on the (gasp) morphosyntax-phonology interface.


Still solid, after 20 years

June 8, 2016

(Warning: heavy technical linguistics.)

This morning a linguist working on auxiliary reduction in Scots dialects wrote to ask me about the 1997 Pullum & Zwicky LSA paper “Licensing of prosodic features by syntactic rules: The key to auxiliary reduction” (a paper Geoff and I are still proud of). The abstract is available on this blog, but the handout is not (though other handouts are there). A significant problem with word processing formats was the culprit, but (spurred by my correspondent’s query) Geoff managed to unearth a clean copy of the reading script for the paper, which includes everything from the handout and more. Now available for public consumption here.


Raining subjunctives

May 2, 2016

Today’s Zippy dips into morphosyntax:

The three panels are far from parallel. Adjective and Adverb are the names of major syntactic categories, while Past Subjective and Present Subjunctive are (intended to be) the names of infectional forms of Verb words: the Present Subjunctive in things like

(1) I insist that Sandy be promoted.

and the Past Subjunctive in things like

(2) Were Sandy my friend, I would be proud.


A batch of back-formations

November 4, 2012

Three two-part back-formed verbs of interest came past me recently: an old acquaintance, to executive-produce ‘act as executive producer for’ [in film, tv, recordings, etc.]; to open carry ‘(lawfully) openly carry (firearms), (lawfully) carry (firearms) in the open’; and to way-find ‘to find one’s way (using some scheme or device)’.