Archive for the ‘Negation’ Category

Smearing and taunting

June 17, 2020

(Adapted and expanded from a Facebook comment of mine a while back. Some coarse sexual language, notably from American newsmakers, but also enough about sexual bodies and mansex from me to make the posting dubious for kids and the sexually modest.)

Every so often, MSNBC commentator Ali Velshi tartly notes — alluding to the Imperator Grabpussy’s smears of President Barack Obama as a Muslim born in Kenya — that he is a Muslim who was born in Kenya (though he grew up in Canada).

There’s a linguistic point here, having to do with relevance and implicature. Why does Velshi say this? Yes, it’s true, but then “The freezing point of water is 32F” is true, but if Velshi had said that it would have been bizarre, because it would have been irrelevant in the context. So Velshi’s religion and nativity are relevant in the context. Cutting through a whole lot of stuff, I would claim that Velshi is implicating something like “Being one myself, I know from Muslims born in Kenya, and I know that Barack Obama is no Muslim born in Kenya”. And THAT brings me to a piece I’ve been wrestling with some time, about Grabpussy Jr. jeering at Mitt Romney, taunting him by calling him a pussy. (I have a Velshian response of my own to that.)

Hang on; this will go in several directions.


Higashi Day cartoon 3: sentence-initial anymore

June 9, 2020

Background, from my 3/12/20 posting “Higashi Day cartoon 1: grim Bliss surprise” about the series of 6 cartoon postings (of which this is the 3rd)

to celebrate March 15th: Higashi Day, formerly known in these parts as (spring) Removal Day, marking the day when, for roughly 10 years in the fabled past, Jacques and I set off to car-trek east, from Palo Alto (and Stanford) to Columbus OH (and Ohio State).

The Frazz strip of March 8th:

(#1) School custodian Edwin “Frazz” Frazier and 8-year-old bored genius Caulfield take on “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”

In more or less reverse order: (a) the positive anymore of Caulfield’s

(ex1) Anymore, I just believe what rhymes

in the last panel; (b) the song and some of its most famous performances; and (c) the quote in the first panel,

(ex2) Believe half of what you see, and none of what you hear



October 13, 2019

This touching Sara Lautman pun cartoon from the 10/14 New Yorker:

(#1) “You know, sooner or later we’re going to have to let her go out unaccompanied.”

It all depends on what you mean by unaccompanied.


tooken by the senses taker

January 4, 2018

The 12/5/17 One Big Happy, which came by in my comics feed a few days ago:


Three things here: Ruthie’s eggcornish reshaping of the unfamiliar word census (ending in /s/) as the familiar senses (ending in /z/); her tooken as the PSP of the verb take; and (in the last panel) her use of take ‘tolerate, stand, endure’ (here with the modal can of ability and also negation; and with the pronominal object this).


No moths, no squirrels, no rats

July 24, 2017

Also no blue jays, but the three-NP version has the best music.

This is mostly about pests and my life, but there’s language and music in there too. Also a pro wrestler performing angry rejection:

(#1) Daniel Bryan of WWE’s SmackDown show

I’ll start with my pests (in more or less chronological order) and go on to uses of negation.


Two negatives make a positive

November 19, 2016

The One Big Happy in today’s comics feed:

“Two negatives make a positive” is one way to state a principle of logic, that the negation of the negation of X is equivalent to X. The principle is irrelevant to an account of the syntactic phenomenon that’s popularly called “double negation” (or more generally, “multiple negation”) — often labeled negative concord by linguists — according to which all susceptible elements in a negated clause themselves appear in a negative variant (I didn’t see nobody nowhere, corresponding to standard English I didn’t see anybody anywhere); in languages or varieties or styles with negative concord, two negative elements are just the expression of one negation.

But Joe takes us into new territory, with his novel interpretation — actually, willful misinterpretation —  of the principle of logic (or of algebra, as her father puts it): according to Joe’s interpretation, saying two negative (that is, deprecatory or insulting) things counts conversationally as saying something positive (that is, favorable or complimentary). All to take the opportunity to double down on nastiness.

the Vegas idea

October 7, 2016

A recent One Big Happy has Ruthie, once again, coping with an expression unfamiliar to her — the negative polarity item (NPI) have the vaguest idea, under the scope of negative n’t in doesn’t have the vaguest idea — by interpreting vaguest as a phonologically close item familiar to her from watching daytime television: Vegas, short for Las Vegas.:



September 13, 2015

On the 11th, Mark Liberman returned to the expression could care less on Language Log, thanks to an xkcd cartoon that day, which I reproduce here:

He uses the expression as an implicitly negative idiom, conveying something like couldn’t care less, but a bit more compactly. She peeves at him, he analyzes what she might be doing with her peeve, and eventually he uses the idiom to her.


Giving two hoots

September 1, 2015

A follow-up to my “What a hoot!” posting, which was about a set of senses of hooter that turn out almost surely to be related. One of these is mammary hooters (as in the restaurant’s name), and there’s some question about its history (though it’s clear that it predates the restaurant); there are sources that attribute the item to Steve Martin on Saturday Night Live, but for reasons I’ll expand on here, I was very wary of the idea.

That’s the first hoot.

Then, as so often happens when I post about specific uses of particular lexical items, people wrote me about other uses, which are really beside the point of my posting, or about other items that are merely similar to the target item (usually phonologically). Now it can be entertaining to follow up such associations, but that’s at the risk of losing the point. Occasionally I’ve followed these associations, though I try to mark associative chaining off from the main line of the posting, as when I branched from a posting on Ficus plants to a collection of loosely fig-related other things: the fig leaf of modesty, Fig Newtons, figgy pudding, giving a fig for, the fig sign,

So: soon to loosely hoot-related things. That’s the second hoot.


The literalist

May 21, 2015

Today’s Mother Goose and Grimm, with a literalist Ralph coping with Grimm’s could care less:

could care less has been a perennial topic on Language Log and this blog. But in all the discussion among linguists and psycholinguists no one disputes that there’s an idiom here, and it has a negative element of meaning that is not overt. Ralph the literalist essentially denies this, implicitly taking the position that if Grimmy meant he couldn’t care less he should have said that.