Archive for the ‘Technical and ordinary language’ Category

The Jargon Matrix

April 12, 2017

Yesterday’s Dilbert takes us into a dark world of language, the Jargon Matrix:

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The Matrix, but with jargon from the world of technology businesses.

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Technical terms

March 13, 2017

A recent One Big Happy, in which Joe faces a test question on the term collective noun:

Joe hopes that he can use what he knows about the verb collect and its derivatives to guess at what the grammatical term collective might mean. Ah, a mail carrier collects the mail (from a mailbox) and delivers it (to a mailbox), so mailbox must be a collective noun. BZZT!

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Spring bulbs

March 9, 2017

… and other flowers. The plants come into bloom on a schedule that’s some complex of day length and temperature. Locally we’ve been having stretches of late cold weather (“patchy morning frost in low-lying areas”, the weather forecasts will say), so some plants are on the late side. Out my front door: the calla lilies are just now opening up, and the Victorian box — Pittosporum — hasn’t yet come into fragrant bloom. (For enthusiasts of resembloid composites: calla lilies aren’t lilies (Lilium), and Victorial box isn’t any kind of box (Buxus); see my 3/17/12 St. Patrick’s Day posting.) But the first narcissus bloomed in January, and a visit with Juan Gomez to Palo Alto’s Gamble Garden on Tuesday confronted us with great swaths of blooming narcissus, of many cultivars, as well as tulips, grape hyacinths, and snowdrops.

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Taking things literally

August 3, 2016

(It starts in a candy store and eventually works back to my grade school years.)

A recent One Big Happy has Ruthie trying to buy some candy:

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Well, it’s called penny candy, but that’s just its name, not a description. You can’t take the name literally.

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Naming names: the cocktail beat

July 29, 2016

In the New York Times Magazine on Sunday the 24th, an entertaining “Drinks” column by Rosie Schaap, about cocktail names, with special attention to the cocktails created and named by Jill Dobias, of the East Village restaurant Joe and Misses Doe. Two of her works, Eye of the Komodo and Clam in a Can:

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Morning toe jam

October 23, 2015

This morning’s name was toe jam (aka toe-jam and toejam), a slang term for something that has no medical label that I can find. Some definitions:

‘material that collects between the toes’ (Wikipedia)

‘dirt which accumulates between the toes’ (OED2, with a first cite in only 1934)

‘the ‘gunk’ that accumulates between the toes’ (Huffington post article by a podiatrist)

My mind then took me immediately to the line

He wear no shoeshine, he got toe jam football

from the Beatles’ “Come Together” on their Abbey Lane album (1969).

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tri-state (and quad-state)

October 9, 2015

Came across a news item on Facebook with a reference to the “tri-state area”, in this case around New York City. A common media usage, serving as “semi-technical” terminology: not subject to a technical definition for some sort of official purpose (like the designations of various metropolitan areas by federal agencies in the U.S.), but still not freely used by ordinary people in everyday speech. Instead, it’s special to some group of users and contexts; it’s a media term. (Though ordinary people might still use it, in effect quoting the usage of newspapers, tv news reporters, and the like.)

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Food names, and plant names too

August 10, 2015

Some background for a posting on Italian names for pizza. It’s about the names for food, with some parallels to common names for plants.

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Coleus Jade

July 23, 2015

The label on a plant that a friend gave me yesterday. Note the head-first word order, standard in botanical naming, in this case with the (supposed) genus name Coleus before the variety name ‘Jade’; the species name, not given on the label, is scutellariodes (that is, the plant is named Coleus scutelliodes ‘Jade’), or possibly the plant is a hybrid of several species, in which case it makes sense to leave out a species name.

Coleus plants are old friends of mine — wonderfully colorful ornamentals (for garden or house) illustrated in photos in this posting on the compound annual labiate, of which the coleus is one.

Notice that I just lowercased coleus, treating it as a common name rather than a term of botanical taxonomy. In my earlier posting, I reported, in fact, that my Sunset New Western Garden Book gives Solenostemon as the genus name for coleuses. Most seed and plant companies agree with that usage. But the relevant Wikipedia entry gives the genus name Plectranthus instead. We are in deep terminological waters here.

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Homing lizards

July 8, 2015

From yesterday’s animal news in the NYT Science Times, a tantalizing story, “Mystery of the Lizards That Know the Way Home”, by James Gorman, about anoles.

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