Archive for the ‘Technical and ordinary language’ Category

Goldenrods and Boston cops

September 3, 2018

… with a note on the pronunciation of botanical names.

The crucial moment came in a re-run showing of the Rizzoli & Isles episode “Love the Way You Lie” (S3 E12, first aired 12/4/12), when the Boston detective (Rizzoli, played by Angie Harmon) and medical examiner (Isles, played by Sasha Alexander) pondered the significance of the fact that they had identified some pollen as coming from Solidago macrophylla, with the species name macrophylla pronounced /ˌmækroˈfɪlǝ/ (with primary accent on the third syllable). I was startled by the pronunciation: it’s Greek ‘big leaf’, so surely it should have the accent on the second syllable (as in thermometer, Hippocrates, etc.), something on the order of  /mǝˈkrafǝlǝ/, and the writers had just gotten it wrong.

But no. The writers did their homework, and I was the one who was wrong.

(more…)

Two texties, in two tonalities

August 7, 2018

Texties are cartoon-like compositions in which a pictorial component is entirely absent or merely decorative, not essential to the point of the composition — in effect, words-only cartoons; they can be intended as humor, like gag cartoons, or as serious commentary, like political cartoons.

Two have come to me via friends on Facebook recently — both funny, both taking off on specific registers in modern printed English: the lost and found poster (in the texty “FOUND:CAKE”, or F:C), and the amazing-fact texty on the net (in the texty “[plant facts!]”, or pf!). F:C is an elaborate translation, in detail, of an item of popular culture; pf! is an undermining of the amazing-fact texty form itself.

(more…)

Swiss cheese isn’t Swiss

July 10, 2018

(And Swiss steak isn’t either, but that’s a topic for another posting.)


(#1) A wedge of American Swiss

But then the expression Swiss cheese is ambiguous. NOAD recognizes this, but not in the way you were probably expecting:

(more…)

The musician, the mayor, his instrument, and their vermin

June 24, 2018

The Bizarro/Wayno collaboration on the 21st is another exercise in cartoon understanding (but a relatively easy one):


(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 4 in this strip — see this Page.)

You need to know the basic outline of a European legend (the major clues to which are the reference to ridding a town of rats and the unusual word pied in the title), and you need to know something about musical instruments (to recognize that the sousaphone — named in the title — plays the role of the (musical) pipe in the legend).

Then there’s more to be said about the parallels between the cartoon world and the legend world, with special reference to wind instruments (of which the sousaphone is the largest). Which leads me to the rich world of the legend and its connection to the real world. And the fictivity of stories; there’s a fair amount of factuality, or at least real-world context, in the legend. And from there — surprise! —  to St. John and Paul’s Day next week (June 26th). And from there — another surprise! —  to eunuchs and the social world of the Roman Empire.

(more…)

Fried eggs and fairy wands

June 18, 2018

Also blazing stars, gayfeathers, and wandflowers. All plants, colorfully named. Providing a little exercise in taxonomic names vs. common names.

The fried eggs come from Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky, who posted this on her Facebook page yesterday:


(#1) EDZ: “Portrait mode makes fried egg flowers even more absurd” (by erasing the flower stem, so that the flower appears to be floating in the air)

The fairy wands I came across at Palo Alto’s Gamble Gardens this morning:


(#2) Angel’s (fishing) rods, wand flowers, or fairy wands

(more…)

Proper nouns

June 16, 2018

In the One Big Happy of May 30th, Ruthie falls into the pit of use and mention:

There’s an adjective proper as defined by Ruthie’s mother. Then there’s the adjective proper in the idiomatic nominals proper noun / name. And that’s just the beginning of the problem.

(more…)

What happened in vagueness?

June 3, 2018

Available in a number of designs on the net:

(#1)

From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s “Ambiguity” entry (edited by Adam Sennet, first published 5/16/11, last substantive revision 2/8/16):

Fun fact: the word ‘ambiguous’, at least according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is ambiguous between two main types of meaning: uncertainty or dubiousness on the one hand and a sign bearing multiple meanings on the other. I mention this merely to disambiguate what this entry is about, which concerns a word or phrase enjoying multiple meanings.

In the technical literature on these things, the first notion is known as (among other things) vagueness, while the second is known as (linguistic) ambiguity. Ouch.

(more…)

Two from Fairbanks

May 20, 2018

Two cartoons recently passed on to me by Chris Waigl in Fairbanks AK: a Cheer Up, Emo Kid (CUEK), about technical uses of words; and (actually from Alaska) a Tundra, about point of view in the interpretation of compound nouns.

(more…)

trigger finger

May 16, 2018

I had this affliction, for about three months. It involved myalgia — that’s the name of the symptom, muscle pain — that limited my movements, produced frequent nasty cramps in several parts of my body, made me miserable and depressed. Among the affected muscles were those in my fingers, which cramped up painfully without warning. Especially my ring finger (third finger, left hand).

Eventually, it was seen to be a side effect of the very powerful statin drug I was taking (for blood pressure and cholesterol control), generic atorvastatin, trade name Lipitor, a very powerful statin prescribed at maximum dose. Which was breaking down muscle fibers. Essentially, I was being poisoned by one of my medicines.

That’s now over — I went off the Lipitor three months ago and recently started small doses of the steroid prednisone for symptomatic relief —  and I feel very much better, but an odd effect remains. My ring finger occasionally gets stuck in a bent position. No pain, no swelling or anything, just stuck, as here:

(#1) Stuck bent finger (workdesk spathiphyllum plant as background)

I can push it back with my other hand, and it makes a little pop! as it resumes its normal working position.

It’s called trigger finger, fancy name tenosynovitis. And it has nothing to do with the Lipitor poisoning.

(more…)

All the dessert world is not either cake or pie

April 29, 2018

Steph Shih on Facebook today:

There is this dessert that Darya [Kavitskaya, who is natively Russian, which will eventually become important, but not in this posting] sometimes makes and she calls it a “pie” when really I insist it falls better into the category of a “cake”. So finally today, I drew this.

(#1) Steph’s objection framed as a Magrittean disavowal (it’s obviously a pie, but… — except that for Steph, it just isn’t a pie)

But, as it turns out, it’s not much of a cake either, as most people use that label these days. It looks a lot like a clafoutis, but most of you won’t even know that name — for anything, much less a fruit flan (a term also unknown to most of you).  Unlike pie and cakeclafoutis and flan are specialized cooking terms

(more…)