Archive for the ‘Variation’ Category

jack or jerk?

August 22, 2023

(It’s about vernacular masturbatory verbs, so it’s deemed not suitable for kids, and of course it’s not to the taste of the sexually modest.)

Why would anyone care whether a guy favors jack off or jerk off — or something else, like jag off or toss off or wank — as his masturbatory verb?

Street talk about sexual practices and unsavory bodily substances varies over time and place and context, differs from one speech community to another, just like all kinds of talk: wank and toss off are distinctly BrE, jag off distinctly AmE, and jack off and jerk off both seem to be originally AmE, though they’ve spread more widely; guys will have different preferences for vocabulary in this domain, mostly according to their personal experience with the verbs, and they’ll know that some guys use different verbs. Why doesn’t it stop at that?

Well, this is linguistic variation, and it pretty much never stops at that. There’s a general human inclination to believe that your own practices are the best ones, the right ones; and also a general human inclination to accept the practices of your community, which are likely to be supported by explicit teaching and advice, and even enforced with sanctions, as the best ones, the right ones.

So we find people deploring other people’s linguistic practices, often in extravagant terms (disgusting, ignorant, …), sometimes ascribing dubious or discreditable motives to other people’s choices (hypercorrection and varieties of avoidance are often cited, as are faddism, reflexive following of fashion, and misguided attempts to sound clever). Even for masturbatory verbs, where there’s no explicit teaching and no advice literature.

Now, one such example, in a recent Facebook exchange between Jeff Shaumeyer (a jerk-off user) and me (a jack-off user), which turns out to be surprisingly complex, because it involves a second-order effect, with responses to (first-order) critiques of the usage jerk off, that it’s too crude, too vivid (the imagery is of the jerking motion in masturbation, and in the jerking of the body in orgasm — jerk was used for ‘copulate with’ before it was extended to masturbation, and is still so used by some speakers). This critique has led to the idea that guys who use jack off do so (only) because they’re (fastidiously) avoiding the gutsy, authentically masculine jack off — a gratuitous attribution of motives that I stringently objected to.


The grand jury’s cough drop

August 18, 2023

The political / medicinal pun RICO Law / Ricola: on Facebook on 8/15, Kyle Wohlmut passed along  — “meanwhile in Switzerland” — the 8/14 Mike Scollins titling RICO LAW of an image from the classic Ricola (Swiss cough drop) commercial:

Posted within minutes of the Georgia RICO indictments (see below)

Now to the commercially medicinal and the political-conspiratorial.


Crotch pong

August 9, 2023

(Intimate talk about male bodies, mostly mine, in plain terms, though not so racy as to ban kids — but I will freely use the vernacular noun and verb piss, nouns dick and balls. In any case, some people will find the topic of crotch odor unsavory.)

I’d hoped to be able to post about meat dreams and crotch pong on the same day — just for the sound of the two off-color compounds together, but meat dreams took a lot longer than I’d expected (I somehow ended up in the 16th century), so crotch pong had to wait a day. So it goes.


The ultimate party jockstrap

July 19, 2023

(The title should warn you about what’s coming. There will be talk — in generally decorous language, but still — about men’s bodies as objects of sexual desire and about man-on-man sex, so not recommended for kids or the sexually modest.)

Yesterday’s Daily Jocks e-mail sale ad:

ad copy:

The ultimate party jockstrap from Vaux! Crafted exclusively from breathable, lightweight athletic nylon/spandex material, Vaux Playa Jockstrap is guaranteed to keep you cool and looking sexy af 😈.

Now, these images are designed to focus the viewer’s gaze on the visual center of the image, the model’s amply filled jockstrap (embracing the object of the intended viewer’s sexual desire but also what’s on sale here) and then, inevitably, the model’s handsome face, because people are strongly face-oriented. Then you appreciate the model’s beautifully developed body and notice the angling of his body in what is in fact a conventional beefcake pose. Buy my clothes and you can become me, or at least fantasize about doing me.

I’ll go on to analyze how the ad drips with gay sex, but after I appreciated the promise of the model’s dick and balls in that jockstrap and the warmth of his gaze — I am, after all, a big ol’ fag, a gay man with a high sex drive and an inventive and diverse fantasy sex life — I just delighted in the beauty of the clothes, which made me smile with pleasure. Every man should wear such beautiful things. Not necessarily in a jockstrap, or of course in what looks like a shredded crop top (though those would be admirably functional as gay partywear — more on this below), but in briefs, swimsuits, shirts of all kinds, and shorts.

Now on to the sociocultural analysis …


Comes in /perz/

July 5, 2023

A very much not-dead-yet posting to hold this space while I cope with an avalanche of posting material, plus my suddenly much improved medical condition (which is totally exhilarating). In any case, an old One Big Happy cartoon (originally from 9/4/14) in which Ruthie asks her defiantly working-class neighbor James to name something that comes in pairs, but James hears the homophone pears (both nouns pronounced /perz/ in my variety of English) and just can’t get shift his perspective:

Note James’s multiply non-standard negative existential construction in his ain’t no shoes


Iddle-Do and Not Zarella

May 5, 2023

As a temporary diversion from some truly awful times in my life (which I will eventually post about), two reprised One Big Happy strips recently in my comics feed, in which Ruthie struggles to interpret language unfamiliar to her.

The strips.

(#1) The Iddle-Do Rule; which should lead us to reflect some on the distinction between circumstances in which “good enough for some purpose” — it’ll do — is the appropriate goal (the general case for most aspects of everyday social life) and the special cases in which a perfect performance is called for

(#2) Not Zarella cheese (with Not Zoball soup as a bonus); I note that Zarella is a fairly common Italian surname, which Ruthie (who is of Italian descent) might well be familiar with, so that  a cheese named after a Zarella wouldn’t be at all surprising


Striking an AW into the beholders

February 14, 2023


Today’s Wayno / Piraro Bizarro (Wayno’s title “Pupper Love”) shows a teacup chihuahua deployed in a routine medical checkup:

(#2) Doctors ask you to say ah / ahh / aah so that you’ll open your mouth fully and they can then examine the back of the mouth, including the soft palate and the tonsils (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 4 in this strip — see this Page.)

We will then be taken into the world of exclamations, lexical ones (like hi and yikes) and paralinguistic ones (like uh-huh and unh-unh), and the sociophonetics of ah – aw — which happens to be a familiar topic in English dialectology, thanks to the cot–caught merger, also known as the low back merger or the LOT–THOUGHT merger.



December 6, 2022

Today’s Mary, Queen of Scots Not Dead Yet posting, some diversion from the difficulties of daily life. I take my cue from Ann Burlingham, posting on Facebook on 12/4:

Last night I was watching Nick Cave being interviewed on the BBC when he used the word highfalutin. I looked it up to confirm my sense that that is a word Americans came up with, and it is, and it’s wonderful.

Now, you need to know, first of all, who this Nick Cave is and why it might be notable that he used the slang adjective highfalutin ‘pompous, pretentious’. Then on to the word and who uses it, with two wonderful bonuses, one supplied by OED3, the other by a winery in the Finger Lakes region of New York State.



November 24, 2022

On the spelling of this word with the letter E (rather than I) and its pronunciation with [ɛ] (rather than [ɪ]), both recently noticeable in my country because of the great increase in anti-Semitic rhetoric and actions here: worth systematic investigation.


Centennial moments in NYC

November 7, 2022

(On the brief, skeletal side; I continue to lose most of my days in irresistible exhausted sleep, so this is something of a Mary, Queen of Scots Not Dead Yet posting. My apologies.)

Two events of 1924. First, the Linguistic Society of America (hereafter, the LSA) was founded at a gathering in New York City (hereafter, NYC) on 12/28/1924 — at the very end of the year, but in 1924, so 1924 counts as the founding year of the LSA. Second, also in NYC, Harold Ross and Jane Grant (with the financial support of entrepreneur Raoul Fleischmann) embarked on the creation of a sophisticated humor magazine, with Ross as its editor. Their plans for this magazine, named simply The New Yorker (hereafter, the NYer), were realized in its first issue, of 2/21/1925. So 1925 counts as the founding year of the NYer.

A forthcoming event of 2024. The 2024 annual meeting of the LSA will be held at the Sheraton New York Times Square on 4-7 January. Meeting in NYC is of course no accident, and several centennial events have already been scheduled.

Now, since Ross and Grant (and their associates) were cooking up the NYer in NYC at the very same time the LSA’s founders were gathering there to formally establish that organization, and since the NYer’s one-panel gag cartoons — very often turning on linguistic points — were a central feature of the magazine, it’s natural to think about celebrating the LSA and the NYer together in some way. So there are modest plans for a display project at the 2024 annual meeting looking at cartoons in the NYer over the past 100 years that have to do with language. Cool. As an eminence grise versed in the ways of NYer cartoons, I’ve agreed to provide a bit of help to the young scholar who will be doing the actual work of preparing this display.

This posting is a rumble about things that are just now getting underway. More information to come, with an invitation to make suggestions about stuff for the display. Meanwhile, play with the idea.