Friday, December 28, 2007

The times they aren't a-changin'

From a story about the recently discovered pyramid in the centre of the Federal District of Mexico.

The Aztecs, a warlike and religious people who built monumental works and are credited with inventing chocolate, ruled an empire stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean and encompassing much of modern-day central Mexico.

Warlike and religious? Man that sounds ancient. Thank goodness there aren't any empires like that anymore.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

WotY watch: tase/taze

Recent polls show 'tase' as a front-runner in the ADS WotY race. And by 'polls' I mean 'the blog posts and forum posts out there that I've been reading but which I haven't counted or quantified in any reliable manner but which have left me with an impression that one word is getting a lot of attention.'

And Ben Zimmer mentions on the OUP Blog that tase/taze "always seems to draw comment" in his many WotY interviews. So I'll trust my impression.

A recent boost to the word's chances:
Facebook's SuperPoke application allows users to "do" all sorts of "actions" to other users -- you can "rent a limo with" or "tickle" or "hadouken" (I haven't seen 'tatsu-maki-sen-pyuuuu-kaku' yet) or "grope" or even "spoon" a friend on Facebook. And you saw this coming: you can now "Tase" a friend. The capitalized form is used with a nod to the trademark. (See the comment on capitalization in the AHD4 entry for Mace -- note: David Shepardson was my roommate in college and he's still a good friend. I'm so jealous of his citation in the dictionary).

Syntactically puzzled

Elizabeth asks a question over on the Purdue Linguistics Association blog:

I saw this in a Christmas letter I got:

This year will be our hopefully last Christmas in #Exico.

#(place-name changed to protect the innocent)

So, what I want to know is, what is going on with "hopefully" in this sentence? Traditionally it's an adverb, but here it's hopped over into the noun phrase. The sentence sounds grammatical to me if I imagine somebody inserting the "hopefully" at the last minute as if they didn't think of it in time. But then how did an adverb get in that position? There are other adverbs that don't sound like they could do that:

It looks to me like it's still functioning as an adverb on last -- and it sounds fine to me in any adverbial position.

  • will hopefully be our last Christmas in X.

  • will be hopefully our last Christmas in X.

  • will be our hopefully last Christmas in X.

  • *will be our last hopefully Christmas in X. -- (unless said parenthetically)

  • So it can't modify an noun as we see also in another sentence type that Elizabeth suggests:

  • This box will hopefully be the one I need.

  • This box hopefully will be the one I need.

  • Hopefully this box will be the one I need. (that old bane of the prescriptivist)

  • ?This box will be hopefully the one I need.

  • *This box will be the hopefully one I need.

  • ?This box will be the one hopefully I need. (It might only be okay here if it's changed scope to revert again to the prescriptivist's nemesis)

  • This box will be the one I hopefully need.

  • Elizabeth importantly points out that surely won't work like hopefully:

  • This year will surely be our last Christmas in Exico.

  • ?This year will be our surely last Christmas in Exico.

  • There's almost some hypallage going on here altho that's typically an adjective moving to another noun. In this case 'hopefully' as an adverb wouldn't be starting on any noun but I think it might be. Let's look at it as a special case of transferred epithet moving from "I am hopeful" to the special semantically widened scope that "hopefully" has taken starting off a CP. Because yes -- it's odd that hopefully seems to have some license that other adverbs don't. Perhaps it's because a word like "surely" hasn't earned the legs that "hopefully" has. But has importantly? How do you feel about my sentence above where I displaced important from its place modifying the point that Elizabeth makes and I put it on her method of making the point? Does it look to you like it's freer than 'surely' but not as free as 'hopefully'? That's how I hear it.

    Monday, December 24, 2007

    You say potato I say dadada

    Ah the joys of family and little kids -- and obvious input/output phonological data provided by a 19 month old niece. Some basic early phonological processes.

    wipes → peeps: /wəɪps/ → [pips]
    chip → pip/peep: /ʧɪp/ → [pʰIp]/[pʰip]
    grape → peep: /gɹeɪp/ → [pip]
    Blake → Pete: /bleɪk/ → [pit]
    cookie → teetee: /kʊki/ → [titi]
    TV → beebee: /tivi/ → [bibi]
    crayons → crots: /kɹeanz/ → [kɹats]
    santa → tahta: /sæntə/ → [tʰãta]
    michael → cocku: /məɪkl̩ /→ [kʰaku]
    buffy → fuffy: /bʌfi/ → [ɸʌfi]/[fʌfi]
    sock → cock:/sak/ → [kak]
    Mark → cock: /maɹk/ → [kak]

    (And she would probably not say [dadada] for 'potato'. Maybe [tito] because she's stuck on 1 and 2 syllable words. And 'tomato' comes out [mimo].)

    Of course these pronunciations are changing. She's getting closer and closer to some of the expected phones in her pronunciation. And there's of course a lot of room for variation since her articulation isn't precise.

    The aspiration on some of the voiceless stops isn't always clear but I transcribe it where I see it most regularly. I like that altho the /t/ stop of the affricate in 'chip' becomes [p] the release in the affricate is performed as an aspirated release.

    There's clear favouring of reduplication in the output and it's almost always regressive. There are a few words that don't pattern like the rest. I would expect her to say [kik] as the output for "Blake" but she introduces two sounds that aren't in the input. Perhaps everyone around here produces a glottal stop in [bleIʔ] and she has learned it as an allophone of /t/.

    She says "Santa" with a nasalized [a] but no alveolar nasal as the coda. She is able to articulate the nasal in a coda -- as in corn which she pronounces [kɔn] -- but it might be tougher before a C (given how much more natural the CVCV syllable structure is in early language development).

    There are some vowels that show something about the way these adults around here speak. Nobody says kɹænz here altho that's a common pronunciation of crayons. The [a] gets drawn out and thats the sound that she holds onto.

    And of course everyone's favourite is when she points at Mark and starts calling him names. He's a nice guy but she apparently thinks he's a bit of a jerk.

    Sunday, December 23, 2007

    Swearing like an Eskimo

    So I'm not going to make any claim about how many words they have for snow. But on the drive through Wisconsin last night I came up with about two-dozen words for the %#!@*$# white stuff.

    I'm really doubting that whole no-two-snowflakes-are-alike claim.

    But we're back online now.

    Tuesday, December 18, 2007

    It is the cost. It is the cost.

    It's unfortunate that some women are given the brunt of the blame for the failings of a man. Desdemona certainly was not the cause. Lady MacBeth might have been. So what about Jessica Simpson? Her on screen appearances during the Dallas/Philadelphia game have elicited a lot of vitriol. Some people are arguing that Tony Romo was distracted and that's why he played so badly.

    I love Bettyboo's comment on this OMG!/Yahoo! piece: "From the start I knew that Jessica (the air head) was going to cause the Cowboys the game."

    That looks like an eggcorn in there. To cause the game is an obvious mishearing of to cost the game. Is there a reasonable semantic reanalysis? Well first let's see if there's enough of this going on. First I'm going to go with 'caused us the game' in my initial search.

    [...sound of tapping on computer keyboard...]

    Wow. Yeah it's out there. A Google™ search for "Caused us the game" brings up 6720 hits. And the first five are all what I was hoping to find.

    "Any fool can see that is what caused us the game" source

    "h3po4 did an really nice \kill on map16, almost caused us the game" source

    "Ultimately, this is what caused us the game." source

    "but we were unable to capitalize on their mistakes and it caused us the game." source

    "'It was not the untimely timeout that caused us the game ' explained Cuban" source

    Bettyboo uses a form that makes it look like she has heard 'cost the game' and interpreted it as 'caused the game' so she changes the verb according to a standard grammar when she chooses the phrase "going to cause" instead of 'caused the game' in her comment.

    This morphology is out there too. A search for "cause them the game" gets 12,300 hits. How many of them relevant? Enough.

    "which will cause them the game in the end." source

    "one little mistake done by a teammate can cause them the game" source

    "He threw two late interceptions which cause them the game." source
    (this one doesn't follow the standard rules of verb tense. It could be an 'eary' spelling. You know--one of those errors that makes me type throw when I meant to type throat just because they sound so similar.)

    "This decision may cause them the game which is unfortunate" source

    One result looks like a gapped construction.
    "however lack of focus could cause them the game and loose ground to Inter Milan." source

    The coordination with that second phrase that doesn't have a subject makes me think the writer might have intended to say 'could cause them to lose the game and lose ground to Inter Milan.' In that case it would have nothing to do with the cost→caused eggcorn.

    But it could still be a relevant example if the writer meant to produce something like 'lack of focus could cause them the game and to lose ground' -- which would be sweet. Zeugma and an eggcorn relying on each other.

    That might be too much to ask.

    The cost→caused construction has been mentioned and discussed already on The Eggcorn Database. I didn't mention it here but one the EcDb forum I noted that one necessary condition of an eggcorn (the semantic reanalysis) was unclear to me. What exactly would 'caused the game' mean? The last example above looks like a possible effect of a blend and that might be just what's going on in these examples. But it's not a clear failure. If a clear meaning and semantic motivation can be found for 'caused the X' this would work as an eggcorn.]


    Monday, December 17, 2007

    BBC's myth-take on dialects

    Tenser, said the Tensor posted a couple weeks back on the BBC presentation of How the Edwardians Spoke. His post does a fine job of going over some of the laughable claims made by program host Joan Washington.

    It's an hour long so if you have the time you should watch it. And just for the record: it is an enjoyable hour even tho Ms Washington peppers it with ridiculous conjecture and baffling superstitions. The recordings are fascinating. And occasionally touching.

    Watch the Google™ video or the GUBA video (better quality). Both are downloadable.

    A few parts that stuck with me:

    At about 15:00 when told that the Germans made these tapes with the intention of using the data to learn native British dialects she reacts with what strikes me as an incredibly patronizing "Do you...Do you...Do you surmise that? Do you guess that? Or do you know that?"

    Her disfluency strikes me as indicative of a sudden discomfort. I don't think she believes Jürgen-Kornelius Mahrenholz. She has been leaning in towards him and as soon as she starts asking she backs away. My instinct tells me that she's aware that there's aggression in her question and she's padding it by her slight retreat. Notice that when he tells her that there is documentation of the fact her cheeky smile fades slightly. (She might not be used to people being able to actually back up their claims.) But I'm no Jack Byrnes. It's just an impression.

    Her claims regarding terrain and sinuses and temperature affecting the phonetics of dialects remind of the hokum I mentioned this past summer. But take a look at the IMDb page. At least one viewer thinks those are interesting claims. The stuff sells. Fallacies are the best opiate.

    Washington's label of Major and Minor keys in accents is particularly interesting. I can't imagine how the intonations of dialects would be bound to a major or minor key. They're really just full of accidentals. And given the relatively narrow range of pitches and the great variation in tones from phrase to phrase and sentence to sentence it's much more likely that we're looking at a chromatic scale.

    This major/minor distinction is a tough one for the untrained. People really know as little about music as they do about linguistics. Earlier today a rerun of My Wife and Kids featured a guest appearance by the wonderful Betty White. In one scene she plays a difficult passage on the piano and remarks "Did you hear that? ... Your C-major is a quarter tone off." C major could be a quarter tone off. Sure. But that wouldn't be a helpful observation because it could really only mean that one note in the C major chord or scale is off. And that same note could be in the A minor scale (It would have to be really) or the C harmonic minor or the C minor or the A long as it's a white key. But back to the dialect stuff:

    Washington makes the distinction between major and minor keys by saying that in a major key the speaker sounds self assured and confident and in a minor key the phrases and sentences don't end on any clear and definite note. Notes are all just as definite in every key. She seems to be talking about phrase ending intonation which is sometimes a rising or falling tone and sometimes not. But that has nothing to do with keys. Each key is as definite as the rest.

    The best example of the difference between a major and minor key that I can think of (and that people are likely to recognize) is the Gracie Films fanfare best known from the closing credits for The Simpsons. The normal ditty is in a major key but the Halloween Treehouse of Horror episodes feature a little shift into a minor key.

    Sunday, December 16, 2007

    A simple Sunday post

    The Ridger tagged me a while ago. The rules of this one are pretty simple. I have to respond to seven simple prompts.

    1. Share one random and or weird thing about yourself.
    2. I used to have 3 widow's peaks.

    3. Share a 2nd random and or weird thing about yourself.
    4. I got into linguistics because I like doing impressions and accents.

    5. Share a 3rd random and or weird thing about yourself.
    6. I learned how to do a wolf whistle from reading a book. I had always wanted to know how to do one and I finally learned how in high school when one English class was so boring that I started browsing through the bookcases for random books to read to pass the time. (Class was held in the library.)

    7. Share a 4th random and or weird thing about yourself.
    8. I never drink with my meals.

    9. Share a 5th random and or weird thing about yourself.
    10. In the 4th grade during a football game I go so mad at a classmate that the other kids had to hold me back. I kept fighting to charge at him and an older kid (Melvin I think...) kept saying to me "Stop looking at him. It's just making you madder." He kept blocking my view then turned me around until I calmed down. I felt so stupid afterwards and I haven't lost my temper since. I really don't even get angry anymore. (I'm so proud of myself.)

    11. Share a 6th random and or weird thing about yourself.
    12. I started violin lessons by the Suzuki method when I was 5 years old. I loved it. And I was pretty good. In the 5th grade I got a new teacher. She had me learn "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair" and I thought it was such a stupid song that I quit the violin.

    13. Share a 7th random and or weird thing about yourself.
    14. I haven't trimmed the length of my beard in 2 years.

    I'll not tag anyone. But if you choose to do a similar post go ahead and leave a comment and give me a link. Or don't. I promise I won't get mad.

    Thursday, December 13, 2007

    Merry X[bar]mas

    Instead of Secret Santa parties linguistics programs should hold Contextually Neutralized Santa parties.

    But I missed out on the fun that several colleagues had this year. Dangit. I could have received a card like this to put on the coffee table. Dangit.

    Wednesday, December 12, 2007

    What's another word for 'full of impact'?

    I'm watching the Thank You for Smoking with the audio track playing the commentary of Jason Reitman Aaron Eckhart and David Koechner.

    In a comment on one scene Koechner praises Reitman for including a small but effective detail. "It's impactful" he says.

    Impactful gets 93,200 hits on Google™. The first hit: Paul Brians' entry from his huge list of common errors. His entry's are short and clear. About impactful he says "this term does not appear in most dictionaries and is not well thought of by traditionalists." He suggests using 'influential' or 'effective' instead.

    The second hit is's entry culled from Webster's New Millenium. ( is not a true dictionary; But it does provide entries taken from dictionaries)

    The third hit is Michael Quinion's discussion of why such words are disliked by some. Nice piece. Read it when you're done here.

    The fourth hit is the Urban Dictionary entry.

    The fifth hit is an ABC NewsRadio rant "Presented by Kel Richards" about the word. He writes:

    Well, I’m always happy to cheerfully deride ugly new words that we don’t need – and the word is question here is impactful – and it’s certainly ugly, and certainly unnecessary (the two words 'with impact' will do the same job).

    Richards blames American journalists for producing this horror.

    So I disagree with Brians' estimation of the importance of traditionalist opinions. These "traditionalists" are choosing to dislike words for weak reasons. But at least Brians is alerting the reader to a real concern. If you care what traditionalists think then avoid the word.

    But Richards is trying too much here. What exactly makes a word ugly? Really. What? And what word isn't unnecessary if your argument is merely to suggest using another word or phrase in it's place. Brians suggests 'influential' or 'effective' which don't capture the right meaning. Influential has a sense of powerful and able to change an opinion or perspective to a particular end and effective has a sense of suited to a particular purpose. Impactful is a little more basic than that with a sense of characterised by ability to get or focus attention; possibly memorable with less of the sense of purpose or influence driven by an agenda.

    Richards argument that the word is "certainly unnecessary" gets completely tripped up by his suggestion that "'with impact' will do the same job." Really? the same job?

    "That was a very impactful sequence."
    "That was a very with impact sequence."

    "Her intense gaze and ability to speak with impact make her a fierce advocate."
    "Her intense gaze and ability to speak impactful make her a fierce advocate."

    Impactful isn't a an adverb. Yet.

    Right now it's true that some people don't know the word and they wince or twitch on hearing it. But all it takes is enough people using it to turn the naysayers into more obvious and tiresome pedagogues.

    So I'll keep using it when it works better than another word. But mostly I'll use it because I'm an American, Mr Richards. And if I don't use 'impactful' the traditionalists win.

    Tuesday, December 11, 2007

    It's a boy or a girl

    I had a chance recently to go back and look over the Beowulf translation I completed a year ago. On the second day of class I was given the five or so lines ending with the memorable exclamation regarding Scyld Sheafson: "Þæt wæs god cyning" -- translated by Seamus heaney as "That was one good king."

    When I got to the line I read it as "That's a good king" -- the professor just looked up at me and said "Well that doesn't help us out any." *sigh*

    His contention was that because Þæt is neuter and cyning is masculine it just doesn't make sense grammatically to say that they were both referring to the same good king. His suggested translation? Something along the lines of "Thusly (he) was a good king." "That" had to serve an adverbial function not a nominative -- perhaps like that or in that way.

    It made sense so I lowered my head with a quiet yessir and ceded to floor to the next trembling classmate.

    Looking at my translation again it occurs to me that my first attempt might work. Think of "That's a good king" as All that behavior adds up to a good king.

    Or let's look at another language.

    I say of my wife 'That is my wife' and I repeat it in Spanish: 'Ésa es mi esposa.' The demonstrative agrees with the gender of the predicate nominative.

    And if I use the definite article saying 'That is the best wife' my Spanish echo would say 'Ésa es la mejor esposa.'

    But if I change the sentiment slightly and say 'That is a good wife' I would say it in Spanish: 'Eso es una buena esposa.' The determiner on the nominative NP constrains the demonstrative.

    A possessive forces agreement:
    Ésa es mi amiga.
    Ése es mi padre.
    Ésa es mi casa.

    (I have a sense that perhaps a flippant phrase like 'that's my friend' delivered with a sigh meaning 'what more can we expect from her/him?' could take the neuter. I'll have to look into that.)

    But an indefinite article is fine with the neuter demonstrative.
    Eso es un padre.
    Eso es una casa.
    Eso es una mujer.

    If we use an intensifying quantifier in English: 'That is one big house' -- the Spanish counter would be 'Ésa es una casa grande' -- The quantifier looks identical to the determiner but each functions with a distinct demonstrative.

    English: That is a big dog.
    Spanish: Eso es un perro grande.
    English: That is one big dog.
    Spanish: Ése es un perro grande.

    Even tho the article forms are identical in Spanish the sharper semantic focus is evident from the demonstrative. Perhaps one≠one. (This may be further evidence that dividing determiners and quantifiers into definite and indefinite determiners is problematic.)

    For the sake of analogy (but not argument) I suggest that similar constraints on agreement might work in OE. When the demonstrative might indicate an collection of behaviors or qualities more than an individual or an item a neuter can function even when equated with a masculine or feminine noun.

    The line in Beowulf doesn't have an article. OE didn't have true articles. But because we have neuter þæt and not masculine se a translation into Modern English could easily be That was a good king distinct from He was a good king. If we accept this analogy we then have to reject Heaney's translation: "That was one good king."

    But I'm loath to criticise any decision Seamus Heaney makes regarding poetry. He's earned his license.

    (Yes--the line from the MS was cropped and reorganized to fit the space.)

    Monday, December 10, 2007

    What's behind this?

    Shannon Brownlee is perhaps a smarter and more reasonable version of Kevin Trudeau. Trudeau has made millions as the sultan of snake oil. He claims that doctors and the pharmaceutical industry are evil. Brownlee believes that medicine and treatment are good when administered sufficiently and necessarily. But she knows there are problems with the system. We all know that.

    She was just on Book TV talking about her book Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine is Making Us Sicker and Poorer.

    It was an interesting presentation. I wish I had started watching from the beginning. And I wish had been paying closer attention when one fellow in the crowd asked her a question (I think it was about managed care) and he relied on the premise that some part of the system "has always been behind the progressive 8-ball."

    [Update: As Casey points out in his comment the program is now available. It must take some time before the video is posted on the C-SPAN website. I had looked at that page. Here's the full quote from the question (~45:50 into the video):

    "Two topics: medical assistance in Maryland, and mental health. Medical assistance in Maryland has always been behind the progressive 8-ball. Have you done any looking into programs in other states...? What have you seen in other states that makes medical assistance models look good?"

    And by medical assistance he means programs like Medicaid.]

    I think he was trying to accomplish more than this image is accustomed to.

    It makes sense that by saying its behind the 8-ball he means the system is in trouble. It finds itself stymied while facing an important task. Some people will throw in the word "proverbial" to make sure that we dense listeners catch the metaphorical intention.

    They're playing snooker ol' boy?
    No no. It's a proverbial 8-ball ol' chap
    Ah. But of course!

    Well since he was arguing for the importance of change I'm guessing that he meant the health care system is lagging in its response to the need for improvement and evolution. So the system is behind in its task of progress. And it's a tough situation. But instead of a proverbial 8-ball this is a progressive 8-ball.

    So here we find it behindblocked and behindlagging.

    So this blend seems to be functioning on the idea that "the 8-ball" is both a hindrance to progress and the model of progress. Awesome.

    This looks like a wonderful instance of several necessary influences interacting at the right time to create this phrase. The standard term --proverbial-- being close enough to another word --progressive-- so that because of an implication of the argument (we need progress) an idiomatic blending occurs maybe even influenced by several other 'behind the X' phrases taken to be sports/gaming idioms even if they're not all from the world of sports.

    Behind in the count
    Behind the curve
    Behind in points

    And I've found a few sites that use the phrase "behind the curve ball" meaning running late or in a difficult situation. see here see here.

    Apparently some people do see "behind the curve" as a baseball image.

    (BTW: Within a span of only a few minutes I heard Brownlee use Isis formation a couple of times. Loverly.)

    Sunday, December 09, 2007

    Sidebar updates

    I have just made some minor changes to the list of links on the right sidebar. I visit most of the links regularly and I was noticing that several of them had not been updated in a long time.

    Some of them are not only stale -- they're defunct. Many old friends have chosen to move on. So shall we. I hope you fare well Q-majiner and Truth Spelunker. Keep in touch Buppy.

    I moved some links to a different list. Some friends have moved away from Purdue but are still blogging. So they are now in a more general links list.

    And I've added a few links. On the Purdue list there are some new links a classmates blogs that I've recently uncovered.

    And please note the addition of the Grant Barrett's Double-Tongued Dictionary and Mark Peters' Wordlustitude. Slang deserves our attention too no?

    Friday, December 07, 2007

    I have some ideas for what I should write in my head

    Three's the charm. One more syntactical ambiguity example then no more posts like this until after the new year.

    A recent post at provides...well a sentence fragment. A noun phrase really:

    "A perfect encapsulation of the asininity of the usual simplistic 'if you come here, you should speak English' attitude at xkcd."

    That's fine. I like fragments. I like using them. Sometimes they're necessary. For instance now. But the fragmentation...fragmentalism...fragmentality... well none of those is the theme of this post.

    My first time thru the line I read it this way (roughly): [here is] a perfect encapsulation of the asininity of the usual simplistic 'if you come here, you should speak English' attitude that we often find at xkcd.

    So I thought Really? xkcd is usually not too bad. I followed the link. I read the cartoon. And I thought hmmm...I must have misread languagehat's post.

    It makes sense now read (roughly): [here is] a perfect encapsulation of the asininity of the usual simplistic 'if you come here, you should speak English' attitude presented satirically by the fine folks at xkcd.

    It's a tough one to restructure. Even in the short comment I left at languagehat the distinction is tricky. There's a semantic waviness on this one because even if xkcd provided the encapsulation and did it knowingly it would still be possible to read the sentence with the implication xkcd believes this argument and it's clearly a dumb one. Syntactically there's a clear difference between these two structures:

    1. encapsulation of [the stupidity of [the attitude at xkcd]]

    2. encapsulation of [the stupidity of [the attitude]] at xkcd

    But semantically both can be criticizing xkcd's ideas. While only the second syntactic structure allows xkcd the possibility of being a fellow derider of the attitude.

    Tuesday, December 04, 2007

    Headlines can confuse some people: me

    Why all my recent confusion with phrases? Here are a couple more. While some clues are present in these headlines they can still baffle a slow reader such as I am.

    Man charged after Santa gets pie in face

    1. Why was he chasing Santa? And did the pie stop him? Oh no. That would require some sort of colon or semi-colon after "Santa". Now it's clear.

    2. So why did they wait till after Santa got the pie before they charged the fellow? And why did they charge him anyway? Well of course he must have thrown the pie. See--headlines are easy.

    3. O wait. The guy got the pie in his face. So why were he and Santa charged? And why was Santa charged first?

    You've gotta know when to walk away.

    Another headline that tied my mental shoelaces together.

    Mummified dinosaur reveals surprises: scientists

    They're pretty tasty but you have to remember to spit out the Bunsen burner.

    (This headline structure was mentioned over at polyglot conspiracy several months ago.)

    Monday, December 03, 2007

    Imus guilty as the next

    Yeah yeah it's been eight months and now Don Imus is back on the air. We all knew he would be eventually.

    OK. Just because he used a label doesn't immediately mean that he thinks it's an accurate depiction; he probably thought it was just a safe joke. Still--his comment was insensitive. Such cheap derogation is a weak way to entertain. He was a goat for the industry's expiation. And a safe one because CBS doesn't look like a bully canning a rich white man. At least that's what I'm convinced his banishment was.

    There's a point where the use of a phrase is the issue--not the opinions or intentions of the speaker. Humor blurs the line between using a term and referring to a term. And so a joke at the wrong time can be viewed as too dangerous a game to play. Those who decry such jokes often don't care that the performer might not actually see things the way the joke says. The problem they say is that the words and opinions are put out there without condemnation.

    Then why are so many reports and stories so eager to simply reprint the phrase unnecessarily? We all remember the phrase don't we?

    I would put up links to all the stories but what's the point?

    The meaning of a sentence you can't pin down

    A friend recently put up a very simple post suggesting a great movie title. That is -- a movie title that would be great (even if the movie is not).

    Bride of Frankenstein's Monster's Ghost!!!

    Why is it so great? Well I can't be sure that he loves the ambiguity as much as I do but he did complete his M.A. in linguistics (now working on a PhD in classics) and he's a true student of language--so I'm sure the several readings didn't escape him.

    Who is the main character of this movie?

    Is it the ghost of the bride (which bride is married to Frankenstein's Monster)?
    [Bride of [[Frankenstein]'s Monster]]'s Ghost

    Is it the ghost of the Monster (which monster belongs to Frankenstein's Bride)?
    [[Bride of [Frankenstein]]'s Monster]'s Ghost

    Is it the bride (who is married to the ghost of Frankenstein's Monster)?
    Bride of [[[Frankenstein]'s Monster]'s Ghost]

    Nice title Dave. I would like to be given the script of the film's writing's consultancy.

    Saturday, December 01, 2007

    Lexical chop shop

    I don't follow slang and coinages as closely as some others do, so I'm often pleasantly surprised to come across a word for the first time that has a fairly well-establish role in the lexicon.

    So there's a Church of Stop Shopping out there and it's headed by the flailing and annoying Reverend Billy who says of his credentials as a minister: "Well I didn't go to the Yale divinity school...But we've got a church. And we do...perform weddings and baptisms and funerals". And like every good evangelist he's using fear to change minds and inspire souls. What is the catastrophe he warns against? Well this one is new to me: shopocalypse.

    Okay so he's doing it tongue-in-cheek...I hope. You never know. It is a nice nod to the perils of consumerism that many acknowledge. But that discussion isn't so interesting to my linguistic self. The word has potential. That's somewhat interesting. Here's what else I notice.

    I'd likely pronounce shop as either [ʃap] or [ʃɑp]. In the word shopocalypse the first syllable is unstressed. Vowels in unstressed syllables like to neutralize -- so instead of shop ([ʃap]) + apocalypse ([əpɑkəlɪps]) = [ʃaˈpɑkəlɪps] we get a neutralization of [a] to [ə] for [ʃəpɑkəlɪps].

    And such a vowel change is predictable and expected. This might make the portmanteau sound less like shop+ocalypse and more like sh+apocalypse but the spelling (and some common sense) indicates that shop is intended.

    Well I can still wonder if the [p] which has now become an onset consonant is the [p] taken from the coda of shop or if it's the [p] taken from the second syllable onset of apocalypse? I'll say it's the [p] of apocalypse only because it's aspirated.

    Now the coda /p/ is certainly allowed to change and this could be simple allophonic variation. But I have this weird obsession with portmanteau balance. There's this tiny part of my brain that attaches theories of justice and equality to issues that make me seem crazy if I say too much about them. (Those of you who know my "balance and symmetry" issues might recognize this.) I don't like it when two words are combined and only one of them loses a segment.

    I could write about 6 pages on what shopocalypse has going for it and against it in this regard. Phonemically there's some equality but phonetically apocalypse has an unfair advantage. The spelling favours shop because its entire bank is represented even if we grant that the [p] is 'taken' from apocalypse. It's not a great portmanteau on the 'balance' regard. A word like 'liger' (lion+tiger) is pretty good because neither word is completely present. But it's not perfect because lion loses at least 50% of it's letters--maybe 75%; and tiger loses at most 40% of its bank--as little as 20%.

    Maybe I've said too much. And I can see some of you slowly backing away.