Archive for Metaphors

Ask Language Log: why is "inch" a family relationship in Korean?

Katie Odhner asks:

I have lately been teaching myself Korean and have become quite interested in Sino-Korean vocabulary. Recently two words in particular caught my attention: samchon 삼촌 ("paternal uncle"), from Chinese s ān cùn 三寸 ("three inches"), and sachon 사촌 ("cousin"), from Chinese sì cùn 四寸 ("four inches"). I wondered how "three inches" and "four inches" could turn into family members. According to one website I found, chon 寸 can refer to "degree (of kinship)", which makes some sense. But when I looked on ctext.org (Chinese Text Project), I couldn't find classical Chinese examples of this usage, so I'm thinking maybe it's a Korean invention.

Have you ever encountered cùn 寸 ("inch") in Classical Chinese to refer to degree of kinship? Do you think it's a Korean invention? And does "third degree of kinship" for uncle and "fourth degree of kinship" for cousin have any roots that you can think of in the Confucian tradition, or is that also a native Korean concept?

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The love organ of many names

British comedian Richard Herring is the author of a 2003 book entitled Talking Cock: A Celebration of Man and his Manhood, so he naturally seized upon the republicization opportunity provided by the recent story of the world's first successful penis transplant. He made it the topic of his weekly humor column in The Metro, the trashy free newspaper that I sometimes reluctantly peruse in my constant search for linguistic developments that might be of interest to Language Log readers.

In a bravura display of diversity of lexical choice, Herring contrived to use a different euphemism for the anatomical organ every time he could find an excuse for mentioning it, which, believe me, was a lot. And he left me pondering a serious lexicographical question: just how many euphemisms are there for the appendage in question?

[Unusually, this post is restricted to adult males. Please click "Read the rest of this entry" to confirm that you are male and over 18.]

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Still more on "mother"

A week or so ago, I wrote a post about the notion of "mother" in Indian phonology (with a link to an earlier post written over a year ago about the concept of "mother" in linguistics more generally):

"More on mother' (focus on India) " (8/5/15)

Ben Buckner has called additional information to my attention.  Because the new material is fairly substantial, I did not want it to get buried as a comment to the previous post, which is no longer active.  Consequently, I am presenting this additional material from Ben as a separate post of its own.

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A weekend is not a surface

Last night at dinner, several Americans and a Canadian got into a discussion with an Irishman and an Australian about weekends. Since all of the participants were linguists, the discussion centered on prepositions: Were we having dinner on a weekend in February or at a weekend in February?  The North Americans voted for "on", a choice that the Irishman found preposterous. "A weekend," he observed, "is not a surface."

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David "Semi True" Brooks

David Brooks, "The Progressive Shift", NYT 3/18/2013:

There is a statue outside the Department of Labor of a powerful, rambunctious horse being reined in by an extremely muscular man. This used to be a metaphor for liberalism. The horse was capitalism. The man was government, which was needed sometimes to restrain capitalism’s excesses.

I recently claimed that

David Brooks has an unparalleled ability to shape an intellectually interesting idea into the rhetorical arc of an 800-word op-ed piece. The trouble is, a central part of his genius is choosing the little factoids that perfectly illustrate his points. No doubt he's happy enough to use a true fact if the right one comes to hand, but whenever I've checked, the details have turned out to be somewhere between mischaracterized and invented.

So I thought I'd put in a few minutes today as Mr. Brooks' metaphor-checker. I'll spare you the full "Ask Radio Yerevan" treatment, but here's the gist: Brooks originally wrote that the statue was outside the Department of Labor, and that the horse was capitalism and the man was government; but in fact the statue is outside the Federal Trade Commission, and according to the sculptor, the horse was trade and the man was, well, man. (Or, in these less gendered times, humanity.)

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Orca

Byron York, "What Sank McCain", NRO 11/5/2008:

In January, a few days before the South Carolina Democratic primary, I went to a Barack Obama rally in Columbia with a Republican friend who had never before seen Obama in action. This friend’s reaction: “Oh, s**t.” The super-enthusiastic crowd was about 3,000 strong — no big deal compared to the audiences Obama would later draw in the general election, but several times what John McCain was attracting in South Carolina at the time. My friend said the scene reminded him of the old clip from Jaws, in which the small-town sheriff, seeing how big the shark really is, says, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

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Grammarian's café

At London's Gatwick Airport, I had a very good cup of coffee in a café called Apostrophe. I was thinking that if there is a more perfect name for a place where a traveling grammarian can stop off for an americano, I don't know what it would be. But then I remembered why that is not true.

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Diving deeper into the metaphorical molasses

My column in Sunday's Boston Globe is on a popular topic here at Language Log Plaza: the multitudinous metaphors spun to explain the Higgs boson discovery to a non-scientific audience. Metaphors noted by Mark Liberman in his two posts on the subject (from divine wraiths to smoking ducks) make cameos in the column as well, and I dig a bit deeper into the history of describing the Higgs field as "cosmic molasses."

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Please don't offend this post

On a recent commute via Calgary's light rail train, the following recorded announcement caught my ear: "Please stand clear of the doors as this train is trying to depart." Beyond my initial bemusement, I thought little of it. I imagined, perhaps, a harried public transit employee playing a bit fast and loose with selectional restrictions in much the same way that a certain child I know puts together jigsaw puzzles: by pounding together pieces that approximately fit together and hoping for the best. But later in the week my husband fielded a call that made me wonder whether the train announcer's overextension of animacy features wasn't in fact a crafty linguistic maneuver to increase rush-hour compliance.

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Beginning a new feature: Fine writing from all over

It's a curious paradox of the arithmetic of modern life. New creations — from films and books to paintings and plates — flourish via the absurdly simple creative equation: A + B = C. But if a creator is himself a chimera, a sum of a few parts, the same math doesn’t compute. Take James Franco, whose multifarious career paths seem to puzzle the most supposedly wide-open minds.

David Coleman, "A Turquoise Link to Willie Nelson," New York Times 12/19/10

I'm at a loss for a snapper here.

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Zoological analogies

Back in 2003, Mark Liberman recounted a line attributed to Roman Jakobson when asked if Harvard should give Vladimir Nabokov a faculty position:

I do respect very much the elephant, but would you give him the chair of Zoology?

And in 2006, I mentioned a snippy remark that The New Republic's Martin Peretz made about Garrison Keillor, who had panned Bernard-Henri Lévy's American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville in The New York Times Book Review:

So maybe Keillor was actually an inspired choice. Why shouldn't a bird review an ornithologist?

Now the political historian Garry Wills provides another zoological analogy in his new memoir, Outside Looking In: Adventures of an Observer.

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Annals of opaque sports metaphors

On NBC's "Meet the Press" this morning, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty grasped for a baseball metaphor in this exchange with David Gregory (see the end of this video clip), and came up with the proposal that the Republicans "need to be not just the party of saying, 'We hope President Obama continues to kick it in the dugout'." Here's the context:

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Metaphor of the week

William J. Broad, "Doubts Raised on Book's Tale of Atom Bomb", NYT 2/20/2010, discusses a minor scandal of historical documentation: the descriptions of a claimed "secret accident with the [Hiroshima] atom bomb", revealed in a recent non-fiction best-seller, turn out to have been based on lies and fabrications.

That part didn't especially surprise me, but this quotation brought me up short:

“This book is a Toyota,” said Robert S. Norris, the author of “Racing for the Bomb” and an atomic historian. “The publisher should recall it, issue an apology and fix the parts that endanger the historical record.”

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