Archive for Metaphors

Mixed metaphor of the week

“As the car is hurtling towards the cliff, it’s driving on quicksand,” Levitt said.

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Using animal images to cast aspersions

We call people "swine", "pigs", "dogs", "curs", "rats", even "water buffalo" when we want to disparage them.

The latter epithet was uttered in the famous "water buffalo incident" that took place at the University of Pennsylvania in 1993, when an Israeli-born Jewish student, translating from Hebrew slang behema ("animal; beast" — used by Israelis to refer to loud, unruly people) shouted "Shut up, you water buffalo" out his window at a noisy group of students who were disturbing him and others in his building at midnight.  The controversy was exacerbated by alleged racial overtones of "water buffalo", though the student who yelled the phrase denied that he meant it to have racial implications.

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A Trumpling situation

"Paul Ryan Refers to Furor Over Trump as Elephant in the Room", Bloomberg News 10/8/2016:

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan spoke at the GOP “Fall Fest” unity event in his home district in Wisconsin. While he did not directly address Donald Trump’s crude and sexually aggressive remarks about women in a 2005 recording, he did refer to the furor over the comments as “a bit of an elephant in the room.” Ryan did hear boos, as did Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, who was heckled by a Trump supporter.

The passage in question:

look
let me just start off by saying
there is a bit of an elephant in the room
and it is a troubling situation I'm serious it is
I put out a statement about this last night
I meant what I said and it's still how I feel

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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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