Archive for Semantics

R.I.P. Emmon Bach

Emmon Bach died at home in Oxford on November 28 of pneumonia-induced sudden respiratory failure. Emmon was born on June 12, 1929, in Kumamoto, Japan, the youngest of six children of Danish missionary parents Ditlev Gotthard Monrad Bach and Ellen Sigrid Bach who moved with their family from Japan to the U.S. in 1941, where he grew up in Fresno and Boulder. He did his undergraduate and graduate work at the University of Chicago, with a Ph.D. in Germanic Studies in 1959; his dissertation was Patterns of Syntax in Hoelderlin’s Poems. He taught at the University of Texas from 1959 to 1972, first in the German Department and then in Linguistics, then at Queens College and the Graduate Center of CUNY in 1972–73. From 1973 until his retirement in 1992 he was Professor of Linguistics, and then Sapir Professor of Linguistics, at UMass Amherst, where he served as Department Head from 1977 until 1985. Starting a few years after his retirement from UMass, he held an appointment as a Professorial Research Associate at SOAS (University of London), where he taught semantics and field methods. And in 2007 he became affiliated with Oxford University, where he gave graduate lectures in Semantics and participated in the Syntax Working Group.

He was President of the Linguistic Society of America in 1996 and President of SSILA, the Society for the Study of Indigenous Languages of the Americas, this year.

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Not widely under-negated

Steve Benen, "The challenge of governing in a party of ‘knuckleheads’", MSNBC 11/12/2014:

Two months later, the good news for the Speaker is that his majority has reached new heights. The bad news, the influx of knuckleheads will make Boehner’s job more difficult in ways that are not widely under-appreciated.

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Ask Language Log: (Un) Leavened

A.M. writes:

A novel contained the following sentence: "The tension between them had grown since the first meal, unleavened by the blond boy's arrogance."  I am not sure what the blond boy's arrogance did to the tension – furthered it, dampened it, had no influence?

So i put leavened/unleavened in a more general context (supported by Google searches, the results usually being in the polical sphere), still with no clear insights:

"A bad thing, unleavened by something good" -> still bad
"A bad thing , leavened by something good" -> bad, but better
"A bad thing, unleavened by something bad" -> ?
"A bad thing, leavened by something bad" -> ?

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Blaming the messenger?

R.L. writes to ask whether the phrase "a life-threatening diagnosis" is unfairly blaming the messenger.

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Moving house with military precision

I just moved house this week. (Had to. Lease unexpectedly terminated on the second day of classes in the new academic year. Gaaahh!) Colleagues and friends keep asking me how it went. I've decided that the right thing to say is: "It all went like a military operation."

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They haven't proven they're not afraid of anyone not named Bumgarner. Or have they?

Bob Nightengale, "Forget 1985, these Royals on verge of their own history", USA Today 10/29/2014:

It's been a wild ride for these two teams. They had to win an elimination game as a wild-card entrant just to get into this dance. Now, one will be hoisting the World Series championship trophy.

The Royals certainly haven't proven they're not afraid of anyone not named Madison Bumgarner. Considering that he just threw 117 pitches in Game 5, Giants manager Bruce Bochy reiterated, that he will not be starting the game. He likely won't be available to pitch more than two, perhaps three innings of relief.

I'm not sure whether "The Royals certainly haven't proven they're not afraid of anyone not named Madison Bumgarner" comes out right or not, because I can't figure out what it's supposed to mean, much less whether it succeeds in meaning it. Either way, it belongs in our misnegation archive. Commenters are welcome to enlighten us all.

[h/t Jack Maloney]

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Department of Redundancy Department alert!

Haters of redundancy, get ready to bristle at this email announcement I received today:

Please note that the 7th floor common room in the Dugald Stewart Building will be closed today from 10:30am until 1pm due to an event taking place.

An event taking place? But isn't taking place the only thing that events can do? Isn't taking place their whole thing, the only property they have in common? We have a redundancy here!

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Failure not to make payment

From Dick Margulis, for the misnegation files:

The source is a Facebook post, which you may or may not be able to read. Another picture of a similar sign is here or here — slightly different wording and line-division, same extra "not".

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This is another one of those posts that I wanted to write long ago (actually almost a year ago), but it got lost in the shuffle until now, when I found it going through my old drafts.

It was prompted by an article that Christine Gross-Loh wrote for The Atlantic (October 8, 2013) titled "Why Are Hundreds of Harvard Students Studying Ancient Chinese Philosophy?  The professor who teaches Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory claims, 'This course will change your life.'"

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Why not a simple, straightforward directory?

From C.M., a sign in the Sydney, Australia, suburb of Waterloo:

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Wanting that very (no)thing

Robert Neubecker, "Parents, the Children Will Be Fine. Spend Their Inheritance Now.", NYT 9/19/2014, reports "polling data from both older Americans and their adult children about whether they expected to leave or receive an inheritance":

Among the parents, ages 59 to 96, 86.2 percent expected to leave a bequest. But just 44.6 percent of the children, ages 40 to 60, thought they would get one. […]

The message here would seem to be that aging parents are generous to a fault, if a bit manipulative on occasion. Adult children, meanwhile, accept their obligations to care for their parents with little expectation of receiving anything in return, though some who remain on the dole well into adulthood expect their parents to provide for them from the grave too.

The study’s yes-no questions, however, are relatively limiting. Many parents may be hoping to leave just a token amount, after all. Adult children might lie about their expectations to please the researchers, too. And besides, even if you expect nothing it doesn’t mean that you don’t badly want that very thing.

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The things neither of them don't do

Charlie C. writes:

“There are countless things neither the iPhone 6 nor the 6 Plus don’t do” [link]    

Huh??  Does this say what we know it means?  

I’m still in a loop on this one. Every time I read it I grind to a halt.  I could go to the Wikipedia and give myself a short refresher course on Boolean logic and then see if I could do the conversion from English to Boolean correctly, or… here I am.

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The grammar of "Better Together"

The official name of the organization campaigning for a No vote in the upcoming Scottish independence referendum is "Better Together." That phrase was originally the campaign's main slogan. Much has been written in recent days about the campaign's evident signs of panic, but no one has commented on the stupidity of "Better Together" as a slogan. (It was actually ditched by the campaign in June, and replaced by an even more pathetic slogan: "No Thanks.")

Better together is an adjective phrase. Used on its own, without any logical subject or other accompanying noun phrases, it is apparently supposed to affirm that something will go better in some way for someone than something else if something is together with something else, but it doesn't specify any of these someones or somethings. Yet the cui bono issue (who benefits) is absolutely crucial to the debate. The ineptness of the sloganeering is almost unbelievable.

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