Archive for Semantics


In China (and around the world among China watchers), everybody's talking about this ungainly syllable.  "Duang" surfaced less than a week ago, but already it has been used millions and millions of times.

"The Word That Broke the Chinese Internet" (2/27/15) by Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian

"'Duang' is Everywhere on the Chinese Internets, Here’s What It Means" (2/27/15) by Charles Liu

"Chinese netizens just invented a new word, and it's going insanely viral" (2/28/15) by Ryan Kilpatrick (English text part of the way down the page)

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The number of fucks you need to not give

Several people have directed my attention to Stuart Cantrill, "A quantitative analysis of how often Nature gives a fuck", 2/8/2015. That's Nature the magazine, not Nature-the-material-world-and-its-phenomena. In graphical form:

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The Shanghai Stampede: incident or accident?

On New Year's Eve, a fatal stampede broke out on the Bund in Shanghai.  Many people died (see below for a discussion of the total number) and many more were injured, some seriously.

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A [class.] zoo

In English, if we want to say something about a place where a lot of different kinds of animals are kept for viewing by the public, we just refer to it as "a zoo".  Ditto for other quantifiable or specifiable nouns.  But in Chinese, you usually have to put a measure word [m.w.] or classifier [class.] between the quantifier or demonstrative and the noun.  (In this post, I won't go into the subtle distinction between measure word and classifier.)

yī + class. + dòngwùyuán 动物园 ("zoo")

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Creative overnegation

Today's Zits:

…plus the obligatory link to the Misnegation Archive.

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End of City Limits

From David Randall via Steven Pinker:

This sign was posted near the southern edge of Loveland, Colorado. It is no longer there.

Is there a term for the strange, almost redundant phrase? Have you run across anything similar?

There are certainly plenty of other instances on the web of the same word sequence.

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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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