Archive for Pragmatics

American politics: The pending expletive shortage

Charles Pierce, "Hillary Clinton Has Run Out of F*cks to Give", Esquire 8/28/2015:

My goodness, the special snowflakes of the elite political media are all a'quiver because Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is running for president of the United States, has decided to talk like somebody who wants to be president of the United States, which is to say, she's started to talk like someone whose big bag of fcks to give is running very, very low.

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Adventures in ellipsis

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Fan-fold ticket stock nerdview

We have not discussed any examples of nerdview on Language Log for a while. But Bob Ladd told me of one the other day. He was at the Edinburgh Airport dropping someone off, and pulled up next to the ticket dispensing machine for the short-stay car park. He pushed the button, but no ticket appeared. Instead, the display screen of the machine showed a message: "OUT OF FAN-FOLD TICKETS".

Not having encountered the term "fan-fold" (I guess he never owned a tractor-feed printer in the 1980s), he was momentarily flummoxed. What the hell was a fan-fold ticket, and what was he supposed to do, given that there apparently weren't any, and he had to take one to make the white bar lift up so he could go in?

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Gender is the least of it

A.C. sends in this opening sentence from a story in his local (NZ) paper:

The former lover of a murdered British jeweler was in his bed when he and his new girlfriend arrived at his villa on the Costa del Sol.

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Emojify the Web: "the next phase of linguistic evolution"

Today's announcement from the Google Chrome team (yes, note the date):


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Free Pre-Paid Cremation! DETAILS INSIDE

Over the last year or so I've received several letters from an admirable organization called the Trident Society with the words "Free Pre-Paid Cremation! DETAILS INSIDE," on the envelope. Ordinarily, I don't open advertising letters, but the third time I got one of these I couldn't resist the urge find out what the writer(s) could mean by these words, which appear to pose a double conundrum. (1) What could a pre-paid cremation contrast with? A post-paid cremation? How would that work? (2) Anyway, if it's free, how can it be paid, pre- or post-? You might want to stop reading for a second and try to guess what's going on.

I'm afraid the answer isn't all that satisfying. Inside there is a card on which the reader can express interest in learning about cremation services. The card also features the announcement: "WIN a pre-paid cremation. Return this completed card today …to be entered … " So I'm invited to participate in a lottery for which the prize is a cremation paid for before my death. I guess I would have been just as happy with a free cremation.

By now, you may be saying , "Oh c'mmon, you know perfectly well what they meant!" Yes, of course, but what I find puzzling about the whole thing is the question of the relative shares of linguistic ineptitude and huckstering flimflam that went into it.

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WHO: 5 percent of calories should be from sugar

Even though I've been reading that headline on my portal page for 3 days now and know what it's really supposed to be saying, I still can't read it the way they intended. The first sentence of the actual article:

The World Health Organization says your daily sugar intake should be just 5 percent of your total calories — half of what the agency previously recommended, according to new draft guidelines published Wednesday.

Even that sentence doesn't really say they'd be happy with 4 percent, or would previously have been happy with less than 10%. But at least the "just" cancels an otherwise implicit "at least". There's a lot of literature about when numbers are interpreted as "exactly" and when as "at least", and about where exactly those two kinds of interpretations come from. But unless they occur with suitable modifiers or in particular constructions, they are never freely interpreted as "at most". So unless we're supposed to believe that WHO wants everyone to get exactly 5% from sugar, that headline is just wrong, I believe.

No big deal. I just had to say it after three days of suffering in silence.

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Too much Victor Mair

I've been reading way too much Victor Mair. In the restaurant of my hotel in London I just saw an English girl wearing a T-shirt on which it said this:


H O
P E

And I immediately thought, who is Ho Pe?

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It doesn't get any better

Email from David Craig observes:

Usually this phrase is used to mean there's no room for improvement.  In this case it's quite the opposite.  52 seconds in to this recap of yesterday's Cubs Nationals game.

Here's the phrase, in a bit of context:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Five nothing Cubs, bottom five: It doesn't get any better for Jordan Zimmerman, as Dioner Navarro comes through with two men aboard.

Jordan Zimmerman is the pitcher for the Nationals, who has already given up several home runs, and at this point — the bottom of the fifth inning — gives one up to Navarro, the Cubs' catcher.

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X, let alone Y

"No pictures should have been sent out, let alone been taken," said Trent Mays after he was found guilty of disseminating a nude photo of a minor, according to this account of the notorious Steubenville rape case.

If that is what Mays said, then he has apparently internalized the wrong meaning of the idiom let alone. He used it as if it had the inverse of its usual meaning. In other words, he apparently thinks that let alone means or even.

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The cyberpragmatics of bounding asterisks

On Daring Fireball, John Gruber noticed something interesting about David Pogue's New York Times review of the Surface Pro: what he calls "the use of bounding asterisks for emphasis around the coughs." Pogue wrote:

For decades, Microsoft has subsisted on the milk of its two cash cows: Windows and Office. The company’s occasional ventures into hardware generally haven’t ended well: (*cough*) Zune, Kin Phone, Spot Watch (*cough*).

And the asterisks weren't just in the online version of the Times article. Here it is in print (via Aaron Pressman):

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"I have a theory about what it means!!"

Conversations among linguists may sometimes be interesting to non-linguists for reasons that are not entirely the same as those that appeal to insiders. As an example, I present without further comment a recent back-and-forth on Facebook between Linguist X and Linguist Y, slightly redacted to preserve anonymity.

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Perhaps now more than ever, ain't nobody got time fo that

Philosophy and the Poetic Imagination
by E. Lepore & M. Stone, 2012

Perhaps now
More than
Ever
We spend our days
Immersed in
Language

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