Archive for Metaphors

Diagramming: history of the visualization of grammar in the 19th century

Aside from etymology, one of my favorite language study activities before college was diagramming sentences.  Consequently, I was delighted to be reminded of those good old days by this new (June 19, 2024) article in The Public Domain Review:  "American Grammar: Diagraming Sentences in the 19th Century".  This is a magisterial collection of crisply photographed archival works that you can flip through page by page to study at your leisure.

The works collected are the following:

James Brown, The American Grammar (Philadelphia, PA: Clark and Raser, 1831).

Frederick A. P. Barnard, Analytic Grammar; with Symbolic Illustration (New York: E. French, 1836.

Oliver B. Peirce, The Grammar of the English Language (New York: Robinson and Franklin, 1839).

Solomon Barrett, The Principles of Grammar (Cambridge, MA: Metcalf and Co., 1857).

Charles Gauss and B. T. Hodge, A Comprehensive English Grammar (Baltimore, MD: Pan Publication Co., 1890)

Stephen Watkins Clark, A Practical Grammar (New York: A. S. Barnes and Co., 1847).

Alonzo Reed and Brainerd Kellogg, Higher Lessons in English (New York: Clark and Maynard, 1880).

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Video slang

Opinion:  "These gaming terms are transforming slang. Do you know them? Even those not involved in gaming culture are becoming familiar with the new vocabulary." Washington Post, by Adam Aleksic (June 20, 2024)

…Dozens of video game terms have sneaked into everyday conversation over the past several years, particularly among younger people. For instance, it’s common to hear “speedrun” for completing a task quickly, “sidequest” to tell your friends about an unexpected adventure or “spawn” when you’ve made a sudden appearance. 

All of these come from gaming culture, where they’re used to describe virtual actions — yet they’ve transformed into offline slang. 

Since at least the early 2000s, millennials have adopted gaming words such as “noob” (short for “newbie”), “OP” (short for “overpowered”) and “gg” (short for “good game”) in real life. These terms reached such ubiquity online that they made intuitive sense when extended to analogous in-person interactions.

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Listless vessels

In an interview on Friday ("DeSantis plans to do what Trump couldn't | Full Interview with Will Witt", The Florida Standard 8/18/2023), Ron DeSantis referred to (some of?) Donald Trump's followers as "listless vessels":

The movement has got to be
about what are you trying to achieve on behalf of the American people
and that's got to be based in principle
uh because if you're not rooted in principle
uh if all we are is listless vessels that just supposed to follow
you know whatever happens to come down the pike on Truth Social every morning
that's- that's not going to be a durable movement

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Rivers and lakes: quackery

Get ready to go a-wanderin'.  I'll take you down to the rivers and lakes, and we shall lose ourselves in them, get lost from the hurlyburly hustlebustle of the mundane world.  That's what jiānghú 江湖 ("rivers and lakes") is all about.  It's where you go to xiāoyáo yóu 逍遙遊 ("wander freely / carefreely / leisurely").

The first occurrence of jiānghú 江湖 in traditional Chinese literature is to be found in the Zhuāng Zǐ 莊子 ("Master Zhuang") (late 4th-early 3rd BC), which happens to be my favorite work of ancient Chinese literature:

Quán hé, yú xiāngyǔ chǔ yú lù, xiāng xǔ yǐ shī, xiāng rú yǐ mò, bùrú xiāngwàng yú jiānghú.


"When springs dry up, fish huddle together on the land. They blow moisture on each other and keep each other wet with their slime.  But it would be better if they could forget themselves in the rivers and lakes."

VHM, tr., Wandering on the Way:  Early Taoist Tales and Parables of Chuang Tzu (New York:  Bantam, 1994), p. 53.

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Crappy metaphor: slippers that make you feel like you're stepping on shit

Sign on the elevator doors of a Taipei department store:

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Hallucinations: In Xanadu did LLMs vainly fancify

Bill Benzon has been our most prolific humanistic commentator about GPTs, almost as prolific as GPTs themselves.  Here he introduces his latest creation in / on the genre:

"From 'Kubla Khan' through GPT and beyond", 3 Quarks Daily (3/27/23)

In a covering note to me, Bill writes:

A story about how I came to be interested in GPTs. It’s also implicitly a critique of the large language model business. You have a bunch of very smart and clever people creating engines that pump out language by the bucketful, but who seem to have little interest in or knowledge about language itself, much less linguistics, psycholinguistics, or the various cognitive sciences. It’s crazy. But the machines they’re producing are marvelous and fascinating.

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Battle for Taiwanese

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Scurrying (like a rat)

Someone referred to Pelosi's visit to Taiwan as "foolhardy".  That prompted the following response from a sensitive and perceptive Chinese observer:

Foolhardy – reminds me of the phrase, cuàn fǎng 竄訪, used to report Pelosi's visit in all official Chinese news / channels. Whether appropriate or not, I have to marvel at how the single word 竄, both its graph and sound, conjures up an image of reckless rats scurrying. There are people good at wording for the purpose of controlling.

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Mi experiencia como Team Leader de compras vecinales

[This is a guest post by Conal Boyce]

[VHM:  watch as much or as little of this 24-minute video as you wish; the most pertinent portion runs from 2:17 to 3:40]

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Moth eyebrows: lectio difficilior et tertium comparationis

Dieter Maue, a specialist on Old Uyghur, Tocharian, Sanskrit, and Brahmi script, wrote to ask:

The simile 'like the moon of the third day' (tertium comparationis: delicate, graceful; curved (eyebrows)) is currently occupying my mind. Attested in Tocharian A and in Uigur, it sounds, but it doesn't seem to be, Indian.

Tentatively I have translated Uig. üč yaŋıdakı ay täŋri ‘third day’s moon god’ into Chinese word for word; but sān rì yuè 三日月("moon of the third day") is not found in the dictionaries. In the Chinese Tripitaka, there is just one suitable instance. Elsewhere, the moon of the third day seems to be called éméi yuè 蛾眉月 ("moth eyebrow moon" — only poetically?). According to Giles (ChinEnglDict 7714 ): “ éméi 蛾眉 moth eyebrows, – alluding to the delicate curved eye-markings of the silkworm moth … moth-eyebrows is used figuratively for a lovely girl.   Also wrongly explained as referring to the small curved antennæ of the silkworm moth. ­ Éméi yuè 蛾眉月‚ the crescent moon’. “  The antennae of Bombyx mori are clearly visible, while I cannot find anything which corresponds to  the “eye-markings”. Do you have an idea how to solve the problem?

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"Blue-eyed person"

Cai Xia 蔡霞, a retired female professor from the Central Party School of the CCP has been denouncing Xi Jinping for his imperial aspirations and the CCP as a corrupt, zombie party.  Somehow, she managed to escape to the United States after her initial condemnations.

Fuming, the Party has cancelled her membership and vilified her perfidy:

After the Party School of the Central Committee of Communist Party of China (CPC) announced on Monday that it had rescinded the Party membership of retired professor Cai Xia and revoked her retirement benefits, Cai quickly became Western media's blue-eyed person.

Source:  "Cai Xia’s blatant betrayal is totally indefensible: Global Times editorial", Global Times* (8/19/20)

*An official CCP daily tabloid sponsored by the People's Daily.

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Tilting vessel

Earlier this year, we had a post about a fascinating new Wikipedia article on "Goblet word" (5/30/20).  That post was about a vessel that served as an analogy for a rhetorical device called zhīyán 卮言 ("goblet word").  Now we have another magisterial Wikipedia article by an anonymous master of Chinese esoterica.  It's about another name for a similar type of vessel called qīqì 欹器, "tilting vessel".

The qīqì (欹器, "tilting vessel" or "tipping vessel") was an ancient Chinese ceremonial utensil that automatically overturned and spilled its contents once it reached capacity, thus symbolizing moderation and caution. Both Confucian and Daoist Chinese classics include a famous anecdote about the first time Confucius saw a tilting vessel. In the Confucian tradition (e.g., Xunzi) it was also named yòuzuò zhī qì (宥座之器, "vessel on the right of one's seat"), with three positions, the vessel tilts to one side when empty, stands upright when filled halfway, and overturns when filled to the brim—illustrating the philosophical value of the golden mean. In the Daoist tradition, the tilting vessel was named yòuzhī (宥卮, "urging goblet" or "warning goblet"), with two positions, staying upright when empty and overturning when full—illustrating the metaphysical value of emptiness, and later associated with the Zhuangzian zhīyán (卮言, "goblet words") rhetorical device.

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Similes for female pulchritude in an ancient Chinese poem

From Shī jīng 詩經 (Poetry Classic), circa 6th c. BC:

(Her) hands are like catkins;
skin is like congealed lard;
neck is like larva of longicorn;
teeth are like calabash seeds;
forehead (like that of) cicada,
eyebrows (like antennae of) moth,
(her) enchanting smile is winsome;
(her) beautiful eyes are clear-set.
         — Ode 57, tr. Diana Shuheng Zhang

Shǒu rú róu tí
fū rú níng zhī
lǐng rú qiú qí
chǐ rú hù xī
qín shǒu é méi
qiǎo xiào qiàn xī
měi mù pàn xī.
      —— Wèi fēng·shuòrén

 —— 衛風·碩人

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