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A blog mostly about language

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  • 05/22/14--10:27: “illegal”
  • Yesterday’s Classic Doonesbury from 1974 (#1, here) looked at the foul mouth of Richard Nixon (and his aides) from Watergate days. Today (again from 1974) we get the President defining the limits of what counts, in U.S. law, as a prosecutable defense (in ordinary language, what counts as illegal): (Bonus from the Watergate tapes: Nixon’s paranoid […]

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    Anthony Lane, reviewing The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in the May 5th New Yorker: I lost count of the scenes in which Gwen and Peter thrash out the question of whether they should be a couple, and there is a sigh of relief in the cinema when she, deploying what philosophers would call a performative utterance, […]

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  • 09/14/14--05:48: Hypothetical indirection
  • Today’s (re-run) Calvin and Hobbes:   Hobbes poses a hypothetical question to Calvin: suppose you knew …, then what would you do? Stated as a question, but functioning (indirectly) as a threatening instruction to do a specific thing (not named in the question, but inferrable from the context): do this, and today will not be […]

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  • 10/01/14--06:07: Saying but disavowing
  • From the NYT on Monday (9/30), “Some Judicial Opinions Require Only 140 Characters: Justice Don Willett of the Texas Supreme Court Lights Up Twitter” by Jesse Wegman: One of Justice Willett’s tweets in 2013 showed a Bundt cake covered in chocolate sauce. The caption — “I like big bundts & I cannot lie” — was […]

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    Today’s Dilbert, with Dilbert and the pointy-headed boss: Well, responding to a yes-no question with a question could just be a request for information — that would be taking the boss’s question “at face value” — but quite often the second question (conversationally) implicates that the answer to the first question is “yes” (why, the […]

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  • 03/11/16--02:52: Three from the New Yorker
  • Two from the 2/29/16 issue, one from the 3/7/16 issue, all having to do with language, but in different ways. Michael Maslin (who’s appeared here twice before) on the 29th, with the opposite of giddyup: (#1) (A horse in a tree! How can that be?) David Thompson (new on this blog) on the 29th: (#2) […]

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  • 04/01/16--14:51: Look who’s talking!
  • Interplay between the characters (Richard) Castle and (Kate) Beckett in a re-run from the show (season 1 epsode 8, “Ghosts”, originally broadcast 4/27/09) when they come across a suspect’s room littered with photographs of and clippings about another character: (1) Look who’s stalking! Ouch, the pun, on (2) Look who’s talking! — an expression that […]

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  • 05/11/16--02:06: Gentle mockery
  • Today’s Calvin and Hobbes: Calvin in one of his roles, as a 6-year-old boy in love with the clash of titans and destruction on a massive scale (he also has his moments of knowledge and opinion beyond his years, about art, for instance), and Hobbes in one of his roles, as an affectionate older-brother figure […]

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  • 03/19/17--17:15: Sexting with emoji
  • (Talk of sexual bodyparts and sexual acts, but with symbols rather than pictures of carnal reality.) From the NYT‘s Fashion & Style section on the 14th, “Gaymoji: A New Language for That Search” by Guy Trebay, with the hot gay news from West Hollywood CA: You don’t need a degree in semiotics to read meaning […]

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  • 06/28/17--14:28: More Magrittean disavowals
  • Today’s Zippy: (#1) One in a long series of Zippy strips about Tod Browning’s film Freaks, the characters in it, and the actors who played them (only some of them posted about here). Also one in a long series of strips referring to the Magrittean disavowal, a contradiction between text and image: in this case, […]

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