Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Worth Reading

Posted by Neal on September 5, 2008

Some links I’ve been accumulating and meaning to post:

  • Bill Walsh on (what linguists know as) backformation. (Hat tip to ADS mailing list.)
  • Randy Alexander, guest-blogging on Beijing Sounds on the sounds of Chinglish. This one was an eye opener. Be sure to follow his links, too.
  • Two from Arnold Zwicky:
    • One on the backformation gay marry from gay marriage;
    • the other on The Big Penis Book. The intentional bracketing ambiguity is only his starting point for the more interesting stuff on what compound words are made of.
  • Mark Liberman on language differences when it comes to singular or plural in troublesome phrases like the ostriches buried their head(s)
  • Erin McKean, not on her Dictionary Evangelist blog but her other blog, on a funny development of the word empire. (Hat tip to Jan Freeman, from her blog.)

UPDATE, same day: Darn it! I left out these two from Q-Pheevr at A Roguish Chrestomathy. First, of course we’re all used to people saying literally when they mean “figuratively”. But what about when they say literally and figuratively? Then does literally truly have to mean “literally”? Q-Pheevr’s example (in the second post) indicates that the answer is no. Second, this is really clever.

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7 Responses to “Worth Reading”

  1. The Ridger said

    Mama don’t allow no blind linkin’ round here,
    No, Mama don’t allow no blind linkin’ round here.
    Well, I don’t care what she don’t allow,
    Gonna link with just “this” anyhow!
    Oh, Mama don’t allow no blind linkin’ round here.

    That is brilliant, isn’t it?

  2. Ingeborg S. Nordén said

    Should’ve signed in over there before posting a new verse, but here’s my two cents’ worth…

    Mother forbids all Saxon English near here–
    yes, Mother forbids all Saxon English near here.
    Her ban means naught to us–we’ll speak
    Straight Saxon English all through the week,
    Though Mother forbids all Saxon English near here.

  3. David W. Green said

    It’s funny that you should mention The Big Penis Book. I happened to see it at the bookstore just two days ago and laughed. It’s definitely a big book…

  4. Viola said

    @The Ridger and Ingeborg: Both Brilliant!
    @Neal: I don’t claim to be a poet, and I’m sure the meter is totally messed up. Feel free to redo this little ditty if you wish…

    Mama won’t put up with The Big Penis Book ’round here
    No, Mama won’t put up with The Big Penis Book ’round here
    On her tearful pleadings, I shall turn my back
    For careful curiosity is something I never lack
    Oh, Mama won’t put up with The Big Penis Book ’round here

    Okay, so my curiosity got the best of me (just now) and I checked the image of this book on Amazon. I sooo did not need that visual. My eyes spontaneously bled upon beholding The Big Penis book cover. Thank you, Neal. You may now look for the eye doctor and shrink bills in the mail. :-)

  5. Nobody ever uses “literally” to mean “figuratively”, any more than they use “blank” to mean “rectangular” in “a blank sheet of paper”. People might use it in reference to figurative things, but never in reference to the figurativeness of those things. As q_pheevr says, it’s used as an intensifier.

    Sorry, but the common allegation that people sometimes use “literally” to mean “figuratively” bugs me somewhat.

  6. The Ridger said

    Yeah, “literally” is like “really” – literal, real – except no one thinks “really” means “real-ly” any more… In fact, “really” is so bland, we needed another one.

  7. The Ridger said

    Or “very”, for that matter, which used to mean “truly”…

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