Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

May Links

Posted by Neal on May 15, 2009

Years ago, my wife was doing some computer training in England. Every time she would say a path name, like “c colon slash project slash…”, people in her audience would snicker (wait, no, snigger). She finally stopped the presentation to find out what was so funny. David Vinson of Confederacy of a Dunce explains it to the rest of us.

Football and linguistics, an awesome April 1 post on Sport Is a TV Show. (Hat tip to Michael Covarrubias at Wishydig.)

Ed Yong summarizes a study by Agnes Melinda Kovacs and Jacques Mehler, who find that babies in bilingual households are better at some mental tasks than those in monolingual households. (Hat tip to Adrian Morgan at the Outer Hoard)

To finish, a few from Language Log. Mark Liberman expands on a brief post on Headsup, regarding sentences like, “A 30-year-old Pontiac man is in the Oakland County Jail and facing felony charges after authorities said he rammed a man’s car after finding his wife in the backseat with him.” Take it literally, and it means that the man was in jail only after the authorities made their statement about him ramming a car. Liberman takes the authorities said as parenthetical; the commenters have an interesting discussions about this kind of thing as the closest English has to evidentials in the grammar.

Next, if you liked this post from a few years ago about [Verb] one’s first [Noun], check out this one from David Beaver on Language Log. He’s found the same kind of ambiguity in first [Noun] [Verbs], specifically in “First American dies of swine flu”.

And finally, not one, but two Language Log posts from Ben Zimmer. I wondered a while back if anyone had written anything on quasi-acronymous cute names like HoJo and MoDo. In fact, Ben had, back in 2005, and I somehow missed it. I learned about it from this follow-up post on syllabic acronymy.

5 Responses to “May Links”

  1. viola said

    *Sniggering* Knowing how savvy your wife is, I’m curious to know how she overcame the culturally negative associations using computer lingo?

  2. GPHemsley said

    On that last point, no mention of MoCo and MoFo, for the Mozilla Corporation and Foundation, respectively?

  3. Ran said

    Off-topic: I’m reading Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, and came across this sentence I found interesting:

    > Although few Americans have heard of ConAgra, they are likely to eat at least one of its products every day.

    [link]

    I find it interesting because “they” seems to refer to Americans in general, which means that it doesn’t co-refer with “few Americans”, even though that’s the only place Americans are mentioned. It’s as though the antecedent of “they” were the word “Americans”, rather than a full determiner phrase as I’d normally expect. Alternatively, it’s as though “few Americans” were elliptical for something like “few of all Americans”, with that implicit “all Americans” being the antecedent. (Still, although it made me do a double-take, I can’t say I had any difficulty understanding it. I did have to read it a few times, but I grasped the meaning after the first time; the second reading was to confirm the first reading, and the third was to re-examine and figure out why I’d done a double-take to begin with.)

  4. Glen said

    The show “How I Met Your Mother” had a very funny episode in which the two married characters buy a condo in a supposedly up-and-coming Manhattan neighborhood called “DoWiSeTrePla” (a play on such locations as TriBeCa and SoHo). It turns out the name stands for “Downwind of the Sewage Treatment Plant.”

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