15 Jun 2006

Either Literal or Actual

Submitted by Karl Hagen
Topic: 
Before I got sidetracked by vagueries, I was actually checking out a variation on the ongoing reanalysis of literal(ly) to mean "figurative(ly)" (i.e., the opposite of literal in its traditional sense).

The usage I mean is most familiar in contexts such as

"I skipped breakfast and lunch, so by dinner I was literally starving to death."

Usage books object to this construction on the grounds that the speaker here is certainly not actually starving. But it's easy to see such constructions as simple hyperbole, which of course speakers deploy all the time.

The question is whether the speaker intends the expression as exaggeration or has actually reanalyzed the word's meaning, thinking that literal means figurative. In sentences such as the one above, it's not really possible to tell, since either reanalysis or exaggeration could explain the sentence. Indeed, a simple substitution of "virtually" or "metaphorically" in the sentence above actually weakens the intended emphasis, so even if reanalysis has occurred, a sense of exaggeration remains.

20 May 2006

Ouch!

Submitted by Karl Hagen
Home from Cozumel (the trip was my wife's birthday/anniversary present to me) where we went diving and snorkling. It's a great place, although still quite battered from Hurricane Wilma. Most of the trees are still largely denuded of their leaves, and the reefs, especially the shallow ones, have really suffered. They're covered with sand. I came home with a ruptured eardrum. I was diving on the last day--we went down to about 65 feet on the second dive. On the way up, though, I couldn't get the air to clear from my right ear. The pressure just kept building up. If you have trouble equalizing on the way down, you just scrub the dive, but there's not much you can do when you're already at depth. You have to come up, after all. So I ascended, and eventually I felt the pressure release, and the pain went away. I thought no more of it until the plane ride home. Then my ear really started to hurt. It too, eventually cleared, but this time I had some blood coming out of my ear. (Usually a sign that the eardrum has been ruptured.)
7 May 2006

How much can a bare bear bear?

Submitted by Karl Hagen
Linguists often like to explore sentences that are grammatically well formed but hard for people to parse. Apart from provoking simple curiosity, they also suggest things about how the mind processes language. So, for example, there are "garden path" sentences such as "The horse raced past the barn fell." There are also sentences composed from homophones. Stephen Pinker (in The Language Instinct) provides one from Buffalo (the city), buffalo (the animal), and buffalo (to deceive or intimidate):

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

Which means "Bison from Buffalo (that other) bison from Buffalo intimidate (themselves) intimidate (other) bison from Buffalo."

24 Apr 2006

How do you pronounce "Impress"?

Submitted by Karl Hagen
Topic: 
For the most part, I use OpenOffice, unless I am absolutely forced to do otherwise. I've found it to be a good replacement for Microsoft Office (apart from a few annoyances). One thing that has been bugging me, though, has nothing to do with its technical deficiencies. What I want to know is how are we supposed to pronounce "Impress", the PowerPoint equivalent for OpenOffice. In other words, are we suppsed to read it as a verb, with the stress on the second syllable, or a noun, with the stress on the first.

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