Just watched a re-run of a Psych episode — I’m a fan of this silly show — on the USA network, where the program was repeatedly interrupted by an ad for the film Little Fockers, which will soon play on that network. The ad revels in repetitions of the family name, mostly to suggest fucker. Hugely unsubtle double entendres, which become wearing in even just one playing of a short ad.
Archive for the ‘Ambiguity’ Category
A Cyanide & Happiness cartoon collected in the 2010 book Ice Cream & Sadness:
An old joke, turning on an ambiguity in some double-object verbs: V NP1 NP2 interpretable either as benefactive (‘V NP2 for NP1′ — e.g. ‘make a woman for me’) or with some other argument structure (in this case, ‘make NP1 into NP2′, here ‘make me into a woman’). Another classic version: call me a taxi ‘call a taxi for me’ (benefactive) or ‘say that I’m a taxi’ (other: ‘say that NP1 is a NP2′)’.
[Added 4/10/13: There's a gay version of the Cyanide joke, with the readings reversed. Someone tells a gay man that they can make him a man, meaning make him into a *real* (i.e. straight) man, but he takes them to be saying that they can make a man for him. There are several variants.]
Despite the fact that the cartoon is wordless, it still communicates a pun. (Robert Coren wrote on Facebook that it took him a moment to see the pun, and it took me some time too.) The plumber is there to deal with a clog ’impediment, blockage’ in the toilet — note the plunger — and what he’s found is a clog ‘shoe with a thick wooden sole’ in the toilet.
Not as complex as yesterday’s Mother Goose and Grimm, but trickier in some ways because you have to supply the words yourself.
Today’s Mother Goose and Grimm, with two seals:
The cartoon turns on the ambiguity of seal — the device or design, or the animal. Then it depends on the existence of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval:
So it also turns on the ambiguity between the proper name Good Housekeeping (name of the magazine) and the phrase good housekeeping ‘keeping house well’ (with a common noun head). But in the cartoon, the seal on the left is a no-good housekeeper. (I’m guessing that Mike Peters, the cartoonist, intended the seal on the left to be male and the one on the right to be female. Gender roles appear in surprising places.)
The pun has something of the flavor of a phrasal overap portmanteau, but can’t be exactly analyzed that way: it’s essentially no-good housekeeper + Good Housekeeping Seal (of Approval).
Posting about flowering pear trees reminded me of some complexities in the classification of fruits. Putting aside the well-known divergence between the use of the word fruit in botany and its use in cooking and dining contexts, I’ll look at some more specific cases, in particular stone fruit(s). Again, there’s a divergence between the technical terminology of botany and ordinary language — a result of botanists having taken over ordinary vocabulary and employed it as technical vocabulary in specialized senses.
An ambiguity in communicative intent. There’s the ominous question “Can we talk?” between intimates, conveying “Let’s talk!” — suggesting a subject that the recipient will find distressing. (“Can we talk?” is often an opener to a break-up speech or to personal criticism.) This has the can of permission.
Then there’s the can of ability: are we able to talk? This is a paradoxical question: the parrot produces something that sounds like an English question, about ability, but the ability in question is being able to produce utterances with intentions and to comprehend those intentions, and it’s unclear — indeed, very unlikely — that the parrot has this ability.
An ecard featuring a linguist:
He loves ambiguity more than most people love ambiguity? He loves ambiguity more than he loves most people? Or both?
The AP Stylebook, which I often mock for its attention to entirely inconsequential details and its belief that it could legislate these details for writers all over the US, sometimes takes on somewhat weightier matters. Today, a revision:
husband, wife: Regardless of sexual orientation, husband or wife is acceptable in all references to individuals in any legally recognized marriage. Spouse or partner may be used if requested.
This is nicely nuanced in one way: it says that husband and wife are acceptable, but doesn’t require those usages, offering alternatives. On the other hand, it assumes (without mentioning it) that husband and wife will be used with appropriate sex reference (husband for a man, wife for a woman), rather than by role reference (husband for the more dominant partner, wife for the more submissive partner, leaving a lot of room for deciding on what constitutes dominance/submission).