… for the verb look, especially in combination with the particle up, in yesterday’s Zippy:
From the weekly report (10/5/12) of the Bowman International School in Palo Alto, this note from a student in room 5:
The sand tiger shark lives near the shore. Sometimes they [sand tiger sharks] confuse surfers for seals and attack them.
This is certainly non-standard, but there are two distinct possible sources of the problem:
the choice of verb: confuse rather than, say, take or mistake (mistake surfers for seals); or
the choice of preposition: for rather than with (confuse surfers with seals)
What remains constant in all the examples so far is the assignment of participant roles (which I’ll refer to as RIGHT and WRONG, indicating correct and incorrect identification, respectively) to non-subject syntactic arguments (direct object and oblique object); all fit the template for “misidentification verbs”:
V DirObj:RIGHT P OblObj:WRONG
That is, the sharks are confronted with surfers (RIGHT), but perceive them as seals (WRONG), whether the event is packaged syntactically as (A) mistake surfers for seals, (B) confuse surfers with seals, or (C) confuse surfers for seals.
C-type examples (with a V of type A and the P of type B) are by no means rare, and there’s more to come.
A piece of Facebook usage that has long puzzled me, clearly illustrated in “Wilson Gray via PoliticusUSA” yesterday: a posting by Wilson Gray that linked directly to a PoliticusUSA story (on Romney and the economy). I would have labeled this “Wilson Gray from PoliticusUSA”, since the standard use of via ’by way of’ would have “Wilson Gray via PoliticusUSA” implying that the story started with Wilson Gray and came to us with PoliticusUSA as an intermediary: Wilson Gray in the SOURCE role and PolicusUSA in the INTERMEDIARY role. So the Facebook usage of via seems to have the participant roles reversed: PoliticusUSA in the SOURCE role and Wilson Gray in the INTERMEDIATE role.
(Similarly for other X via Y Facebook headers.)
In today’s New York Times, in Michael Wilson’s “Living on His Own, Far From the Box”:
[Homeless man John Cornelius Foley] was an early benefactor of gentrification. Construction workers let him sleep in the new luxury buildings they were erecting. Just be gone in the morning, they told him. Police officers looked the other way when he slept in an alley off Houston Street. Just be gone in the morning.
That’s benefactor where its converse beneficiary would be expected: a semantic reversal for benefactor, which has picked up the meaning ‘one who gets benefits’ in addition to the meaning ‘one who gives benefits’.
In World Wide Words #802 yesterday, Michael Quinion, following up on his discussion of hoity-toity in the previous issue, passed on a piece of mail:
Lucie Singh wondered if hoity-toity was “at the heart of so many people thinking that hoi polloi means the upper crust (often perceived to be haughty etc) rather than the great unwashed? This misapprehension is rampant in the States.”
The meanings of ordinary (rather than technical) vocabulary are learned in context, not by explicit definition, so though there will be widespread agreement on these meanings, there will also be considerable variation, following from individual differences in linguistic experience and in the interpretation of this experience; there will be a range of “private meaning” differing in detail from the shared meaning of items.
In some cases, though, private meanings can diverge starkly from the meanings most people have. I talked about a few such cases in a 2009 Language Log posting, and this divergent understanding of hoi polloi looks like another case, but with complications.
From “A Changing Harlem Celebrates the Queen of Soul Food” by Kia Gregory, in the NYT on 7/21/12:
Joan Avila, a retired nurse who has lived in Harlem for 40 years and rents a room nearby, said she had been to Sylvia’s a few times in the past. “Tourists cater to it,” she said. “If you don’t know how to cook, you don’t know the difference.”
For me, the restaurant could cater to tourists, but not vice versa. Cater to here seems to mean something like ‘be attracted to’ — so we’re looking at a reversal in the roles associated with the subject and oblique object in argument structure. I’m not sure how widespread this new argument structure is, or how long it’s been around (this use of cater doesn’t seem to have been picked up in dictionaries).
On the street in front of my Palo Alto house is a row of crape myrtle trees, which this year are late in blossoming, though other crape myrtles in the neighborhood are in gorgeous bloom; but mine are loaded with buds, and soon will follow.
Crape myrtle is an intriguing compound. To start with, it’s not subsective, but resembloid: crape myrtles are not myrtles, though they (rather vaguely) resemble myrtles. Then there’s the first element, crape (or crepe), which turns out to be, historically, the same word as in the fabric crêpe (or crepe or crape), crêpe (or crepe or crape) paper, the thin pancakes called crêpes, and crepe soles for footwear.
(Then there’s the demi-eggcorn cray paper, which afflicted me as a child.)