Comments on my posting on penultimate (in penultimate Frisbee) took three directions: a comic association with antepenultimate; complaints about a relatively recent non-standard use of penultimate (to mean ‘absolutely final, absolutely the best’); and complaints about using ultimate and unique and other so-called “non-gradable” adjectives as gradables (modifiable by degree adverbials).
Archive for the ‘Modification’ Category
While gathering examples of Michael Reh’s male photography, I came across several sites that referred to genital nudity as present or absent in various photographer’s work (so far as I can tell, there’s none in Reh’s, though he cuts the line very close). In genital nudity, the Adj genital is nonpredicating (His nudity was genital is anomalous): genital nudity isn’t nudity that has the property of being genital, but instead it’s nudity of the genitals, that is, exposure of the genitals. The Adj genital is interpreted via the N genitals — interpretation by evoking a noun is one mark of the type of nonpredicating adjectives known as pseudo-adjectives. (Resistance to modification by degree elements — note the oddity of very genital nudity — is another.)
Putting this aside, there’s the question of how to refer to the images that are banned in certain contexts (U.S. postcards, WordPress postings, etc.). Here’s I’ll restrict myself to the male body in these contexts.
Jon Lighter on ADS-L comments on my usage:
Arnold’s unremarkable syntax from the “Chicano” thread: ”the first OED2 cite, from 1947 Arizona, is somewhat disparaging in tone.”
In case some young folks don’t realize it, this journalistic use of a year-date as an adjective [well, prenominal modifier] is pretty “new” …
The usage is so natural to me that I thought nothing of it, nor did I recognize it as a relatively recent innovation or associate it with journalists.
Back in January I looked at a racy dangler in final position in its clause, where the referent for the missing subject was picked up from a combination of the subject of the clause and an oblique object in the clause; the antecedent was split between two different elements in the clause. Now this morning in a KQED Perspectives column by Steven Moss (“Transformation”), another split-antecedent dangler, less racy and now in clause-initial position.
The German correspondent of “Another invented rule” writes with another teacher-inspired query, going back to when he was a senior in high school. His story (lightly edited):
I had an English teacher back then, who abhorred (still abhors) AmE, and preferred BrE. He is neither American nor is he British. He’s German. According to him, Americans cannot speak English.
One day, we were asked to write a letter. We had to create a story of two people who are pen pals and who love sharing each other’s everyday stories.
I made up a story, wrote it down, and in one line I had written “.. I was laughing out loud….“
After a few days we got our homework back. What struck me the most was that he had marked “laughing out loud“ as a mistake. Above, he he had written “laughing out loudly“.
Now that I’ve checked on the Corpus of Contemporary American English, there is no entry with an “-ly“ ending. But when I type “laugh out loud“, I get many results.
My question for you is : Was my teacher correct? If not, why is it wrong to say “laughing out loudly”?
High marks to my correspondent for checking COCA, rather than relying on raw googling, since web searches will yield a respectable number of instances of laughing out loudly (and even a few of laughing aloudly), though these are wildly outnumbered by the standard English (Br or Am) laughing out loud.
A recent One Big Happy has Ruthie coping with an ambiguity in the English adjective occasional:
Ruthie, quite reasonably, understands occasional in its primary sense, semantically related to the adverb occasionally, but her grandmother is using it in one of its context-restricted idiomatic senses, in which it evokes the noun occasion (a “pseudo-adjective” use of the word).
In ad copy for the Michael Lucas raunchy gay porn film The Wetter the Better, this summary of some hot-hot man-on-man action (not perhaps to everyone’s taste, but this posting is about syntax and semantics, not watersports, as piss play is delicately referred to in some contexts):
Morgan Black spices up his sex life with Christopher Daniels by soaking him in piss before fucking each other.
Two sentence-final subjectless predicational adjuncts there, and they both need something to supply the referent of the missing subject (they are SPARs): by soaking him with piss, which picks up a referent for its missing subject from the subject of the main clause, Morgan Black; and before fucking each other, which the writer of the copy clearly intended to pick up a referent for its missing subject from the *combination of* the subject of the main clause (Morgan Black again) and the oblique object in that clause, Christopher Daniels. The first exercise in referent-finding is just the default Subject Rule for these things, so there’s no issue. The second exercise in referent-finding is non-default, requiring before fucking each other to be interpreted as ‘before they fuck each other’, where they refers to the set-theoretic union of Black and Daniels (and the semantics of each other then tells you that Black will fuck Daniels and Daniels will fuck Black, as indeed happens in the flick — this is called flip-fucking in the trade). I understand the writer’s intent, but the non-default SPAR is beyond my comfort zone in this case. A dangler too far.
On today’s Morning Edition on NPR, in the story “Without Heat, Sandy Victims ['victims of the storm Sandy', not 'victims who are covered with sand'] Guard Their Homes”:
He’s living in a house that was partially flooded so it doesn’t get robbed – for a second time.
The sentence adverbial so it doesn’t get robbed … is clearly intended to modify the main clause (he’s living in a house …) — it offers a reason for this man to live in a house that was partially flooded — but some listeners probably had a moment of wondering about partially flooding the house so it doesn’t get robbed. The intended interpretation involves “high attachment” (HA), to the main clause preceding the so-adverbial, rather than “low attachment” (LA), to the relative clause within the main clause. It’s been noted again and again that LA is preferred in syntactic processing, but also noted (see here, for example) that this is only a default, with context, real-world knowledge, and discourse organization often favoring HA instead.
In the cases that people have looked at in terms of LA vs. HA, the issue is how some constituent C is parsed with respect to preceding material: is it parsed with a lower, smaller predecessor constituent B or with a higher, more inclusive predecessor A (ending in B)? Since the head word of B (was (flooded) in the hurricane example above) will of necessity be nearer to C (the so-adverbial in this example) than the head of A (is (living) in this example) is, this preference is often thought of as a preference for attachment to the nearest, but it’s the structural relationships that are key here.