Archive for the 'Use' Category


No shelf life

USA Today has an article on Bill Cosby with the headline Bill Cosby prides himself on comedy that has no shelf life. I thought that was an odd thing to have pride in: comedy that’s out of date as soon as it’s out of your mouth. But then the entire piece was about how timeless his comedy is.

Google, please! On the one hand,

Young Coconuts are perishable and have virtually no shelf life at all. (link)

Unlike our regular growler selections, cask ale has no shelf life and is highly perishable. (link)

There is basically no shelf life on expensive caviar, two or three days so plan to plan accordingly. (link)

On the other hand,

If you want a safer product that will last much longer in the fridge, add a bit of acid blend or citric before its cooked. Pomona is a citrus based product that has no shelf life like regular and no/low sugar types. (link)

REAL black powder has no shelf life if stored well. Substitutes like pyro and trip 7 im convinced loose effectiveness if several years old. (link)

Flashlight Batteries – 10 years (the flashlight can be recharged forever and has no shelf life) (link)

As far as distilled spirits go, like your Bacardi Limon (YUM!), or your whiskey, an unopened bottle has no shelf life. (link)

Excellent. I think the “lasts forever” meaning is more common, but for whatever reason it’s not what came to my mind first when I saw the headline. I guess it sort of means, “it has nothing which you would call a shelf life, i.e., lasts forever,” as opposed to “it has a shelf-life value value at or near zero.”

I was trying to think of other expressions like this. What first came to mind was what I (once upon a time ) thought “priceless” and “no/little love lost” meant. (apparently originally the latter was in fact ambiguous, but I don’t know if anyone still uses the “they’re still good buds” meaning anymore).

Graduate, promote, advance

Several months ago there was a sign outside a middle school near where I live which read,

Congratulations to the promoting class of 2009!

I was familiar with the use of promote as something a school does to a student advancing to the next grade, and the particular significance of being promoted from middle to high school. But the syntactic contexts for this were school promotes student or promotion of student, etc., roughly transitive uses. This contrasted in my usage with graduate, where a student may graduate or a school may graduate a student. So, for me, graduating class was perfectly normal, while promoting class was out. But it seems to be not all that rare, and after all, why not? If it’s to be used pretty much parallel to graduate, why not let it take syntactic positions more like the latter?

But still, would you expect to find it as a main rather than in the -ing form? From here:

6th grade students who have promoted in 2008 will attend a middle school campus and 8th grade students who have promoted will be assigned to a high school site.

So far I’ve found only one such thing.

Then, there’s also advance. Students and classes advance to the next grade, and there are advancement ceremonies. But would anyone congratulate the advancing class of 2009?

Actions and comments

Facebook statuses take the form of your name (linked to your profile) followed by whatever you type in the box. Many people take advantage of this to make their name the subject of a sentence:

Russell doesn’t update his blog much.

But this is by no means universal. Many an update on my home page look like

Russell updating your status is boring

And many other sorts of formats. But what about the comments you can leave in response to others’ status updates? Those too begin with a linked, correctly capitalized name, but I have yet to see (or at least remember) a comment that used that name as the subject of a sentence. They all look like

Russell that’s great, Bill!

and not

Russell thinks that’s great!

Russell wonders why.

I thought it might be because the main status field tells you your name will appear in the beginning of your feed, while the comment field doesn’t. But that’s not true. It doesn’t seem like the different prompts (what’s on your mind? vs write a comment) would necessarily do it. Maybe it’s about topicality: the status is about the status-holder/typer, but the comment isn’t necessarily about the commenter.

Or Maybe it’s more historical? Earlier, all status updates started with “[name] is”, but even with the demise of that restriction people still like to exploit the fact that their names appear right before their custom text. I don’t know when comments started being implemented, but perhaps they came in after any facebook-enforced subjecthood requirements, so the custom never caught on.

Or maybe it’s something more genre-like: the status is an broadcast announcement, so it makes sense for it to be a sentence about you, while the comment (while also potentially readable by everyone) is more personal and so a more flexible information structure and syntax is needed?

S as well as S

Am I totally behind the curve on accepting S as well as S (and V(P) as well as V(P))?

I don’t know mixins because I don’t like mixins (as well as I don’t really like templates).

Mersin State Opera and Ballet hired me to design a ballet “The Harem” in 1998, as well as I had a wonderful chance to design a ballet “Antonius and Cleopatra” in Istanbul state Opera and Ballet in 1989, invited here by a Primabalerina and a State Artist Merih Sumen

Anyone who loves to cook as well as eat will love these great recipes that I consider my favorites

I hear it from time to time, and wonder if people have a different entry for as well as than what I have. Or, are such coordinations due to a replanning of the sentence, after you’ve already committed to as well as, that makes verby coordination sound better?

Most of them always men

Okay, this I just had to share. It’s on the boundary, I’d say, between mess-up and something a competence-grammarian should account for (I’m currently waiting for Mark Liberman to get back of my latest comment on that topic).

And like you, I have significant difficulties with women. Most of my friends are and always have been men. (link

I really want to know how most people (whose brains haven’t been fried on syntax and semantics) react to this sort of sentence.

An accident?

Situation: Sal and Tom are office-mates. Sal eats sandwiches for lunch and so often has a loaf of bread in the office. One day, after a period of about a week without any bread in the office, Tom (in uncharacteristic manner) buys a loaf of bread that he intends to use for lunch – but Sal isn’t aware of this. Tom leaves it in the office and goes home. The next day it is gone: Sal took it home. Sal wasn’t able to recall if he had bought any bread recently (in fact he had not), but concluded it must be his because Tom never buys bread.

Question: can anyone (Sal, Tom, or some other individual) characterize what happened as: Sal accidentally took home Tom’s loaf of bread.

As you leave, I was wondering

Play-by-play sports commentators are, I believe, sometimes noted for their novel uses of language. Now, the only sports I watch on TV is baseball, but there are some interesting things to say about the langauge of even the most mundane of sportscasters. Take, for instance, predicate inversion, which I have the impression is used more often in play-by-play discourse than elsewhere (don’t know about baseball vs other sports, though).

Coming in safe at second is Giambi

Out at third is Ichiro

In from center field to catch the ball is Davis

One particular construction that I’ve noticed, which I previously thought was impossible, is using temporal as on the speech act level. Like this:

When you’re a catcher it’s important to make sure you’re always on the same page as the rest of the infield, as Ichiro takes Hudson the other way for a base hit.

What the as is doing is not saying that “it’s important to…” and “Ichiro takes Hudson the other way…” are happening at the same time. Rather, the base hit is happening as the commentator is saying “it’s important to…” This happens all the time with other temporal subordinators like before and while:

Before you leave, when are you coming back next?

While you’re here, I was wondering if you could help me out.

What happens “before you leave” is that I’m going to ask you a question (namely, when are you coming back). Similarly for “while you’re here”: it’s (crucially) during the time that you’re here that I’m making (or able to make) a request.

But I always though that as didn’t have this sort of use. It sounded (and still sounds) ridiculous to say, As you get ready to leave, when should I meet you tomorrow?. But I thought about it some more, and maybe as you get ready, I have a question for you isn’t that bad. Then, taking a cue from the sports-as, I put it at the end, sort of as an afterthought: I still have one question for you, (uh), as you get ready to head out. Not bad. But that’s getting uncomfortably close to a strict temporal use: my having a question and you getting ready are taking place at the same time. Saying “I have a question” isn’t the same as “let me ask you a question,” and certainly not the same as “when should we meet up?” So there’s still some strange limitations on as. Except in spontaneous play-by-play talk, where it seems be a sort of way to transition between commentary and reporting the action: you can never plan very far in advance to use as in this way.

(There is of course a “causal” use of as, which allows “speech-act” modification as you’re staying another week, would you like to use our guest bedroom instead of the sofa? But you can do that with because and (causal) since, so it’s not that surprising to me.)

McCawley cited for linguification (by Newmeyer)

A topic of continued interest (primarily by(?) Geoff Pullum) is linguification, or the expression of a particular idea or argument in terms of language. A couple years ago I wrote about one particular type of linguification that often takes the form of

You rarely hear X and Y in the same sentence

and which expresses, basically, X and Y are really different and totally unrelated. In case X is a modifier of Y, then it means Y is anything but properly described by X (e.g., you never hear “politician” and “honest” within three words of each other).

In the June 2008 issue of Language, Frederick (Fritz) Newmeyer writes, in a footnote:

The late Jim McCawley wrote somewhere that he can always pick out theoretical linguists at academic cocktail parties. We are the ones who talk about the Fibonacci sequence, the laws of thermodynamics, and Romance clitic climbing, all in the same sentence.

This reflects what I guessed was a folk theory of discourse, one part of which is the idea that sentences have only a single topic, and that nothing is present in the scope of negation (e.g., “studying Romance clitic climbing clearly has nothing to do with the laws of thermodynamics, which is just as well considering that I know nothing about the latter”). This particular form of linguification relies on the idea that if any concepts are mentioned in the same sentence, this indicates at least that the speaker is interested in all three topics, and perhaps even that the speaker is somehow arguing for a significant relation between them. (Or perhaps just that they are concept-dropping in order to impress their colleagues).

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