Humor is a funny thing. That’s some pretty silly wordplay, but I have to start somewhere. Yet it illustrates how switching between a literal and figurative meaning can be (possibly) amusing. You think it says one thing, but it says another instead. That’s how a syllepsis works. Or you might switch between a noun and verb meaning of a word. But enough of dubious dissection, let’s get to it.
aptronym: A name that is perfectly suited to its owner.
Here’s a real one from my hometown, an optometrist by the name of Ivan Doctor. That’s right, Dr. I. Doctor, eye doctor.
paraprosdokian: A sentence or phrase that ends in an unexpected way.
Pretty much a oneliner. For instance, “Hospitality is making your guests feel at home, even when you wish they were.” Or, “As cooks go she can’t.”
Tom Swifty: A made-up quote followed by an adverbial pun.
“I think the lobotomy went well,” said Bob absentmindedly. “Oops. I just stabbed myself,” Jim said pointedly. That’s all there is, he wrote finally.
Can you decipher the rebus? If not, perhaps it’s a poor rebus. Constructing a rebus is no easy task for many things. Have you ever played Pictionary? There you go. Of course, there is a time limit to Pictionary so there’s added pressure. Though there is some feedback amongst the players which helps.
Thing about a rebus, it’s easy to depict nouns, hard to depict verbs, adjectives, adverbs, anything that’s not a noun, really. That’s why rebuses tend to make non-nouns out of pictures of nouns. It helps that some words are both nouns and verbs. Can, fly, cook. Also that some nouns are adjectives. Orange, giant. And some nouns are homonyms of verbs. Cell-sell, pier-peer. Then again, some nouns aren’t easy to depict at all because they aren’t tangible things. Dream, summer, odor.
A game that’s sort-of like a rebus is charades. Only instead of drawing pictures of words or syllables you act them out. This makes depicting verbs easier, though nouns get harder. For instance it’s fairly easy to draw, say, a crib, how do you act out a crib? On the other hand it’s easy to act out lost, try drawing it. Without using a question mark.
This all hits home for me because I’m an illustrator. OK, I don’t do rebuses, but it’s somewhat along the same lines. I come up with images to depict what a story is about. Visual analogies, you might say. Believe me, some are easier to do than others for the very reasons outlined above. Stories aren’t always about some object, but some process, something happening or not happening. How on Earth does an editor expect me to draw things not happening?
Oh-oh, I seem to be slipping into a rant. Let’s back off and head elsewhere. Another thing that might be like a rebus, though I don’t know enough about it to say, is a pictographic script. Like Egyptian hieroglyphs. Or maybe Mayan. Chinese? Kanji? I really don’t know, but I wonder if those Egyptian cartouches aren’t very much like a rebus.
We return to the beginning, the opening rebus. I admit it’s perhaps not the most easily solved you’ll run across. For some of the reasons already mentioned. What it’s supposed to be is, tear E, (:) colon, dot, (comb-B) com, (B+log) blog. That’s it, terrycolon.com blog.
We had started to write something about the alewife in the Great Lakes when we wondered what the plural of alewife was. Alewives? That ain’t right. Then we figured, like most fish the plural is the same as the singular. As in, “The river is full of trout” and not, “The river is full of trouts.” You don’t catch five basses, you catch five bass. Basses is only plural for the musical instrument. (Bass, a heteronym. Our favorite.)
For land animals it’s a mixed bag. Deer, bison, elk, cattle, plural and singular. Unless they’re all one sex where they’re cows and bulls, or bucks and does. (Does, another heteronym.) For other ruminants we’re not sure. Is it a herd of wildebeest or wildebeests? A wildebeest is also called a gnu, which doesn’t help us since we don’t know if it’s a herd of gnu or gnus, either.
Then there are cases where instead of adding an S for plural you take it away. Hippopotamus to hippopotami or octopus to octopi. It’s a Latin thing. Other minus the S pluralizations are mouse and louse becoming mice and lice. That’s not a Latin thing it’s… we haven’t a clue. On the other hand, if the mouse and louse are not the animals, but are a computer device and a dirty scoundrel the plurals are mouses and louses.
Now then, what’s the plural of a Portugese man-of-war? Surprising to us, in our dictionary it’s men-of-war. But then, a man-of-war is sort-of a plural in its own self, being a collection of three different animals that live as a single entity. Very peculiar. We wonder if they all have to be the same sex or what? Or is it like some fish that can change their sex in mid-life? Which we have heard is where the term “sea change” comes from.
We admit there doesn’t seem to be a logical endpoint to any of this. Just some meandering musings. Perhaps there was a worthwhile tidbit or two in there. If not, sorry. But at least it’s over with and you can take comfort in knowing after all these years the Fish still lives and hasn’t been flushed down the toilet.
functionary (fŭnk′-shən ê-rē) noun. A person who has to perform official functions or duties.
perfunctory (pər fŭnk′ tə-rē) adj. Done or acting routinely and with little thought or care.
Seems to us there is a natural convergence of the two to add to our fauxcabulary. To wit…
perfunctionary (pər fŭnk′-shən ê-rē) noun. A person who performs official functions or duties routinely and with little thought or care.
In so many words, a government bureaucrat. Though we might be too generous here. Some do very little work at all, perfunctorily or otherwise. Which in some cases is a good thing. The more a perfunctionary’s work interferes with people actually trying to get something useful done, well, the less they do they better.
Which brings to mind a contronym, a word with two contrary meanings. Oversight. Which is an unintentional failure to notice or do something. Or it means the job of overseeing, to notice so things get done. So, you can have an oversight due to lack of oversight.
Why is a coaster called a coaster when it just sits there and doesn’t coast along at all? Why doesn’t a saucer hold sauce? What’s the difference between a hall and a hallway? A question which leads us to ponder…
Why did our ancestors come up with completely unique, one-off words for some types of rooms but not others? For instance there’s kitchen, closet, pantry, parlor, hall, library, den, study, and foyer. On the other hand their imaginations seem to have gone on vacation and they just tacked the word room on the end of some function to name these: living room, dining room, laundry room, mudroom, bedroom, bathroom. How come the last three became single words and the others didn’t?
To rectify the situation we offer the following coinages so posterity might be saved time wondering as we do. Living room, couchoria; dining room, eatorium; laundry room, laundreen; mudroom, cloddet; bedroom, sleepiary; bathroom, relievatory.
One last query, how does “how come” mean “why did,” “why do,” or “why”? The more we say the phrase in our heads the less right it sounds. How come?
pareidolia (per-ī dō′-lē-ə) noun. The tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern. The human ability to see shapes or make pictures out of randomness.
Can you say Rorschach inkblot test? How about the Big Dipper? How about bunny rabbit cloud or potato chip that looks like Nixon? How about ;-) ?
apophenia (a-pə fē′-nē-ə) noun. The tendency to perceive a connection or meaningful pattern between unrelated or random things (such as objects or ideas).
Can you say superstition or astrology? How about vast conspiracy? How about, “With a capital T, which rhymes with P, and that stands for pool”?
Both of the above human tendencies are the outcome of the way people naturally make sense of and deal with the world, pattern recognition and categorization. When one thing is like another we can understand a new thing more quickly and easily without having to examine it starting from scratch, so to speak. At least that’s the pattern we see. Hm-m-m…
There are only four English root words that begin with DW. Do you know them? We’re sure you do, they aren’t obscure words. Rather we should ask, can you think of them off the top of your head? Here’s a short hint, word nerd. Live with a shrink. Those are your four cryptic clues.
This might be about the easiest word puzzler to solve, ever. Simply grab a dictionary, look under DW, and there they are. Though looking them up is not much different than peeking at the answers, in your heart you know it’s cheating. Besides, it’s more satisfying to come up with the answer on your lonesome. After all, would Trivial Pursuit be any fun if players could look up answers on their iPhones?
Still, we have to provide the answers so you can check if you’re right, but not so you will see them inadvertently and spoil the fun. The answers are in the pic. That is, if you hover the answer will appear.
“You can’t interrupt a German because you don’t know what he’s saying since the verb at the end of the sentence comes.”
–attributed to Mark Twain
A funny line if you know the basics of German syntax. Which is actually explained in the joke. Now that we’ve established the verb at the end of the sentence business, perhaps this next gag will raise a smile. “I once read an entire book in German but didn’t know what was happening until I got to the verbs on the last page.”
Clearly not enamored with Der Father Tongue, Mark Twain’s A Tramp Abroad has a section called “That Awful German Language.” Here’s more Twain on German.
A dog is “der Hund”; a woman is “die Frau”; a horse is “das Pferd”; now you put that dog in the genitive case, and is he the same dog he was before? No, sir; he is “des Hundes”; put him in the dative case and what is he? Why, he is “dem Hund.” Now you snatch him into the accusative case and how is it with him? Why, he is “den Hunden.” But suppose he happens to be twins and you have to pluralize him– what then? Why, they’ll swat that twin dog around through the 4 cases until he’ll think he’s an entire international dog-show all in is own person. I don’t like dogs, but I wouldn’t treat a dog like that– I wouldn’t even treat a borrowed dog that way. Well, it’s just the same with a cat. They start her in at the nominative singular in good health and fair to look upon, and they sweat her through all the 4 cases and the 16 the’s and when she limps out through the accusative plural you wouldn’t recognize her for the same being. Yes, sir, once the German language gets hold of a cat, it’s goodbye cat. That’s about the amount of it.
About the German Language –Mark Twain quotes
We mentioned before how the “Ar-r-r” pirate talk thing was supposed to be a Bristol accent. That’s because Bristol has one of the few rhotic accents left in England.
rhotic (rō′ tĭk) adjective, of, relating to, or denoting a dialect or variety of English in which R is pronounced before a consonant and at the ends of words.
Most of England dropped or softened the R in the 18th century. As America was initially settled before that, Yanks still pronounce the R at the end of words the old fashioned way. Except for some places on the east coast, notably Boston. On the other hand, Australia was settled later and, like the English, have dropped the R.
While many criminals suffered transportation to the land down under, we doubt very many were pirates. Especially since the Pirate Age ended in the early 18th century. Which means back then, everyone talked like a pirate.
Because Pirate Week just wouldn’t be complete unless we added something pirate related to every Shorts department, including “Words, Phrases, Sayings and Quotes.”
“Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be Pirates.”
“It is when Pirates count their booty that they become mere thieves.”
“The average man will bristle if you say his father was dishonest, but he will brag a little if he discovers that his great-grandfather was a Pirate.”
“Yo, ho, ho, and a bottle of rum.”
–Long John Silver
We wish we had more pirate quotes to quote, we looked, we found, but most were not worth repeating. So to fill out our “Words…Quotes” Pirate Week entry we add this one last tidbit:
Believe it or don’t, in the entire Pirate Age, roughly 1690 to 1720, not a single person was ever hung for piracy. You can look it up yourself. In a dictionary. Just like in the opening pic, pictures are hung, pirates are hanged.
Esprit de l’escalier is French for “wit of the staircase.” This refers to coming up with a snappy comeback way, way, way too late. As the phrase has it, as you climb the stairs on your way to bed. Trompe l’oeil is French for “deceives the eye” which refers to ultra realistic still life paintings with things like a fly on them a viewer is tempted to try shooing as it looks so real. Now for the fauxcabulary part:
goofstep (gōōf′ stĕp) verb. To stumble at the top of a staircase from treading on an anticipated top step that isn’t there.
ghost step (gōst stĕp) noun. The expected but nonexistent top step of a flight of stairs that causes you to goofstep.
trompe l’oof (trömp lōōf) noun. The momentary sensation of falling one has when goofstepping on a ghost step.
In animated cartoons a character can continue walking up a flight of stairs after it ends as long as they don’t look down and see there’s no stairs there. This never happens in everyday life as reality doesn’t buy into the notion of “Ignore it it’ll go away.” That’s Looney Tunes physics, the laws of nature according to Wile E. Coyote. Which doesn’t seem to deter some philosophers proposing reality is all a state of mind and nothing is really real. Which there’s no other words for except looney tunes.