die/dye/dye it/diet

One of the topics in the textbooks this week was clothes and fashion, including hair. What’s left of my hair might fairly be described as ‘greying’ (rather than ‘grey’). I said ‘My wife wants me to dye my hair. Do you think I should?’. One student said ‘Yes, I think you should dye’ — which, of course, sounds exactly like ‘I think you should die’.

die/dye is used in at least one limerick which I could vaguely remember but couldn’t find on the internet. Fortunately, one of the limerick books I have is organised alphabetically by the last word of the first line, so I easily found it there. It runs:

Said a fair-headed maiden of Klondike,
‘Of you I’m exceedingly fond, Ike.
To prove I adore you,
I’ll dye, darling, for you,
And be a brunette, not a blonde, Ike.’

I vaguely remembered the third and fourth lines as ‘To prove that I’m true/I’d dye, dear, for you’. This limerick is probably more effective when spoken rather than when read.

There is another joke which relies on dye it/diet, which I similarly can’t find. It’s something like:

Girlfriend/wife: I don’t like my hair colour/My hair is going grey. Do you think I should dye it?
Boyfriend/husband: [something unkind about her weight]

PS It might have been the other way round:

Her: My bum is too big. I’m going to diet.
Him: What colour?

McDonald’s Uncle and KFC Grandpa

Today’s topic was fashion, and to give the students ideas for free talking, I searched for ‘image fashion’. One picture showed a woman with very big, very red hair. One student said ‘Looks like McDonald’s Uncle’. I asked ‘Is that what you call him?’ and they said ‘Yes, McDonald’s [Chinese word]’. I asked ‘Do you know his name in English?’ and they said ‘No’, so I metaphorically gritted my teeth and told them. Then a student said ‘What about KFC Grandpa?’. Oh dear, now I’m a tool of Big Fast Food.

I found that Harland Sanders‘s colonelcy is not a military one, but an honorary title bestowed by the Commonwealth of Kentucky on just about anyone. I can’t find anything on the website of the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels about the use of the title ‘Colonel’. If Mr HD Sanders can be ‘Colonel Sanders’, then we can equally have ‘Colonel Presley’, ‘Colonel Ali’ and ‘Colonel Trump’.

 

I’m dreaming of a visiting linguist

One of my dreams last night was that an Eminent Linguist (a real person, but I’m not telling you his name) was visiting Australia, and was staying in a big house with a big garden. I was hiding in his garden hoping to catch a glimpse of him. I summoned up the courage to knock on the door. He was delighted to see me – apparently I’d been assigned by the Australian Linguistics Society (I’m not a member) to be his assistant while he was here. (He looked way different, including about 30 years younger, than the photo on his blog, but you know how people (and places) in dreams just are.) The rest of the dream was more about getting from place to place by a confusing sequence of transport and routes than actually talking about linguistics.

prepositional phrases: order and attachment

Prepositional phrases often provide information about where or when, or about conceptual relationships. Two problems often arise: the order when multiple prepositional phrases are used together, and deciding which other element(s) in the sentence this/these prepositional phrase(s) modify/ies.

Regarding the first, a student wrote:

‘I with my friends went to a steak restaurant at my birthday in [country]’.

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Happy birthday to yous

Three members of my extended family celebrate their birthday today. They are not genetically related to each other (there is one ‘in-law’ between each of them) and only one is genetically related to me. The first, chronologically, is my brother-in-law, my oldest sister’s husband. The second is his sister-in-law – not either of the two who are my sisters, but his brother’s wife. There is no term in English for my relationship to her; she is ‘my brother-in-law’s sister-in-law’. I have met her occasionally, and am Facebook friends with her, but it is perfectly possible never to meet one’s brother-in-law’s sister-in-law. I have not met my youngest sister’s husband’s brother’s wife (and they live in the same part of the same city as me). The third is my niece, my second sister’s daughter. She is that brother-in-law’s wife’s niece, niece-in-law or maybe just niece; he is her aunt’s husband, uncle-in-law or just uncle. (She calls him ‘Uncle [name]’ just as she calls me ‘Uncle [name]’.) There is no term in English for her relationship with that other relative: they are ‘uncle-in-law’s sister-in-law’ and ‘brother-in-law’s niece-in-law’ respectively. Maybe some languages have a kinship term for ‘female relative one generation older (other than mother or aunt’ (or simply use the word ‘aunt’) and ‘female relative one generation younger, other than daughter or niece’ (or simply use the word ‘niece’). These three members of my extended family have been in the same place twice, as far as I know: my oldest nephew’s and my oldest niece’s weddings (the son and daughter, the cousins and the nephew- and niece-in-law of those three people). My nephew’s wedding was a few days before those people’s collective birthday, so the next day many of the same people gathered again for his birthday. We got those three birthday people together for, as far as I know, the only photo of the three of them (though they might all be in an ‘extended family’ wedding photo).

So, my oldest nephew and niece are married (to other people, of course!). I usually refer to my niece’s husband as my nephew-in-law, because I have a less close relationship with him, but I usually refer to my nephew’s wife as my niece, because I have a closer relationship with her. But it does cause confusion. Sixteen months ago I told a colleague that my nephew and niece had just had a baby. She asked for clarification!

How far does one’s ‘extended family’ extend? I know who my brother-in-law’s brother-in-law’s [second] cousin’s step-mother is, but I wouldn’t call her ‘family’. (By the way, I’ve got two or three sets of brothers-in-law: my sisters’ husbands (three sisters, one husband each), who are ‘my Australian brothers-in-law’, my wife’s brothers (one wife, two brothers), who are ‘my Korean brothers-in-law’, and maybe my wife’s sisters’ husbands (one wife, three sisters, one husband each).

Mike Klitschko, The Cock Prohibited and The Icy Python

For a few days now, various contributors to Language Log have been exploring the fact that repeatedly typing one letter, character or syllable, or even a string of random letters, characters or syllables, into Google Translate results in ‘translations’ which a) have nothing to do with those letters, characters or syllables and b) are sometimes funny, baffling or seemingly meaningful. In the first such post, Mark Liberman reported that Japanese ュース (which Google Translate translates as juice) entered repeatedly eventually results in:

It is a good thing for you to do.
It is good to know the things you do not do.
It is good to know the things you do not mind.
It is a good idea to have a good view of the surrounding area.

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