Like a ton of bricks

I overheard a colleague tell a second colleague that a third colleague had told the first colleague that the third colleague was going to do something otherwise than by standard procedures. The first colleague then said:

If he does that, I’ll jump on him like a ton of bricks.

My first thought was that bricks don’t jump, even a ton of them. 

At home I first searched for jump ton bricks (without quotation marks), which found no exact uses of the expression in any form, but, not surprisingly, dictionary entries and uses of be/come (down) on sb like a ton of bricks, hit sb like a ton of bricks and jump down sb’s throat. Searching again for “jump on him like a ton of bricks” (with quotation marks for an exact match) found a small number of exact uses, as did most combinations with jumped, me, you, herit, us, them, someone and somebody. I was surprised to find that some people even jump on it like a ton of bricks. 

So I’ll say that jump on sb like a ton of bricks is used, just not very much. Pre-internet, would there have been any way of finding those? 

(Would anyone say “The wall came down on him like a ton of bricks”, or is that too literal?) 

Sciencing

I previously mentioned the Youtube channel It’s okay to be smart by Joe Hanson, which presents bite-sized chunks of general science, specifically his catch-phrase “Stay curious”. Another catch-phrase is “[Name/pronoun] did a science”.

In the movie The Martian (but not the novel, which I recently bought, partly to research this), astronaut Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) is stranded on Mars after his crewmates think that was killed during an emergency evacuation. He survives (obviously), then records a video outlining what he must do to survive, partly to clarify his own thoughts and partly for any future mission which might find him (dead). He concludes: “In the face of overwhelming odds, I’m faced with only one option: I’m going to have to science the shit out of this”.

Continue reading

An awful lot of words

(Or a lot of awful words.)

While I was writing a recent post, I started thinking about the following words (and there are more similar):

awe (n) – awe (v) – awesome / awful (adj)
dread – dread (v) – ?dreadsome / dreadful (adj)
fear (n) – fear (v) – fearsome / fearful / afraid (adj)
fright (n) – fright / frighten (v) – ?frightsome / frightful / frightening / frightened (adj)
terror (n) – terrify (v) – terrible / terrifying / terrified / terrific (adj)

The questions which arise are ‘Who does what to whom?’/‘Who feels that way?’ and ‘Is this a good thing or a bad thing?’. Awesome is good, but awful is now almost always bad. Originally, we were full of awe, but there are references to God being awful. The most common uses of awful now are in the noun phrases an awful lot and an awful thing. An awful lot and an awful thing aren’t full of awe, and probably we aren’t, either. 

This is even more so when these words are used as adverbs:

It was awesome/awful of you to do that v It was awesomely/awfully kind of you to do that.
It was dreadful of you to do that v It was dreadfully kind of you to do that. 
It was fearful of you to do that v It was fearfully kind of you to do that. 
It was frightful/frightening of you to do that v It was frightfully/frighteningly kind of you to do that. 
It was terrible/terrifying/terrific of you to do that v It was terribly/terrifyingly/terrifically kind of you to do that. 

This process is called semantic bleaching, or “the reduction of a word’s intensity”, which is really very common, as Merriam-Webster explains.

(By the way, dreadsome and frightsome are in dictionaries, but are obviously very rare. If I was writing a historical fantasy novel, I would have a character nick-named Dreadsome.)

(I seem to remember a cartoon in which a primary school teacher says to a student something like “There are two words I will not tolerate in this classroom. One is cool and the other is groovy.” The student replies “Cool! What are they?” I can’t find that, but there is definitely one of a father saying to two children “There are some words I will not tolerate in this house – and ‘awesome’ is one of them”. There’s nothing wrong with awesome – it’s just overused.) [Edit: it may have been swell and lousy – see the comments below.]

Duffins, cronuts and olive jars

A trip to a local shopping centre yielded two linguistic snippets. One shop was selling duffins, which it helpfully explained as “not a donut, not a muffin”. Cronuts (doughnuts made from croissant dough) have been a thing for a while now (Wikipedia says 2013). Duffins appear to be new. Wikipedia does not have a page for them and several news stories online from earlier this month talk about the product’s launch, but the company’s own website says that “The duffin is back”. Pages for Mac auto-changes duffin to muffin and red-underlines it when I change it back. 

Hang on, though. If a doughnut made from croissant dough is a cronut, then shouldn’t one made from muffin dough be a muffnut? Maybe not …

(spelling: Google Ngrams shows that doughnut is used more in BrEng, and about equally with donut in AmEng. I don’t often write about them, so I don’t know what my natural usage is. (PS My diary for my first stay in Korea 2006-9 has three instances of donut(s) and none of doughnuts, but that’s hardly convincing.)) 

(pronunciation: I had always pronounced croissant with kw-. Various dictionaries give kr-, krw- and kw-, so there’s obviously no unanimity (Wiktionary gives the most options). The other issue is -ant, which can be -ant, -ont, -ənt or ɒ̃. A lot depends on how French you try to be.)   

My wife bought a jar of olives. Around the top is a message/are messages in four languages. 

CAPSULA DI SICUREZZA / PREMENDO AL CENTRO, L’ASSENZA DI “CLIC CLAC” GARANTSICE L’INTEGRITA DELLA CHIUSRA
CAPSULE DE SECURITE • SE SOULEVE A L’OUVERTURE / LE “CLIC CLAC” A L’OUVERTURE EST VOTRE GARANTIE
SAFETY BUTTON / SAFETY BUTTON POPS WHEN SEAL IS BROKEN
VAKUUM • SICHERHEITSVERSCHLUSS / KNACKT BEIM ERSTEN ÖFFNEN

I won’t discuss these at length, but clearly, different languages say equivalent things in different ways, and use a different number of words to do so.

PS 25 Jul: at a work meeting today my manager digressed and spontaneously mentioned lamingscones (which I have now discovered is styled as Laming-Scones). Non-Australians may need to look up lamingtons and scones.  

PPS 1 Aug: today I watching a Youtube video by someone walking around Seoul. I saw a bakery advertising croiffles. 1 Sep: Another video shows croffles.

PPPS 2Aug: I mentioned this on Facebook and a friend said her local supermarket sells muffnuts.

That’s a moray

A document referred to someone transgressing the social morays of his community. Morays for mores is not a knew misteak. The Eggcorn Database (2005) and Language Log (2004) have both discussed it. I was surprised to find that mores is far moor common in general than morays – more often the misteak is using a moor common word in place of a less common one. That has to be wayed against the fact that morays is a moor obvious spelling. The traffic seems to be all one weigh – I can’t imagine that anyone writing about Muraenidae (I had to look that up – I am not a marine biologist) types mores by misteak. 

Social mores mostly come in plurals. A singular social more exists but is used less often. Technically, won of them is a social mos but I doubt if even the most ardent Latinist says or writes that.

Talking about this with my colleagues, I couldn’t help mentioning the song That’s amore. Many years ago I encountered the parody:

When an eel bites your knee as you swim in the sea, that’s a moray.

The next day one of my colleagues complained that the song had been stuck in her head all day. I said: 

When it sticks in your head as you’re lying in bed, that’s an earworm.  

(PS sea watt I did their?)

Signs of ambiguity

Youtube more-or-less randomly showed me two ads with similar taglines: 

We’re built for growing businesses.

and:

Your business matters.

Ambiguity in English arises for a number of reasons. One is that a gerund-particle (like growing) can be used in a noun-type way (We’re built for the purpose of growing businesses), or an adjective-type way (We’re built for businesses which happen to be growing). In this case, the ambiguity is small, and probably deliberate. 

Compare Moving pianos can be dangerous (which can have both interpretations), Tuning pianos can be dangerous (which can only have the noun-type meaning) and Falling pianos can be dangerous (which can only have the adjective-type meaning). Note that the ambiguity can be resolved by using a different verb tense: Moving pianos is dangerous (gerund) v Moving pianos are dangerous (participle).

Another reason for ambiguity is that many words ending with –s (like matters) can be a plural noun or a 3rd person present simple verb. In this case, the full stop probably forces the verb interpretation. Even without the full stop, most people would find the verb interpretation, which creates a complete sentence, in preference to the noun interpretation, which creates a noun phrase: compare Your business matters are important to us

Last weekend we went for a drive in the Blue Mountains. I saw a sign saying Falling rocks, and thought that it probably doesn’t, especially from the height of the cliffs there. Another sign said Slow buses, in which slow might be an adjective or an imperative verb. In this case, most people would find the incomplete adj + noun interpretation. In the imperative verb + noun interpretation, there are further options if you are the bus driver, a super-hero or a pedestrian. 

Today we drove in another direction. We visited a business which proclaimed Growing since 1919. Especially apt for an orchard/nursery/garden supplies business. One of the banners in the outdoor furnishing section stated Dark matters, which I couldn’t quite figure either way.  

Sesquipedalianistics

I love long words, but I don’t set out to use them in real life. For some reason, I find 20-letter words more satisfying than 19- or 21-letter words, or any other length. I started collecting them but the internet has made it less fun than randomly encountering them (search and I’m sure you’ll find). Recently I randomly encountered the word fundamentalistically. 

English words can gain prefixes and/or suffixes, but the latter are more likely than the former. Fundamentalistically is fundament (N) + al (adj) + ist (N) + ic (adj) + al (adj) + ly (adv). It is questionable whether fundamentalistical is a ‘real word’ and, if so, means anything different from fundamentalistic. Google shows 54 results for fundamentalistical, mostly on websites which I wouldn’t willingly read. Word for Mac doesn’t like fundamentalistically, autocorrecting it to fundamentalistic ally, then red-underlining it when I change it back, or fundamentalistical.

Continue reading

Korean painters

I saw a tradesperson’s van announcing that:

WE ARE PROFESSIONAL KOREAN PAINTERS

I wouldn’t have thought that there was much money to be made from painting Koreans. Perhaps they should try painting houses instead. Ha ha. I wonder if any non-Koreans hire these painters because they are Korean, or because they are professional and experienced.

In 2015, during my second stay in Korea, my wife and I went to Dongdaemun Design Plaza. A number of young artists were painting caricature portraits of people. We got ours done. It was (and is, as I look at it now) very apparent that the artist was much more experienced in painting Koreans than foreigners. I’m recognisable, but that’s about all. (Looking at it again, I can see that’s it actually pastel.)

When I taught English, I had a set of flashcards of occupations (and still have them). Two were/are of a painter, which showed someone painting a house, and an artist, which showed someone painting a painting (which, when completed, really should be called a painted).

(Korean painters might also be these people.)