Call me maybe

Kim Jeong-Eun calls Donald Trump ‘mentally deranged’
Kim Jeong-Eun calls Donald Trump a ‘dotard’
Bill Shorten calls Tony Abbott

The first two (slightly adapted) headlines probably need no explanation, but to those of you from places other than Australia, the third (also slightly adapted) probably does. Australia is currently suffering from an unnecessary, expensive and divisive public debate and official survey on the question ‘Should the law be change to allow same-sex couples to marry?’. The current (centre-right) prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull is personally in favour, but is being held hostage by a further-right group within his party, which is opposed. A former prime minister, Tony Abbott, is one of this group. The (centre-left) opposition party, led by Bill Shorten, is either officially in favour or willing to allow its members a conscience vote. Yesterday, Tony Abbott was headbutted on a public street by a man wearing a ‘yes’ badge, and suffered ‘slight swelling’ of his upper lip.

(asterisked strong language follows)

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Grammar in pop songs – Lucy Lucy Lucy

Picture yourself
Somebody calls you
You answer
A girl

Flowers
Look
She’s gone

Lucy
Lucy
Lucy

Follow her
Everyone smiles

Taxis appear
Climb in
You’re gone

Lucy
Lucy
Lucy

Picture yourself
Someone is there
The girl

Lucy
Lucy
Lucy

Lucy
Lucy
Lucy

Lucy
Lucy
Lucy

In the loved-by-some, loathed-by-others Elements of Style, William Strunk Jr and EB White say ‘Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs’ and ‘Omit needless words’. Very well then …

I have taken that advice to its logical extreme and wielded the delate button on Lucy (in the sky) (with diamonds) by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The result is possibly comprehensible if you already know the song and possibly not if you don’t. To be fair, Strunkandwhite don’t mention the other word classes, especially prepositions, but I’ve erred on the side of comprehensiveness.

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Merry birthday

I have a friend who habitually writes ‘merry birthday’ on our mutual friends’ Facebook pages (and mine, when it comes around). There’s nothing grammatically or semantically wrong with ‘merry birthday’, but it just sounds so weird. An internet search returns approx 353,000,000 results for ‘happy birthday’ and 2,650,000 for ‘merry birthday’, so it’s by no means unknown, but used less than one percent as much as ‘happy birthday’. Some of those are references to people whose birthday falls near Christmas. (I know two people born on Christmas Day. One is named Christa. I also know a father and daughter born on leap day.)

Google Ngrams shows many results for ‘happy birthday’ and ‘merry Christmas’ (of course). ‘Happy Christmas’ is used about 1/6th as much as ‘merry Christmas’ but ‘merry birthday’ yields only one result.

In the course of my research, I found this short extract (from a movie I watched more than 20 years ago, but didn’t remember this scene). The Wikipedia page for the movie says that the song was written for this movie ‘to avoid potential licensing issues’ (ie paying royalties to Warner/Chappell, at the time – for more information, see here).

(For thoughts about the song in Korean, see here.)

(PS after I posted this, the friend wished me a ‘happy birthday’ this year.)

 

Practical cats

A few weeks ago I mentioned the musical Cats, and commented about translating the title and the lyrics into other languages, including Korean.

The first song is ‘Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats’, which is not in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, so I guess it was in TS Eliot’s unpublished poems, along with Grizabella. Andrew Lloyd Webber consulted Valerie Eliot while composing this work. (Note that Trevor Nunn wrote the lyrics for ‘Memory’ (and see my previous comments about this song here.)) The song ends with a series of 22 occurrences of ‘adj cats’:

Practical cats, Dramatical cats
Pragmatical cats, Fanatical cats
Oratorical cats, Delphicoracle cats
Skeptical cats, Dispeptical cats
Romantical cats, Penantical cats
Critical cats, Parasitical cats
Allegorical cats, Metaphorical cats
Statistical cats and Mystical cats
Political cats, Hypocritical cats
Clerical cats, Hysterical cats
Cynical cats, Rabbinical cats

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lain-back

On Tuesday a student about the difference between lay and lie. I gave a brief explanation to the effect that lay is transitive. It needs a direct object – hens lay eggs and humans lay tables. Lie is intransitive. It does not need, in fact it actively resists, a direct object – hens do not lie eggs and humans do not lie tables. (But some people use lay intransitively – Bob Dylan invites a lady to lay on his big brass bed and Gloria Gaynor’s ex-boyfriend thought she’d lay down and die, to varying degrees of horror from the purists.) I said to the student that it is very easy to get these two verbs mixed up, and many native English speakers do. (It does not help that the past simple form of lie is lay.)

By coincidence, Wednesday’s listening included the adjective laid-back, which I didn’t comment on at the time, because I knew Thursday’s lesson expanded on hyphenated adjectives. But it struck me that laid-back is built on the transitive lay-laid-laid and not the intransitive lie-lay-lain. If you are laid-back, then presumably it’s because someone or something has laid you back somewhere, and not because you have lain back somewhere. I’ve consulted several dictionaries and searched generally online, but I can’t find anything about this. Maybe the concept is reflexive: you have laid yourself back. Or maybe informal words don’t have to follow the rules of grammar.

In yesterday’s class, I briefly mentioned this to the student, then said ‘The word is laid-back, whether it comes from lay or lie’. Another student then asked about the other lie, to tell an untruth.

He is walking

Yesterday, one of my Facebook friends posted this video. I decided to use it to start yesterday’s lesson with a review of verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs and prepositions. The simplest sentence to describe the video is ‘He is walking’, and one student supplied ‘on a machine’ (none of them knew ‘treadmill’).

From there, some gaits are better described by a verb (He is V-ing), a noun (He is walking like a(n) NP), an adjective (He is walking a(n) adj walk,* He is walking like he is adj, or He is walking like (he is) a(n) adj person), an adverb (He is walking adv-ly) or a prepositional phrase (He is walking in a(n) adj way, or He is walking with NP). There are sometimes too many choices. Some verbs and nouns have the same form, and some can be changed to adjectives or adverbs. The first gait in the video is sneak, so we could say: He is sneaking, He is walking like a sneak, He is walking a sneaky walk,* He is walking like he is sneaky, He is walking like a sneaky person, He is walking sneakily and He is walking in a sneaky way. (Is sneak a verb first, or a noun first, or both at the same time?) Some words are less flexible: ballerina is clearly a noun, so we can only say He is walking like a ballerina, not, for example, *He is ballerina-ing or *He is walking ballerina-ly (though people are very creative about verbing or adverbing nouns).

The performer is Kevin Parry, who has a longer version, without music, on his Youtube channel.

* This construction is possibly the most awkward, but we quite happily say (or sing) things like To dream the impossible dream.

‘The way I are’

I recently stumbled on a song with the questionable grammar ‘the way I are’. (Any resemblance to ‘the way we were’ in my last post is purely coincidental.) If this is part of any recognised variety of English, I haven’t encountered it before. In searching for more information, I found another song with the same grammar, and those two appear to be the only occurrences on the internet, so I must conclude that it’s not part of any recognised variety of English which has ever been posted on the internet. The first few pages of search results were references to one or other of these songs, then came ‘about 897,000,000′ results of one, two, three or all of those words in some combination or order.

One writer wrote ”Cause I like you just the way you are … Can you handle me the way I are?’, the other ‘Don’t matter who you are, just love me the way I are’. This is not a ‘mistake’, because both writers chose to do it, and I’m sure they’re aware that it’s ‘wrong’. For every other verb in English than be, you and I are followed the same verb form: ”Cause I like you just the way you eat … Can you handle me the way I eat?’ or ‘Don’t matter who you eat, just love me the way I eat‘. (Sorry, I’ve still got eating pizzas on my mind from two posts ago. (There are increasingly risqué and indeed outright rude alternative verbs.))

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