Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The swings and roundabouts of outrageous fortune

Apologies for the recent bloggopause. It's over a week since my last post (though I've done a few guerrilla updates to an old post). The reasons are the visit to Leeds mentioned in my last post, the concert that that old post mentions (not the Christmas 2012 one, CLEVERCLOGS) and a DIY project (that the weather is making impossible at the moment – if this rain holds, I might be able to hit the Publish button!)

Two things caught my attention in the brief bursts of radio noise that made it to my ears (between various bangs, whirrs, buzzes, and BOTHERS).
The air is not blue when I am doing DIY, but a gentle azure. In my childhood, there were no arses or backsides... or even bottoms. My parents, and Auntie Katy, cloaked references to the fundament in the gentility of a foreign language. For many years – well into my teens – I wondered why Danny Boy was sung to the tune of  'The London Derrière'.
The first was a man reporting from Theresienstadt, referring to the fate of recaptured escapees. There are two euphemisms that share a lot both syntactically and with respect to their sound (not to mention, of course, their meaning): pay the ultimate price and make the ultimate sacrifice. The common factors are
monosyllabic verb with the vowel sound /eɪ/
+ 'the ultimate'
+ noun ending /aɪs/.
They are therefore easily confused with each other, especially in the simple past (which compounds the similarity, by ending the verb with /d/).

David Crystal has discussed elsewhere syntactic blends, where – usually in speech, but also in unedited prose a sentence starts with one syntactic structure in mind but gets 'derailed' and ends up with another structure. Elsewhere still he discusses other sorts of blend – where, like that syntax, a word starts out one way and changes horse in mid-stream: brunch, cheeseburger, mizzle... Often, though not always, these are intentional neologisms; but a malapropism could also be described as a blend.

Returning to that reporter in Theresienstadt, he said '... they paid the ultimate sacrifice'. Oh well, we're none of us human .

PS The other snatch of comment I caught on the radio was Robert Peston getting it right: 'I think he might pay the ultimate price' (that's not verbatim – but I don't have time to trawl through iPlayer at the moment, with the only clue being 'he was talking about Arsen Wenger, round about when I was halfway through sawing off the bottom of the door'). And I didn't put it in the main text, because it would dilute the bon mot, or rain on its parade, or something equally damp.


Report from the Word Face

The postman has just brought what we knew in my OUP days as 'advance copies'; but in these days of demand  printing they are yesterday's news – as they've been on sale at Amazon for about three weeks. Anyway,  Le WVGTbook nouveau est arrivé!
Update 2014.05.02.14:15 – Updated footer:

 Mammon When Vowels Get Together V5.2: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs. Now complete (that is, it covers all vowel pairs –  but there's still stuff to be done with it; an index, perhaps...?) 

And here it is: Digraphs and Diphthongs . The (partial) index has an entry for each vowel pair that can represent each monophthong phoneme. For example AE, EA and EE are by far the most common, but there are eight other possibilities. The index uses colour to give an idea of how common a spelling is, ranging from bright red to represent the most common to pale olive green to represent the least common.

Also available at Amazon: When Vowels Get Together: The paperback.

And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this.

Freebies (Teaching resources: over 40.300 views  and well over 5,600 downloads to date**. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with well over 2,000 views and nearly 1,000 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.

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