Category Archives: words

the pullet surprise

I certainly won’t ever win the Pulitzer Prize, but I think I have a winner with this photo I took a few years ago.

Have you ever come across the term eggcorn? It’s a kind of misheard phrase, much like a mondegreen but not necessarily from a misheard poem or song lyric. A while back, I saw a comment thread on Facebook where a friend of a friend mentioned someone mishearing the Pulitzer Prize as the Pullet Surprise. Naturally, this photo came to mind. And then it makes me want to see if I can find photographic illustrations of some other such misheard phrases. Do you have any favorite misheard phrases?

a pair of pears

A pair of unpared pears on my kitchen table one morning.

A few years ago, my research group did an experiment that involved eliciting productions of phrases with specific intonational patterns. We were interested in examining the differences in realization of a pair of contours that are superficially similar, but convey different nuances of meaning. To answer our research questions, we elicited and recorded a set of phrases two different times with each subject, one for each of the contours. The recordings were then looked over carefully, and a number of preparations were made for the analyses, including cutting up and labeling the longer soundfiles into phrase-sized chunks, which were then labelled according the intonational contour elicited. Each phrase produced by a given speaker with one contour was then paired up with the same phrase produced by that speaker with the other contour. If for some reason we did not have both successful productions to pair up, such as if one was produced with another intonational contour altogether or contained a disfluency in the region of interest, we would pare out both the unsuccessful production and its would-be pair from that subject’s data. This process of pairing and paring the soundfiles henceforth became known among us as “pearing.”

Can’t see the thicket for the trees.

This week’s friday foto finder theme is “thicket.” While I have some idea of the meaning of the word, I can’t say it’s one that is frequent use for me. I was a bit stumped about what to post. I even went so far as to look up the definition of the word on Dictionary. com: “a thick or dense growth of shrubs, bushes, or small trees.” Living in the woods as I do, I can’t say I particularly would tend to notice the dense growth of small trees, largely because the landscape is so dominated by tall trees. And most of the shrubs and bushes I see around here are either undergrowth, or used in somewhat sparingly in landscaping. I’m sure there are thickets to be found in Massachusetts, but I don’t seem to have photographed them…

This photo was taken a couple of summers ago at our town park. At least I think it was at the park. It could have been any number of places in the area that are dominated by tall trees.

On the other hand, I did find a couple of photos from the Irish countryside with clumps of shrubs and small trees that are more suggestive of thickets.

I think the rows and clumps of tall bushes and small trees could reasonably be called thickets. What do you think?

To see what are thickets are to be found, pay a visit to the fff blog.

a scurry of squirrels

Following up on yesterday’s joy in learning a few new terms for collective nouns in English, I found myself wondering whether there were any interesting names for a group of squirrels. Indeed, squirrels did not disappoint: one say “a scurry of squirrels.” I find this especially pleasing, given that squirrels do tend to scurry.

This member of a scurry appears not to be in a hurry.

A furry member of a scurry, showing off the fluff of its tail in the sunlight.

A blurry flurry of a departing scurry.

In fact, at least 2 of these photos are of the same squirrel, so perhaps this is an insufficient quantity of squirrels to form a scurry. (Does anyone know the requisite number of squirrels for a scurry?)

A few shy of a parliament (friday foto finder: rook)

This week’s friday foto finder theme is “rook,” which gives me the excuse to post these photos of this little guy I met in Howth, Ireland back in May. After pecking around on the ground scavenging for crumbs from my snack of oatcake, this rook hopped up on a railing and posed for a few photos.

I was not entirely sure that this bird was a rook, and not some other type of crow, but according to the Wiki entry for rook, he seems to fit the bill:

Rooks are distinguished from similar members of the crow family by the bare grey-white skin around the base of the adult’s bill in front of the eyes.

This one does indeed have that telltale gray skin about the beak.

In my research, if skimming through a Wikipedia page counts as such, I also came across this tidbit:

Collective nouns for rooks include building, parliament, clamour and storytelling.

Such a lovely bit of information to come across. I had certainly heard of a murder of crows, and would have guessed that a collection of rooks might be similarly called a murder. In a delightful coincidence, my friend at Mouse-traps and the Moon shared a post today as part of a series on beautiful books about collective nouns:

…four collections of visually witty takes on those delightful and often improbable collective nouns for animal groupings: A Drove of Bullocks (animals) A Filth of Starlings(birds), A Shiver of Sharks (sea life) and A Crackle of Crickets (insects).

Clearly, there are many more collective nouns out there for me to learn!

To see what other types of rooks have been sited, and maybe even a whole clamour or storytelling of them, flock over to the fff blog.

old thyme photos (friday foto finder: herbs)

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that I am not capable of talking about thyme without making puns.

This week’s friday foto finder challenge is “herbs.” Well, actually, it’s “HERBS.” So maybe I should have tried to finds some Herbs, not herbs. I don’t actually know any Herbs. I did learn that there is a slang meaning of herb (with the h pronounced) that means, more-or-less, “dork.” I don’t know if admitting that I learned that on Urban Dictionary makes me a herb. Let’s pretend not.

Anyhow, I seem to have gotten sidetracked by herbs (h pronounced) while looking for herbs (silent h). I did find some herbs, but not much in the way of an interesting photo. I did remember that I’d gotten some thyme as part of my experience belonging to a CSA in 2007, and tracked down this old photo, which features some thyme hanging out with some veggies. So, we have an old photo of thyme.

Then I vaguely remembered having bought some fresh herbs to use in preparing my Thanksgiving feast. Remarkably, the package of thyme has held up quite well in my refrigerator. I was amused to see that the label says “Infinite.” No wonder it has lasted so well, being infinite thyme. (I never realized I was someone with infinite thyme on my hands. Or in my vegetable drawer.)

But wait! It gets older! When I was checking to see if there was anything interesting of the herbal variety in my spice cabinet, I found this bottle of “Organic Lemon Thyme,” which someone long ago had lovingly labeled with masking tape and bubble letters. This is not actually thyme that I have used, and I didn’t really mean to save it. I liked the bottle, which had been in an apartment I lived in when I was an undergraduate. That was over 20 years ago.

This, my friends, is some old thyme.

To see what other herbs have been dug up, pay a visit to the fff blog. Have some herbs you want to share? There’s still time to play along!

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Who’s who?

With the excitement building for the new episodes of Dr. Who to start¹, there has been a lot of who-buzz. But Dr. Who is not the only Who who is out there. I offer you this list of whos: a sort of Who’s Who of Whos.

  • who: an English interrogative word a relative pronoun used to stand in for a person².
  • WHO: The World Health Organization
  • who: the sound made by a hooting owl
  • Dr. Who: A British sci-fi/fantasy TV show that has been on for decades, about The Doctor, a time-travelling alien who gets to have a new body every so often.
  • Whovians: Fans of Dr. Who (you know who you are)
  • The Who: A British rock band, originally formed in the 1960s
  • Who Are You? A hit song by The Who. (And the title track of the album “Who Are you?”)
  • Who am I? A 1998 Jackie Chan movie where he plays an amnesiac spy. (It features this very memorable fight scene with a man with very long legs and very good balance. [youtube])

  • Who dat? A phrase used to show support for the New Orleans Saints (a football team)
  • Who’s Who: a type of publication listing biographical information
  • Whoville: a fictional town (or possibly two towns of the same name) in two Dr. Seuss stories: Horton Hears a Who and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
  • Whos: Inhabitants of Whoville. Cindy Lou Who is one such Who.
  • Who’s on first? Abbott and Costello’s famous comedy routine of name/pronoun ambiguity. (If you don’t know it, you can read the full transcript. Better yet, watch this clip from the 1945 movie The Naughty Nineties on [youtube])
  • whodunnit: a nickname for a type of story where the reader (or viewer) tries to solve a mystery along with the protagonists
  • Guess Who's Coming To Dinner

  • “Guess who?” Something sometimes said by a person sneaking up behind another person, often while preventing that person from seeing by covering the eyes.³
  • The Guess Who: a Canadian rock band best known in the 60s and 70s
  • Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?: A 1967 drama/comedy movie starring Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier and Katharine Hepburn. (It’s not actually about dinner with a Canadian rock band, but about a family coming to terms with an interracial relationship.)
  • Who can it be now?: A song by Men at Work
  • Who’s that girl?: A song by the Eurythmics
  • “Who’s a good boy?” Something often said to dogs.Cf this Onion article:
    Nation’s Dog Owners Demand to Know Who’s a Good Boy

    With canine-cuddliness levels at an all-time high and adorability-boosting ribbons and chew toys plentiful at pet stores across the nation, no resolution to the good-boy-identity issue appears to be on the horizon.

  • “Who cares?” A question sometimes asked by someone who doesn’t⁴

Who’s got more whos?

¹Season 7, part 2 starts this Sunday, March 30th
² Prescriptive grammarians will say that who is only to be used in cases where the pronoun/interrogative is in the subject, or nominal, position, and that whom is what you must use in object positions. However, contemporary usage allows for use of who in object positions.
³ I’ve never enjoyed this game.
⁴ I care.

Whose whos are whose? (image credits):Horton Hears a Who!, Whoville from the 1966 animated movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas (based on the book), Who Dat, The Guess Who Greatest Hits album cover, The Who logo, Jackie Chan’s Who Am I?, Who’s On First? screenshot from youtube clip from The Naughty Nineties,Tardis, World Health Organization logo, and Introspective Pug.