Visual Puns

rogersgeorge on August 4th, 2017

Good old Bob Thaves, the master of puns. Here’s his latest:

Now a too-simple quiz: Why are those two letters an F and an E?

By the way, most asterisks have five or six pedals, not eight. They are called pedals, right?

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A Word about Accents

rogersgeorge on May 25th, 2016

English doesn’t use accents, officially, though we do have the dieresis (dee-AIR-a-sis) , which has fallen into disuse. Technically, you use the dieresis when you have a pair of vowels that could be interpreted as a digraph (both vowels making one sound such as the “oa” in “boat), but they need to be pronounced separately. “Coöperate” is the old way of spelling co-operate. Another one is “naïve,” which, I think, you see somewhat more often.

Then we have loan words, words borrowed from another language, and they bring their accents with them. The example of this that comes to mind immediately is the word for a document summarizing your work history, intended you get you an interview. It’s résumé. You really need to use those accents, because English has a perfectly good word spelled without the accents. Fortunately the two words don’t generally appear in the same context. (ahem) The comic below could be an example of both words together; his résumé resumes below the repair.

Frank & Ernest

So how do you make accents?

  • You can find one someplace and do a copy and paste.
  • You can look up the ASCII code (google it). To use the ASCII code, hold down the Alt key while you type the (Latin-1) numbers on the numeric keypad. I don’t have a Mac, but apparently you hold down Option-Shift while you enter the (Roman) number.
  • There’s a browser extension named Accent Grid for Chrome in the Chrome Web Store that shows a 4×4 grid of accented characters that you copy and paste into your document. You can change the choice of characters that appear by going to Settings and entering the html code for the character.
  • Many applications have their own keystroke combinations for some of these, too.
  • Memorize a few that you use a lot. The lowercase e with an acute accent, for example, is Alt-0233. In Word you can also do Ctrl-Alt-e.

A Figure of Speech

rogersgeorge on April 19th, 2016

Some time ago I mentioned synechdoche. It’s when you mention part of something to refer to all of it. For instance, cattlemen say “forty head of cattle.” They’re not counting trophies in their parlor. Synechdoche also works in reverse, when you mention the whole thing but mean only a part. You might mention a city, for example, when you really mean only its professional athletic team. Something like “Chicago won the World Series.” By the way, synecdoche is pronounced sin-ek-duck-ee.

Both of these are special cases of a more general figure of speech, metonymy, when you mention something but mean something related to it. They don’t necessarily have to be part or the whole. This comic, from April 4, 2016 reminded me of metonymy:

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Old Bill and his writings are two completely different things. Metonomy. I’m so used to referring to a (famous) person’s writings by the person’s name that I hadn’t thought of it as a figure of speech. So I thought I’d share it with you. Frank and Ernest, by the way, is an excellent comic if you like puns and malaprops.

For the finalé, here’s a line I grabbed from the Los Angeles Times. It contains two synecdoches. Can you find both?

Connecticut defeated Syracuse, 82-51, in the NCAA championship game Tuesday in Indianapolis for its fourth consecutive NCAA title.

Why isn’t “Indianapolis” a synecdoche?

A little Greek lesson

rogersgeorge on January 28th, 2014

Bob Thaves, the cartoonist who creates Frank and Ernest, is the master of the pun. If you don’t read his strip, I recommend you check it out. It’s a good way to start your day.

Frank & Ernest

So the humor here is (I think, unless Bob knows Greek) that the guy on the right is using the subjunctive in his reply. However, he’s not! The subjunctive expresses unreality. I plan to get into more detail on the subjunctive in a future post; let it suffice here that if he had said something like “I would have, but Grog beat me to it.” —that would be the subjunctive. (Notice that I just used the subjunctive—I’m saying that he didn’t actually use the subjunctive.)

And that leads to my Greek lesson: In Greek your verb forms can get yet one more step away from reality. It’s called the optative, and its meaning is to express a wish. (It’s pretty easy to spot an optative in Greek. Look for an oi in the middle of the verb. Subjunctives are harder; they generally involve lengthening the thematic vowel, and the rules for that can get tricky. But I digress.)

So our cave man could have just invented the optative, and Bob is giving us Greek geeks an inside joke.

Grammar in comics

rogersgeorge on December 28th, 2011

I seem to be on a comics jag lately. As it happens, comic writers generally have a pretty good grasp of English, and they have well-developed senses of humor, so I suppose comics are naturally a fertile field for humorous references to our language.  Here are two more.

Bob Thaves, he of Frank and Ernest, is the consummate master of the egregiously wonderful pun. (Yes, “egregiously wonderful” is an oxymoron, at least when applied to puns. The better the pun, the bigger the groan.) You really should bookmark or get an RSS feed to this strip.

"ad hominem" is the punned-upon term, but you probably knew that

This one is from an absurdist strip I found recently, named Hubert and Abby. It happens to mention a word that if you get it wrong, you betray serious illiteracy. (And if you got that sentence on the first try, you are definitely not illiterate.)

Beware of words the spell checker doesn't catch!