Emotive conjugations

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In 1948, Bertrand Russell, on a radio program called The Brains Trust, gave a joke example of an irregular verb conjugation:

I am firm; you are obstinate; he is a pig-headed fool.

Apparently Russell referred to this construction as an emotive conjugation.

Here are a few more examples; I believe these are from a New Statesman competition to come up with other emotive conjugations, but Wikipedia (incorrectly, I think) attributes the first two of them to Russell:

I am righteously indignant; you are annoyed; he is making a fuss over nothing.

I have reconsidered the matter; you have changed your mind; he has gone back on his word.

I am sparkling; you are unusually talkative; he is drunk.

An about.com article from 2008 lists more entries from that competition.

I was thinking about this kind of thing the other day when a friend said something about me (to me) that put a positive spin on two less-flattering things others have said about (and to) me this year. So I combined the three into a conjugation:

I know my own mind; you like things to be just so; they have to have everything their way.

A few more pages with examples:

  • Ben Schott ran a Weekend Competition about emotive conjugations in 2010.
  • Time published some of the New Statesman winners in 1948, but the article (in their online archive) is available only to subscribers.
  • Craig Brown ran a couple of lists in a Telegraph column in 2004: 1, 2
  • Richard Lederer ran a contest in the Telegraph in 1969; he received 2000 entries, and published a few of his favorites.

I invite y'all to post conjugations of your own (or your favorites from other people's lists) in comments here. (They don't have to actually be about you, of course.)

time gun

Sadly, a time gun isn't what I, as a science fiction fan, initially thought it was.

However, it is nonetheless kinda cool. A time gun is apparently a cannon or other piece of artillery that's fired every day at a specific time, to allow people nearby (including passing ships) to set their clocks accurately. An early form of network time server, I suppose.

A time ball is a related concept, using a visual instead of an auditory signal. The Times Square Ball is a variant.

One problem with using sound as a time signal is that sound is relatively slow. The niftiest thing I found when I looked up “time gun” is an 1861 Edinburgh time gun map, showing “the time taken for the sound of the one o'clock gun to travel from Edinburgh Castle to different parts of Edinburgh and Leith” (as the website puts it).


Apparently “scrummy” is a portmanteau of scrumptious and yummy. I had initially assumed it must mean something like “scummy.”

Commas, multiple

The following sentence contains a comma after every word:

Ahead, Edmund, inevitably, lurked.

I'm not saying it's a good sentence, but I believe it to be grammatical.

So what's the longest sentence you can construct that has a comma after every word, while maintaining grammatical accuracy?

More generally, how about the longest sentence in which every word has some punctuation mark after it, even if they aren't all the same mark?

Dual-interpretation sketches

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Vardibidian recently pointed to a Ronnie Corbett sketch involving double meanings of terms like “Blackberry.”

I enjoyed the sketch; fun verbal comedy. And I was pleased, because I often see that kind of thing (dual interpretation of tech terms) done in ways that I don't find funny at all.

But it wasn't until now that I learned that it goes back to an earlier tradition of Two Ronnies sketches: in particular, the 1976 four candles/fork handles sketch, in which a shopkeeper and customer repeatedly misunderstand each other.

The older one includes a couple of jokes I don't get—presumably based on British and/or 1970s terminology—but I did laugh out loud a couple of times, so I figured it was worth pointing y'all to it.

Happy Days

For my entire life, I've been hearing the Happy Days theme song and wondering why it contains the weird line “These days are all / Filled in with glee.” Though “filled” didn't quite sound right. But “Sheldon with glee” seemed even more unlikely.

Just now, on a whim, I finally looked up the lyrics. And it turns out the line is actually “Share them with me.”

At least I got one word and a few other phonemes right. . . .

run of wines?

I thought a recent headline said this:

Asian scientists set to topple America's run of wines

But then while I still trying to figure out the context for that, I realized that it was an article about Nobel prizes, and that the last word was actually “wins.”

Which makes more sense, but is less entertaining.

woop woop

I recently encountered the term Woop Woop, which turns out to be, according to answers.com, “An imaginary town in the remote outback, supposedly backward.” The example sentence, from the Sydney Morning Herald, includes the phrase “It was like council night in Woop Woop.”

That page adds that “the woop-woops” is remote country; I'm guessing it's used much the same way Americans would refer to “the boonies” or “the boondocks.”

Never occurred to me to wonder where that last term came from. Turns out it's from Tagalog bundok, meaning “mountain”—which Wikipedia says is “a colloquialism used to refer to rural areas.”

Fancy words from the NY Times

Interesting blog entry from the New York Times about the words that readers look up most often using their website's dictionary function; there's a list of the top 50, arranged in order by number of lookups per article.

I know all the words on the list, but it's a nice list of cool and interesting words. The top three most-looked-up words, for example, were panegyric, immiscible, and Manichean.

slow clap

The thing I find fascinating about the phrase “slow clap” is that it's used to refer to two different things that are near-opposites in meaning.

On the one hand, there's what TV Tropes calls the Slow Clap, wherein someone starts clapping slowly, the whole crowd gradually joins in as the pace quickens, and it ends with wild applause from everyone.

On the other hand, there's what TV Tropes calls Sarcastic Clapping, wherein someone (usually one person) claps slowly and sarcastically.

TV Tropes gives the two things different names, but the illustrative quote at the beginning of the Sarcastic Clapping entry uses the phrase “slow clap.”

Urban Dictionary demonstrates the same contrasting usages of the term.

This wouldn't normally be particularly notable. There are lots of things that are said or done sarcastically to mean the opposite of the surface meaning.

But the reason I'm posting about it, and posting here in my words/language blog rather than elsewhere, is that recently I've seen the phrase used fairly often on the Internet. And it's often unclear which of the two meanings the writer intends.

I usually see it in a comment on a blog entry or similar posting. The entirety of the comment is usually “Slow clap” or “Slow. Clap.”

I suspect that in most such cases, the commenter doesn't realize that there are two opposite things that the comment could mean. And to be fair, in some cases it's pretty clear; for example, if someone posts about some wonderful awesome thing that someone has done, then probably a “slow clap” comment indicates actual applause rather than sarcastic applause.

I suppose this is arguably just one more example, among thousands, of the difficulties of detecting sarcasm in written communication. But it seems different to me.

Perhaps because in movies and TV shows, if a single person does a slow clap, it's almost always the sarcastic kind. So if one commenter writes “slow clap,” the mental image I get is not of a crowd of people starting to applaud slowly and then picking up the tempo.

Also, the reason that the positive kind of slow clap starts out slow is generally that the audience is (for example) hesitant or chagrined or uncertain, or sometimes embarrassed on the applaudee's behalf. So it's not the “slow” part of it that's an accolade. So it seems odd to me to say “slow clap” rather than just “applause” in a comment that's intended to be positive; the slow clap tends to suggest to me that the clappers start out with some reservations. Otherwise it would be just a regular clap.

Anyway, I'm not trying to be prescriptivist about this; clearly, people do use the written phrase “slow clap” to indicate approval. So this entry isn't meant to criticize that usage, but rather to document it, because it surprised me when I started seeing it.