Old Spice morphology

March 19, 2010

There have been words I’ve been hearing lately on TV that are quite  interesting (morphologically). One that comes to mind is a recent commercial for an Old Spice deodorant.

The scenario: the screen is split in four and shows four underarms putting on deodorant. All four views shift the photo to landscape and the underarm becomes animated. The first is said to be fresh. The second is said to be fresher. The third is, of course, the freshest. Here’s where it gets interesting. The fourth is said to be freshershest. Now, let me say that this is what I heard. I’ve only seen this commercial one time. I believe I heard correctly, but I will pay closer attention next time the commercial airs. Anyway…

I find the process of forming a “super-superlative” quite interesting. First thing that strikes me is that to do so, they would return the form to its -er form, add -sh, and then the superlative -est. Two questions: (i) why go back to the -er form, and (ii) what is this -sh form?

It appears that their logic went something like this: since we had the form freshest, to add another superlative level to it, why not add -er? We do not want to reduplicate -est because it will just sound silly and not “cute enough” for television (freshestest). But where can we add this -er suffix? Freshester? No. It seems like meaning would be taken away in this form. So it must be infixed in the word. But where and how? Let’s create fresher again and try removing the boundary of the two morphemes fresh and –est, namely -shest. This, then, gives us freshershest. The question still remains, though: why this boundary? What is it about this form rather than, say, freshester. My guess is that is has to do with the prosody of the latter when compared with the former. The former, somehow, sounds more likely to fit like real words that exist (e.g., freshest).


January 4, 2010

I’ve had something on my mind recently and it can’t seem to go away. I’ve spoken to some people about it and the results differ from person to person. I’m trying to make the best sense of this as I can, but somehow it eludes me. Here it is: what does ASAP actually mean?

Okay, sure, people will say it means, I need this paper immediately! And that is reasonable, sure. I don’t disagree with that. But Where in APAP (As Soon As Possible) is the immediacy stressed? This is an honest question, folks. I just don’t see it.

If I were to do something for a professor and they tell me, Do this as good as you possibly can, what does that mean? It means that, to the absolute best of your ability, you should perform the said task. How do we know that? Because the sentence states it should be done as good as I can. That, to me, means that that statement is subjective and limited to the hearer’s abilities. So if I were to do something as best as I possibly can will almost certainly be different than someone else’s “as best as you can.”

So, what’s different about As Soon As Possible? As far as I see it, nothing. It’s still limited to the hearer’s abilities. To the hearer, it means they should take into consideration matters such as their current schedule. If their schedule permits them to finish the ASAP request immediately, then immediately it is. If not, then the ASAP request will wait until it’s possible (after all, the request is essentially, Do X for me at your earliest convenience). If my earliest possible time available is not until three days from the request, then I’m sorry, the request will have to wait three days. Again, there’s nothing in the request that states any immediacy whatsoever.

The argument some people give is that it’s pragmatic. We just know that ASAP means Do X for me right this instant. Then there are certain requests like, Get in my office, ASAP! That request, usually in an angry tone, stresses immediacy not in its structure, but tone. Moreover, I think it’s used in correctly. The person requesting should say, Get in my office immediately! if they want to stress importance or immediacy. So I don’t think it’s as much pragmatic as much as it is incorrect usage of ASAP.

A few problems with the Flintstones, et al.

July 30, 2006

Recently, I’ve wondered about certain coinages that are happening or have happened in the past. For example, last night on Fresh Prince, he offered his “black book” of beauties to a professor who was going through a divorce. Will called it his chicktionary (spelling is of course probably off, but who’s actually an authority on its spelling?). But the thought didn’t come to me last night, it’s actually been bugging me for quite some time. Another great reference for such occurrences is Flintstones. Without spending a lot of time searching online for references from the Flintstones, the one example I do remember is from their flick, Viva Rock Vegas. As I was walking downtown several weeks ago I saw a sign on a local store (the exact phrasing I don’t remember) and a word on it was Kidventure. Anyway, you see the point.

Now, I ask how these coinages came to existence? I’m not saying that when the average person walks down the street and hears or reads such words they won’t know what they are in reference to (which is another excellent topic to be discussed at a later date), but how are they put together the way they are? There’s no sense to them, really. Let’s take a closer look.

When we examine the morphology of dictionary we find three morphemes: dic(t) ‘to say’; -ion- ‘state of, result of’; -ary ‘pertaining to; connected with’. Dic(t), here, we can see has absolutely zero relation to gender (male, female, dude, chick, etc.). So all that aside, we can clearly see how you throw those three together to form a word like dictionary, fine. Two question come up for me, though: (i) how is it decided that dic- will be omitted and replaced with chick-, and (ii) what are the rules for such formations?

Well, what else could we try? [A * denotes not ungrammaticality, but rather awkwardness in sound]

*maletionary (this has a strange hint toward missionary)

At any rate, I think we can begin seeing a pattern of sound in relation to the real word. The prefix must end in a velar plosive [k], which would then be followed by a postalveolar fricative [∫]. But again, it goes beyond looking at what requirements are needed for this transformation to happen. What exactly are the constraints? Why doesn’t it go at the end, e.g. dictionchick? What is it about the two morphemes fused together, -tionary, that causes immediate thought and relation to dictionary? The same is true for the other words I’ve listed: Rock Vegas and kidventure. Where exactly in Las and the letter a do they decide that that would be a good place to replace it with words to fit some real-world description? The instance with the letter a could actually be the prefix ad- ‘to, toward’, but still, what does that seriously have to do with the word adult? I also don’t believe that the ad- in adventure has any reference to ‘adult’ or ‘kid’; it’s just there to form and complete and meaningful word without any “hidden meaning.”

I suppose what I will try is to just throw tionary into a conversation and see what people can construe of it. Language isn’t rocket science, but sometimes it seems like a close descendant of it.

yo motha’s a guntha, part 3

July 14, 2006

more has unraveled from the list.

ben zimmer has found other entries on guntha and they all seem to originate from the new jersey area (they were all found on myspace and that shows the person’s location). here are some examples:

guntha ass guido bitch lol!! i love yah man!! oh yeah beach tomorrow G! U 5Uk A55 GUN+hA NiGg@ “trying to wirte like a guntha lol”

yo bitch why u be looking like a guntha lol sike nah i love u dan the man

naw chill biscuit, yo momma and your cuzin a guntha and your dad is a guido, but you, you iz wack, you know why? cause u iz a chop.

damn yo you stay hatin, thats why you momma guntha, now go cook some dinner, me and the kids is hungry

well anyways, why you always take sooo damn long to respond with your guntha ass self? dont worry you can ask me what a guntha is if you dont know, or ask danielle, i explained it to her as well ;

naw chill with that shit , yous a guntha and thats it , deal with it , yo hoish ass , you cant be a guido like me however

however, there’s still nothing in the meaning department. i’m empty-handed. if someone knows something about the meaning of guntha, please hit me up.

thanks for the warning, orbits

July 14, 2006

dramatization. orbits gum will not get you into heaven.

gee, thanks for letting us know. i was really about to say to hell with praying and start chewing a pack an hour.

church will be “poppin” from now on!

yo motha’s a guntha, part 2

July 14, 2006

well, posting on ads-l proved helpful.

someone replied to my query about yo motha’s a guntha and made the following suggestion:

Gang-stuh? Gun-thug?

that makes complete sense since there’s really no way i’d be able to hear the glottal /g/ sound at the end of thug. so, naturally, it would sound like yo motha’s a GUNTHUH.

any correlations to gunther are non-existent. there were some connections, but they had nothing to do with any such insults. but the only problem is that i can’t see a relationship between gun-thug and an insult to one’s mother.

still looking…

yo motha’s a guntha…?

July 12, 2006

i still can’t find anything on that quote. i know it’s an insult, but what does it mean?

yo motha’s a guntha
i’ll beat her and punch her
leave her bleeding and punctured
nigga, i’ll take yo new born daughter and PUNT her!

anyone with ideas on this one?