28 February 2008

idioms, idiolects, idolatry?

by Cecily
My Advanced Topics in Syntactic Theories class only has two students in it: me and much-deserving-of-sympathy C L-G. C L-G is the kind of guy who will go WAY out of his way to follow up on a ridiculous pun. For example, one time we were giggling about a silly joke from the internet. The joke was about inappropriate innuendo and the phrase "nut-dust". A week later, I got a text message. C L-G was coming over to give me something. So what happened? C L-G showed up in the lab with a plastic cup full of peanut dust! Just for me.

So, he's my favorite. This makes it a fun and funny class. There are other reasons that it is a fun and funny class too. And guess what! I will tell you about those reasons!

For one thing, the class is held not in the cozy old Linguistics Department building, but in a fancy new technotastic room which is set up for all kinds of sophisticated technology-assisted learning. In particular, a lot of cameras in the walls record our every comment and then the whole thing gets uploaded to a website so we can rewind and rewatch the lectures. Like for example if we were too busy drawing cartoons on our homework assignment to catch what somebody just said. This means that every time anybody wants to say anything we have to press the button on the remote control which is velcroed to the table nearest our current position. That tells Big Brother which camera to go to. We can tell if we pushed the button hard enough by looking at one of many giant screens all over the room that show the current feed. It's like being the star of a really sedate movie that is all about Noam Chomsky and his Various Theories of Syntax. Five stars! Two thumbs up! The perfect movie for certain occasions.

So, okay. Yesterday we were all talking about Raising versus Control. This is an issue which I will not explain in detail unless I am asked, and we are at a bar, and I get to draw you diagrams on napkins, and you feign enthusiasm long past the point where you are really very sorry you brought it up. But anyway, it's an issue of linguistics and we were learning about it in class yesterday. Particularly we were learning about, how do you know if you're dealing with a Raising situation or a Control situation? It is very hard. You have to do tests on sentences.

One way that SOME people think you should figure it out is to start substituting idioms willy-nilly for whatever boring sentence you're talking about. This is not a way of which I approve. Apparently, some people have intuitions about acceptability that are much stricter than my own. This is why I will never be a syntactician; I am the lone speaker of an idiolect that is so full of annoying jokes that I don't know how I even have any friends.

Also, the result of any discussion that involves idioms and me is inevitably a lot of snickering on my part. You'd think my professors would know better by now and send me out of the room on some trumped-up errand. "Take this blank piece of paper to the Dean's Office! It's important!"

Here's what I wrote on my notes from yesterday:

The cat is out of the bag.
The cat seems to be out of the bag
The cat really wants to be out of the bag
That cat is ASKING to be out of the bag

Bob kicked the bucket
Bob seems to have kicked the bucket
Bob keeps trying to kick the bucket

The cat's out of the bucket.
Bob kicked the cat.
Bob bagged buckets of cats.
Well, the cat's out of the bucket and Bob won't stop kicking it.
Bob kicked the cat out of the bucket.
The cat kicked the bucket and now Bob's out of the bag.

Poor kitty.

25 February 2008

I miss Vincent D'Onofrio

by Cecily
I spend way too many hours a day sitting around doing things on a computer, and not nearly enough hours a day watching Law & Order. It's very hard.

Currently I'm working on the presentation about genocide narrative I mentioned before (for GURT, are you going? come see me!).

Also I'm working on a fun project for VL2 that involves making movies. I'm designing elicitation materials and I love bossing people around so this has been a great way for me to spend time. "Okay now blow on the match, but don't blow it out. Okay now blow it out. Okay now put sugar in your tea. Taste it. More sugar!" The best part was the 20 minutes we spent filming attempts to throw crumpled-up paper into the wastebasket from various distances. Mostly because of all the people who walked past and raised their eyebrows at me in a meaningful and not-particularly-approving way. "Cecily NOW what are you doing? And why have you dragged these other people into it?" "It's linguistics, I swear! Okay now throw the blue paper, but miss on purpose, but not by too much."

Plus always the adorable two-year-old is fun. An endearing habit he has: responding to almost everything not patently false with a pause for consideration, then "yes, right."

him (pointing at a car): car!
me: yeah, it's a red car
him: (pause, serious look, smile) yes, right.

It's nice to have this kind of constant positive reinforcement.

18 February 2008

tiny felt patriotism

by Cecily
My advisor's three-year-old daughter is all about the presidents. Specifically George Washington, with whom she is on a first-name basis. Also, she dresses up like him and goes to Mount Vernon for a treat.

And makes her mama play "sign the Declaration of Independence", a game in which players must sign as actual signers. Not, for example, Martha Washington, because did Martha Washington sign the actual declaration? No, my friends, she did not. Stop trying to rewrite history.

Anyway I offered to make a tiny felt animal of the child in question's choosing. The child in question requested George Washington, being uninterested in other nonpresidential animals. Although she was also interested in the horse. Whose name she knew and color she specified.

I like a challenge, so I went ahead and made Tiny Felt George Washington and his Tiny Felt Horse (whose name I forget. and the internet is not being helpful).

UPDATE: The horse's name is Nelson.

tiny felt George Washington

tiny felt George Washington from the back, featuring a ponytail

tiny felt George Washington and his tiny white felt horse

Then I made a flamingo for Lindsay. Because, no, actually, I do not have anything better to do, and please never ask me that ever again.

p. s. you want to hear a really hilarious joke about George Washington? Well you'll have to wait until you see me in person, because it is the kind of joke that requires face to face interaction. By which I mean, it is the kind of joke that I find so funny to tell, it doesn't even really matter if you think the punchline is funny, because I am laughing so hard by the time I get to it that you can't really understand it anyway.

13 February 2008

“The great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever trees."

by Cecily
This must be a code name for WDC, because I can't think of any other explanations for why I have a fever so much of the time. Damn fever trees. Damn greasy river.

Anyway, I'm still sick. Deliveries of juice, tea, and soup are more than welcome.

11 February 2008

"Space and time are the same"

by Cecily
this was a subtitle in a presentation I saw on Saturday. I like it.

I was in Pittsburgh at a conference all weekend, and now I have a fever. It is 100.7 at the moment. I don't like it.

05 February 2008


by Cecily
For a while last month, Big Bear had a blackboard up, amidst all their menus and specials and Single Origin Coffees Made to Order Press Pot!s, which said:

Cuteness Primary

Lana made people vote before she would let them have coffee, which if you ask me is a good way to increase turnout.

Meanwhile (and this is related, so please be patient with my narrative stylings), last Thanksgiving my mom had a new book and a new fun activity. The book was this:

book cover of 'Fleece Dog' by Sinco

and the fun activity was belly dancing.

Ha, ha. Just kidding! The fun activity was making tiny felt animals out of raw wool. Like these ones, which were made at my explicit command. I mean, my very politely-phrased request. (I'm not bossy! YOU'RE bossy! Leave me alone.)

tiny felt fox and hedgehog

Okay, so, clearly this is an adorable way to spend time. You take some fluff and then you stab it a lot with a felting needle. Felting needles look like normal needles, but be careful! They have barbs at the end and if you (for example) stabbed yourself in the thumb it would hurt a lot! And you would probably get blood all over your fleece project.

Now! Back to the cuteness primary and the fight about bears.** Because this all happened back in the days of January when I was spending all my time on the couch eating bon-bons, it occurred to me that I might contribute to the primary by way of making tiny felt mascots for each category. I only stabbed myself once and I didn't get any blood on them.

tiny felt panda bear

tiny felt polar bear

tiny felt koala

tiny felt man

Verdict: adorable, but dangerous. Much like their real-life counterparts. (Except for Stu, who is not very dangerous unless you are allergic to whisky.)

Oh also, the winner: koala.

*Stu is not a bear, but he (I think) represented the cafe. Also, he is very cute, it is true.

**I am well aware that a koala is not a bear. I made this point several times, at varying volumes, but no one was impressed.

01 February 2008


by Cecily
My sister and I often have conversations via changing the status messages of our IM programs. Usually they are conversations about linguistics homework (if I start it) or Science (if Jocelyn starts it).


Jocelyn: you can't see electrons without a machine.
Cecily: I can see electrons
Jocelyn: Then you must have a machine.
Cecily: I can see electrons with my eyes CLOSED!
Jocelyn: Those aren't electrons, those are your EYELIDS.

This made me laugh a lot.