Saturday, March 17, 2007

Third Annual Simpsons St. Patrick's Day Linguistic Round Up

This is now the second anniversary of Heideas. Imagine that! In keeping with what may possibly develop into a tradition, unless it doesn't, I'm posting my collection of Simpsons linguistic humor for the year. After each of the two previous collections were posted (and with the extensive contributions from readers in the comments sections of those posts), I felt pretty confident that the Simpsons had been tapped out, but looking at the list below, it appears that I was even more wrong about that last year than I was the year before. They just never seem to run out of material, those writers!

Same format as last year: Episode title and year (not season); linguistic category for joke, transcript of joke.



The Mook, the Chef, the Wife and her Homer (2006)

Gender, vocabulary and language use.

Martin (on schoolbus): Mr. Driver? One of my mates has purloined my French horn!
Kearney: Why can't you talk like a dude?

Epenthesis, language games, perception of foreign speech sounds:

The Simpsons are having dinner at Fat Tony's house.
Fat Tony: In the words of the old country, mangiare, mi amici!
Homer: Heeheehee! He's talking like the guy in Fat Albert! Howbuh arbuh youbuh?
Marge: Homer! (Kicks him under table).
Homer: D'oh! Whybuh youbuh dobuh thabuh?

Euphemisms, codes

Henchman 1 (interrupting dinner): Boss! The Calabreses are here for the sit-down!
Fat Tony (stepping outside): No sitdowns tonight! (gets out his Palm, checks it.) Again, this Palm Pilot has failed to remind me! I believe this needs to be hot-synched.
Henchman 1: (Snatches Palm from him, throws it to the ground, and pumps four shots into it, disintegrating it totally.)
Fat Tony (outraged): What are you doing!?
Henchman 1: I thought you meant (draws finger across neck) hot synch it, you know how it is with us! Everything means 'kill'!

Nonce change of state verb, resultative verb-particle constructions:

Fat Tony's son Michael has just confessed in front of the competing Calabrese mob family that his dream is to be a chef.

Calabrese son, to Michael: You know what I like? Those little tiny hot dogs. Do they small 'em down, or do they make 'em different?

Infinite generative capacity, (productive) compounding:

Homer drives home in a new red pickup.
Marge: Homer! Where did you get that truck?
Homer: Uhhh, it fell off a truck! You know, a truck truck!
(An airhorn blasts and Bart rolls up at the wheel of an eighteen-wheeler transporting pickup trucks).
Lisa: Where'd you get that?
Bart: It fell off a truck-truck truck.
(Another airhorn, and a truck-truck truck drives past, carrying several eighteen-wheelers loaded with pickups).

Pranksta Rap (2005)

Language change

Bart's watching a TV entertainment news broadcast called "Hip-Hoppenings":

Rapping Anchor: Yo yo yo, here now the nuhzooz! The top artists of hip hop are comin' to Springfield! This all-star concert, dubbed 'Murder for Life', features Da Glock-Pointers, Romeo Smooth, Queen Booty-Shakah, MC Champagne Millionaire and Assault Weapons magazine Man of the Year Alcatraz!
Bart (throwing gang symbols): Alcatraz is widespread! I’m talkin' da junk!
Lisa (rolling her eyes): Just what we need. Another lame suburban kid who loves rap.
Bart: So? You like the blues!
Lisa (smugly): Yeah, but the blues are unpopular!
Bart (more symbols): Man, are you illin'!
Lisa: Rappers stopped saying illin' twelve years ago!
Bart: I'm keepin' it real!
Lisa: They stopped saying keepin' it real three years ago.
Bart: Mom, Lisa's dissin' me!
Marge: Dissin'? Do rappers still say that?


Later: Alcatraz's personal video has pinpointed the date of a taped concert, thereby proving Bart faked his own kidnapping, much to Principal Skinner's satisfaction:
Skinner: Thank you, Alcatraz!
Alcatraz: It ain't nothin'!
Skinner: Ah-ah-aah! It is nothing!
Alcatraz: It's idiomatic, beeyotch!

The Simpsons Christmas Stories (2005)

Result-denoting -ing nominals, folk-etymology

Bethlehem innkeeper Moe leading Herod and his soldiers to the stable to kill baby Bart-Jesus:

Moe: The kid you're looking for is in there! The other tenants have been complaining about the incessant swaddling. All hours, day and night.

The Heartbroke Kid (2005)

Irregular plurals

Superintendent Chalmers: Today's the day we choose who gets the school's vending machine contract! I anticipate quite the dog-and-pony show.
Skinner: Sir, this school has a strict no-animals policy. I assume these are hypothetical dogs and ponii?

Folk etymology?, focus

Sea Captain (pitching a vending machine): Yar, everyone likes a gumball machine, so why not a gumBO machine? (Points behind him to gumball machine full of gumbo, gleefully holds up quarter).

Use of slang, registers in advertising, compounding, marketing-speak

Lindsay Naigle and slick colleague, pitching vending machine:
Lindsay Naigle: Kids want a snack that skateboards, won't clean its room, and hates homework.
Colleague: That's why we created 'Scarf-ables' by Scammer and Z-dog!
Lindsay Naigle: These two spokesrebels were invented by the marketing team that came up with 'Hip-hopsicles', the urban popsicle!
Skinner: Yes, I saw those when my normal grocery store was on strike.
Colleague: Here's what really seals the deal! (opens the door to reveal flashing, rap-pumping vending machine with "Scammer and Z-dog" emblazoned thereon)
Vending machine: Yo yo yo! Slide your green into the machine and don't expect any change, dog!
Colleague: It's like a fundraising school bakesale, with slang as the saran wrap!

Sound-spelling confusion

Bart has had a heart attack. Marge has been to the grocery storee
Marge: I talked to Dr. Hibbert today. He gave me a list of heart-smart foods!
(She hand Bart a tub of cottage cheese)
Bart (puzzling over the label): Kotta-hay cheese?
Marge: Cottage cheese!
Bart: From the looks of it, this cheese has already been eaten!

FutureDrama (2005)

Slang, language change:

Bart and Lisa are seeing their future prom through Prof Frink's time machine (Lisa graduated two years early, of course!) Bart's date Jinda arrives on a skateboard:

Jinda: Hey everybody! Bart, you're looking crooked!
Bart: Hey Jinda! How about some forehead?
(They headbutt each other.) Ow!
Jinda (looking concussed but happy): That was jagged!
Marge: When I was a kid, we didn't show our affection by headbutting!
Homer: Ohh, Maa-arge! (Looks at her sidelong, then takes a headfirst run at her with closed eyes. She steps aside. He misses and hits the fireplace.) Oh, right. Separated.

Jargon, language change:

Later, at the prom:

Professer Skinner (finishing welcoming the celebrants): And now, here's assistant principal Kearney!
Kearny: Ok, I want a nice clean prom! That means no booze, kick, puff, doze, max, stim or turb. Remember, stim kills!
Skinner: It's what turned Superintendent Chalmers into a vegetable! (Cut to shot of Chalmers strapped into an electric wheelchair, circling and saying 'Skin-ner! Skin-ner! Skin-ner!' in that 'Luuu-cy!' intonation.)

Idioms, taboo speech:

Skinner is calling the graduates up at the graduation ceremony.
Skinner: Bartholomew Simpson!
Bart (annoyed, in the audience): What?!
Skinner: Come and get - your diploma.
Bart: Why don't you mail it to your butt!
Skinner: Bart, now that you've graduated, I can finally say this: You really press my cider!
(Entire crowd freezes, gasps in horror.)

Springfield Up (2007)

Derivational verbal morphology, compounds, accidental homophony

Narrator: At age 16, Marge was the star photographer for her school newspaper. But her interests soon expanded beyond shutterbuggery.

All's Fair in Over War (2004)


At the church pot luck (motto: "What a friend we have in cheese puffs"), Moe is unenthusiastically surveying the selection:

Moe: Same ol' stuff. Meatloaf, casserole, tuna loaf, loaferole, casseloaf…

Homer and Ned's Hail Mary Pass (2005)

Laughter in different languages.

Comic Book Guy (real name: Jeff Albertson) has uploaded a video of Homer doing an in-your-face victory dance at a carnival after he beat Bart at the frog-on-lilypad game. (Website:; video file title: Big-Ass Baryshnikov). We see it traveling around the world, triggering laughter in France (the usual nasalization, see Trilogy of Error), Japan (higher-pitched, faster, percussive) Botswana (clicks and prenasalized stops) and Antartica (seals barking).


Homer is supposed to be planning the Super Bowl half-time show, but has choreographer's block. He runs into Ned Flanders, who's been making gory Old Testament films à la Passion of the Christ, which no one will distribute.

Homer: I've got a venue the whole world will be watching, and nothing to fill it with!
Ned: Wait a minute — you've got a medium, and I've got a message! Maybe God brought us together for a reason!
Homer (thoughtfully): Yeah! You help me, and I in turn am helped by you!

Ice Cream of Marge (With the Light Blue Hair) (2006)

Feminine profession names, mass/count conversion, synonymy:

Kent Brockman: I'm here with local sculptoress Marge Simpson, who works in, of all media, popsicle stick! Our viewers want to know two things: Why? and How come?

Little Big Girl (2007)

Words for snow

Lisa's giving a presentation on the 'Hitachi' tribe at the Springfield Multicultural Center. She made them up as pretend ancestors to make her 'Heritage' homework more interesting.

Lisa: The Hitachis invented women's lacrosse… soft luggage.. and that thing where you're walking and someone's walking towards you and you each try to step aside but you both go the same way and you do it again and again until one of you just scoots around? They had seven names for that!


Bart's emergency cell phone rings
Homer (sounding terrified): Bart! This is a matter of life and death! What is the difference between ketchup and catsup?? They're going to cut my head off!
(Bart throws away phone)

Back-formation, nationality morphemes

Bart and new girlfriend Darcy from North Haverfield
Bart: I'm gonna be a father?!
Darcy: What! No! You couldn’t be the father! We never got close to that.
Bart: Really? But we kissed and held hands at the same time!
Darcy: Wow, you really are ten! I thought you were just kinda stupid.
Bart: I'm ten and stupid. Look, if I'm not the father, then who is?
Darcy: A Norwegian exchange student. He's long gone, back to Norwegia.

Simple Simpson (2004)

Pluralia tantum in idiom; failed snowclone

The ornery Texan has humiliated Lisa in the place-setting contest at the county fair. Homer dresses up as Pie Man so he can get revenge without being recognized.
Homer as Pie Man: You've hurt your last feeling! (throws pie in Texan's face).
Drederick Tatum (in applauding crowd): We all know pie are squared. But today, pie are justice!

Agreement errors as indicators of intelligence, also, English *amn't I paradigm gap:

Homer thinks he has found a golden ticket to visit the bacon factory in a package of bacon he bought in the Quick-E-Mart. He's kissing Apu in celebration.
Apu: Mr. Simpson, please! I fear your smooches are premature. This is in fact a silver ticket. This silver ticket entitles you to judge the pig competition at the Springfield county fair.
Homer: Judge a pig competition!? But I'm no super genius -- or are I? Hmmm.

Truth conditions. (Cf. Lisa on Ice — retread of same joke!)

Narrator of Fox's hit reality TV show Promiscuous Idiots Island: Tonight: we reveal a shocking secret.
Host: Ladies, when you were selected, you were told you'd be dating a billionaire on his private island. Well, I'm afraid we misled you.
Ladies: *gasp*
Marge (watching TV, pumping fist): Get ready, skanks! Here comes the Truth Train!
Host (walking over to map, pulling off false water): This isn't an island at all — it's a peninsula!
Outraged Contestant #1: This was supposed to be about trust! (storms out)
Sobbing Contestant #2: I just wanna get on that boat and go home!
Host: Well, you don't need a boat, 'cause you can walk.
Sobbing Contestant #2: (renewed sobs).

Brake My Wife, Please! (2003)

Derivational verbal morphology, change of state verbs, nominal predicates

Homer: I did it! I walked all the way to Moe's from my house!
Bart (faintly, from home, seen about a block away in the background): Way to go, Dad!
Homer: Y'know, I feel pretty good! Maybe I should just keep walking instead of going into a dark, dreary bar!
Moe (opening the door and grabbing him by the ear): Get in here, boozy! You're late for your drunkening!
Homer: No, from now on, walking is my beer! And feeling good is my hangover!

Denominal verbs in English, structural ambiguity:

Homer has brought Bart and Lisa to Moe's to consult with them about preparing a romantic dinner for Marge.

Lisa: You know what Mom really likes? Julienned potatoes! And for dessert, peach crumble!
Moe: Ya wanna know how to make a peach crumble? Kick it in the groin! Ha!

Dude, Where's My Ranch? (2003)

Ambiguous pro-form referents.

Marge: Why don't we take a vacation and get away from that song for awhile?
Homer: Well, I guess we could afford one nice trip.
[He walks to the corner of the kitchen where a stand holds tourist brochures, the kind of stand you see in a hotel or an airport. It's labeled 'Tourist Info' on top. He reaches for a brochure.]
Marge: I still think you should have left that in the motel!
Homer: What? It says, 'Take one!' [Shot broadens to reveal that, indeed, at the bottom of the stand in capital letters, it does say, 'TAKE ONE'.]

Revenge is a dish best served three times. (2007)

Inter-linguistic homonymy (aka 'shoecabbages')

Bart: Papa, may we have chocolat?
Lisa: Papa, may we have petit fours?
Homer: May we? May we! Mais oui! (waves money) (all laugh through noses, cf. Trilogy of Error)

Inalienable possession marking in French

Marge (to Homer): Let us kiss with the tongues!

Syntactic gender

Marge and Homer are peacefully sleeping, snoring [+nasal]ly. Soldiers burst in.
Capitaine Wiggum: Monsieur Simpson! You are under arrest for treason!
Homer: Treason?! But I love France! The way all our words are either a girl or a guy? Oh, that's the best!
Capitaine Wiggum: Tell it to le baton! [whacks him]

Garden-path, idioms and productivity

M. le justice Snyder: I sentence you to life!
Homer: You moron! I'm already alive!
M. le justice Snyder: In prison!

Productive derivational morphology

Marvin (unveiling glove and remote control contraption): Behold! The Getbackinator!

Back-formation, cran-morph, productive derivational morphology

Milhouse is using the Getbackinator to get back at all the kids who have made his life at Springfield Elementary miserable.

Cowering strange kid (to threatening Milhouse): I haven't done anything to you! This is my first day at this school!
Milhouse: You will! This is prevenge!

I'm Spelling As Fast as I Can! (2003)

Linguistic terminology, etymological spelling cues in English ('deep' orthography)

Springfield Elementary supporters cheer Lisa at the state spelling bee: Dipthongs, cognates, Latin roots! Lisa clobbers all you fruits!

Backformation and nonce suffixes

Kent Brockman (reporting Lisa's success): In business news, 3M and M&M have merged to form, get this, Ultradyne Systems! And, speaking of news stories, here's another. Springfield's spelling phenom Lisa Simpson has qualified for spelling's answer to the Olympics, the Spellympics! And, in a related story, the Spellympics is being sued by the Olympics for the use of the suffix -lympics.

English spelling rules

Marge: Okay, champ! 'I' before 'E' except after 'C'!
Lisa: Except when pronounced like 'A' as in 'neighbor' and 'weigh'.
Marge: Really?! Hm! And what about in the sentence, "Jim Nabors is way cool!"
Lisa: Well, how often is that gonna come up?
Marge: It's on my apron! (Camera pans down to reveal it's true.)

Respect for the orthographically informed

Lisa (following Rocky-style spelling training montage):Thank you! I've never felt more accepted. Perhaps one day, people who spell correctly will replace athletes at the top of our national pantheon!

Multiple wh-questions

Krusty: Look, about the Ribwich. There aren't going to be any more. The animal we made 'em from is now extinct.
Homer: The pig?
Otto: The cow?
Krusty: You're way off. Think smaller. Think more legs. [Crowd goes 'ewww']. People, we went through something magical together. And it's not important who got rich off of whom, or who got exposed to tainted what. And because you believed in my dream, I want you to fight over the last Ribwich ever made. Here. [Tosses ribwich.]

English sound-spelling correspondences

Spelling bee announcer: All right. Your word is [wET´r].
Third-place contestant: Which one? Can you use it in a sentence?
Spelling bee announcer: Certainly. "I don't know whether the weather will improve."
Third-place contestant: uhhh….W…E…. [buzzer goes]

G.I. (Annoyed Grunt) (2006)

Morphemes and onset maximization, deadjectival change-of-state verbs

Col. X (Through megaphone, from jeep): Attention Springfield! We are rounding up and detaining all men who are fat, or bald, or who have ever been amused by the antics of Homer Simpson!
Superintendent Chalmers (within compound with Comic Book Guy, Barney, etc.): Excuse me, I don't belong here! I am not bald, I am balding! [To self, exasperated] Why will no one honor the -ding??
Principal Skinner: I honor the -ding, sir!
Superintendent Chalmers: What the hell are you talking about?

Bart Of War (2003)

Spelling oddities

Chief Wiggum: "Hijinks." There's a funny word. Three dotted letters in a row.
Lou: Is it hyphenated, Chief?
Chief Wiggum: It used to be. But… And how about " 'N Sync"? What's up with that?

Home away from Homer (2005) (?not sure this is right)

Idioms, compounds

Flanders: You want to make me a laughingstock?
Homer: No, I want to make you a respecting stock!

22 Short Films about Springfield (1996)

Dialect differences

Principal Skinner is entertaining Superintendent Chalmers at his home.

Skinner: Superintendent, I hope you're ready for mouth-watering hamburgers!
Chalmers: I thought we were having steamed clams.
Skinner: No, no, I said 'steamed hams!' That's what I call hamburgers!
Chalmers: You call hamburgers 'steamed hams'.
Skinner: Yes! It's a regional dialect.
Chalmers: Uh-huh--What region?
Skinner: Upstate New York?
Chalmers: Really. Well, I'm from Utica and I've never heard anyone use the phrase, 'steamed hams.'
Skinner: Oh, not in Utica, no! It's an Albany expression.

King-Size Homer (1995)

Grice in the men's room (Maxim of Quantity)

Homer is hiding in a stall in the men's room from Mr. Smithers and his goons, who want to compel him to participate in the company fitness program. The goons slam the door of his stall open, revealing a cowering Homer standing in the toilet.

Homer: Someone's in here!

[So thisis why I thought I'd posted on this before! I'd typed Homer's version of it, here!]

I Scream of Marge (with the light blue hair) (2006)

Nasal assimilation

Burns, coming upon Homer squirming and giggling on the floor after a two-minute tickling penalty during a game of chair hockey.

Burns: On your feet, you sniggering o-raN-gu-tan!

The Canine Mutiny (1997)

Accents, [h]-dropping

Bart's looking for Santa's Little Helper, who was sold by the repo man to "a man in a dress". After one false start, he's figured out it's Groundskeeper Willie (kilt), and has gone to ask him about the dog:

Groundskeeper Willie (gnawing on a drumstick of some kind): Yeh, I bought yer mutt, and I 'ate im! [Bart gasps.] I 'ate 'is little face, I 'ate his guts, and I 'ate the way 'es always barkin'! So I gave 'im to the church.
Bart (sighs in relief): Oh, I see! You hate him, so you gave him to the church.
Groundskeeper Willie: Aye. I also 'ate the mess 'e left on my rug. [Bart turns and looks at him.] You 'eard me!

Kiss Kiss Bang Bangalore (2006)

P-V compounds, focus, idioms

Burns’ ‘instructional’ video:
(Hard-hatted blue-collared workers, toasting in cans of Duff):
Worker 1: It’s a miracle! They moved our factory to a third world nation!
Worker 2: Now I have more time to play the lottery! Ka-ching!
Voiceover: Hey America! Why not let some of the other countries carry their share of the load? You can, with the best kind of sourcing—OUTsourcing!

Syntactic opacity of NN compounds

Comic book guy, interviewing Richard Dean Anderson (MacGyver, and star of Stargate):
Comic Book Guy: Richard Dean Anderson: Of the four Star franchises—Wars, Trek, Gate and Search—Gate is easily my third favorite!
Richard Dean Anderson: I get that a lot.

Please Homer, Don’t Hammer ’Em (2006)

Inherent case, ‘of’-insertion, clefting and constituency.

Marge has just repaired the nightstand by her bed, using the Time-Life Carpenter’s Library Volume 7: Floorboards and Nightstands.

Marge: I did it! What’s that strange feeling? *gasps* It’s … of accomplishment!

Jazzy and the Pussycats (2006)

Gricean maxims: Relevance?

The Simpsons are arriving at the church for Homer’s Vegas wife’s funeral.

Bart: So how did malt liquor mommy die?
Marge: Stop calling her that!
Lenny: I’ll tell you how she died. You know that sign that says ‘Do not stand up on the rollercoaster?
Bart: Yeah?
Lenny: She overdosed right in front of it.

Little Girl in the Big Ten (2002)

Idioms and reference:

Kerney is threatening a smaller child:

Kerney: Gimme your lunch money!
Kid: But it's after lunch!
Kerney: It's just an expression. Like, 'kick your butt' could involve no kicking whatsoever.

Mother Simpson (1995)

Rhetorical questions:

Lisa and Grandma Simpson are jamming. Grandma Simpson sings Dylan:

Grandma Simpson (strumming): How many roads must a man walk down, Before you can call him a man?
Homer (interrupting): Seven!
Lisa: No Dad! It's a rhetorical question!
Homer: Rhetorical, eh? Eight!
Lisa: Dad, do you even know what "rhetorical" means?
Homer: Do I know what rheTORical means!?!

Self-monitoring for dialect/register

A taxi driver is looking at old mug shots of Grandma Simpson for Burns and the FBI.

Cabbie: Yeah, I mighta seen her. It's hard ta tell from this old picture, y'know?
FBI Agent (typing): According to our computer aging program, she should look abooout … 25 years older! (Turns laptop to reveal the number '25' displayed on the screen).
Cabbie (doubletaking): Yeah, I seen her! (Self-consciously:) Ah, that is to say, I saw her.

Later the same FBI agents are showing the mug shots to a gravedigger at the Springfield Cemetery:

Gravedigger: Yep, I saw 'er! (Self-consciously) That is to say, I seen 'er.

Lisa the Vegetarian (1995)

Count/mass coercion (food):

After a visit to a petting zoo, Lisa is having a realization at the dinner table:
Lisa: I can't eat this! I can't eat a poor little lamb!
Homer: Lisa, get ahold of yourself! This is lamb, not a lamb.
Lisa: What's the difference between this lamb and the one that kissed me?

Fear of Flying (1994)

Chinese word for opportunity, or something:

Homer's sad because of being banned from Moe's. Lisa tries to console him:

Lisa: Look on the bright side, Dad! Did you know that the Chinese use the same word for 'crisis' as they do for 'opportunity'?
Homer (brightening): Yes! Crisitunity! You're right! I've been wasting my life away in that dump for years. That's it! I'm going to find a new bar to drink in! And I'm going to get drunker than I've been in my entire life!

Lisa On Ice (1994)

Intonation, imperatives, object drop

Bart and Lisa are playing on opposite PeeWee hockey teams, Bart's "Pigs" and Lisa's "Gougers." The stadium is packed. Bart is taking a penalty shot.

Pigs fans (screaming): Kill, Bart! Kill, Bart!
Gougers fans (screaming): Kill Bart! Kill Bart!

[The punctuation here indicates the intonation contour difference in the chants of the two crowds.]

Grice: Maxim of relevance

Lisa is worrying about the possible impact of failing gym class. She imagines her inauguration….

Chief Justice: I now pronounce you President of these United --
Reporter: Stop the inauguration! I just discovered our President Elect got an F in second grade gym class!
[crows gasps; Lisa is handcuffed]
Chief Justice: In that case I sentence you to a lifetime of horror on Monster Island. [to Lisa] Don't worry, it's just a name.

[Cut to scene of ex-president-elect Lisa and others being chased by Gamera, Mothra and Rodan]
Lisa (panting): He said it was just a name!
Fellow chasee: What he meant is that Monster Island is actually a peninsula.

Bart Has Two Mommies (2006)

Noun incorporation

Bart is grabbed by a chimpanzee at the zoo and pulled into her cage for mothering.
Homer: My son's been ape-napped!
Lisa: No, no! It's still kidnapped, the prefix applies to the victim!


Marge: Where's Bart? I haven't seen him since you came home!
Homer (very sarcastically): Oh, you haven't seen Bart for a few hours so you automatically assume I let something TERRIBLE happen.
Marge: I didn't say that!
Homer (still very sarcastically): I know what you think! "When stupid Homer wasn't looking, Bart got kidnapped by a monkey."
Marge: I could never think something that horrible!
Homer (still): And NOW I'm using SARcasm to confess the whole thing, so LATer I can say that I already TOLD you.
Marge: I'm sorry I asked.
She leaves in disgust.
Lisa: Dad, you can't keep this up for long.
Homer (STILL very sarcastically): Oh, you're SO right. I GUESS I should be more concerned with Bart's SAFEty than covering my own butt! And MAYbe I'm talking like this because I can't STOP! Help me, Lisa! I have SERious MENTAL problems!


Ned gives the Simpsons his free 'feMac' computer, because "all those complete strangers Googling each other makes my flesh crawl."

Marge: Ned! That's so generous! But there must be something I can do in return!
Ned: Well, sir, we could do a little quid-pro for the Kaypro. The left handed convention is in town and as the owner of Springfield's largest southpaw shop I just gotta be there! Could you nanny-goat my kid-diddly-ids?
Marge (consulting a "Flanders-English English-Flanders Dictionary"): Hmm, let's see, just a sec… Oh! Yeah, sure I'd be happy to babysit for Rod and Todd!
Flanders (consulting a "Simpsons-English English-Simpsons Dictionary"): "Woo hoo"!

Retronym, contrastive focus:

A mother duck makes off with Homer's entry in the rubber duckie race.
Homer (outraged): This race is for rubber ducks, not meat ducks!

Homer's Paternity Coot (2005)


Marge (finding an unpaved side road around the toll booth): Voilà! That's French for 'Ta daa!'

Cape Feare (1993)

Inter-language homonyms (orthographic shoecabbages):

Sideshow Bob is being questioned in a courtroom during his parole hearing. Attempting to determine whether or not he still has homicidal inclinations, especially towards Bart, the lawyer quizzes him:

Lawyer: What about that tattoo on your chest? Doesn't it say 'Die Bart, Die?'
Sideshow Bob (opening his shirt to reveal the tattoo): No! That's German, for 'The Bart, the."

Phonetic spelling conventions:

Sideshow Bob, out of prison on parole, is working out with free weights. We see that the knuckles of his three-fingered hands have 'LUV' and 'HĀT' tattooed on them.

Homer and Marge Turn a Couple Play (2006)

Reciprocal predicates ('essentially plural' predicates):

Homer and Marge are necking on the big-screen 'Kiss Cam' at the ballpark, to the cheers of the crowd.
Lenny turns to Carl. "Remember when we used to kiss like that? With our respective girlfriends?"


Tabitha, a sexy diva, is addressing her slugger husband Buck over the ballpark PA system.
Tabitha: Buck, I love you too! And I'll take you back if you can guess tonight's attendance!
[Screen flashes choices: a) 8191 b) 8128 c) 8208 d) No way to tell. He boggles.]
Tabitha: It's C! As in keeping together!

Principal Charming (1991)


Bart has written his name in 40-foot high letters of dead grass on the school field, in sodium tetrachloride. Skinner is outraged. He says, "The sheer contempt demonstrated by this incident makes me wish I could pull the trusty board of education out of retirement." His gaze falls wistfully upon a paddle in a case behind glass.

My Fair Laddy (2006)

Dialect differences

Lisa tries to civilize Willy, My Fair Lady-style. She tries to get him to shed his accent by teaching him a phrase, 'What flows from the nose does not go on my clothes,' presumably to get him to pronounce his /o/ in her standard dialect. Weirdly, he produces RP, not Standard American English.

Marge Gets a Job (1992)

Contractions and lexicalization

Troy McClure, in the instructional video, “The Half-Assed Approach to Foundation Repair”: Over the next six hours, I’ll be taking you through the dos and do not dos of foundation repair.

The Otto Show (1992)

Subsective modification, ambiguity of 'real'.

Marge: Homer, I've been thinking about what Bart said. If he's really interested in being a musician, maybe we should buy him a guitar.
Homer: (Picking up an obviously toy guitar) That's a waste of money! We already have a guitar! (Turns crank, guitar plays Pop Goes the Weasel. Maggie reaches for it.)
Marge: I meant a REAL guitar.
Homer: This is real! (Bangs it on the crib, then on his head, to prove his point.)

The Great Money Caper (2000)

Structural ambiguity, Dialectal variation in coda consonant clusters

Mentalist/waiter: And for the lady -- a [laaaaaŋg] island iced tea!
Marge: Oooh, they oughta call that a large island iced tea! (She laughs. Family looks blankly at her.) Nah, long is better.

Lisa the Tree Hugger (2000)


Kent Brockman (reading the news): The eco-radical group 'Dirt First' staged a daring protest today at Krustyburger. Krusty the Clown has issued the following statement: "This, I don't need."

Marge Simpson in Screaming Yellow Honkers 1999


Skinner: (Introducing a school skit show) Good evening! Our old friend Noah Webster defines "laughter" as the act or sound of laughing!
(Shoe flies in from audience and strikes him on the head.)
Nelson: Ha ha!
Skinner: (Chuckling) Well illustrated, Nelson!

Homonyms, wh-words

Superintendet Chalmers and Principal Skinner are in a stand-up routine together. Chalmers is dressed in a baseball uniform.
Chalmers: Well, Seymour, it seems we've put together a baseball team. I was wondering, who's on first?
Skinner: Yes! Not the pronoun, but rather a player with the unlikely name of "Who" is on first.
Chalmers: Yes, well, that's just great, Seymour. We've been out here six seconds and you've already managed to blow the routine! (Walks off, mumbling, "Sexless freak.")

Grift of the Magi. 1999.

'Semantics' and philosophy of ethics

Lisa: Your toy company is evil!
Gary Coleman: Well, isn’t it possible for an evil company to make people happy?
Lisa: Are you saying that the end justifies the means?
GC: That’s a very glib interpretation!
Bart: Hey! Don’t talk to my sister that way!
Lisa: No Bart, he’s right. I did oversimplify.
Homer: Perhaps. But let’s not get bogged down in semantics.

‘Tis the Fifteenth Season. 2003.

Irregular plurals:

Burns: Time for your Christmas bonii!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Grice in the ladies' room (from LL)

When you're in a stall in a public bathroom and someone rattles the handle of your stall, what do you say to make them go away? There are several options — "Occupied!" or "Just a minute!" are popular, in my door-ratting experience — but when a rattlee, I have always favored the following:

"Somebody's in here!"

An aunt of mine (who apparently uses this same phrasal deterrent) once came back from the ladies' room mulling it over. Why, she wondered, would you say "someone"? You know perfectly well who's in there! It's you! Why wouldn't you say, "I'm in here!"? I giggled all night.

I recently had occasion to say it again, and it suddenly occurred to me it's because of Grice's Maxim of Quantity:

(i) Be as informative as necessary.
(ii) Don't be more informative than necessary

To your interlocutor, rattling away on the other side of the door, it doesn't make any difference whether it's you in particular or somebody else. From her perspective, what matters is whether the stall is occupied or not. Knowing that, it would be pretty self-centered of you to mention that it's you, specifically, who's in there. Really, all you want to communicate is the presence of a warm (and articulate) body in the stall, hence the indefinite.1

1 I keep having the feeling that I've blogged about this before, but a search doesn't turn anything up. Recent posts by Geoff Pullum and the follow-up over on An Individual's Concepts reminded me of the idea. Sorry if it's a repeat!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Adjectival friends? (Crosspost from LL)

It's orthogonal to the point of Mark's post, but in thinking about the expression, 'be friends with', a few questions sprang into my head, and having (I think) introspectively answered them to my satisfaction, I thought I'd inflict the whole train of thought on the rest of the world.

First, note that the idiom 'Be friends with' is one of them there symmetric predicates, related to the 'essentially plural' predicate 'be friends', which requires a plural subject:

(1) X and Y are friends

(2) a. X is friends with Y

b.Y is friends with X

It's the same way 'be married to' is realted to the essentially plural predicate 'be married':

(3) X and Y are married

(4) a. X is married to Y

b. Y is married to X

"Be married" is an adjectival passive, and 'be friends' looks like a predicate nominal. In their singular-subject forms, both involve idiosyncratically selecting a preposition to introduce the non-subject argument (with or to, respectively).

However, with respect to 'be friends', I think it's likely that an interesting process of idiomatization involving category change has occurred. In (5),

(5) X and Y are friends

the plural nominal predicate 'friends' is appropriate because the subject is plural. It's behaving like the straightforward nominal predicate in (6) below: plural subject, plural predicate. Singular predicates are not possible with plural subjects:

(6) a. X and Y are doctors
b. *X and Y are a doctor

Originally, X and Y are friends would have been symmetrical with the following singular and truly nominal predicate constructions, entailment-wise:

(7) a. X is a friend to Y
b. Y is a friend to X

These are behaving appropriately: nominal predicates with singular subjects take singular predicates, as in (6). Note that a plural predicate here sounds bizarre:

(8) *X is friends to Y

So why is "X is friends with Y" grammatical? If 'be friends with' is a real nominal predicate, it shouldn't be able to take a singular subject.

I think "X and Y are friends" must have undergone reanalysis, to become an idiomatic predicate adjective construction where the plural -s isn't really doing its plural job. That is, in the minds of speakers, [[friend]N -s]Pl changed to [friends]A .

A predicate adjective isn't marked for number with respect to its subject in English, the way nominal predicates are, so that the faux-plural form 'friends', now a predicate adjective, became acceptable with a singular subject. Hence, X is friends with Y is grammatical.

The proof that 'friends' is not the same nominal as 'friend' here is that as a predicate, it takes a different preposition than 'friend', namely 'with', rather than 'to' (though the change in preposition in itself doesn't confirm that friends is now an adjective in this expression -- but it does confirm that it's a different friend than the one in be a friend to).

With respect to the subtler semantic issues with this kind of predicate, Googling quickly I came across the following abstract from Martin Hackl about these and other similar but not-the-same plural-subject predicates (from which I got the term 'essentially plural').

So a linguist's Sunday morning goes.

PS. What does it mean that 'be friends with' can be modified by 'best' without invoking a uniqueness presupposition?

John and Mary are best friends/Mary is best friends with John.

You can't do that with normal nominal predicates:
John and Mary are *(the) best doctors.

And, of course, 'best' can't modify adjectives, being the superlative form of one itself. That's kind of problematic for my friends-as-adjective hypothesis.

"Be best friends (with)" is related, semantically, to the following real predicate nominal expressions, which do require the the:

John is the best friend of Mary.

Mary is the best friend of John.

Maybe it's just that 'be best friends' is also an idiom.