March 09, 2006


Callimachus at Done with Mirrors represents his fellow Fluffians right back at Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "Yo, Iran!":

We took it from W.C. Fields, because he was one of us. We're not going to take this from you, Iran.

What'd they do? They left Philadelphia off their nuclear hit list. The bums.

Specifically, C cites

an "Intelligence Summit in Washington, D.C.," at which a knowledgeable military man listed American "cities targeted by Iran, Al Qaida et al for simultaneous nuclear detonation." The reporter caught New York, D.C., L.A., Chicago, Houston "and one I didn't hear," but the speaker noted particularly it was "not Philadelphia." "It was not clear how he knew this or whether he was simply engaging in educated speculation."

Speculation, be damned. My hometown Does. Not. Need. This. Crap. I'll come to the point, President Ahmadinejad: I want us on that list. Yesterday.

Note this instance of an increasingly common technique: using periods and capital letters to encode prosodic emphasis. Aside from this and a few uses of in', C's mock rant is an excellent example of how to give the impression of a local variant of English without a lot of "eye dialect".

[A comment by email from Ben Zimmer:

When did that "periods and capital letters" thing start anyway? I associate it with TV fan forums, most famously in the expression "Best. Episode. Ever." Or "Worst. Episode. Ever." (That expression, credited to Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons, has been snowcloned into "best/worst X ever," as in VH1's show "Best Week Ever.") Prosodically it seems to imply that each word should be treated as an intonation unit, with appropriate pitch and stress at each onset. On ESPN one hears that sort of intonation from Chris Berman in his annoying NFL recaps: "He! Could! Go! All! The! Way!"

Well, I was going to blog about this, but I'll tip my hand briefly here. Since resetting of intonational downdrift generally applies at phrase boundaries, and since ends of phases are generally lengthened, my guess is that this typographical usage probably started as a way to evoke the kind of emphatic speech in which words are produced slowly and with noticeable vocal effort in a high pitch range. Imagine raising your eyebrows and poking your finger at someone while yelling "my hometown does not need this crap!" However, as with "tsk" and "ugh" and so on, such typographical approximations of non-lexical aspects of speech often give rise to spelling pronunciations, with the evocative allusion given a literal interpretation that then becomes a semi-arbitrary symbol for the (psychological state behing the) nonverbal behavior originally depicted. Or something like that.]

[Update: Callimachus himself wrote in:

I'm the blogger whose post you kindly noted here.

When you write, "Imagine raising your eyebrows and poking your finger at someone while yelling 'my hometown does not need this crap!' " that's pretty close to what I visualize when I see it. That actually was the first time I ever wrote it.

The exact visual image it brings to my mind is a passage from William Wharton's "Birdy," which I read years ago, about the narrator's father, who used to chew you out and punctuate his words with finger jabs to the chest each of which packed the power of a punch.

Punctuation, punch, punctus, p.p. of pungere.


Posted by Mark Liberman at March 9, 2006 02:19 PM