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Linguistics

I’ve a Frog in My Throat

Now then (go the Wales!), after yesterday’s vitriolic outburst I promised you something a little more cheery, so here goes my loves ūüôā

I’ve previously declared my love for the British language, and this is what¬†inspired this post.

A couple of days ago I was having a mini coughing fit (probably due to my smoking – no, I still haven’t stopped), and my colleague said

“Are you ok?”

I said “Sure, no problem, I just have a frog in my throat”

He said “You have a what?”

He grew up in Australia and had never heard of the saying. As I tried to explain it, it struck me that it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

When we Brits say we have a frog in our throats, it means we have a cough. But what on earth does a frog have to do with a cough? And why do we say we have frogs in our throats?

Well, first things first – the phrase ‘a frog in my throat’ is an idiom.¬†

According to Wikipedia an idiom¬†can be defined as¬†“a phrase whose meaning cannot be determined by the literal definition of the phrase itself, but refers instead to a figurative meaning that is known only through common use.”

So where does the phrase come from?

Well I’ve done a little digging, and the answer I like best goes as follows (source):

It used to be thought that if you drank water from a pond that had frogspawn in, a frog could live and hatch out in your throat, which naturally would block your voice. (I love this! I wonder if this was something which was perpetuated by the Daily Mail? – I can see the headlines now…)

Quacksalvers (that’s the traditional English equivalent of snake oil merchants) used to have a scam whereby the quack’s stooge used to pretend to be so afflicted; the quack would administer his medicine, lo and behold the stooge would cough up a live frog and “regain his voice”, and all the gullible peasants would buy this wonderful cure. For this reason, an obstruction in the throat is known as a “frog”.

So now you know.

I’ll leave you with this my dears – a pretty cool snow sculpture of a man with a frog in his mouth – image credit jgasal via flickr

A Pinch & A Punch…

Well my loves – a pinch and a punch for the first of the month and no returns…

I heart the English language, and the oh so peculiar peeps that speak it. My Nanna taught me the ‘a pinch and a punch’ saying.

For those unfamiliar with the custom – if it happens to be the first of the month (and this applies to any month) – you get to administer a pinch and a punch to whomsoever you please (although I’d recommend only doing it to people you know as I’m fairly certain you could be hauled up for common assault if you just wander round doing that to strangers) as you say the line –

“A pinch and a punch for the first of the month”

Some claim the saying originates back to when people thought that witches existed. Apparently salt would make a witch weak (erm that sounds highly illogical to me, but whatever), so the pinch part refers to a pinch of salt, and the punch part was to banish the witch (how that banishes a witch I have no idea).

It’s also pretty unclear as to why this became associated with the first of the month – but again, we’re English –¬†embrace our unique brand of eccentricity to our faces, then laugh at us behind our backs – works nicely for everyone.

What also makes us very English is our love of rules. So, you’ll be pleased to know that there are some very strict rules governing the usage of this strange little custom of ours. Again these are often argued upon, but according to Nanna the rules are as follows:

  1. You can only do the ‘a pinch and a punch’ thang before midday – not sure why – it’s just the rules damnit, you respect my Nanna!
  2. If you elect to do the ‘a pinch and a punch’ thing at all you would be well advised to include at the end ‘and no returns’. If you forget to say ‘and no returns’ you may find yourself subject to ‘a flick and a kick for being so quick’ (and kicks hurt more than punches)
  3. As an alternative to ‘a flick and a kick for being so quick’ you can say ‘a flick in the eye for being so sly’ (we weren’t allowed to say that or indeed do the action lest we blinded each other)

If you find yourself on the receiving end of¬†‘a pinch and a punch’¬†you have two possible opportunities for recourse:

  1. ¬†Hope they forget to say ‘and no returns’ and instead administer ‘a flick and a kick for being so quick’¬†or, ‘a flick in the eye for being so sly’
  2. Alternatively,¬†before they’ve finished their ‘a pinch and a punch’ spiel get in there quick with ‘white rabbits’. If you say ‘white rabbits’ you get to administer the punch – pretty cool, huh?

I’m so proud of our strange and violent customs… wanna share some of your own? That’s what the comments are for – don’t be shy now ūüėČ

A lady goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid 'a pinch & a punch' by dressing her children as white rabbits as a means of protection...

A lady goes to extraordinary lengths to protect herself from 

‘a pinch & a punch’

Image credit colodio via flickr

Eggcorns & Malapropisms & Dogberryisms, Oh My!

Firstly dear readers, please forgive the poetic license I’ve exercised in the naming of this post.

Malapropisms and dogberryisms are of course one and the same thing. But I wanted a set of three so it sounded a bit like ‘Lions & Tigers & Bears, Oh My!’… I heart the Wizard of Oz.

According to Wikipedia (I know, I know¬†-they really don’t¬†need a link from me,¬†they’ve got tons of links already; but I feel mean when I don’t link):

Malapropisms / Dogberryisms

“The word malapropos is an adjective or adverb meaning “inappropriate” or “inappropriately”, derived from the Frenchphrase mal √† propos (literally “ill-suited”).

The terms malapropism and the earlier variant malaprop come from Richard Brinsley Sheridan‘s 1775 play The Rivals, and in particular the character Mrs. Malaprop. Sheridan presumably named his character Mrs. Malaprop, who frequently misspoke (to great comic effect), in joking reference to the word malapropos.

The alternative phrase “Dogberryism” comes from the Shakespearean play Much Ado About Nothing, in which the character Dogberry served the same purpose as Mrs. Malaprop for comedic effect.

An instance of mis-speech is called a malapropism when:

  1. The word that is used means something different from the word the speaker or writer intended to use.
  2. The word that is used sounds similar to the word that was apparently meant or intended. Using obtuse (wide or dull) instead of acute (narrow or sharp) is not a malapropism; using obtuse (stupid or slow-witted) when one means abstruse (esoteric or difficult to understand) would be.
  3. The word that is used has a recognized meaning in the speaker’s or writer’s language.

Eggcorns

“In linguistics, an eggcorn is an idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase for a word or words that sound similar or identical in the speaker’s dialect. Characteristic of the eggcorn is that the new phrase makes sense on some level (“old-timers’ disease” for “Alzheimer’s disease”). Eggcorns often involve replacing an unfamiliar, archaic, or obscure word with a more common or modern word.

The term “eggcorn” was coined by Geoffrey Pullum in September 2003, in response to an article by Mark Liberman on the website Language Log, a blog for linguists.Liberman discussed the case of a woman who substitutes the phrase egg corn for the word acorn, arguing that the precise phenomenon lacked a name; Pullum suggested using “eggcorn” itself.

So, back to the point.

I went to a comedy night tonight. It was brilliant.

Unhappily, the acts were somewhat upstaged.

I’m somewhat concerned that this might just be a location joke (i.e. you had to be there) but here goes:

So I’m chatting to this guy who is a friend of a friend – it was the first time I met him. He says:

“See the thing with me is, you either love me or hate me… What you see is what you get – I’m like – what do you call it? Wiggy Woo!”

Now clearly he meant wysiwyg (pronounced ‘wizzywig’).

See it’s still making me laugh now… And due to a stinking hangover courtesy of my work Christmas drinks on Thursday night I’ve been on the orange juice all night.

Being the geek that I am, I of course got home and started trying to figure out if there was a name for the linguistic gymnastics performed tonight.

I came to the conclusion that it’s kind of an eggcorn – wiggy woo sounds a little like wizzy wig… I don’t think it’s a malapropism / dogberryism – as I don’t think wiggy woo actually means anything.

There’s also a strong possibility that in fact there is no proper linguistic term for this type of thing, as it’s really nothing more than an error.

There’s an even stronger possibility that I’m in danger of disappearing up my own backside with this one… Despite having been out tonight, I’m guessing I *still* need to get out more… Or¬†maybe stay out for longer…

Feel free to weigh in with your comments about linguistics and indeed my increasingly geeky tendencies below…