Infinite vocabulary

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Oct 26 03:34:15 UTC 2000

At 11:04 AM -0400 10/26/00, Alice Faber wrote:
>Paul Frank wrote:
>>Your student is right about the importance of context and the endless supply
>>of expressions for sex. However, though the list may be as infinite as
>>Borges's universal library, some verb-noun pairings would seem to be
>>excluded from it. Saying "I think they're watching the paint dry, dragging
>>their feet, beating around the bush, doing nothing to write home about" may
>>mean lots of things, but not that they're doing it. Though come to think of
>>it, these statements could all mean that the deed is in the offing.
>I don't think there's any question about the middle two being capable
>of packing quite a sexual innuendo; the outer two would merely be
>comments on technique.
right; note the minimal contrast between "doing nothing to write home
about" and "doing nothing they'd want to write their mothers about".

Another extension of the infinity principle:  it came to me when I
was looking through the entries in Pam Munro's UCLA Slang Dictionary
that the class of adjectives (including participial adjectives) that
can appear in the frame

I/He/She was just a leettle bit _____

to convey the meaning 'drunk' or perhaps 'sick to the stomach because
of being drunk' is virtually unbounded.  I don't know if the
cardinality of that set (whether or not it's infinite) is greater
than, lesser than, or equivalent to that of the sexual one.


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