malaprop amongst the flowers

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Fri Apr 30 13:05:36 UTC 2004

A local jazz disk jockey continually uses the word "arcane" when he means "archaic".  His special interest -- obsession, more correctly -- is the jazz styles through the bebop movement, and their discography, band personnel, &c.  I have heard him give the telephone numbers of a Harlem club that closed in 1937.  But to the point: he will say of, perhaps, the C-melody saxophone, "it was already arcane when this musician first started to play it".  I suppose he could justify this if he claims that "arcane" means "little known"?

We are wandering into the morass of prescriptivism here, of course.  What would the White Queen say?

The disk jockey is Phil Schaap, who broadcasts on WKCR-FM, a station now available on the web.  He gives his listeners a lot to put up with, but he has a vast record collection and is friends with many musicians, so when he is not gassing he will offer music and interviews no one else could provide.


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African
Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Arnold M. Zwicky" <zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU>
Date: Thursday, April 29, 2004 4:54 pm
Subject: malaprop amongst the flowers

> while googling on "Zwicky Lederer", to see if my Prescriptivism and
> Usage website files (for the courses i'm teaching this quarter) have
> gotten into the system (the answer seems to be no), i discovered a
> review of spencer & zwicky, Morphological Theory, that i hadn't seen
> before.  on, the *only* review there, by someone billed as
> "verafides, a Real, Live Linguist".  (verafides also has a list of
> favorite books in linguistics, and s&z gets in there too.)
> well, it's a bouquet of flowers for andy and me (and our many
> contributors).  this is immensely gratifying, of course.  and, as a
> bonus, there's a malaprop.  from the review:
> <five stars> What a pointless review this is about to be...
> You know why nobody has ever reviewed this book on Amazon?  Because
> shoppers interested in a gigantic collection of academic papers on
> morphological theory are already AWARE of what it is, and don't
> need to
> be told about it.  And anyone else will never, in fact, look at this
> review.  So it's entirely a bizarre anachronism -- a review that
> nobodywill read, that has nothing useful to say.
> This is, of course, a wonderful compilation of papers on morphology.
> It''s chocked full of data, and tons of careful analysis...
> [more praise]
> But you probably already know this.  If you didn't, you wouldn't be
> looking at this book -- you'd be off digging up a used copy of "M is
> for Mush-for-Brains" by Sue Grafton-Higgins Clark.  And then you
> wouldn't have any clue what I'm talking about, and probably too busy
> being led astray by William Safire or Richard Lederer to bother trying
> to find out...
> -----------------
> i left the last part in so you can see why this came up in a "Zwicky
> Lederer" search.  (in another review, verafides  *savages* ehrlich &
> lederer, The Highly Selective Dictionary For The Extraordinarily
> Literate.)
> my interest was piqued (or, as some say, peaked, or peeked) by the
> word"anachronism", which certainly isn't the right  one for the job
> verafides used it for.  "anomaly", maybe?  (malaprops tend to set of
> the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon, alas.)
> yes, i was dubious about "chocked full" too.  google has about 18,700
> web hits on it.  "chock full", with about 207,000 web hits, beats it
> all hollow, but 18,700 is not a negligible number.
> and, no, i don't know who verafides is.
> the review was posted on june 10, 2003, so it's not exactly hot news.
> i've been kind of out of the loop.
> arnold (zwicky at, who will eventually get around to
> telling the
>   pocket version of his, omigod, necrotizing fasciitis story

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