Fwd: lexical query

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Mon Sep 3 18:26:57 UTC 2007

from ben sadock:

Begin forwarded message:

> From: bws2002 at columbia.edu
> Date: September 3, 2007 10:07:37 AM PDT
> To: zwicky at csli.stanford.edu
> Cc: jsadock at uchicago.edu
> Subject: Re: Fwd: lexical query
> My father passed your blessing/curse query along to me (I'm
> currently working on a dissertation on Yiddish) and I think I have
> a decent answer. The phrase "hots mikh un zayts mikh" comes
> immediately to mind. It's an elliptical parting phrase, meaning
> "Have [a good year] and be [healthy]", and it is almost always
> quoted in a distinctly Central Yiddish form, with a plural
> imperative (endemic to Central Yiddish) and accusative pronouns
> used as ethical datives (also decidedly Central Yiddish), although
> I've also heard it with dative pronouns. As a parting phrase, it
> was often used to bring an end to a conversation. Eventually, then,
> it became a way of angrily terminating a conversation, thus
> becoming, if not a curse, at least a very insulting thing to say to
> someone.
> This isn't a perfect specimen, but it's close. If a better one
> occurs to me I'll let you know.

i don't seem to be able to get myself understood here.  my friend
asked about "a word for" (meaning, a general term for) something
(meaning, a situation or event) that is both a blessing and a curse,
and now people are offering me *examples* of things (sometimes
situations, sometimes speech acts, sometimes expressions) that are
both blessings and curses.  suppose i'd asked for a word for an
expression that "is its own opposite" (as people sometimes say), and
people offered "sanction" and other examples as a response; i would
find these examples interesting, but wouldn't accept them as answers
to the question i asked -- the answer to which is "antilogy" or
"enantionym" or several other possibilities.  (note that "antilogy"
is not itself an antilogy.)

i think i see how things went wrong.  the problem is with the
expressions "a word for" and "something".  if i ask you for "a word
for something you drink", i might be hoping to get an answer like
"beverage", a generic term for things you drink, but you might
interpret my request as specific rather than generic, and offer an
answer like "coffee".  american crossword puzzles exploit this
generic/specific ambiguity to mislead solvers: an 8-letter item with
the clue "something you drink" might be BEVERAGE or COCACOLA.

my fault here is that the interpretation of my friend's question was
so immediately clear to me that i didn't appreciate the possible
ambiguities in it (specific/generic and also situation/speech act/
expression.  always a problem in using language, i guess.

so, for the record: my friend was looking for a generic (not
specific) term, covering a class of situations (not speech acts or
expressions).  any candidates?  (as i said earlier, "mixed blessing"
comes close.)


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