Solids and wetness - euphemisms

Benjamin Barrett gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM
Sun Jun 8 16:55:58 UTC 2008

Thank you for the follow-up. Not having had kids makes the difference
for "accident", lol. BB

On Jun 8, 2008, at 7:36 AM, Laurence Horn wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: Solids and wetness - euphemisms
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> At 11:20 PM -0700 6/7/08, Benjamin Barrett wrote:
>> I've been trying to work out the difference between accident and
>> wetness/solids, but I can't. As far as I can tell, the euphemism
>> "accident" requires a change of pitch to get the intended meaning;
> I don't agree.  For me at least (or for me when my kids were at the
> relevant age), "accident" really has acquired a separate sense (the
> OED's 1d, termed "colloq." and glossed as 'an untimely call of
> nature'.  The change of pitch amounting to scare quotes is possible
> but not necessary the way it is for "problem" = 'E.D.'
>> otherwise, your interlocutor believes there really was an accident.
>> So
>> it seems like "accident" is the same as "problem," though "accident"
>> doubtlessly has many more citations and a richer history.
>> I sure agree that you need a diaper context to get wetness/solids,
>> but
>> is this simply an issue of frequency or is there something more
>> important at issue?
>> BB
> I think the last point is the key; if the local "diaper context" is
> necessary, the narrowing reflects use rather a meaning shift.  To
> shift examples, it would be as if "drink" were only interpreted as
> specifically referring to alcoholic beverages when you're in a bar,
> and not when you mutter "I sure could use a drink" at a faculty
> meeting.
> One analogy comes from the interpretation of compounds. 30 years ago
> Pam Downing published a nice paper in Language in which she
> distinguished "deictic compounds", which get their interpretation
> from a local context--"apple juice seat" for a seat in front of which
> a glass of apple juice had been placed, "starch bowl" in Julia
> Child's references to the bowl in which a mixture of cornstarch and
> other ingredients were to be placed in the course of a recipe, and so
> on. (It's easy to find examples from newspaper headlines which are
> interpretable only if you've been following the story, e.g. "Ferrari
> woman" in the headline of a story about the legal wrangling involving
> a woman whose will specified that she be buried in her Ferrari).
> These may eventually become lexicalized, but there's no guarantee.
> Similarly, the deictic instances of denominal verbs in Eve and Herb
> Clark's _Language_ 1969 article "When Nouns Surface as Verbs".
> In both cases, the formations are created when necessary and can even
> catch on within a larger speech community under certain circumstances
> as opposed to remaining one-off, nonce forms like some of Downing's
> or the Clarks' cases. I agree that it's a slippery slope and that
> there are marginal cases, but the distinction between lexicalized and
> non- (or not-yet-) lexicalized formations is a real one, and the
> necessity of invoking the local context of use to obtain the intended
> interpretation plays a crucial role.

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