Sunday, July 12, 2009

Professor EE 1

"There you go. A decapitated head."

"That's not decapitated. A decapitated head means a head whose head's been cut off. You mean a severed head."

"I meant what I said."

"Look. 'Decapitate' means 'to remove the head'. From the Latin,. 'De', a prefix implying negation, and 'caput', head. You haven't removed a head from that. It's nothing but a head."

"You're arguing from etymology, there. As a linguist, you should know better."








"Do you want to pass the goddamn course or not? ... Anyway, 'sever' means to cut apart. That's not cut apart, it's whole."

"Rubbish. Something that's been cut away is severed from its parent body. Like that."

"No, no, the neck's been severed, not the head."

"The neck's been severed, resulting in a severed head. Modern usage gives 'sever' some flexibility, as a verb. Now, if you had a severed neck, that'd be a neck in two pieces. A limb, though, that could go either way. Man walks into the ER with a severed arm, he could be clutching at a stump, or he could have a detached arm in his other hand."

"Would you prefer that to be a detached head, then?"

"Don't be silly. It's technically correct, but the connotations are all wrong."

"Don't tell me I'm silly. Look. Usage changes over time, right? So that thing is decapitated."

"Language changes diachronically, yes. But viewed synchronically, a language has a set of production rules at any given time, and if you break them, you're doing it wrong."

"A language is nothing more than a set of mutually intelligible idiolects. And, right now, the dominant idiolect belongs to the guy grading your assignment."

"OK, fine. I'll write about ... hold on ... Isn't that my mother?"



Dave F. said...

Painfully funny.
This reminds me of why I retired from work. I used to have to listen to conversations like this. Someday I'll tell ya'all about the sexual harassment seminar where one fellow insisted the speaker's cologne (She wore expensive, lovely cologne) was sexually harassing him.

I highly recommend your own personal monogrammed white jacket and psychiatric help ;)

batgirl said...

This one is my favourite. It's exactly the sort of argument I'd get into with my friends, should we ever have to dispose of a body.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I liked this too. I remember the comment thread where this all started so that made it even funnier to me.


Anonymous said...

This was funny. very nicely done Steve.


_*Rachel*_ said...

I like this one, especially the last line. This really does sound like an argument I'd have.

Wow, Dave. Just wow. Have you sent it to Overheard in the Office?

Steve said...

I think that uses up my entire quota of comment-thread in-jokes for the next year or so ... I'll have to do the next one of these straight. Bother.

I'd like to point out that, in real life, I'd respond to my mother's head falling out of a bag before nitpicking on grammar and vocabulary. Well, I almost certainly would. Like, nine times out of ten ... hmm, well, maybe four out of five ... OK, two times out of three, definite.

Robin S. said...

Damn. I was all caught up in the discussion - killer good, Steve!

you and paca need to get together. You do know he's also a linguist?
You two in a comment trail would be heaven to witness. Please go and check his blog.

ril said...

Very good, almost Stoppardian dialog. Love the new take on past comment trails!

Whirlochre said...

Best punchline for months — coming, as it does, at the end of an Aliesque display of fancy footwork.