Man in the Black Box—A Letter from the Managing Editor SpecGram Vol CLVIII, No 3 Contents Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know—Book VII—Madalena Cruz-Ferreira

Letters to the Editor

Dear Editors of Speculative Grammarian,

I have just finished Trent Slater’s recent article on the impossibility of translation. (Well, to be honest, I read a bootleg Basque translation of it. I was travelling in Spain and couldn’t wait until I got home to read the February issue of SpecGram.) While I agree with both his premise and his conclusion, I have to take issue with the bit in the middle. In particular, he writes:

In English ... while farmers raise “pigs,” we eat “pork, bacon, sausages and scratchings.”

I’m not sure where Prof. Slater hails from, but here in the civilized parts of the English-speaking world, we most certainly do not eat scratchings. Just the thought makes me... makes me... it makes me... Blaaargghgggh!

Xerxes Ludmela-Zeenab


Dear Xerox,

First, we cannot condone either the creation or use of unauthorized bootlegs of our journal. For shame. On a side note, when in Spain, we find the Catalan bootleg translations of SpecGram to be superior to the Basque. The Basque bootlegs are better for physics journals, though.

Second, we also generally agree with Prof. Slater’s conclusions, but must remain culinarily neutral on the question of scratchi... We have no real opinion on the example he cho... ideas are more important than examples, and scrat... Blbllllaarrrrraargghggggghg!



Dear Eds,

I just recently learned of the technical linguistics jargon term “snowclone”. I didn’t know there was a word for that. What is there not a word for yet?

Ish Loewen


Dear Loewenish,

Of course there are things for which there are no words, but how are we supposed to tell you about them?

Think about it. Duh.



Dear Eds,

In response to a letter to the editor last year, both “theolinguistics” and “theo-linguistics” appear within the same paragraph. Is this variation sectarian or accidental?

Ramonda Milynne


Dear Ram,

Ugh. We were hoping no one would notice that. There is a major schism in the field of /θiolɪŋɡwɪstɪks/ over the question of whether the hyphen should be included or not. Much of our low-level editing is parceled out piecemeal to editors-for-hire (their rates have been unbelievably low since the global economic meltdown). Apparently one theolinguist edited part of the response, and a theo-linguist edited another. Have they learned nothing from the sad, sad story of the /baɪolɪŋɡwɪsts/?



Speculative Grammarian accepts well-written letters commenting on specific articles that appear in this journal or discussing the field of linguistics in general. We also accept poorly-written letters that ramble pointlessly. We reserve the right to ridicule the poorly-written ones and publish the well-written ones... or vice versa, at our discretion.

Dear Editors,

I think I may have discovered an unexpected allomorph of the so-called “F-word”. I have a long-time friendthe sort with whom one may seem to share a psychic connection, able to complete each other’s sentences and speak volumes with the a flick of an eyebrow. We were discussing a mutual enemy when she said:

I wish he could get his /ʔːː/ act together.

That’s a glottal stop held for a fraction of a second. I laughed and said that pause was as filled with vitriol as if she had used the “f-bomb”. She laughed and said that that had been exactly what she was thinking when she made the pause.

At a bar a few days later, I heard some misogynistic frat boys discussing some co-eds of their acquaintance and one of them said:

I want to /ʔːː/ her brains out.

Both I and the speaker’s friends knew exactly what he meant, though our reactions were quite different.

Later, as I pondered this data, I recalled an event from my childhood. My foul-mouthed Uncle Maynard often swore like a sailor. He claimed it was because he was a sailor, a 20-year-veteran of both the Royal Lichtenstein Navy and the Imperial Mongolian Navy. My mother often encouraged Uncle Maynard to “use only polite language”, usually by politely hitting him in the head with a polite cast iron skillet. One summer day he was trying to extricate a live squirrel from our barbeque grill. At one point he shouted:

The little mother-/ʔːː/ bit me!

Though I didn’t understand him at the time, my older brother laughed under his breath and my mother gave Uncle Maynard the same dirty look she usually did when he swore.

As a linguist, I’m wrestling with how to analyze these utterances. Is /ʔːː/ an especially aggressively minced oath, like “fricking”, but taken to some phonetically reductionist extreme? Is it a null or nearly-null allomorph of the f-word itself? Given that the parallel forms using something like “frick” or “frak” would lead one to expect /ʔːː/-ing, /ʔːː/, and /ʔːː/-er in the examples above, why are all the surface forms simply /ʔːː/? Are there similarly null allomorphs of -ing and -er? Or is a better analysis to assume that -ing and -er are reduced to null by some general rule related to (nearly) null allomorphs? Does the [+null] feature spread from the root to the inflectional affixes?

Language, Boletín de Lingüística, IJES, Investigationes Linguisticae, Lecturae Tropatorum, Llengua Societat i Comunicació, Lexicometrica, and Computational Linguistics have all refused to answer my letters.

This is my most desperate hour. Help me, SpecGram; you’re my only hope.

So /ʔːː/ Confused


Dear SʔC,

Ah, you have re-discovered our old friend, the ʔ-word. Congratulations.

Given the current linguistic political climate, we dare not make any pronouncements on the proper morphological or syntactic analysis of the phenomena you describe involving -ing and -er, for fear of being disparagingly and distractingly labelled (anti-)lexicalist.

However, we would love to share some interesting phonetic data with you. Despite the staideven stodgyreputation of this journal and its editors, heated words are frequently exchanged. And while, as linguists, we recognize that swear words have no inherent power, by unanimous agreement of the editorial board in 1894, /ʔːː/ is in fact the only swear word allowed in SpecGram editorial board meetings.

You might not believe that a nasalized, creaky-voiced, pharyngealized, aspirated, ejective glottal stop was possible, but no less than seven of them have occurred over the past hundred years in our various meetings, usually during discussions of comma placement.

Good /ʔːː/ Luck,

PS: “misogynistic frat boy” is redundant, much like “unmarried bachelor”.

Man in the Black Box—A Letter from the Managing Editor
Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know—Book VII—Madalena Cruz-Ferreira
SpecGram Vol CLVIII, No 3 Contents