Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Spell it

Young Eric came up from the Language Log plaza over the weekend. We had a big part in his honor with lots of booze-fueled linguistics talk. Things were good most of the night until we got into a nasty argument about whether the snowclone "Can't even spell X" is an example of linguification.
I argued that the "Can't even spell X" snowclone is a comment on the extent of a person's knowledge about a particular subject, so it does not qualify as a linguification. Eric, on the other hand, was firmly in the Pullum camp.
Here is the definition Pullum gives for linguification:

To linguify a claim about things in the world is to take that claim and construct from it an entirely different claim that makes reference to the words or other linguistic items used to talk about those things, and then use the latter claim in a context where the former would be appropriate.

Here are some examples of the "Can't even spell X" snowclone:
I can't even spell spaghetti never mind talk Italian.
Accountability? They Can't Even Spell it!
Don't worry; they can't even spell "abstinence"

You see what I'm sayin? Or do I have to spell it out for you?

2 comments:

Eric said...

I maintain it's linguification -- though I'd maybe be willing to concede a continuum between linguification and metaphor (as Pullum clarified the distinction in the second-to-last paragraph here.

On the other hand, I'd judge "spell it out for X" as a darn good metaphor, and not a linguification at all.

Happy times.

Anonymous said...

I argued that the "Can't even spell X" snowclone is a comment on the extent of a person's knowledge about a particular subject

Your examples don't support that argument.

Accountability? They Can't Even Spell it!

This suggests to me not they they don't know much about accountability, but they do not practice it.

Similarly, I would expect Don't worry; they can't even spell "abstinence" to imply that they are promiscious, not that they don't understand what abstinence is.

The claim that failing to be accountable would mean that you couldn't spell accountability seems to me to be consistent with linguification.

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