Nonsense Expressions

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by StrangerInAStrangeLand, Sep 2, 2008.

  1. Steve100 O͓͍̯̬̯̙͈̟̥̳̩͒̆̿ͬ̑̀̓̿͋ͬ ̙̳ͅ ̫̪̳͔O Valued Senior Member

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  3. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    We seem to be drifting off thread so I will add my push:

    Meaning and use of words constantly change. Example I like best is "Lady"

    It rarely means a "Lord's wife" any more, at least in the USA. It has come to mean "female" as in:

    A drunk sailor and his lady are sleeping it off in the gutter.
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  5. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    "Lord's wife" was only one intermediate step in this word's tumultuous evolution. It comes from Anglo-Saxon hlaf-dige, which means "bread kneader," i.e., the family cook. Hlaf evolved into "loaf," dige into "dough."

    "Lord" ain't so exalted either. It's from hlaf-wird, "bread guardian." Wird is our verb "ward."

    You can see the Indo-European root of hlaf in the Russian word for bread, khlyep.
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  7. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    Interesting. Any conncetion to:

    "Lord, give us our daily bread." of the Christians?
  8. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Just a cosmic coincidence. When the bible was translated into English, "lord" had already ascended to its medieval meaning, "the master of the estate or realm." I doubt that anyone remembered its roots in Anglo-Saxon, considering that in the first couple of centuries after the Norman Invasion, English was treated as a vulgar language by the French rulers, so there was very little formal study of it. The equivalent word in the Spanish translation is señor, which has a very similar meaning.

    Without being a biblical scholar, I think the Hebrew word they were translating was YHWH. That's a name for their god that was deliberately written with no vowels because they believed that uttering his name would be the utmost blasphemy and bring down even more wrath upon them than they'd already been subjected to. I guess they figured that sticking a couple of arbitrary vowels in there in order to be able to recite it out loud gave too small a chance of hitting on the right pronunciation. Let's see, classical Hebrew had something like twenty vowels and there's room for three of them in a four-letter word, so the odds would be 8,000 to one. I can't imagine somebody hasn't gotten it right accidentally a few times over the centuries.

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    Nowadays they standardize on Yahweh, probably because the first guy who said it that way wasn't turned into a pillar of salt. The Romans tempted fate and put in different vowels, and pronounced it as Yehowah, but they spelled it in Latin as Jehovah, so that's why we say it in English with those odd consonants instead of semivowels.

    Anyway, there wasn't any good way to translate Jehovah and for some reason the English translators didn't just want to call him Jehovah, so they called him the Lord.

    BTW, even though in English we call that passage from the New Testament "The Lord's Prayer," the word "lord" does not occur in it. In Latin it's just called the Pater Noster, and I think many people just refer to it in their own language as the "Our Father," because those are its first two words.

    The Lord's Prayer is the most popular and well-known prayer in Christianity. It's been estimated that on Easter Sunday, two billion people say it at least once.

    As for the "give us today our daily bread" line, we have to remember that in Roman times mankind--a carnivore by instinct and metabolism--had converted himself to a grain-intensive diet. Many people got almost no meat at all in their diets and they were lucky to get enough dairy products to satisfy their minimum nutritional requirement for certain amino acids. So "one's daily bread" was just about all one had for sustenance, and beseeching one's god to keep it coming was basically asking him to keep one alive.

    It's interesting to note that since the ancient people in fact knew nothing about balancing the amino acids in their protein sources and the vitamins and minerals in their daily menu, they were eating a very unhealthy diet. This is reflected in the fact that at the end of the Mesolithic Era, when we stopped being hunter-gatherers and eating primarily meat, the life expectancy of an adult who had survived the risks of childhood was 50-55, whereas in the Roman Empire, when people subsisted on "their daily bread," it had fallen to the low 20s.
  9. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    Not consciously, did they know, but humans are quite good correlators. I have read that succotash (corn and bean, lima beans, usually I think) is a balanced set of amino acids. Corn is missing Lysine, I think, and perhaps others which the beans supply. This mix, so I have read, was common dish of the Incas etc.

    While on the subject of beans, my nearly illiterate field worker on farm I owned taught me something, which seems to be true, about them. Namely, humans are the only animal that likes to eat them.
  10. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Most of the species and varieties of beans now cultivated came from the New World, so Europeans did not have them until recently. The people of Central and South America did, of course, and the eastern Asians had their soybeans. The Europeans had a few types of beans but apparently they could not be developed into an important food crop.

    Diet for a Small Planet, one of the first books that spawned a semi-rational vegetarian diet movement, explains the amino acid issue in elaborate detail. There are several essential amino acids missing from grains and several that are missing from nuts and seeds, but if you combine them in the right proportion you come pretty close to simulating the combination from animal tissue, which is what our bodies are adapted to eating. Beans are technically in the same category as nuts and seeds, but they don't have all the same amino acids, so grains and beans without nuts and seeds don't provide complete nutrition.
    Well it's no wonder. They're like grains, built a little bit too sturdy so it's hard for any animal's digestive system to break them down unless they're cooked first. And they're larger than grains so even an animal that can digest wheat, corn, rice, barley, etc. might not have a stomach that can crack beans.

    Alfalfa is a legume and I know they feed it to cattle, but they feed them the entire plant, as hay, not just the beans.
  11. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    I started this thread with a clear purpose & topic which has been severely perverted. I don't understand why you people don't start another thread instead.
    You could call it Explaining Expressions or There's No Such Thing As Nonsense Expressions or It Doesn't Matter 1 Whit What People Say, Whether They Mean What They Say Or Whether They Know What They're Saying.
    I'd like to take my name & everything I posted off this thread but it seems I can't.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2008
  12. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    But you've been as guilty as anyone else of going off thread. In fact, you've probably been more guilty since you've made more posts than anyone else and an extremely high percentage of the expressions you cite are NOT nonsense expressions.

    I considered doing you a favor and separating this into two threads, as you suggested, but I discovered that many of the posts in both threads would be yours.

    The following posts--all YOURS!--are not nonsense. I understand that the reason they are not nonsense may not be clear to everyone, including PROMINENTLY yourself--as well as you yourself explaining why some of then are NOT nonsense. The fact is that much of this thread has been taken up by explanations of why these expressions are not nonsense. I don't see any value in breaking it apart and it would be an awful lot of work for me.
  13. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    "Nonsense Expressions" is my example, to be on thread, or close, but it is not really an "expression".

    If any set of words is used often enough to be called an "expression" then the very fact that it is in common use shows that that collection of word has a well understood meaning. Is not ___________ , but "nonsense expressions" is _____________. (Some help me out here. My memory fails me, but there is the perfect word for set of self contradictory words, like "tiny gigantic" thing.)

    Now "cup horse green" is nonsense but it is not an expression.
    "Run like the wind" is an expression but not nonsense - It has a well understood meaning.

    If this thread is about what I think the OPer intended, then I think it should be called something like "Non-literal expressions" or "figurative expressions"

    About the only nonsense expressions I can think of occur in songs as fillers.

    I did not go to Yale (I think that is where "the tables down at Morries" are in the Whiffenpoo song) but I think part of the refrain is "Baa, baa, baa." or "Rub a dub, dub" as in "Three men in a tub" are nonsense expression.

    Can anyone think of a truly non-sense expression that is not a filler in a song? Rules are strict: - Your entry must not convey any commonly understood meaning – I. e. it must be nonsense, yet sufficiently frequently used that no one could claim to have just made it up as I do for my nonsense "cup horse green".
  14. Steve100 O͓͍̯̬̯̙͈̟̥̳̩͒̆̿ͬ̑̀̓̿͋ͬ ̙̳ͅ ̫̪̳͔O Valued Senior Member

    I'm sure if you heard me talk, you'd think I was talking nonsense just because of my dialect.
    I can't think of any truly nonsense expression at the moment.
  15. Steve100 O͓͍̯̬̯̙͈̟̥̳̩͒̆̿ͬ̑̀̓̿͋ͬ ̙̳ͅ ̫̪̳͔O Valued Senior Member

    I thought of one. "I'll knock seven bells out of you".
    But supposedly it comes from the days when most boxing matches were 7 rounds.
  16. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    Yes they are nonsense. The vast majority of the times people say them, it doesn't make any SENSE. They don't KNOW what they're saying & often don't CARE. It's ABSURD.
    It's evidently not clear to some that they ARE nonsense. It's evidently not clear to some that language & communication should make sense.
    Explaining where it came from or what it once meant doesn't mean it's not nonsense. Usually what it once meant doesn't fit what they think they're saying.
    Using logic in this was condemned & that's about as foolish as can be.
    Most people don't know where the saying "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread" came from & don't care & what they mean by fear is NOT what it was explained to mean.
    It needs to be improved & I'm trying to contribute something to that.
    I started the thread, I wrote the OP & I'm off topic. Simply ridiculous.

    I didn't ask anyone to work to separate this thread. I 1st asked that it be done away with. Then I asked why you don't start another thread if you don't want to stay on topic here.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 12, 2008
  17. Cellar_Door Whose Worth's unknown Registered Senior Member

    She's a terribly nice girl.

    Stand down, men.

    Believe you me.

    Goose walked over my grave.


    What's nonsensical about that? The saying is referring to how blood ties are thicker and more substantial than anything else.
  18. kevinalm Registered Senior Member

    I believe the full line is something like 'We are poor little lambs who have lost our way, baa, baa, baa.' A bit silly but it does make sense.
  19. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    It's called an oxymoron.
    The Whiffenpoofs are the Yale glee club, and the name comes from a Victor Herbert operetta. Mory's is the bar where they've been hanging out for a hundred years. "Baa baa baa" is not a nonsense expression since the refrain compares the Whiffenpoofs to a group of lost lambs. My high school choir sang the song.
  20. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    Thanks That was the word my memory would not deliver. These "tip of the touge" conditions tell quite interesting things about the functioning of memory and show that on at least some occasions the information is well stored but just can not be accessed. I am of the opinion than most of what you have forgotten is still "well stored" but the access process to it is broken. But can not say more except "cow horse green" as must stay on thread.

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    Oh sage of all things linguistic, How did the era get to be called: "Tin Pan Alley Era" and when was it? (roughly the start and end)? Quite possibly if even you do not know, then "Tin Pan Alley Era" is at least in the running for a Nonsense Expression. (Commonly phrase with no well known meaning)

    Yes, I agree Kevinalm. I had for gotten that They were "poor little lambs."

    I think "Rub a dub dub" still qualifies.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 13, 2008
  21. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    Yes language & communication should make sense. - Transfer the intended idea /information from speaker to hearer with high probability of success.

    This, in most languages that have a written version, is achived by a set of nearly (>99%) arbitary sounds and written symbols. "Rose" is arbitary, but undestood by English speaker to refer to a type of flower on plant with cane like stocks that usually have thrones. But "zook" would do just as well, however "oozk" would not as there are phonetic constaints on words.

    Likewise "Big" could be "tet."

    If this were the case "Tet zook" would replace "Big rose " with no problems. I am sure you agree, but my point is that all phrases get their meaning the same way: by common usage.

    Thus, no well understood word or phrase can then declared to be nonsense, just because if disected into its componet parts it is an oxymoron. For example is "bedrock" nonsense because beds are not made of rock? If not, then why is an officer telling his troops to "stand down" nonsense? It is very well understood and an efficient order. It communicates well. You are confusing "nonsense" with "not literal."

    "Stand down" is not nonsense, but is arbitary as are ALL words and pharases. I still think that to be nonsense, the arbitary word or phrase must fail to communicate to the typical hearer. (There are private words and phrases, which are nonsense to most, but not to the intended hearer. - I give one in next line, just for you.)

    Wake up and smell the tet zooks.

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    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 13, 2008
  22. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Tin Pan Alley was West 28th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues on Manhattan Island, the home of the music publishing industry from the 1880s until the Hollywood district of Los Angeles began to eclipse New York City as the entertainment capital of the USA in the mid-20th century. The origin of the name is not clear, but it is widely interpreted as a derogatory reference to many pianos playing at once, sounding like people pounding on tin pans.

    There was a vague continuity in American popular music during that era, even though it evolved from traditional songwriting into ragtime and blues and finally swing. Music from the 1890s was still played at dances in the 1940s, and people who grew up in the 1890s were fairly comfortable listening to Benny Goodman and Frank Sinatra. It wasn't until the 1950s, when the first generation born after WWII asserted itself, that there was a wrenching discontinuity in America's musical tradition. The Tin Pan Alley era ended, and the era of rock and roll dawned. We didn't care much for Tommy Dorsey and Irving Berlin, and our parents couldn't stand Little Richard and Chuck Berry.
    Nursery rhymes are full of nonsense. Some of it is deliberate nonsense, put together to make an amusing rhyme, such as "Rub-a-dub dub, three men in a tub." Others turn out to be remnants of songs in other languages. It used to be common in England for the wealthy people to hire nannies from Ireland and Wales, and the nannies sang songs to their patrons' children in Gaelic and Welsh.

    When I was a kid we learned a song for a school play called "Buttermilk Hill,' which contained about 75% true nonsense, i.e. sounds that were not even words. "Shooley, shooley, shooley too. Shooley sack-a-wack, libba-bibba boo." Forty years later I saw a movie that was set in medieval Ireland, and a mother was singing that song to her baby. I barely recognized the original Gaelic lyrics; the ones I had learned were terribly garbled.

    Once people begin singing a song to their children, it may live for centuries or forever. The things that we learn when we're very young are things we never forget; they're the last things to go even with Alzheimer's. I've noticed that songs by the Beatles, such as "Yellow Submarine" (an obvious choice) are starting to show up on compilations for children.

    Anthropologists say that many of the games European and American children play today have changed very little from those played in the Roman era. I suspect we'll find that the same is true of children's music. We're probably still humming some melodies that Roman children sang.
    But don't forget that speech has connotations as well as denotations. Sometimes all we're trying to communicate to the other person is how we feel about something.
    Bedrock is the "bed" of solid, immobile rock upon which the less stable surface that we build houses on is supported. If you can sink a pillar all the way down and anchor it to the bedrock, you've got a solid house, even if it's on the side of a hill. A bed is not necessarily something soft; it's something supportive. This is the how meanings of words drift over the centuries and we can track those shifts by finding compound words or expressions that have retained the original meaning.
    This is another example of the same thing, a shift in meaning. "Stand" was originally the gerund of "stay," which it still is in German. The original meaning of "to stand" was merely to remain fixed in one spot. It was later that it became more specific, that the standing had to be performed in an upright position. We still say the complementary "stand up," after all, meaning "change the position of your standing from sitting to upright."
  23. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    Thanks. Another request oh sage of all things linguistic about the nusery ryme "Jack and Jill." On thread as it may be an example of once a every meaningful expression now being nonsense to all but a sage like you and one like me who has read about things economic for 6 decades.

    I have read it was about an economics time very much like ours now. The validity of that all hinges on the following: Were Jack and Jill ever slang for coins (or at least money)? Jack being some English money and Jill probability be some French money (or that of some economic power other than England at the time the nursery ryme was created, perhaps as only new words to an older tune.). Certainly "crown" could be a reference to English money or English economic power.

    "Up a hill" referring to an inflationary period prior to a economic collapse or depresion, which first struck in England:
    "Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after"

    "Water" is certainly something that many sought at a well back in then in the era before indoor facets were available but never on a hill top. So this could be a reference to the sillyness of all expecting some "greater fool" to come and buy their inflated assets at even a higher price than they foolishly paid.
    Can everyone say "investment property"?

    I.e. if Jack (of the Union Jack?) and Jill are reference to money this well known nursery ryme is not nonsense, but a valuable economics lesson many needed to have heeded during the last 8 years. If it is, when was the panic?

    PS I have alway thought "Union Jack" was a reference to the English flag, but perhaps it was earlier a reference to the adoption of a unified currency replacing many more local ones in England and the modern reference to the flag came with the English empire era.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 13, 2008

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