‘You just say what’s in your squanch’

March 24, 2016

Last year I shared a scene from Rick and Morty that contained a series of nonsense words like plumbus, schleem, and blamf. It was probably my least popular post in years. Undeterred, I’m featuring the show again. (I hadn’t seen it in November; now I have.)

In an episode called ‘The Wedding Squanchers’ we’re introduced to the cat-like character Squanchy on Planet Squanch and, more to the point, to the improbably versatile word squanch.

The word’s hyperpolysemy quickly becomes a running gag. Squanchy tells Rick his house party is squanchy and that he likes Rick’s squanch (style, I think). Then a specific verb use of squanch takes us into adult territory. Well, it is Adult Swim.

Rick and Morty - The Wedding Squanchers on Planet Squanch - Adult Swim

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Nonsense words in Rick and Morty

November 26, 2015

A few people have recommended the Adult Swim cartoon Rick and Morty to me. I haven’t watched it yet, but based on this clip (and glowing reviews) I definitely will. Transcript below the video:


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Ending a sentence with 15+ prepositions

January 14, 2013

One of daftest and dustiest old grammar myths is the unfounded rule against ending a sentence with a preposition. This fake proscription seems to have been invented by a Latin-loving John Dryden in 1672 and, like an indestructible demonic meme, continues to gnaw at people’s minds centuries later. Some even believe it.

Avoiding preposition-stranding (as it’s known) can have deliberately comical results, famously in not-Churchill’s ‘arrant nonsense up with which I will not put’. And then there’s the well-known line contrived to end in a whole stack of prepositions: ‘What did you bring that book that I didn’t want to be read to out of [about Down Under] up for?’

A couple of those ‘prepositions’ might be better described as adverbs, but anyway. Variations on this line abound; until lately, though, I had never seen one so extravagant as this 15-preposition-pile monster:

What did you bring me the magazine I didn’t want to be read to out of about “‘Over Under Sideways Down’ up from Down Under” up around for?

See Futility Closet for context, involving recursion and lighthouses. After I linked to it on Twitter, a couple of people pointed out that the line cheats by ignoring the use–mention distinction – that is, many of the prepositions aren’t used as prepositions. (Also: adverbs.) But I think cheating is allowed here in the interests of silliness.

Non-cognate interlexical homographs text vote

December 6, 2012


Viz comic - 'a manger' homographs


A bit of seasonal silliness from the current issue of Viz comic (#221).

Image via @SpankTM.

Two poems, two polls

May 22, 2012

You might remember the Monster A Day drawing blog that prompted my short verse about a whispering shell. Here are two more whimsical rhymes, best read in tandem with the lovely illustrations.

‘The monster that waits in the cupboard of an abandoned house’:

In a comfy cupboard on the quietest floor
Of an empty house with the creakiest door
Sits a great big thing with its furry face stuck
In the cosy excitement of a paperback book.

‘The monster that steals your socks… for sock races!’

You’re probably wondering what happens your sock
When it darts with a blur past the grandfather clock.
I’ll tell you: your foot’s not the favourite place
Of a sock that just wants to be sock-monster-raced!


On an unrelated note, I’m honoured to be included in Lexiophiles’ top language professional blogs and top language Twitter accounts 2012. Many thanks to the kind reader(s) who nominated me.

You can browse the lists for languagey goodness, and you can vote for me at Sentence first and @StanCarey, or for whatever takes your fancy.

Update: The results are in, and this blog and my Twitter page both placed respectably: #21 in the language blogs, #14 in the language Twitterers. Considering I mentioned it only in passing, and tweeted about it just once, I’m quite amazed. Thanks to all who voted, and to bab.la and Lexiophiles for the fun and games.

Ragbag of reduplication and ráiméis

April 2, 2012

Here are excerpts from my latest two posts for Macmillan Dictionary Blog.

A hotchpotch of reduplication is a brief introduction to, and survey of, reduplicatives. Reduplication is where “a word or part of a word is repeated, sometimes modified, and added to make a longer term”, such as aye-aye, hotchpotch, and ping-pong:

Reduplication can be categorised as follows: exact or repeating reduplication (bye-bye, hush-hush, goody-goody), rhyming reduplication (itsy-bitsy, okey-dokey, boogie woogie), and ablaut reduplication (chit-chat, tip-top, riff-raff). Ablaut is a term introduced by Jacob Grimm; it refers to vowel change, which in reduplicatives often follows certain patterns: zigzag, knick-knack, mingle-mangle, or criss-cross, flip-flop, sing-song.

Clusters of letters recur, as in shilly-shally, dilly-dally, silly billy and willy-nilly, while ‘h’ is a common first letter, appearing thus in helter-skelter, heebie-jeebies, hurdy-gurdy, hurly-burly, higgledy-piggledy, hocus-pocus, and hob-nob. Some reduplication is onomatopoetic or echoic: pitter-patter, splish splash, ding-dong and tick-tock… [more]

Poppycock, bunkum and rawmaish looks at our words for nonsense. Many of them, such as those listed in the next paragraph, are colourful, old-fashioned English terms; rawmaish is one that overseas readers are less likely to be familiar with: it’s an Anglicisation of the Irish word ráiméis, meaning nonsense or foolish talk.

Many words for nonsense have an entertaining, almost clownish feel. Think of baloney, balderdash, piffle, gobbledegook, gibberish, poppycock, flapdoodle, twaddle, tommyrot, hogwash, hooey, and a load of old cobblers. These are words to delight in, flamboyant terms that parade themselves in a sentence . . . .

Some have histories as curious as their sound and appearance. In her MED Magazine article ‘Talking Nonsense: old-fashioned terms for nonsense in English’, Diane Nicholls reports that poppycock originates in a Dutch dialectal word, pappekak, which translates literally as “soft dung”, while bunkum and its abbreviated form bunk hail from Buncombe, a county in North Carolina, owing to a minor political incident there in the early 19th century. [more]

Both articles have benefited greatly from the discussion in the comments, where readers have shared their favourite reduplicatives and words for nonsense, sometimes in verse form. More thoughts are always welcome, and my older articles are available here.


October 25, 2011

On Twitter some time ago, I had a chat with Kory Stamper and Jeremy Kahn about the plural of octopus (octopuses? octopi? octopodes?)

This prompted Jeremy to write a rhyme, Plurals of the many-footed, in which he posed the question: “Would they think us all wusses / not to embrace the octopuses?”

I responded with eight hurried lines of nonsense, reproduced here for the pleasure (or more likely pain) of posterity:

Octopodes, they swim not run,
They have a beak but not a bill.
Larger things they tend to shun,
Littler things they tend ta kill.
But what an octopus might think –
Whether singular or plural –
Is hidden in a cloud of ink
Obscuring all things cephaloneural.

Jeremy’s post links to Kory’s helpful and popular video for Merriam-Webster about the various plurals of octopus, and to an excellent Stæfcræft & Vyākarana post on the same subject.

To these I will add this useful discussion at bradshaw of the future, who notes that “usage trumps etymology every time”.

I prefer the plural octopuses, except where rhyme or rhythm warrant one of the alternatives. An adequate summary of their merits would require several paragraphs, which would be pointless given the links above: all are worth a moment of your time, if the topic interests you.

Wikipedia also has a decent, well-referenced account.