30 March 2006

headless compound or what?

This has to be shared. I had lunch with a number of old linguist buddies this week in Tucson. One of them, a vegetarian, had ordered the shrimp and avocado salad, hold the shrimp. The venue was counter service: pay the cashier, then take your number and display it to ensure delivery to your table. We all pretty well went Dutch so that there was a number displayed for each of us on the table. After several minutes (during which my own comical meal arrived) the waitress sheepishly wandered by, saying to us, "did somebody here order a shrimp salad?" Nobody said anything, because nobody was expecting shrimp. As she walked away I thought of the special order (shrimp and avocado, hold the shrimp) and piped up, "is there shrimp in it?" And she said, relieved, "No", and placed it on the table.

[update, 6/6/06: despite the title of this post, shrimp salad in this story is not actually a headless compound.]

21 March 2006

Patsy Cline before and after Idol

One of the American Idol contestants, Kellie Pickler, did a Patsy Cline song last night, "Walking after midnight". Pickler is from North Carolina, and her performance included some expected and unexpected vowels. The theme for the night was "songs of the 50s", and Pickler usually chooses songs that let her infuse the country flavour she favours - hence, she went for a 50s country song. Of course, modern country music is very different from that of Cline's era, and one of the less obvious aspects is the vowel space of the vocalists.

The song begins with this:

I go out walkin
after midnight
out in the moonlight
just like we used to do
I'm always walkin
after midnight
searchin for you

Pickler's accent typifies the Southern Vowel Shift, which includes an exchange of the nuclei of the vowels /i/ and /i/, so that /i/ comes out as [ɪy], and /ɪ/ comes out as [iə] or [iyɪ]. A similar exchange occurs with /e/ and /ɛ/, which become [ɛy] and [eyɛ] respectively. Meanwhile, /ay/ becomes a monopthong except before voiceless consonants, and /u/ and /o/ are both made diphthongs with fronted nuclei. These features appear strongly even in song, to an extreme with Pickler; unfortunately I don't have a recording to exemplify it, as it's hidden behind a pay-for membership on the show's website.

Cline was born in Virginia and spent much of her adult life in Nashville, and her accent just sounds milder than Pickler's when she sings - I believe because few of the features of the Southern Vowel Shift appear in her songs. She does show the contextual monophthong for /ay/, i.e. everywhere except before voiceless consonants, like in the next few lines:

I [a:] walk for miles [ma:lz]
along the highway [ha:wei]
well that's just my [ma:] way
of sayin I [a:] love you
I'm always walkin
after midnight [nayt]
searchin for you

All these monophthongal [a]s are pretty front - almost [æ] (well, they line up with my own vowel in bad, which is retracted). Nothing else really jumps out as very Southern, except perhaps a slightly fronted vowel in love and just. There is also a bit of a front onglide in the [u] of words like do and moon, but the nuclei for these words (and in you) are really back - not the centralized [ɨw] you would hear from Pickler.

Then in the third segment, some of the rhymes involve /i:/, prime Southern Vowel shift territory:

I stop to see a weepin willow
Cryin on his pillow
Maybe he's cryin for me
And as the skies turn gloomy
Night winds whisper to me
I'm lonesome as I can be

In Cline's recording, the /i/ of maybe and be may have a very slightly laxed nucleus, just enough to notice. But in see and both examples of me, the vowel is more steadily [i:]. In Pickler's version, the /i:/ of all these rhymes was a huge diphthong, the nucleus of which was retracted beyond [ɪ], perhaps to [ə] or even [ʊ]. Again, I can't get the recording to illustrate.

That Pickler would sing a Patsy Cline with an accent unlike Cline's is no suprise, given their distance in time and space. But there's one oddity in the way Pickler produced the nucleus in the first syllable of the word searchin. The word is repeated throughout the song, and each time she produced something like [ɛʁ]: a lax front vowel followed by uvular /r/, rather than just a nucleic [ɹ] that any rhotic North American accent would use.

Where did this [ɛʁ] come from? It's not at all typical of Pickler's or any American's accent. It also doesn't sound like Cline's production of the same word. The only thing I can think of is that maybe Cline's searchin has some central vowel nucleus (say, [ɜ], the open-mid-central-unrounded vowel) followed by a rhotic offglide, rather than a steady [ɹ] nucleus. And then Pickler, trying to include some sort of emulation of Cline in her performance, tried to replicate this Cline's [ɜɹ] and ended up with [ɛʁ]. Meanwhile the uvularity of the /r/ (if that's what it was) is either a byproduct of its context (between a central vowel and a palatal consonant) or a perceptual illusion on my part.

13 March 2006

sports headline templates

I read a headline today that said Avalanche douse Flames.
I’ve seen this headline before, many times: X douse Flames, with different teams subbing in for X. For example:

CBC Sports: Oilers douse Flames in shootout. Posted Fri, 25 Nov 2005 23:48:43 EST. CBC Sports. Friday's Battle of Alberta turned into a battle of goaltenders with …

It turns out that X-douse-Flames is a basic sports-headline snowclone. It’s not immediately clear whether this is more prominent in any particular sport, or how long it’s been around, but some of what I’ve pulled together indicates (a) it can happen in other sports and (b) it’s at least as old as the NHL team, but may be more frequent in the last 15 or so years. I’d be willing to bet most fans of the Calgary Flames are tired of it.

Not every Flames loss is treated as a dousing, but a Google search on individual teams reveals that nearly every team in the NHL has doused the Flames at some point. Here are some ghit counts for each other team as X in X-douse-flames:

“Oilers douse flames” 42
“Canucks douse flames” 49
“Flyers douse flames” 22
“Wild douse flames” 13
“Red wings douse flames” 286
“wings douse flames” 296
“Blackhawks douse flames” 6
“Hawks douse flames” 25 (includes KU Jayhawks)
“Leafs douse flames” 8
“Senators douse flames” 4
“Sens douse flames” 24
“Avalanche douse flames” 1
“Avs douse flames” 29
“Canadiens douse flames” 15
“Habs douse flames” 0
“penguins douse flames” 0
“Rangers douse flames” 280 (includes Dandenong Rangers over Sydney Flames of Australia's WNBL)
“Devils douse flames” 44 (includes Duke Blue Devils)
“Caps douse flames” 1
“Capitals douse flames” 0
“Islanders douse flames” 0
“Isles douse flames” 0
“Sabres douse flames” 2
“Bruins douse flames” 5
“Kings douse flames” 1
“Ducks douse flames” 14
“Jackets douse flames” 62
“Blues douse flames” 2
“Stars douse flames” 21
“Coyotes douse flames” 7
“Sharks douse flames” 115
“Thrashers douse flames” 0
“Hurricanes douse flames” 2
“canes douse flames” 0
“lightning douse flames” 20
“bolts douse flames” 0
“predators douse flames” 8
“preds douse flames” 156

OK, the relative numbers are meaningless. It is weird that the Predators, a recent expansion team, would douse the Flames more often than long-time divisional rivals with winning traditions like the Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks, and Colorado Avalanche. These numbers just indicate how often the phrase is used, not how often the Flames lose, and for some reason Nashville writers who cover the Predators (perhaps even just one) are more open to its use than, say, Toronto writers who cover the Maple Leafs. Also, the fact that the Jayhawks, Blue Devils, and Dandenong Rangers have doused the Flames indicates that this construction is available in other sports.

Lest you think I’m dumping on the Flames here, I’m not. Other team names are subject to similar templatic headlines: for example, the Philadelphia Flyers are grounded when they lose:

rangers-ground-flyers 8
penguins-ground-flyers 2
leafs-ground-flyers 0
senators-ground-flyers 3
devils-ground-flyers 11
red-wings-ground-flyers 1
wings-ground-flyers 5
ducks-ground-flyers 2
lightning -ground-flyers 64
bolts-ground-flyers 5
caps-ground-flyers 0
capitals-ground-flyers 3

and so on.

Headline templates also appear for winners. The Anaheim Ducks, for example, have a nasty quack:

Ducks quack down on Coyotes' streak
These Ducks Quack Back at Crunch

When the Carolina Hurricanes win, they blow their opponents away. “Hurricanes-blow nhl” gets 767 hits. I think I’ve also seen them downgraded.

Hot Hurricanes Blow Past Atlanta

And the Tampa Bay Lightning strike their opponents:

Lightning strike Flyers to stay hot

In fact, “lightning-strike nhl” yields 20,200 pages – further evidence that the number of pages itself is not very meaningful; in this case, many of the pages use the independently occurring expression “lightning strike” to refer to events not involving the Tampa team.

Still, it is worth noting that the luckless Washington Capitals have had some difficulty dousing the Flames and grounding the Flyers. It is thus somewhat ironic that one of the earliest appearances of “X douse Flames” in Lexis-Nexis is from 1981, in a recap of a Capitals game:
December 3, 1981
Coaches and players list various differences between winning and losing but the one about ''wanting it more'' has become a cliche. Washington Capitals right winger Mike Gartner said ''wanting it more'' accounted for his team's takeover and 9-3 rout of Calgary Wednesday night. ''I couldn't really pinpoint it but they played the first ten minutes like they really wanted it,'' said Gartner after his first hat trick of the year helped douse the Flames' hope for a win.

The Flames aren’t doused in a Lexis-Nexis headline until 1989:

Bruins douse Flames; Crowder's late goal caps comeback, 4-3. The Boston Globe, February 19, 1989

I was doubtful that the 1989 headline, and the 1981 article, were the first uses of “X-douse-Flames”, so I checked a different database (ProQuest/New York Times) and found a single Times headline from October, 1972, shortly after the then-Atlanta Flames entered the league:
Stars douse Flames, 6-0. Atlanta, Oct 18 (UPI) – Bill Goldsworthy and Dennis Hextall scored two goals each for Minnesota tonight and Cesare Maniago posted his first shutout of the season, 6-0, over the Atlanta Flames.

I’ll note that other examples of flames being doused in the sports pages include a few literal fires:
February 27, 1986
CHANDLER, Ariz. A natural gas explosion sent a big ball of flame through the Milwaukee Brewers' new spring training clubhouse Thursday, injuring 10 people including the Manager George Bamberger and General Manager Harry Dalton. Bamberger, Dalton and others were hurt trying to douse the burning clothes of third base Coach Tony Muser and Jeff Sutton, a plumber. Sutton and Muser were seriously burned.

Hornets, Panthers players douse flames on accident victim. Associated Press. All Rights Reserved, July 23, 1999.

And some doused flames are metaphorical:
January 19, 1990
HARRY ATKINS, AP Sports Writer
ANN ARBOR, Mich. There was no chance of Loy Vaught's fire contributing to the acid rain problem. Every time the Michigan senior left the game, Ohio State was able to douse the flame Thursday night.

Football: FA Cup Countdown: Casey ready to douse his old flames; A sharp Cheltenham forward has mixed feelings about blunting the Blues. Phil Shaw reports. The Independent (London), November 15, 1990.

BASEBALL; Rebounding Clemens Douses the Yankees' Flame, The New York Times, May 29, 1991

After 1990, teams with Flames as their name have been doused much more frequently, in various leagues:

    Capitals Try to Douse Fleury-Sparked Flames, The Washington Post, January 11, 1991

    Flames Douse Capitals' Home Fires, 6-4, The Washington Post, February 3, 1993

    Canucks douse Flames in 2 OT, The Commercial Appeal (Memphis), May 1, 1994

    Rangers' Messier nets 500th goal, douses Flames 4-2, USA TODAY, November 7, 1995

    'Hockey gods' help Sharks douse Flames, AP, May 08, 1995

    Potvin goes on the offensive as P-Bruins douse Flames; Not known for his scoring, he chalks up a pair of goals in a 3-2 victory over Saint John., Providence Journal-Bulletin (Rhode Island), December 11, 1995

    Habs' Three Short-handed Goals Douse Flames, October 17, 1996

    Coyotes Pounce: Phoenix douses Flames as Fleury benched, Calgary Herald (Alberta, Canada), February 27, 1997

    HOKIES USE YOUTH TO DOUSE PUNCHLESS FLAMES, Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia), December 2, 1997

    Sakic shines for Colorado: Star scores two power-play goals to help douse Flames, Calgary Herald (Alberta, Canada), January 22, 1999

    ICE HOCKEY: BLAZE TURN UP THE HEAT TO DOUSE FLAMES, Birmingham Evening Mail, September 13, 1999

    Forsberg scores two goals, douses Flames, The Denver Post, November 28, 1999

    'Cats unable to douse Flames, Telegram & Gazette (Massachusetts), March 14, 1998

    Phantoms douse Flames again: Philly closes in on Calder Cup title, Calgary Herald (Alberta, Canada), June 6, 1998

    Leafs strike early to douse Flames: Calgary pays price for coming out flat in home opener, Calgary Herald (Alberta, Canada), October 17, 1998

    Sydor continues hot start as Stars douse Flames, stay perfect at home, Austin American-Statesman (Texas), October 21, 1998

    IceCats douse Flames, move into first place, Telegram & Gazette (Massachusetts), November 2, 1998 Monday,,

    Rookie douses Flames: Houde's game-winner caps Canadiens' two-goal outburst, Calgary Herald (Alberta, Canada), November 20, 1998

    SPARTANS USE DEFENSE TO DOUSE THE FLAMES, The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA), January 5, 1999


    Hockey; THE NHL; B's douse Fleury Flames; Trade for veteran out of the question, The Boston Herald, February 12, 1999


    DEFENSE DOES ITS JOB AS SKYHAWKS HOLD ON TO DOUSE FLAMES, 34-26, Dayton Daily News (Ohio), April 9, 2000.


    GAMECOCKS RALLY, DOUSE FLAMES 6-4, Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia), May 27, 2000.

    SAN JOSE DOUSES FLAMES, Capital Times (Madison, WI.), December 5, 2000.

So, X-douse-Flames appeared three times before 1990, two of them in headlines, and then exploded. Why this happened is beyond me, but several explanations are possible. Maybe Lexis-Nexis has fewer sources archived for earlier years, so the Boston Globe might be indexed for the last 150 years, but the Dayton Daily News might be indexed only back to 1992. This would leave some 1980’s examples of X-douse-Flames unrecorded.

Or, maybe there has been a shift in the way headlines are made, with wordplay-based or templatic constructions growing in popularity. I guess I could track this by looking for a similar trend for phrases like X-ground-Flyers, but I wonder if any other headline template has the salience and recurrence of X-douse Flames.

Regardless, it seems that these templates emerge when wordplay on the team’s name is available. So the Avalanche can bury their opponents, the Flames can burn, the Stars shine, and the Sharks bite whether they win or lose. Perhaps the Kings rule, but the Rangers and Senators likely don’t have any good templates. (I’ve always wanted to see “Parliament is in session” in print for a Senators win.)

[Update 3/15/06: I neglected to point out the one example above of the Flames doing the dousing, in the Feb. 1993 headline. Coincidentally, another such reverse example showed up today with an online headline in the Ottawa Sun reading "Alfie strikes Lightning". The print version reads "Alfie jolts bolts." Go figure.]

[Update 3/16/06: Another headline, from cbc.ca, with the same reversal of roles, referring to the same game: Alfredsson strikes down Lightning.]

[Then on Yahoo, 3/17/06, a preview headline reads Flyers hope to finally strike Lightning. After the game, the headline for the recap says Lightning jolt Flyers to bolster playoff hopes.]