A Bit Of An Explanation

I am not a professional. Not anywhere near it. But I like to think that some little observations I have about language and the social construction of it are worthwhile.

Some of these notes were originally written for acquaintances with no linguistic experience whatsoever, so please be patient through the explanations of basic concepts, and the simplistic tone.

Monday, January 17, 2011


            You had one of two possible reactions to that:
            “Where? I don’t see a yellow bird on this page!”
            “Why? What’s coming at me?”
            I’ll admit, I was reminded of this by one of my favorite TV shows, Whose Line Is It Anyway. (Here’s the clip, in case you’re interested, or if you just want some serious laughs.) I then headed off to tvtropes.org, where I was sure I had seen this before.
            Sure enough, in the article titled “Duck!”, I found what I was looking for. It lists the two common meanings of duck, and continues on to how they’re used in fiction.

            “Characters in fiction have a surprising tendency to mix these words up. Generally, if an object is coming at someone very fast, and they are advised to "duck!" they will immediately look around for a duck…thinking the word to have been a reference to the latter example, that is, the bird. Or, if there is a duck, and someone informs them of its presence with the demonstrative "duck!", they will cover their head to avoid an incoming object, thinking the other character to have been advising them to lower their head, as in the former definition.”

            What is interesting to me is that this seems to be the only word that is subject to such confusion in a humorous context. When someone shouts “Run!”, another character doesn’t start examining her tights for a run in them. If a villain tells the hero to “Die!”, she doesn’t look around for 1.A cube used in games, or 2.A coloring tool.
            I still like the article, though, because it shows how much we can make fun of our own language.
            “WATCH OUT! DUCK!”
            “No, you idiot, it’s a swan.”

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