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#1 2011-01-22 17:32:45

jorkel
Eggcornista
Registered: 2006-08-08
Posts: 1455

Shove / Shuffle off to class

I previously posted on shove/shuffle in 2006 in a specialized context…

http://eggcorns.lascribe.net/forum/view … hp?id=1326

Having long forgotten about that, I came upon it in a more modern context.

It’s interesting to comparing “shove off to class” with “shuffle off to class” ... Both usages seem to be correct, with the former a bit trendier than the latter—which I’m guessing preceded the former. But since both usages are correct (and neither is idiomatic) one cannot lay claim to an eggcorn. Even so, this falls into that category of reshaping in which one word suggests the other. That is, if “shuffle off” had not been in common usage I doubt we would have spotted many instance of “shove off” in the current context. Just some food for thought.

Last edited by jorkel (2011-01-22 17:34:15)

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#2 2011-01-22 19:57:42

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1777
Website

Re: Shove / Shuffle off to class

Joe, you wrote that “neither is idiomatic”. What do you mean by that? I would have said that both of them are.


*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .

(Possible Corollary: it is, and we are .)

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#3 2011-01-22 20:27:11

Dixon Wragg
Eggcornista
From: Santa Rosa, California
Registered: 2008-07-04
Posts: 637

Re: Shove / Shuffle off to class

They both seem idiomatic to me, too.

Reading your interesting previous thread on a variation of this, jorkel, was instructive. I’d always thought that “mortal coil” was an archaic or poetic term for the earth, and to shuffle off in that context meant to leave the earth (to walk away with a shuffling gait). Now I see that I was wrong about that.

The common usage you mention of terms like “shuffle off to class” suggests to me that many (probably most) other folks made the same misinterpretation of Shakespeare’s use of the term “shuffle off”, so that the meaning in nearly all English usage is to walk somewhere, whether or not with a shuffling gait. The old song “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” could also be an example, with an added musical/rhythmic implication, referencing the musical meaning(s) of the word “shuffle”.

I assume that the term “shove off” in this context originally meant to push one’s small boat away from the shore as one embarks on a (usually short) trip. I agree that much of the incidence of that usage could be an eggcornish variation on “shuffle off”.

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#4 2011-01-22 21:27:55

jorkel
Eggcornista
Registered: 2006-08-08
Posts: 1455

Re: Shove / Shuffle off to class

I guess you’re right about the idiomatic usage… “shuffle off to s.w.” works for me, as does “shove off.” Dixon sums it up pretty well. I just feel that the latter captures more of a sense of embarking and that its incidental overlap with the former is non-standard and could be construed as a reshaping inspired by the similar sound of the words. In fact, precisely what Dixon wrote. (“Yeah, yeah … what he said!”)

Last edited by jorkel (2011-01-22 21:31:17)

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#5 2011-01-23 04:07:37

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1777
Website

Re: Shove / Shuffle off to class

My question was a real one, though. I often don’t know what people mean by “idiomatic”, so when it’s clear they don’t mean what I would, it helps me to ask them.

For me, a phrase is idiomatic if it is so established in the language that it comes out in automated fashion. Another way to say it might be that an idiomatic phrase is a multi-word lexical item (with perhaps a slot to be filled in here or there.) Competent speakers of the language do not have to build it from scratch.

If the phrase is also non-compositional (i.e. if the whole means more than the sum/product of the parts) that may be strong evidence of the idiomaticity of the phrase, but for me that’s an extra, not the essence. Others seem to require pretty clear non-compositionality before they will call something idiomatic.

In this case, shuffle off to LOC and shove off to LOC are both established, thus (by my lights) idiomatic; shove off … is more clearly non-compositional ( shove by itself not being an intransitive verb of motion.)

[fwiw —On my view there are only differences of degree between such idiomatic phrases and standard grammatical constructions, where the slots predominate, e.g. INTRNS MOTION VB + DIRECTION, or “case frames”, e.g. shuffle + DIRECTION. And several of the above may simultaneously be invoked in a speaker or hearer’s mind to sanction (i.e. legitimize) a given usage, e.g. shuffle off to class .]


*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .

(Possible Corollary: it is, and we are .)

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#6 2011-01-23 13:58:11

jorkel
Eggcornista
Registered: 2006-08-08
Posts: 1455

Re: Shove / Shuffle off to class

David, I’m not sure I can always distinguish between what is idiomatic and what is simply in-the-language (or other categories). My initial thought (above) was that “shuffle off to class” is simply in-the-language but not idiomatic because one could shuffle off to anywhere, so I assumed “shuffle off” was just a phrasal verb. But to answer your question, I generally consider an idiom to be non-compositional ... that the whole means more than the sum of the parts. Unfortunately, if you take that too literally then you’ve got smaller fragments (the phrasal verbs) being classified as idioms as well. I really haven’t sorted it all out, and the more I discover about language the more I see gray areas that need explaining.

Last edited by jorkel (2011-01-23 14:05:11)

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#7 2011-01-23 22:23:31

Dixon Wragg
Eggcornista
From: Santa Rosa, California
Registered: 2008-07-04
Posts: 637

Re: Shove / Shuffle off to class

jorkel wrote:

...I generally consider an idiom to be non-compositional ... that the whole means more than the sum of the parts.

My dictionary gives the “non-compositional” definition of idiom first (therefore presumably preferred), and I’ve always assumed that as the correct definition of the term. Confusingly, the next definition given is “a form of expression natural to a language, person, or group of people”, which I guess corresponds to what we’re calling “simply in-the-language”. I’ll continue to use the term “idiom” in the first (non-compositional) sense, as I find it less confusing that way.

Unfortunately, if you take that too literally then you’ve got smaller fragments (the phrasal verbs) being classified as idioms as well.

I see no problem with that. Why can’t it be both? My dictionary starts the definition of “phrasal verb” with “an idiomatic phrase consisting of a verb and another element…” Granted, “idiomatic” here could be meant in either sense, but I think a phrasal verb which meets the non-compositional criterion would also be an idiom even in that strict sense. For instance, “walk to” would not be an idiom (in the non-compositional sense), but “walk off” would be (unless you’re walking off a cliff), because the meaning of “off” in that phrase is non-deducible from its meaning separately.

Of course, that does leave us with a question that’s impossible to answer with any great certainty: At what point in the evolution of a common phrase do we include the definition of “off” that is specific to idioms like “walk off” in the definition of the word “off” considered as a separate word, and at that point, do we stop calling “walk off” an idiom (in the non-compositional sense)?

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#8 2011-01-26 06:10:15

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2147

Re: Shove / Shuffle off to class

The questions you all are raising about idioms are good ones. I only wish you had raised them twenty years ago. Before I began to study computational linguistics and neural networks, I knew what an idiom was. Now I’m not so sure.

Idioms are words in a given language that tend to hang out together. Sometimes a group of words gets so chummy that it overrides the rules of phonology, grammar, semantics, logic, and style that tell us how words are supposed combine into larger units. The detection of this override is often what clues us in to the fact that we are dealing with the peculiar phrases we call “idioms.”

All English words are chummy to some degree, so for the word “idiom” to mean anything we can’t just talk about the way certain words associate with other words. We have to take the next step and state clearly what rules are broken in phrases that constitute idioms. But since it is impossible to describe all the relevant rules that govern the associations among any set of words, the lines we draw around a set of English idioms are going to be, in the end, lines in the sand.

What opened my eyes to this broader understanding of idioms was statistical text generation. If we ignore all the rules for text composition and let our choice for a word to fill a given slot be based on statistical association of word co-occurrences in a large body of historical texts, we can generate new texts that are shockingly good, especially when we extend our range of co-occurrence to around five or six contiguous words. When we look at this tendency for words to occur together from a physiological/psychological point of view, we call it “priming.” Every word in a language primes other words and this priming creates expectations for nearby words that may or may not be fulfilled.

When looking at language generation in this way, I came to realize that idioms are ultimately defined, not by the rules they break, but by the rules they don’t break, i.e., the priming associations they have picked up. Words that hang out together start to stick together and the expectation we have that they will stay glued together is what idiomatizes the phrase. Their stickiness may cause them to break a variety of linguistic rules, as traditional idiom definitions maintain, but it’s the stickiness behind the rule breaking that makes idioms what they are, not the specific rules we think they break.

Seen as groups of sticky words, then, idioms lie along a spectrum, with some word associations being so weak that no one except a dyed-in-the-wool Shannon theorist would call them idioms and other associations being so strong that only the mind of a structuralist’s God could imagine that they were generated through compositional rules. In the middle of the spectrum are phrases that reasonable people can have different opinions about. In the end, I would probably stand a bit closer to the Shannon end of the spectrum. So would David, if I understand his definition correctly (“a phrase is idiomatic if it is so established in the language that it comes out in automated fashion.”).

The problem with this loose interpretation of idiomhood, of course, is the wrench it throws into our discussions about eggcorns. Eggcorns, we agreed a couple of years ago, occur in highly-regularized idiom-like expressions. But since most words that tend to occur together in English begin to prime each other, we don’t really need full-blown, everybody-agrees idioms to provide the expected phrasings that eggcorns violate. Even the eggcorns that are so loosey-goosey about their contexts that we call them “flounders” still have different ways of breaking priming expectations in different contexts – which is the reason I hesitate to draw hard lines between flounders and eggcorns.

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#9 2011-01-26 07:38:06

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1777
Website

Re: Shove / Shuffle off to class

Exactly so. Well said, kem.

Probably worth saying that the definition I think we agree on (idioms are words that hang out together until they stick together and we expect them to stay glued together) is the best one to use for talking about language learning (as well as linguistics, computational or otherwise, I believe). A fluent speaker is not one who has learned words and abstract syntactic patterns and can plug the first into the second. His English (or other language) will be fluent or “idiomatic” only when he knows what words will most naturally come next, before the speaker (whether himself or another) has come out with them. This includes but is by no means limited to the cases where what will naturally come next is something no grammarian would expect (i.e. the non-compositional cases).

And, yes, that makes for squishiness about what can be the acorn for an eggcorn. To which I reply, so much the better. I think that’s the reality we’re dealing with.

[btw and fwiw, you said “The questions you all are raising about idioms are good ones. I only wish you had raised them twenty years ago.” I can send you some references and stuff from 25 or 30 years ago where some of us were raising them, if you’re interested.]

Last edited by DavidTuggy (2011-01-26 07:49:17)


*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .

(Possible Corollary: it is, and we are .)

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#10 2011-01-26 15:19:12

burred
Eggcornista
From: Montreal
Registered: 2008-03-17
Posts: 948

Re: Shove / Shuffle off to class

I’m clearly missing something here. Kem, you seem to have an idiosyncratic definition of an idiom that I’d like to understand. What do you mean by ‘broken’? Not literal? Can you give an example?

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#11 2011-01-26 18:06:15

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2147

Re: Shove / Shuffle off to class

David T—I realize that the linguistics crowd has been thinking along these lines for many years. I was the one who wasn’t there. I had bigger fish to fry in those years.

David B—An example? In the line above I used what most would call an idiom: X has bigger/other fish to fry. We can think of the phrase as lying midway between two endpoints. One endpoint would be an alternate phrasing that evokes no sense of inappropriateness. If I had said, for example, “I was busy with something else,” no flags would go up. If I had treated it as an analogy/metaphor, saying something like “It’s as though I was cooking up a mess of fish for a friend and had to refuse to cook up his next batch because I had more significant fish to cook,” again no flags. It’s when we merge the two of these endpoints, the literal meaning and the metaphor, and we do it in a way that obscures the two endpoints, making the result neither literally sense-giving nor figuratively transparent, that we end up with clump of words that can’t be handled by the standard rules that we apply to determine meaning. The words start to travel together as though they were a single term. Like an individual word, the idiomatic phrase can pick up new meanings and lose old ones. The figurative occasion behind the idiom can even be lost and re-invented with new folk etymologies. The idiom can wander into new parts of speech (I bigger-fished him?) and suspend our normal parsing mechanism (Is the plural “bigger fish to fries” or “bigger fishes to fry?”).

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