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Semantic Linearization and Linguistic Hypertrophy

As has been instanced more than once among the posts on this blog, American English in particular has a decided faiblesse for hypertrophies of all kinds, including pleonasms and their ilk. One fresh example, observed today in a café where Y-H-B stopped to have a hot chocolate and a canelle, will serve to remind the fastidious reader of this trend.

On a box containing some packets of coconut oil in said cafe there was a some words of advertising, viz. “Need an Extra Boost?,” in which the meaning of boost was doubled by the word extra. Now, probably the author of this ad had the meaning of ‘an uplift or encouragement’ in mind, but the notion conveyed by the word extra is already contained in the meaning of boost, since the latter connotes something produced in addition to, or over and above, some basic action. The extrusion or linearization of the notion associated with extra already encompassed by the semantic syntagm of boost thus qualifies as a pleonasm when overtly preposed before boost, instantiating yet again how American English allows itself to countenance the failures of thought associated with linguistic hypertrophy.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

8 Responses to “Semantic Linearization and Linguistic Hypertrophy”

  • Gary Richmond says:

    But isn’t it the case that while a pleonasm may constitute a fault of style, can’t it also–and not infrequently–be used for emphasis? In addition, I can imagine a situation, say, I’m trying to help a friend over a fence and I say, “let me give you a boost; and, being unsuccessful in getting the friend over, a passerby, having witnessed all this, comes over and asks, “Need an extra boost?” This seems to me quite proper.

  • Gary Richmond says:

    (Completing my last post. . .) And, similarly, couldn’t the question on the package of coconut oil be construed to mean something like “Your cup of hot chocolate may give you a boost because of the caffeine it contains, but add a little coconut oil for an extra boost”?

  • Matt Faunce says:

    Advertisers love the word ‘excited’ and its variations, like ‘exciting.’ Why? I think* it’s because people get certain feelings from certain sounds. Another feeling comes with the sight of written words. Meaning will be vaguely inferred from these feelings. Just the sight of an x evokes in me associations of ‘the x factor’, ‘the X Games’, ‘the XFL, and ‘Racer X’, but before these phrases came to being there must have been a similar feeling projected by the sight of x. ’Extra’ has an aesthetic quality similar to ‘excite’ so my first assumption when seeing “Need an Extra Boost?” is that the advertiser wants to impart those feelings along with the meaning that comes with ‘Boost.’ Imagine the same phrase with a big X in the background similar to the XFL logo. It’d be a more powerful message.

    Here’s the impetus of my response: I’ve become suspicious of your label “failure of thought,” which appears often in Language Lore. I think that in your example here, the phrase is well thought out.

    * “I think” may be wimpy (see your entry, ‘Wimp English’), but it’s not the result of a failure of thought. I’m not in any way discounting that what follows is well thought out in that the relevant experiences that I’ve been able to bring to my mind have been well thought through, but I’m admitting that their number is probably less than those of a professional linguist, and that I might be missing a way of judging them that is standard in linguistics. So it’s a way of telling you that while I have my belief on this matter I’m open to correction. This is not a part of my argument; it’s an eXtra message, and well thought out.

  • Steven Trembath says:

    Greetings Michael.

    I have a friend who will try to end almost every sentence with “and that.” Any idea where this comes from ?

    Regards

    ST.

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