Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives/Language/2009 July 26

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July 26[edit]

Cor blimey trousers[edit]

Apart from the lyric to the song, what is a cor blimey trousers? ~ R.T.G 12:15, 26 July 2009 (UTC)

to my English knowledge they don't exist outside the song and I think you'll find they are 'gawd blimey' trousers, I know, not much help but it might be easier to find an answer. I think, only an opinion, that they are trousers that for whatever reason make the observer say 'gawd blimey'. Whether this is because of their extreme stylishness (hmm) or their bad fit or their state of wear and cleanliness we can only guess. But dustmen (garbage collectors for US readers) in the 60's were not among the smartest or cleanest of dressers. what a shame Lonnie is not here to advise us. Richard Avery (talk) 20:02, 26 July 2009 (UTC)
Gawd blimey is a variation of the more common cor blimey. The song is by Lonnie Donegan, and I'm fairly sure the lyric is cor blimey, not gawd blimey:
Oh, my old man's a dustman,
He wears a dustman's hat,
He wears cor-blimey trousers
And he lives in a council flat
A quick look online reveals one opinion (offered by someone's mum) that "Cor Blimey trousers were commonly worn by dustmen (as in the song) and coal merchants. They are tousers of courderoy (sometimes moleskin) - very baggy and are tied just below the knee with string or rope [sic]." Personally, I'm inclined to think that "cor blimey" is just being used to suggest the condition of the trousers, as in "cor blimey those are awful trousers." Exploding Boy (talk) 20:36, 26 July 2009 (UTC)
I half didn't expect to find an actual cor blimey trouser. Cor! Blimey! Thanks for the answers ~ R.T.G 11:25, 27 July 2009 (UTC)
I always heard it as 'gor-blimey trousers' .--ColinFine (talk) 23:11, 27 July 2009 (UTC)

A "logical defect" in English grammar?[edit]

Let's look at the following sentence:

  • David can see John.

Now I can ask a WHO question, whereof the sentencial structure determines whether I ask about David or about John. The two alternatives are consequently:

  • Who can David see?
  • Who can see John?

Now, let's look at the following two sentences:

  • Yesterday, David thought John sold it.
  • David thought, John sold it yesterday.

Now I can ask a WHEN question, and again I might want the sentencial structure to determine whether I ask about when David thought or about when John sold it. If I don't know the English grammar quite well, then I naturally might suggest two pseudo-alternatives of sentencial structures - as follows:

  • When did David think John sold it? (Answer: Yesterday, David did).
  • When David thought did John sell it? (Answer: David thought, John did that yesterday).

Unfortunately, as opposed to the first case about David who can see John - wherein the English grammar does allow us to use two different sentencial structures - thus letting us distinguish between a WHO question about David and a WHO question about John, in the new case - about David who thought about John - the English grammar does not allow us to use the second sentencial structure, but rather the first one only, which consequently does not let us distinguish between a WHEN question about David and a WHEN question about John...

What a pity! Is it really just a "logical defect" in the traditional English grammar? HOOTmag (talk) 12:41, 26 July 2009 (UTC)

Not really, you can say "When did David think, John sold it yesterday?" It's actually a quote, "David though, 'John sold it yesterday'", so "When did David think, 'John sold it yesterday'?" It might be confusing in speech (where it might seem to ask at what point yesterday John sold it) but not if you punctuate it properly in writing. Adam Bishop (talk) 12:56, 26 July 2009 (UTC)
Assume that: I don't know when David thought, nor do I know when John sold; What I do know is just that David thought John sold it, that's all.
Now, I might want to ask two WHEN questions, i.e. about when David thought (John sold it), and about when (David thought) John sold it. How should I build my two WHEN questions, without any usage of quotation marks? Note that, in the first case about David who can see John, I needed no quotation marks for distinguishing between the different alternatives of two WHO questions!
HOOTmag (talk) 13:12, 26 July 2009 (UTC)
Taking into account that "think" here means "believe" or "have the opinion that", I think (or believe, or have the opinion that) you'd have to construct it along something like the following lines:
  • When did David have the belief that John had sold it?
  • When was it that, in David's opinion, John sold it? -- JackofOz (talk) 13:43, 26 July 2009 (UTC)
Your first WHEN-question is grammatically-answered by the following statement: Yesterday, David had the belief that John had sold it.
Your second WHEN-question is grammatically-answered by the following statement: In David's opinion, John sold it yesterday.
However, I'm looking for two WHEN-questions each of which is grammatically-answered by one of the following two (different) statements:
  • Yesterday, David thought John sold it.
  • David thought, John sold it yesterday.
This grammatical problem could have been solved, had the English grammar allowed us to use the following two pseudo-alternatives of sentencial structures - as follows:
  • When did David think John sold it? (Answer: Yesterday, David did).
  • When David thought did John sell it? (Answer: David thought, John did that yesterday).
HOOTmag (talk) 14:10, 26 July 2009 (UTC)


We should probably not drop "that", and say "David thought that John sold it yesterday." Thus, "When did David think that John sold it yesterday?" Of course, this is still ambiguous, because it could be asking when David thought it, or at what time yesterday John sold it. I suppose you could also ask "When yesterday did David think that John sold it?" but that is also ambiguous. The way the sentence is currently constructed I don't think ambiguity can be avoided. Adam Bishop (talk) 13:46, 26 July 2009 (UTC)
Why do you keep indicating the "yesterday" in the question? As I've already requested, please assume that: I don't know when David thought, nor do I know when John sold; What I do know is just that David thought John sold it, that's all. HOOTmag (talk) 14:10, 26 July 2009 (UTC)

You said: "I'm looking for two WHEN-questions each of which is grammatically-answered by one of the following two (different) statements:

1. When did David think (that) John sold it?

  • Yesterday, David thought (that) John sold it.

2. When, David thought, did John sell it? Or "When," thought David, "did John sell it?"

  • David thought, John sold it yesterday.

Another way of punctuating the answer gives us the question I think you're looking for:

When did David think John sold it? or When did David think that John had sold it?

  • David thought John sold it yesterday.

Exploding Boy (talk) 15:35, 26 July 2009 (UTC)

Replace "thought" by "knew".
Replace "John" by "David's friend".
The answer should be either:
  • Yesterday, David knew David's friend had sold it.
or:
  • David knew David's friend sold it yesterday.
HOOTmag (talk) 15:49, 26 July 2009 (UTC)
Are you just asking questions that you know cannot be answered the way you have phrased them? Is this some sort of riddle? It doesn't seem very productive. Adam Bishop (talk) 17:52, 26 July 2009 (UTC)
I just ask to know whether the English grammar is infected by a logical defect.
My question is very productive, e.g. for rebuilding a better grammar (even just a pseudo-grammar), e.g. for computer languages. Note that, in other human languages (other than English), one is permitted to choose one of two alternatives for WHEN-questions, which could have been translated into Pseudo-English - as follows:
  • When did David know David's friend sold it? (Answer: Yesterday, David did).
  • When David knew did David's friend sell it? (Answer: David knew, David's friend did that yesterday).
For example: I've read that, in Chinese (which I don't speak), you can build your question-sentence as follows:
  • When David knew David's friend sold it? (Answer: Yesterday, David knew).
  • David knew David's friend sold it - when? (Answer: David knew, David's friend sold it yesterday).
Could any Chinese speaker approve that, please?
HOOTmag (talk) 13:06, 27 July 2009 (UTC)

Personally, I've no idea what question you're asking any more. Exploding Boy (talk) 15:55, 27 July 2009 (UTC)

I'm looking for two WHEN-questions each of which is grammatically-answered by one of the following two (different) statements:
  • Yesterday, David knew (that) David's father sold it.
  • David knew (that) David's father sold it yesterday.
HOOTmag (talk) 18:20, 27 July 2009 (UTC)

(Outdent) By omitting the complementisers, you are disguising the fact that these are embedded sentences. In one case you are WH-inverting the matrix sentence, which is a normal operation in English. In the other you are inverting the embedded clause. These are very different operations, with very different restrictions (in particular, different matrix verbs subcategorise for different kinds of object), as people have pointed out above. There is no structural reason to expect to be able to perform the same operation on the two cases. Whether or not there is a logical defect here seems to me to be about as useful and meaningful as arguing about which kind of knife is best for cutting water with. --ColinFine (talk) 23:24, 27 July 2009 (UTC)

What I'm trying to claim is that English grammar is (to some extent) "inferior", compared to other languages - which do permit to choose one of two alternatives for WHEN-questions, which could have been translated into Pseudo-English - as follows:
  • When did David know David's friend would sell it? (Answer: Yesterday, David did).
  • When David knew would David's friend sell it? (Answer: Tomorrow, David's father would).
For example: I've read that, in Chinese (which I don't speak), you can build your question-sentence as follows:
  • When David knew David's friend would sell it? (Answer: Yesterday, David did).
  • David knew David's friend would sell it - when? (Answer: Tomorrow, David's father would).
HOOTmag (talk) 12:31, 28 July 2009 (UTC)


You keep changing your theoretical answers too. To get an answer meaning "David knew yesterday that John had sold it" using a when question, you could ask, "When was it that David knew that John had sold it?" or "When did David know that John had sold it?"
But if the answer you're getting at is "David knew that John sold it and that he did it yesterday," you would have to ask "Did David know when it was that John sold it?"
You could get both answers by asking "Did" questions: 1: "Did David know yesterday that John had sold it?" 2: "Did David know that the day John sold it was yesterday?" But I don't see why you think it's a logical fallacy that a when question can't grammatically produce both answers. Exploding Boy (talk) 03:44, 28 July 2009 (UTC)
  • As opposed to what you've claimed, I do keep asking my original questions, though they're not for you but rather for the other wikipedians, but when I address to you I prefer to change my original question in order for you to get my point - which you haven't got in my original question.
  • Note that I keep looking for a WHEN-question (so your "DID"-questions are inappropriate ).
  • The answer I keep looking for is: "David knew that David's father sold it yesterday" (i.e. "David knew that yesterday David's father sold it).
  • The logical defect is the absence of a WHEN-question answered by the statement: "David Knew that David's father sold it yesterday".
  • This logical defect does not exist in other languages (e.g. Chinese).
HOOTmag (talk) 12:31, 28 July 2009 (UTC)
Sigh, the original question wasn't that complicated. The OP was asking whether you can add apply an interrogative word to a subordinate clause without it becoming a content clause. AFAIK, the answer is no, in standard formal English, you can't. Wh-movement only brings the wh-word to the front of the clause, and can't transform the entire sentence into a question. Yes, it's a "logical defect" if you think natural languages ought to allow every conceivable permutation of grammar, but that's just not the case. By your standard, HOOTmag, all natural languages are defective in some detail or another. Anyway, ambiguity is great!
I should mention, however, that IMO there's usually a solution to this issue, at least in the casual or informal register. E.g. "David knew that John sold it when?" just substitutes the question word for its anticipated answer, without any wh-movement. The prosodic stress on "when" indicates to the average English listener that the speaker is asking a question (and not dangling a subordinating conjunction). However, I don't think this workaround still applies if you have two embedded dependent clauses. I'd be interested to hear an opinion from an actual syntactician, though. :) Indeterminate (talk) 08:10, 28 July 2009 (UTC)
I'm talking about the formal grammar, rather than the informal one.
The formal Chinese grammar forces you to put the "when" after the subordinate clause to which the "when" refers, thus avoiding "logical defects".
Even under Wh-movement rules, the English grammar could have avoided such "logical defects" had it allowed us to use pseudo-sentences like:
  • When David knew would David's friend sell it? (Answer: Tomorrow, David's father would).
As opposed to the following grammatical sentence:
  • When did David know David's friend would sell it? (Answer: Yesterday, David did).
HOOTmag (talk) 12:31, 28 July 2009 (UTC)

Hootmag wrote: "The logical defect is the absence of a WHEN-question answered by the statement: "David Knew that David's father sold it yesterday"." "When David's father sold it, did David know?" might produce that answer. But it seems to me this question needs to be wrapped up. You've had multiple answers that establish that this use of "when" doesn't work in English. It is not a "deficiency" or a "logical defect" that a given language's grammar doesn't allow certain constructions, and certainly not all languages permit the kind of construction you're talking about. Exploding Boy (talk) 16:09, 28 July 2009 (UTC)

What I'm trying to claim is that English grammar is (to some extent) "inferior", compared to other languages (e.g. Chinese) - which do permit to choose any of two alternatives for WHEN-questions.
Note that your suggestion, "When David's father sold it, did David know?", is not a question about when David's father sold it, but rather about whether David knew. If you've intended to suggest a pseudo-sentence asking about when David's father sold it, then I've already suggested one: "When David knew did David's father sell it?"
HOOTmag (talk) 19:32, 28 July 2009 (UTC)
To claim that any language is grammatically inferior is itself a logical fallacy.
In response to your claim about "pseudo sentences," "When David's father sold it, did David know?" is not a pseudo sentence; it at least makes grammatical sense although it is a question about whether David knew at that time rather than at which time. The sentence "When David knew did David's father sell it?" is meaningless in English. Exploding Boy (talk) 21:05, 28 July 2009 (UTC)
Sorry, I've never claimed that English is inferior or that it has a logical defect, but rather that it's "inferior", and that it has a "logical defect", i.e. I've put scare quotes around the phrases: inferior, logical defect. Those scare quotes indicate that the phrases - around which the scare quotes are placed - should not mean here what they usually mean.
You can ask: "When David's father sold it, did David know that?", i.e. that David's father sold it, but I've never come across such a sentence (without "that" at the end) like: "When David's father sold it, did David know?", and I don't think such a sentence is grammatical, and that's why I called it: pseudo-sentence. However, If you mean: "Did David know when David's father sold it?" then it's not a WHEN-sentence but rather a DID-sentence. Anyways, even if there could exist such a sentence like: "When David's father sold it, did David know?" (with the meaning mentioned above), it's still not a WHEN-sentence, because a WHEN sentence should ask about when David's father sold it (or about when David knew), whereas your pseudo-sentence asks about whether David knew. As I've already pointed out, I've been looking for a WHEN-question - asking about when David's father sold it, so that the answer be (for example): "David knew that David's father sold it yesterday".
My pseudo-sentence "When David knew did David's father sell it?" - is really meaningless in English, just because English grammar doesn't let us use such sentencial-structures; However, had it been a grammatical sentence, it could have removed the "logical defect" from English grammar, and this is my main point I want you to get.
HOOTmag (talk) 22:59, 28 July 2009 (UTC)
I really have no idea what you are going on about now. Your last comment "this is my main point I want you to get" comes across as rather patronising to me, I'm afraid, because there is no point to what you're saying and there is nothing to get. If your use of the phrase "logical defect" doesn't mean what it usually means, what on earth does it mean? Exploding Boy has spelled it out quite clearly for you – what you are looking for doesn't exist, and his example was not a "pseudo sentence", whatever that might be. My head is hurting. --Richardrj talk email 23:14, 28 July 2009 (UTC)
Patronising? no way. when two persons are talking to each other, either one wants the other to get one's point, although nobody tries to patronise.
I've already pointed out (at the beginning of the thread) that English grammar does not let us distinguish between a question asking about when David knew, and another question asking about when David's father dold it, so Exploding Boy doesn't have to spell out what I'm quite aware of since the beginning.
My point is what I've been claiming all along: English grammar has a "logical defect" (please pay attention to the scare quotes). This "logical defect" does not exist in (e.g.) Chinses, which enables you to build both a question asking about when David knew, and another question asking about when David's father sold it. This possibility is absent in English, and I called this absence: a "logical defect", whereas other people may call it: a "tolerable deficiency", and other people may call it: "cock-a-doodle-doo", etc. It does not matter how we call it, because the main point is the very phenonemon mentioned above, rather than its naming.
I wish you (including your hurting head) all the best.
HOOTmag (talk) 23:50, 28 July 2009 (UTC)
All I can say at this point is meh. Exploding Boy (talk) 23:38, 28 July 2009 (UTC)
Cock-a-doodle-doo. HOOTmag (talk) 23:50, 28 July 2009 (UTC)

HOOTmag: don't start debates. Everyone else: don't encourage people to start debates. Malcolm XIV (talk) 00:14, 29 July 2009 (UTC)

Malcolm XIV: don't start new debates about who has been the first one to start the debate in this thread which began with a simple question (and with no debates). HOOTmag (talk) 09:37, 29 July 2009 (UTC)

Portuguese grammar[edit]

The question is about the term "Bibliografia sul-riograndense". Rio Grande do Sul is a state in Brazil. "sul-riograndense" in this term is an adjective. What intends the Portuguese grammar for the capitalization of an adjective standing for a state, a town or a village? Do they capitalize "sul-riograndense" or do they write it with a small initial letter? Or do they capitalize "sul" and write "riograndense" with a small initial letter? Doc Taxon (talk) 15:59, 26 July 2009 (UTC)

Don't know about Portuguese specifically, but the majority of "continental" European languages do not capitalize adjectives derived from proper names... AnonMoos (talk) 17:18, 26 July 2009 (UTC)
But I want to be quite sure ... Doc Taxon (talk) 17:53, 26 July 2009 (UTC)
This google search indicates that both "sul-riograndense" and "Sul-Riograndense" are used, and that "Sul-riograndense" is not used. --NorwegianBlue talk 23:04, 28 July 2009 (UTC)
Adjectives derived from locations are not capitalized in Portuguese. For example, a Brazilian is translated as "brasileiro" and Portuguese as "português". In your specific case, sul-riograndense is an adjective and means "from Rio Grande do Sul", which means that the same rule applies. If that helps making you quite sure, I'm Portuguese. 62.48.209.152 (talk) 16:54, 29 July 2009 (UTC)

English - Irish translation[edit]

How would 'you are a dirty mermaid' be translated in Irish with correct grammar?.. I can find the literal translation but it doesn't include the grammar... And I know it doesn't really make sense on any language... Long story... Thanks for any help81.34.108.202 (talk) 16:32, 26 July 2009 (UTC)

Is maighdean mhara shalach tú if being a dirty mermaid is a permanent characteristic of the person; Tá tú i do mhaighdean mhara shalach if the person has not always been and/or is not always expected to be a dirty mermaid. If you want to put more focus on the fact of being a dirty mermaid, you can say Is maighdean mhara shalach atá ionat or (with more emphasis on the dirtiness while taking the being a mermaid for granted) Is salach an mhaighdean mhara atá ionat. +Angr 12:44, 27 July 2009 (UTC)
What if 'mermaid' is permanent and 'dirty' is not? —Tamfang (talk) 05:01, 2 August 2009 (UTC)