Mystery Linguistics Theater

While out for a walk the other day, I passed a house with this sign in the yard:

A sign for "Lawn Doctor" with a hand giving the thumb's up sign. The thumb is colored black
Clearly, the lawn in the background is in need of a doctor

This one might not even qualify as a linguistics mystery, since all the meaning is in the symbol of the hand/thumb and its color.  Mostly this is a reminder to not use the black and white printer if your logo relies on color to convey meaning.  What I'm getting from the black thumb (and the juxtaposition with the dead lawn) is that this company is the Doctor Kevorkian of lawns, which probably isn't what they are going for...

...unless this company is actually selling a modern-day way to cut back on water consumption by getting rid of your grass?!  But a quick check of the Lawn Doctor website shows that no, the logo should have a green thumb after all.

Quote from Mindkiller (Ace, 1982) by Spider Robinson:

"If a person who indulges in gluttony is a glutton, and a person who commits a felony is a felon, then God is an iron."

Whether or not you believe that God indulges in irony -- though I would argue that the existence of platypus is strong supporting evidence to the claim -- this is some pretty sweet wordplay.  So let's take a look under the linguistic hood and see how it works.

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I saw this rather unusual list of apartment features on Craigslist a few weeks ago:


In case you can't read it, this is a posting for an apartment with a list of amenities, and the important part (in context) is:





I don't know how one goes about de-leading a cat.  For that matter, I'm not sure if this refers to "lead" the element, "lead" as in a leash, or "lead" the verb.  All the options sound pretty uncomfortable for the cat, though.

Note the first: this was originally posted on, on a blog that no longer exists.  Republished here for posterity, and also because I still think it's kinda funny -- AS

Note the second: I am given to understand that Lush is fully aware of the implications of their slogan, but that won't stop me from overanaylzing it for fun.

Episode 2: Fighting Animal Testing Fighting Animals

Disclaimer: I really like Lush cosmetics.  Their products are really gentle, smell amazing, and they are committed to being eco-friendly.  More importantly, they have a bath bomb that’s shaped like a rocket ship, and it zooms around the tub while it dissolves.  (Priorities: I have them.) (Note: that bath bomb has been discontinued since I first posted this. Sadness. -- AS)

I’m not here to peddle Lush products, I just want to make it clear that the rest of this post isn’t coming from a desire to tear the company down.  I just can’t ignore this any longer.

Here is a picture of a bag I recently got from Lush:


Yes, that’s a picture of two rabbits trying to smack each other, with the words “Fighting Animal Testing” underneath.  Unfortunately for Lush, there are two possible interpretations here:

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Note: this was originally posted on, on a blog that no longer exists.  Republished here for posterity, and also because I still think it's kinda funny -- AS

I work in natural language processing and computational linguistics now, but I started off as primarily in Computer Science, which meant that I had to pick up linguistics along the way.  But linguistics is fascinating, so when I find something weird or interesting I want to share it.  Hence, Mystery Linguistics Theater. (And yes, it is a reference to Mystery Science Theater.  One of the best shows ever.)

Episode 1: Who left the verbs out?

A few weeks ago, I got this in an email:


(In case you can’t read it, the important bit is: “Your Textbooks are current.  So should your software”.)

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