Tuesday, August 5, 2008

That's a "box"?

(screenshot from NYT)

The New York Times today had a nice story about the official introduction of boxed win in Italy. Quoting Bloomberg, the NYT rerported "Italy’s Agriculture Ministry said that some fine Italian wines that receive government quality guarantees will be allowed to be sold in boxes. "

Good for them. I'm a hater of corks. No other technology in the world would be allowed to fail as often as corks do and be allowed to persist. What if gallons of milk went bad at the rate that bottles of wine do? The dairy industry would die off in weeks.

But I must say, what counts as a "box" is being given clever and stylish leeway. For me, a prototypical box is most certainly square-ish, with 90 degree angles. If a box is to deviate from this prototype, for me it needs a special modifier like "hat box" or "pill box" or (even "Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat" as in this most excellent Dylan song).

The specialty wine box above seems to be a haute couture variation on Labov's famed 1973 study of how how an object's function affects its naming. Prototypical wine boxes might be square-ish, but a variation may take the box name because it is more importantly a wine container fashioned out of a similar material (presumably cardboad of some sort).

(pssst, the best reference I could find quickly for Labov's 1973 study is this Google books result here. If anyone knows of a better one, just let me know.)


Charlotte said...

OK, this has nothing to do with this post, but I have a question for my favorite linguist, and I can't figure out how to post to the main page.

I'm at a loss for a linguistic term, so much so that I can't even form coherent search terms to retrieve the answer from the web.

What is the term in semantics for words that denote an action that cannot be undone or reversed. For instance you can break something, but you can't unbreak something...unless you're Toni Braxton of course. So you can die, but you can't "undie" (don't even try doing a search on that, you get a thousand hits for panties and other undergarments). Granted, there is the undead, but the undead are not the living, as one would assume.

There are dozens of these actions, you can spill something, you can't unspill it. The examples that come to mind are of destructive actions, but I'm not sure that is a requirement. Any ideas?

BTW, still laughing at your Mia Kunis.

Chris said...

I'm not convinced there is a specific term for this. I asked my buddy Frank and he didn't think so either. I glanced through van's RRG book and didn't see anything (but it's a big book, hehe). I'll ask a few folks.