Pronunciational ambiguity

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2005/04/30 12:30 -04:00, original URI:

(light on the technical content, but there is something linguistical-ish here)

I walked into a used record store not too long ago, looking for a specific CD -- the 1995 edition of Steve Taylor's "Liver" album. The store clerk did not recognize it, but I took a look anyway. And indeed, I found it. When I took it up, the clerk was a little surprised -- he said "oh, thats how you prononuce it -- Līvər rather than Lĭvər" (forgive me for the IPA1, think Lie-ver or Live-er rather than Līvər for the first entry if it helps). But its funny how easy it is to slip on these little examples, especially in a case where the word "live" has more than one pronunciation depending on whether it is a verb or an adjective, and in both cases it is an absolute so that the use of an "-er" or "-est" addition is really inappropriate. It was therefore an intentional play on words, and kind of a clever one (except for the fact that no one seems to know about it, including the store clerk!). From the liner notes, on the back of the CD:

Dear Sir/Madame

You hold in your hand all that remains of a single night's concert performed by some band and myself during the fall portion of the Squinternational tour in the year of our lord 1994 so if you're buying this because you weren't there to make an unauthorized recording you should know that this is not one of those so-called live albums where everything has been replayed and resung in the studio except some drums and an audience and even the audience has been enhanced to make it sound like a bigger crowd that's a whole lot more excited than they actually were because this album is so much liver than any live record you've ever heard that you can actually close your eyes and pretend you were one of the paying thousands who watched me sing and fall over every night both of which I did on purpose even though the falling over part hurts more than the singing part so if you can't take the naked truth of a live concert with occasional bad notes and buzzes and feeback of the undesirable variety then go buy some Yanni so-called live record but I guarantee you when you close your eyes he won't sing and fall over because it might mess up his spacesuit.

Your friend,

Well, the meaning of "Liver" is quite unambiguous when you read the notes, unless of course you are a prescriptive grammarian who is too distracted by the misuse of the language (and of course the the fact that the whole note above was a single run-on sentence!).

He goes on, inside the non-Jewel case (Aimee Mann hates those things, too -- a hatred I have also managed to acquire after carefully considering the well-thought-out arguments against jewel cases), to define the "some band" which he referred to in the notes [emphasis mine]. And I realized in reading all of this why I like Steve Taylor's songs. Because he is like me, except more clever. He has the same sardonic wit (except witier), the same intelligence (except more intelligent), and he has a sense of humor (I have humor, but no sense of it). I certainly don't share his religious faith, and I wonder to some extent how much that faith has hurt his career ("God rock" seems out of style for many). But I can respect it, and him.

You may have heard Steve Taylor before without realizing it -- in a song that Steve co-wrote, called Tale of the Twister (you can find it on the Soundtrack to the movie Pump Up The Volume, CD version only). The band (Chagall Guevara) was pretty great too, though I think that is mostly Steve's influence. You can definitely feel it in their albums.

I realized that there is a common thread in the music that I like. I like the songs that are clever, in part because they make me feel clever for liking them, and for understanding them (when I do). As if the singer/songwriter and I are sharing a joke each time. And maybe we are, whether I know them or not.


1 - I have a colleague who thinks I can learn IPA. She is entirely wrong about that, but if I can have delusions of my linguistic aptitude then so can she! :-)

# Noel on 3 May 2005 4:16 PM:

Though it might have kept you from creating this post, Steve's music is available online, for free, with his special blessing.

check it:

Desmond R.G. Underwood-Frederick IV

# Michael S. Kaplan on 3 May 2005 5:22 PM:

Nah, I would have posted anyway -- that conversation with the record store clerk was a classic, as is Steve! :-)

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2011/07/09 At least Louis C.K. didn't say "There is a lot people that are großer..."

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