Diontologias and Triontologias

If you say of a computer-assisted tomography scan of a cat: “This is a cat scan”, it would be doubly truthful. Such a statement is called a “diontologia”. Can anyone come up with a triontologia, on that or a different theme? (Source: New Scientist‘s “Feedback” section)

16 thoughts on “Diontologias and Triontologias

  1. Well, if you were speaking of a computer-assisted tomography scan of a cat’s rear end only, and you kind of slurred it together, then “This is a cat’s can” would be a triontologia. ;)

  2. Do homophones count? If so, then this is a triontologia.

    A trio of two-year-olds meet. One says “I am two”. The second, speaking for himself and the third one, says “We are too”.

    * meaning 1: the 2nd and 3rd kid are the same age as the first
    * meaning 2: the 2nd and 3rd kid are age two (“We are two”)
    * meaning 3: the 2nd and 3rd kid are a pair (“We are two”)

  3. Chris: I would imagine homophones do count, since in the first example ‘cat’ can be either Computer Assisted Tomography or a mammalian quadruped of the family Felidae.

  4. Daniel: but in that case, the words are spelt the same also.

    The example given in New Scientist was of a chap who made a number of positron emission topography scans, of which the one of the feline he owned was his personal favourite – he said “this is my pet scan”.

  5. If the scientist had a positron emission topography scan of his feline companion in his left hand and a computer-assisted tomography scan of the same animal in the other hand, both of which were his personal favorites, then if he were to say “this is my pet cat scan” he’d have a triontologia in one hand and a quadrontologia in the other…

    I’m annoyed at myself – I came up with one I was pleased with while falling asleep the other night but now I can’t remember what it was at all. Grr.

  6. I remembered the triontologia I thought of falling asleep. A guy returns his copy of Lectures in Physics to the library, a week late. The librarian, after checking the date stamp, tells him “That’s a fine man”. (Thereby notifying him of the late return penalty while also identifying and complimenting the author of the book).

    That’s nothing compared to where you can go from Dan’s example, though.

    You see, our seven-foot tall highly efficient storm drain cover seller was enjoying the proceeds of his work with a day at the beach when he was approached by a guy selling boats. The guy is very persuasive and the drain cover seller ends up sailing away in a *pair* of wind-powered boats, and has even had a drain cover embroidered on the large sails to symbolize how he made his fortune.

    The boatseller and his coworker stand on the pier watching them sail into the sunset, and the coworker looks over and says, with a touch of envy, “great sales man”.

    I count these 10 meanings:

    “Great salesman” (highly skilled seller)
    “Great salesman” (large seller)
    “Grate salesman” (the job of the guy who bought the boats)
    “Grate sales, man” (how he made his money)
    “Great sales, man” (wow, two boats! nice commission!)
    “Great sails, man” (nice design)
    “Great sails, man” (very big)
    “Grate sails, man” (the logo)
    “Great sailsman” (highly skilled sailor – ok, I don’t know if ‘sailsman’ is a *real* word for sailor, but I can imagine someone using it)
    “Great sailsman” (large sailor)

    Is that a decontologia?

  7. Stuart: nice work :-) If they have to be spelt exactly the same, it’s two triontologias and two diontologias, but that’s still pretty impressive. Perhaps you should send it in to New Scientist.

    And I don’t want to know how twisted your brain got thinking that up…

  8. Did you see the rather good biological diontologia in the latest Feedback section in New Scientist?

    Actually, my brain wasn’t terribly twisted over the story of the drain seller and the boats. Once I figured out that “sails” could be added to the picture, the only difficulty was that I was thinking up new meanings faster than I could keep track of them…

    Dan’s other example inspired this in me:

    A soldier went into a tunnel, but an enemy sniper was waiting at the other end. Once the soldier came out of the tunnel, he was through. But his sacrifice led to a great victory and his commander paid him tribute. He was, the commander said, a hero through and through.

  9. Way to run with the idea, Stuart — that’s impressive.

    I came up with a quadrontologia involving “bare feet,” but it’s rather unwieldy. It’s unfortunate that, in order to force more and more meanings out of a phrase, the setup situation becomes that much more convoluted.

    That, if anything, seems to be the point of this exercise: it’s possible to create multiple meanings with a phrase, but the ideal is to find phrases with as many meanings as possible, in as subjectively simple a situation as possible.

    Of the above-mentioned examples, the “We are too” example is my favorite. Three meanings with a completely realistic, simple setup.


  10. By the way, Stuart — you omitted a couple of meanings from your list in the “great sales man” example:

    “great salesman” — stature of the boat salesman (let’s say he’s 7 feet also)
    “great salesman” — sales skill of the boat salesman

    I believe that makes a dodecontologia!


  11. I deliberately didn’t include the meanings that referred to the boat seller in the same way as the grate seller, because it felt like cheating to use something that was actually the *same* meaning but about a different target. Otherwise you could get a centontologia just by looking at a crowd of a hundred people and saying “that’s a person”.

    Another potential meaning that could be added if this were allowed is “great sales, man” referring to the grate seller’s lifetime of sales that made him his fortune. This is again, though, just the same thing as “wow, two boats, nice commission” but with a different target.

    I agree with you about the simple setups being better. I think my favorite, though, is the soldier, because not only is the setup comparatively simple (although not as much as the two-year-olds), it’s also a *meta*-diontologia – the second meaning of “through and through” *is* the original diontologia on “through”.

  12. Stuart: perhaps not; I’ve just noticed that the original New Scientist piece “restricted the field to statements about existence”. So that might disqualify some of the above, and certainly makes diontologia != pun.

  13. Have you seen the following one before? I first came across it back in the early 1970’s in a book by James Cook Brown about his constructed language “Loglan.” (He was also the inventor of the popular board game “Careers.”) Here goes (capitalization and punctuation deliberately omitted for effect):

    pretty little girls school

    Can be read as:

    * A school for little girls who are pretty
    * A pretty school for little girls
    * A rather little school for girls
    * A pretty school for rather little girls
    * A school which is attended by an unspecified
    little girl who is pretty
    * A school which is attended by an unspecified girl who is pretty little.

    And on and on…

    Brown gave quite a few interpretations of this phrase and showed how each of them could be unambiguously expressed in Loglan. He also gave phrases in Loglan using the same basic words, but for which no English equivalent was apparent.

    (What was I doing reading a book like this at age 12???)


    P.S. Hi, Gerv. Good to see your blog active again. Blessings to you!