Where does a cup end and a mug start? And vice versa? Help towards answering this consistently vexing question can be found in an essay by Brett Laybutt entitled A Corpus Study of ‘Cup of [Tea]’ and ‘Mug of [Tea]’ In which he cites the work of scholars who have tried, over the years, to crack its complexities – e.g. the work of Professor William Labov of the University of Pennsylvania.
“One of the first, and most influential, was Labov‟s (2004) original 1975 experiment in which subjects were shown pictures of varying indeterminacy and asked to label them.”
“From this, Labov was able to come up with a mathematical definition of ‘cup’. ”
Further reading : Labov, W. (2004). “The Boundaries of Words and their Meanings”. In B. Aarts, D. Denison, E. Keizer, & G. Popova (Eds.), Fuzzy Grammar: A Reader. Currently available at £185 from Oxford University Press.
Coming soon : How much water is in a cup of tea?