Archive for the ‘Coordination’ Category

Annals of zeugma

November 15, 2015

From Ann Burlingham, this zeugmatic dialogue from the tv series Leverage (“The Long Way Down Job”, season 4, episode 1, first aired 6/26/11), at 17:27:

(1) Drexel gets paid and away scot-free

(Drexel is the character John Drexel.)

The verb gets here represents two different lexical items, with very different meanings, one in construction with the PSP verb paid, the other in construction with the particle away and the adverb scot-free: the first is the main verb in a passive construction (the so-called “get-passive”, an alternative to the be-passive), and the second is the main verb in a (metaphorical) motion construction.

So we have zeugma — plus a massively non-parallel coordination paid and away scot-free. Overall, (1) is a major WTF sentence, of a sort that is often concocted as a joke, but that doesn’t seem to the case here.


Non-parallel gaps in Jackson Hole

October 5, 2015

(Mostly geekily technical, but I hope you’ll persevere.)

From John Lawler a while back, a link to an Industry Tap story of 2/27/15, “Wyoming Vertical Farm Produces 37,000 Pounds of Greens on the Side of a Parking Garage!” by Marshall Smith. As John said, along with the intrinsic interest of the story (a bit more below), there’s this opening sentence:

(1) Jackson Hole, Wyoming, may not be a place many people pick out on a map to travel to, let alone even know exists.

(with a continuation about it still garnering significant tourist numbers). People will tend to judge (1) as a WTF sentence, awkward and hard to understand at best, simply ungrammatical at worst. The ingredients of the problem are the let alone construction and the gaps of relativization in two contrasted constituents. Both ingredients have been studied in some detail, but not, so far as I know, in combination as in (1).


Ten language-y comics

September 13, 2015

On the Comics Kingdom blog on Tuesday the 8th: “Tuesdays Top Ten Comics on Grammar and Wordplay” (with grammar, as usual, understood broadly). CK distributes strips from King Features; it’s one of my regular sources of cartoons for this blog. The strips here are all from 2014-15.



July 3, 2015

In the NYRB of 7/10/15, p. 46, in “Climate: Will We Lose the Endgame?’ by Bill McKibben (relevant bit boldfaced):

(1) the geology of the region is bowl-shaped: beneath the glaciers the ground slopes downward, meaning that water can and is flooding underneath them.

Modals like can govern the BSE form of their complements (water can flood underneath them); the auxiliary verb be governs the PRP form of its complement (water is flooding underneath them); so when can and is are coordinated, there is no verb form for the complement VP that satisfies both requirements. Quite commonly, speakers and writers (even in formal written contexts like NYRB) opt to satisfy only one of the requirements, the one imposed by the nearer V: this is government by the nearest (GbN).

I’ve grown accustomed to many occurrences of GbN, but some strike me as particularly jarring, I’m not sure why, and this is one of those cases.


caused traffic to snarl, as well as some injuries and accidents

June 20, 2015

The whole sentence, as it appeared in the Daily Post (central S.F. Peninsula) on 6/11/15, p. 38, in “Juror complains protestor trial is a waste of time” by Angela Ruggiero:

(1) The sudden blockade caused traffic to snarl, as well as some injuries and accidents.

This has the V caused in construction with some sort of DO + VP complement traffic to snarl (a kind of “accusative + infinitive”, to use traditional terminology) and simultaneously in construction with a direct object, a coordinate NP some injuries and accidents. We start with the observation that this is a kind of coordination of unlike syntactic categories: whatever the syntactic category of DO + VP is, it’s not NP.

Now, despite what some usage handbooks would have you believe, coordinations of unlikes are far from generally barred — but some types are markedly odd, at least for many speakers (and in this case, I am one of them; for me, (1) is one type of what the Language Loggers came to call “WTF coordinations”, for the characteristic reaction some people have to them). (more…)

Charles Blow’s non-parallelism

May 24, 2015

From his op-ed column “Unaffiliated and Underrepresented” in the NYT on the 18th:

(1) The issue in this country is less that Christians are persecuted as much as peevish.

Two things: the parallelism between persecuted and peevish; and the parallelism between less that X and as much as Y.


Feuilleton: government by nearest in Baltimore

May 3, 2015

In the NYT on the 1st, in the story “Baltimore Police Complete Initial Inquiry Into Death of Prisoner”, this quote from Baltimore state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby:

“While we have and will continue to leverage the information received by the department, we are not relying solely on their findings but rather on the facts that we have gathered and verified.”

This would be labeled as a straightforward grammatical error by many commenters: a failure of parallelism in coordination, the result of failing to include all necessary words (possibly as a consequence of failing to attend to the syntax of sentences as they are being produced):

NOT we have and will continue to leverage …

BUT we have leveraged and will continue to leverage …

The have of the perfect governs a PSP complement, but there is no PSP VP in the example, only a BSE VP (continue to leverage …) governed by the modal will, an infinitival VP (to leverage …) governed by continue, and a BSE VP (leverage …) governed by infinitival to. The second part of the coordination is fine, but the first part fails the government requirement on the perfect. Put another way, the government requirement in the first conjunct is disregarded, and we see government determined by the nearest governor to the affected VP. In short, government by the nearest (GbN).


Failure of parallelism

March 7, 2015

In a NYT story on the 4th, “Dangerous Passage and Multiplying Fines as Ice Is Left Uncleared” [in print: “With No One To Clear It, Ice Creates A Dangerous Passage”] by Winnie Hu and Ken Schwencke:

A bulk of the issue is that in vacant buildings it can be difficult to determine who the owner is, who is responsible for maintenance, or to compel payment.

The crucial bit, with some constituency indicated:

can be difficult [to determine [who the owner is, who is responsible for maintenance]], or [to compel payments]

I caught this immediately, because I had trouble parsing the thing. I stumbled on what felt to me like a failure of parallelism, even though part of what’s going on is a familiar pattern in coordination.


Sunday NomConjObj

February 4, 2015

In the NYT Sunday Review on February 1st, an interview by Kate Murphy. Background:

Michel Nischan is a two-time James Beard Award-winning chef who founded and now runs Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit sustainable food advocacy group that has forged partnerships with health care providers nationwide to prescribe and make farm-fresh produce available in low-income communities.

And then in the section on “Playing”, Nischan says (relevant bit boldfaced):

While I didn’t get to know James Beard, I did end up meeting one of my childhood heroes, Jacques Pépin, and we became very dear friends. He’s the one who turned my wife and I on to pétanque, which is kind of the French version of bocce. We caught on quickly enough — Jacques doesn’t like playing with people who can’t play — that he invited us to join his league and we play every other Sunday during the summer. It’s a really social and remarkably fun game.

A nominative conjoined object (NomConjObj) my wife and I, which struck me as perfectly ordinary these days; indeed, the prescriptive standard alternative my wife and me struck me as somewhat awkward in this context — and I’m someone who doesn’t use NomConjObjs. What might be going on here?


NomConjObj from Jack Straw, in writing

December 22, 2014

In the NYT this morning, in a notable photo taken by Ruby Washington for the paper back on 2/14/03 and reprinted on the occasion of her retirement: showing a congratulatory note from British foreign secretary Jack Straw to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell:

The British media are reporting you and I as ‘fighting back’ against the ambiguity of the Blix reports.

A Nominative Conjoined Object with the pronoun form I where the prescriptive standard has me. One of a collection of such examples from public figures (among others, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, U.S. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, HRH Prince Andrew, and candidates Mitt Romney and Joe Biden in the last presidential election.

In the prescriptive standard, a conjoined pronoun has the same form that it would have in isolation, but for some considerable time there’s been a competing system that uses nominatives in coordination, even for grammatical objects. This system tends to be used in informal contexts, especially in speech, but it also appears in informal writing, as above.

On the choice of pronoun forms, see this recent posting, where I carefully distinguish the catalogue of forms, which can be labeled by arbitrary names, from the principles for choosing among them in syntactic constructions, principles that have to be discovered by examining actual usage(s).


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