Food and drink as events

In my little posting on visitors coming by with pizza, after which a movie was watched, I observed that this description probably should be taken as conveying three events rather than two: the arrival of the pizza-bearers, the eating of the pizza, and the watching of the movie.

This isn’t guaranteed: maybe the visitors brought the pizza because they were going to take it on to some later event, or dispose of it in a garbage dump, or display it as found art, or whatever (no necessary pizza-eating); maybe, as a commenter on that posting said, the pizza was indeed consumed, but during, rather than before, the movie-watching; or maybe the pizza was consumed, but after the movie-watching; or maybe the movie-watching took place after the arrival and the pizza-eating, but long after them (like, say, a week later); and so on. All the original sentence said is that there were two events, the arrival with pizza and the movie-watching, occurring in that order. All the rest is everyday reasoning and implicature.

Consider, for example, how pizza-eating gets involved in the story. Why do people bring pizza on a visit? (Note that we assume that it’s hot, just-baked pizza, not a frozen pizza or left-over cold pizza, although that’s not stipulated in the sentence.) Customarily, people bring food on visits so that it can be eaten, and in fact eaten communally. That’s a fact about social customs. In addition, the writer of the original sentence (who turns out to have been me) did mention pizza prominently, so we reason that it’s relevant. That’s an implicature. Put these two things together, and we conclude that everyone (or at least everyone who wanted some) ate pizza.

Now I turn to another factor that contributed to my understanding that the pizza-eating preceded the movie-watching: the wording “… bearing pizza, after which we watched …”

A fact about the semantics of English nouns is relevant here: names of food and drink can be used, metonymically, to refer to events in which these substances are consumed.

Before/During/After pizza, we watched a movie.
Before/During/After salad, we can talk about business.
Before/During/After martinis, we can talk about business.

can convey ‘before/during/after eating/drinking …’ (There are a number of possible variants here: “after a/the/our pizza(s)” and the like.)

Dictionaries don’t generally list such understandings of such nouns, because the metonymy is systematic and productive.

In any case, the existence of this pattern seems to have biased me towards thinking of the pizza as an event as well as a food.

2 Responses to “Food and drink as events”

  1. John Lawler Says:

    This strikes me as much more general than just “eating/drinking ..”.
    For instance:

    After the seeds, we’ll get to the peels. (removing …)
    After the seeds, we’ll get to the starts. (planting …)
    After the vomit, we’ll get to the dogshit. (cleaning up …)

  2. Nathan Myers Says:

    During my travels in southeast Asia, I was entirely mystified by a Japanese tourist’s T-shirt proclaiming “AFTER GOLF / BATH A MUSTARD”.

    It was years later that I realized it was trying to recommend a mustard bath, post-links. Syntax can make the difference between milliseconds and years to comprehend an expression, or over five orders of magnitude.

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