Today’s word reversal

From radio station KALW’s “Daily Almanac” segment this morning, in the school lunch menu for San Francisco public elementary schools, announcer Joe Burke listing a

toasted turkey ham cheese and sandwich

instead of what’s on the school district’s website:

toasted turkey ham and cheese sandwich

A word reversal, of adjacent words, of an unusual type.

As I noted in my “Reversal in the heat of the sexual moment” posting,

Word reversals preserve the prosody of the intended phrase, as in the porn example [You wanna fuck your shooting load!, corrected to You wanna shoot your fuckin’ load!]. And, as in this example, the exchanged words are usually the same part of speech: verb for verb above, noun for noun in most cases, like Seymour sliced the knife with a salami for Seymour sliced the salami with a knife (Fromkin’s P2). (Words of unlike category are sometimes exchanged, but usually only when they’re adjacent: Does smoke Jack? for Does Jack smoke? (Fromkin’s P29).

In the lunch menu example, the exchanged words are certainly not of the same category, but they are adjacent. However, the prosody of the target phrase was not preserved; that would give unaccented cheese and accented and. Instead, the accent on the individual words was preserved: accented cheese and unaccented and.

Crucial fact: Collections of speech errors, like Fromkin’s, are taken from spontaneous speech, but the lunch menu error was from reading: Joe Burke was reading from a sheet provided by the San Francisco Unified School District. Errors in speech and errors in reading out loud are two different things, arising from different mechanisms; in particular, visual processing of the text is an important component in reading out loud. Ham cheese and sandwich would be a very unlikely speech error, but it’s entirely plausible as a reading error, resulting from visual displacement of the words.


2 Responses to “Today’s word reversal”

  1. Dennis Preston Says:

    Arnold, I wonder if floundering on parsing “turkey ham” contributed to this “breakdown”? Dennis

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Probably. The sandwiches are in fact made of two things, (a) turkey ham and (b) cheese, not of three (turkey, ham, and cheese), and there isn’t a comma on the menu sheet, but the text still provides something of a parsing problem, especially if you’re not particularly familiar with turkey ham. (Turkey ham is a nice example of a resembloid compound, by the way.)

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