What room am I in?

This photoon passed on to me by Karen Chung on Facebook (I have no idea of its ultimate source):


Context, context, context.

The spatial P in can locate a person p in context in (at least) two different ways — either directly and concretely, by locating p‘s body (at the reference time of the larger utterance) as being within some enclosing space (in #1, the hotel lobby); or in a displaced and somewhat more abstract way, by locating p as being within some enclosing space in an auxiliary subworld. In #1, this subworld is the one in which each hotel guest has a specific enclosing space — a hotel room — assigned to them, and in that subworld p in #1 is paired with room r; the result is that “p is in r” can be true (in the room-assignment subworld) and “p has never been in r” can also be true (in the larger world). And

I am in the lobby of the hotel and in Room 666.

can be non-contradictory (even, in the right circumstances, true), but still sound a bit odd (triggering a brief moment of processing difficulty): it’s not a zeugma, since there are two separate occurrences of in, understood somewhat differently, not a single occurrence that has to be understood both ways at once; instead it’s what I’ve called a zeugmoid (see my 11/17/10 posting “Zeugmoids”), close enough to zeugma to give many readers or hearers pause.

Meanwhile, p‘s intention (clear in context) in #1 is to ask about the room-assignment subworld, while the hotel clerk (uncooperatively) responds with an answer about the larger world.

It’s all about pragmatics: context, intentions, cooperativeness in conversation.

Note 1. Photoons. #1 has both the visual and the textual components of a cartoon, and both contribute significantly to its content: the visual component locates the exchange at the front desk of a hotel, and the text in the speech balloons supplies crucial conversational content . What sets it apart from a prototypical cartoon is that the visual component is a photograph rather tha a drawing. From my 8/25/18 posting “But is it a cartoon?”:

It’s a photograph intended as a cartoon, and I say we take it at face value. Maybe call such things — some others have come by on this blog — photoons.

Note 2. Verbal jokes and cartoons.To a considerable extent, verbal jokes and cartoons are interconvertible: the set-up of a joke (“Three nuns come into a bar”) can often be depicted rather than described; and a cartoon can often have its crucial background elements described in words rather than depicted.

So it is with #1, which can be done with text only:

A hotel guest comes up to the desk clerk and says: “Hi, I’ve forgotten what room I’m in.”

The clerk replies: “No problem, Sir. This is called ‘The Lobby’.”

Context, context, context. An old theme here. From my Language Log posting of 5/1/07, “Context, context, context”:

The title of this posting is a favorite saying of my friend Ellen Evans.  It’s scarcely original with her, as you can see by googling on it.  Googling will, in fact, yield “context, context, context” as an explicit instance of the X3 snowclone

… But with Ellen Evans you get more: a CafePress shop, Ellen de Sui Generis, with merchandise featuring characteristic Evansian sayings: PiffleEr, noFSVO (an acronym for “for some value of”, and pronounced like “fizzvo”); and of course Context, context, context.  There you will find two items with CCC on them: a classic thong for $7.99 and a mug for $10.99.  The mugs make excellent presents for your friends in semantics/pragmatics and sociolinguistics (or computer science or postmodern criticism or …).  (Disclosure: I have no connection, financial or otherwise, with the shop.  I’m merely a Friend of Ellen, and of Lars Ingebrigtsen, who set the shop up.)

The mug:


I have one myself.

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