A commercial zeugmoid

A recent Arm & Hammer Slide TV commercial, ‘Change Your Cat’s Litter’ (viewable in an iSpot.tv posting here) exhorts the viewer:

If you hate changing your cat’s litter, then change your cat’s litter.

A cute zeugmoid, playing on two (related, but distinct) senses of the verb CHANGE.

From NOAD, two families of senses, each with a number of specialized subsenses:

verb change:

1 [a] make or become different: [with object]: a proposal to change the law | [no object]: a Virginia creeper just beginning to change from green to gold. [b] make or become a different substance entirely; transform: [with object]: filters change the ammonia into nitrate | [no object]: computer graphics can show cars changing into cheetahs. [c] [no object, with complement] alter in terms of: the ferns began to change shape. [d] [no object] (of traffic lights) move from one color of signal to another. [e] [no object] (of the moon) arrive at a fresh phase; become new.

2 [a] [with object] take or use another instead of: she decided to change her name. [b] move from one to another: she changed jobs incessantly | change sides. [c] [no object] move to a different train, airplane, or subway line. [d] give up (something) in exchange for something else: we changed the shades for vertical blinds. [e] remove (something dirty or faulty) and replace it with another of the same kind: change a light bulb. [f] put a clean diaper on (a baby or young child). [g] engage a different gear in a motor vehicle: wait for a gap and then change gears | figurative: with business concluded, the convention changes gear and a gigantic circus takes over the town. [h] exchange (a sum of money) for the same amount in smaller denominations or in coins, or for different currency. [i] [no object] put different clothes on: he changed for dinner.

The commercial plays on two subsenses in 2 (‘use a different’, rather than ‘become or make different’ as in 1):

change cat litter as a routine task, replace the cat litter in the litter box (“if you hate changing your cat’s litter”): sense 2e

change from one cat litter to another, replace one brand of cat litter by another (“then change your cat’s litter [brand]”): sense 2a

There are separate tokens of change in the commercial, one in each sense — we’re not dealing with zeugma here — but they are close to one another and in parallel syntactic positions, so the shift from one sense to another presents a small challenge to processing and is consequently noticeable (and striking). The shift is reminiscent of zeugma, and has the ostentatiously playful feel of many examples of zeugma.

Speaking of which, there is now a Page on this blog about postings here on zeugmoids (with some links also to postings on Language Log and this blog about zeugma).

One Response to “A commercial zeugmoid”

  1. Will Leben Says:

    What a wealth of zeugmata, zeugmoids, and syllepses on this blog. A related case in a Dell Small Business ad: “There’s nothing small about what I do.” Different yet still somewhat related is the tagline in this SAP ad: “The environment is priceless. Now make protecting it affordable.”

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