Archive for the ‘Ambiguity’ Category

Chic peas and more

October 13, 2018

The fall special at Dan Gordon’s (on Emerson St. in Palo Alto), as it first appeared on the menu, about a month ago:

Summer Stew $16.95
smoked pork / cippolini onions / chic peas / prunes / red rice

(with the very notable spelling chic peas and with the misspelling cippolini for cipollini). But now the ingredients list reads:

smoked pork / cippolini onions / chickpeas / dehydrated plums / red rice

(with the notable dehydrated plums). Actually, all four ingredients have linguistic interest.

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Briefly noted 10/7/18: a scope ambiguity

October 7, 2018

From Robert Coren on Facebook today:

Headline in today’s Boston Globe: “Mormons required to spend less time in Sunday Services”. Wait, what? That seems like a strange requirement.
Turns out it means that the amount of time they’re required to spend in the services has been reduced.

The Globe is behind a paywall for me, so all I can see is that the head seems to have been edited to the unproblematic “Mormons to spend less time in Sunday Services”.

Still, the headline RC reports is of some interest as an example of a scope ambiguity, involving a modal condition (of requirement) and a change of state (in time spent on an activity).

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The autumnal Humpty Dumpty

October 5, 2018

Currently viral on the net, this punning Humpty Dumpty cartoon:

(#1)

The noun fall ‘act of falling or collapsing’ vs. (North American) ‘autumn’, with a corresponding accompanying ambiguity in the adjective great: ‘very large’ vs. ‘of considerably high quality’.

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Jumping higher than a house

October 2, 2018

The One Big Happy from 9/5 has Ruthie enmeshed in the syntax and semantics of comparison:

The reduced comparative X can jump higher than your house: ‘jump higher than your house is’ (Grandpa’s intended reading), OR ‘jump higher than your house can jump’ (Ruthie’s perceived reading ).

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Attaching an 8-page essay at Wheaton College

September 30, 2018

Reported back on the 19th, a stunner of a 2017 headline about Wheaton College (IL) events dating back to 2016. First, the story from a source other than the one that produced the remarkable headline: from the Daily Mail (UK) by Jennifer Smith on 2/14/18: “Christian college ‘punished’ football players who ‘kidnapped, beat and sexually assaulted’ freshman in brutal hazing ritual by asking them to write an eight-page essay and complete community service”:

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I gotta go

September 11, 2018

The catch phrase of writer and performer Merle Kessler’s alter ego Ian Shoales, just a bit short of the more vernacular I’m outta here. That’s motion go. Then there’s elimination go, and an ambiguity between the two, as exploited by Calvin in this (recently re-cycled) Calvin and Hobbes strip:

(#1)

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Molesting and abusing ambiguously

September 2, 2018

The news stories are appalling, but this is about an expression in one of the stories:

(1) More needs to be done to protect children from molesting priests. (Gregory Ward in e-mail on 8/29, reporting on a WBEZ-FM (Chicago) news story)

Which led to the contemplation of the N + N compounds:

(2) child molester

(3) child abuse

All of them ambiguous, though all with a (dire) conventionalized sense.

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Further adventures with Low Attachment

September 1, 2018

Bonnie Taylor-Blake to ADS-L on 8/10 under the heading “Another zoological crash blossom”:

The headline for a blog post hosted by the Smithsonian:

“Scientists track a mysterious songbird using tiny backpack locators

This reminded me of a favorite from a few years ago, “Public urged to keep track of squirrels with mobiles.” (See Ben Zimmer’s column about this and other crash blossoms [here].)

Two ambiguous headlines that might be understood in an unintended way because of how modifying phrases (underlined above) are attached to preceding material:

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Ruthie faces literal ambiguity

August 28, 2018

In the 7/30 strip, on the ambiguity of the word letter; in the 7/31 strip, a play on the name of the letter Y:

(#1)

(#2)

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“The hell is that guy doing?”: predator-truncated QuEx

August 23, 2018

The word from predators, in this Jake Likes Onions cartoon (by Jake Thompson):


(#1) Title: “Maybe he’s running from the truth”

Predator 2 omits the what of what the hell (in a Wh, or constituent, question What is that guy doing? with the question word what emphatically extended by the expletive the hell).

About the syntax, and then about the strip and the artist…

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