The Zippy and the Zits in my comics feed today:
Archive for the ‘Implicature’ Category
Today’s Zits, with Jeremy and his mother engaged in Grice War:
Jeremy’s mother assumes that Jeremy will use the literal content of what she says as the starting point in a chain of Gricean reasoning about what additional content might reasonably be inferred. The situations are different in different strips, but Jeremy reliably refuses to act like a cooperative conversationalist in these interactions, choosing instead to fix on whatever understanding would require the least action on his part — in this case, bringing his mother her note, rather than the rather large box to which the note is affixed.
The crucial part of the problem here is the interpretation of the demonstrative pronouns this and that, which require the hearer to seek out an appropriate referent in the real-world or linguistic context of utterance. Connie Duncan supposed that her son would work out that there would we no point in asking him to bring her the note, but that it would be reasonable of her to ask him to help her by carrying the box upstairs.
Overheard at lunch a few days ago:
(1) We’re going to Puerto Rico for the holidays; I’ve never been.
My first interpretation of the (elliptical) second clause was as
(2) I’ve never been to Puerto Rico.
with what I’ll call “motion-goal BE” in the pattern:
(3) HAVE been [PP to PLACE ]
where the lexical item BE is a motion verb, roughly glossable as ‘go’, so that (3) conveys ‘HAVE gone to PLACE’. Think of Charlene singing
(4) Ooh I’ve been to Georgia and California, and, anywhere I could run
… I’ve been to paradise, but I’ve never been to me
(I’ll get to Charlene in a while. Meanwhile, you can hear her singing “I’ve Never Been to Me” by going to this YouTube site. Note: opinions about this song are strongly polarized: many people think it’s one of the world’s worst songs, while others think it provides wonderful advice about attending to your feelings. Please: I am not soliciting opinions here.)
Or with past perfect rather than present perfect:
(5) I realized that I’d been to Georgia and not eaten a single peach.
There’s a lot to be said about motion-goal BE, beyond its having BE as a motion verb.
I start with a Mark Stivers cartoon (from 11/16/14) that was reprinted (in b&w) in the November Funny Times:
Reubenesque in the cartoon (referring to the Reuben sandwich, illustrated there), playing on Rubenesque (referring to the painter Peter Paul Rubens, known, among other things, for the plump — “full and rounded” in OED3 — female figures in his paintings), both pronounced /ˌrubɪnˈɛsk/. The Reuben sandwich in the cartoon is metaphorically Rubenesque: plump with its components, as it should be.
This play on words will take us in several directions; here are some preliminary comments, in no particular order.
True, she just asked him to unload the dishwasher, and he did that. But the point of unloading the dishwasher is to put the clean dishes away, so that unload the dishwasher implicates put the clean dishes away. Or to put it another way, the routine of unloading the dishwater has a sub-routine of putting the clean dishes away.
As usual, Jeremy takes what his mother says as literally and narrowly as possible, so as to avoid work.
A Meg Biddle cartoon in the June 2015 Funny Times:
Yes-no questions with the tag or what? are regularly used to emphatically assert the truth of the questioned proposition. So
Is this a great country, or what?
has the effect of proclaiming that this is indeed a great country. But the question has at least one other reading, merely asking for an alternative answer to Is this a great country?, and that’s the reading Biddle is playing with in the cartoon.
A recent accumulation: a Scott Hilburn strip with a pun; a Zits on X-free foods; a very meta Zippy; and a Pearls Before Swine with heavy use of implicature.
Back on July 11th, I posted this:
Unlike my other postings this morning, shirtless men will not come into it. That is, this posting is shirtlessnessless.
Yes, shirtlessnessless. The formal pattern here is indefinitely extendable, but rapidly yields words of vanishing utility in real life.
Today’s Dilbert has the devious Wally flouting Grice’s maxim of Quantity:
(On Grice’s maxims, see this posting.) Saying “not two” implicates — conversationally implicates — not two or more, but Wally disregards this in favor of treating not two as ‘not exactly two’. But the pointy-headed boss has enough experience with Wally to suspect his deviousness.