Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

The Tortilla Man’s Mission Statement

Posted by Neal on January 20, 2005

I tell you, the only reason I go to Don Pablo’s anymore is their tortillas. When I moved here in 1992, you couldn’t get good Tex-Mex food, but that gap was filled the following year when Don Pablo’s came to town. I went there on a regular basis for almost ten years. But then the corporation started fooling around with the recipes. One by one, my favorite items were banished to the list of things I couldn’t eat if I was going to kiss my wife in the next 24 hours. Or they disappeared from the menu. So now I’m back to where I was 12 years ago: Waiting until I visit my family in Texas, where I can get my annual Taco Cabana fix.

Yep, if not for their tortillas, I’d have given up on Don Pablo’s two years ago. They haven’t changed the recipe for those (as far as I can tell), and still make them on the premises: warm, chewy, and just a little bit salty–not with that disappointing sweet aftertaste that comes with every store-bought tortilla I’ve eaten. And guess what? The person who makes the tortillas now has a mission statement!

Yes, it’s true. See, we went to Don Pablo’s last week. I was hoping the fajitas might have recovered, but even if they hadn’t, I figured I could at least could eat some tortillas and drink some iced tea. When we got there, Doug and Adam went up to watch the tortilla maker, as usual. They watched the guy putting the balls of dough on the giant griddle, squishing them flat with the lid, and laying the resulting tortillas on the warming slab. They waited to see which of the tortillas would stay flat, and which would blow up like whoopie cushions, and while they were doing that, I noticed a paper on the wall behind the tortilla-making apparatus. It said:

Tortilla maker: My objective is to return each guest by providing hot, fresh tortillas as quickly as possible.

Now that was strange. This tortilla guy aimed to return me? Return me to where? Return me like an unwanted Christmas gift? Then I realized I needed to use return in its “come back” sense rather than its “go back” sense. Applying the caused-motion lexical rule to that sense gets us the “cause to come back” meaning intended here, instead of the more common “cause to go back” sense appropriate for Christmas gifts, hostages, and illegal aliens.

But can return actually mean “cause to come back”? It sure can’t in my dialect, and it’s not in my dictionary, either. (Next time I’m near an OED I’ll check it, too.) My suspicion is that return each guest is, like the rest of the whole klunky, pompous message, the end result of hours of corporate wordsmithing, and not representative of how people actually talk. But even if I’m right, I wonder why the caused-motion alternation doesn’t hold for the “come” sense of return.

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3 Responses to “The Tortilla Man’s Mission Statement”

  1. Justin said

    Given the context, are you sure this isn’t just a mistake made by a non-native speaker?

    –SC

  2. Neal said

    True, the context includes non-native English speakers, including the ones we see making the tortillas. But mission statements are more of a management-type thing to do, and the managers I’ve seen and talked to there look like native speakers.

  3. Anonymous said

    Your guess is spot on. Grow your business, return your guests. Rise their bile and ire.

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