Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Words You Look Back On and Cringe

Posted by Neal on March 6, 2006

Now I’m moving on to the DGM and Fraser quotations from the three in that earlier post. These were all quotations in which VPs were coordinated, and in each coordination, some of the VPs were missing an object, and some were not. I repeat the quotations once again below, with brackets indicating a missing object:

(Julie Andrews quotation)
Of course, I saw it a couple of times at various previews and things like that, but it’s not something that I actually put [ ] in, sit back and run [ ].

(DGM quotation)
It’s just a bunch of embarrassingly juvenile scratchings about life as a hormonal 15-year old girl, meant only for me to look back on [ ] and cringe….

(George MacDonald Fraser quotation)
…perhaps terror lends wings to my wits, for when I think of the monsters I’ve conversed with [ ] and come away with a whole skin, more or less….

As I wrote earlier, the Andrews quotation was an example of a coordination held together by the coherence relation of Occasion, with all VPs denoting some subevent of a main event involving a single topic, in this case, a video of The Sound of Music. In Andy Kehler‘s analysis of coordinations like these, the coherence relations holding together the coordinations in the other two quotations are two species of the Cause-Effect relation.

The DGM quotation involves the more straightforward of the two relations, namely Result, also seen in coordinations such as the ice cream I ate too fast and got an ice-cream headache. DGM looks back on the words she wrote as a teenager, and as a direct result, cringes in embarrassment. The topic is still her old writings, though, which is why we’re able to pull it out of the VP look back on. How do we independently know this is the topic, instead of just circularly concluding that it must be because the coordination works? The “Speaking of” test: You can say, “Speaking of the writings in my old diary, I looked back on them and cringed.” If we replace cringe with something that something that is seemingly irrelevant to rereading one’s old diary, the coordination doesn’t work so well anymore, and neither does the “Speaking of” test:

meant only for me to look back on and cringe

?meant only for me to look back on and notice that my toenails need clipping

?Speaking of the writings in my old diary, I looked back on them and noticed that my toenails needed clipping.

I marked these as questionable instead of downright bad because the inclination to read a Cause-Effect relation into it is so strong that I find myself trying to envision unusual contexts in which rereading your diary would cause you to notice that your toenails needed clipping.

Or… contexts in which you would expect rereading something to make you forget your toenails needed clipping, but contrary to all expectation, it doesn’t! Enter the other kind of Cause-Effect relation that Kehler brings into his analysis, that of Violated Expectations, seen in coordinations such as What evil wizard did Harry meet and live to tell the tale?. This brings us to the Fraser quotation. You would expect conversing with monsters to lead to physical harm, but Fraser’s character Flashman is talking about situations in which this expectation is not met. Monsters is still the topic, though, and therefore extractable from the one VP. Substitute come away with a whole skin for an irrelevant VP, and once again, neither the coordination nor the “Speaking of” test sounds so good:

the monsters I’ve conversed with and come away with a whole skin

?the monsters I’ve conversed with and noticed that my toenails needed clipping

?Speaking monsters, I’ve conversed with many of them and noticed that my toenails needed clipping.

Hence, the Andrews-DGM-Fraser trio of coordinations, none parallel syntactically, all nonetheless grammatical, and each licensed by a different coherence relation.

About these ads

One Response to “Words You Look Back On and Cringe”

  1. [...] These quotations are a lot like one from DGM that I wrote about here: It’s just a bunch of embarrassingly juvenile scratchings about life as a hormonal 15-year old girl, meant only for me to [look back on __ ] and [cringe]…. [...]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 463 other followers

%d bloggers like this: