Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Coordinated Questions at the Memorial Tournament

Posted by Neal on June 2, 2006

Adam and his friend G. were going to get together this afternoon and ride bikes, now that they both know how, but the rain which suddenly sprang up yesterday just got worse today. So instead the friend’s mom and I took the two of them to McDonald’s to have lunch and play in the indoor playset there.

“Man,” I said to G’s mom, “Where is all this rain coming from? It was so nice a few days ago!”

“Of course it’s raining!” she told me. “The Memorial Tournament is going on.

Ah, of course. The Memorial Tournament. I’d forgotten about that. When I got home I looked in the paper and there it was, not in the sports section, but right on the front page of the metro section. The lead article was about how some golfers are unhappy with Jack Nicklaus’s decision to have the sand traps raked this year, to increase the difficulty of the course.

“It makes no sense,” [some guy named John Cook] said. “If everybody thinks it’s an automatic up-and-down out of a bunker nowadays, why is the best player in the tour barely over 60 (percent on sand saves) and the tour average is under 50?”
(“Sand storm hits Memorial,” Ken Gordon, The Columbus Dispatch, June 2, 2006, p. B1)

How about that? I was rewarded for reading a sports story by finding another of those strange coordinations. John Cook wants to ask why two propositions are true:

  1. The best player in the country is barely over 60%.
  2. The tour average is under 50%.

But even though the why takes scope over the conjunction of these propositions, the subject-auxiliary inversion it triggers only occurs on the first one: Why is the best player in the country…. That is, he didn’t say:

Why is the best player in the country barely over 60, and is the tour average under 50%

Not only is the above formulation awkward, it even sounds like why scopes over only the first coordinated phrase, while the is the tour average… part is an independent, yes/no question. Nope, short of saying, “Why is it the case that the best player is barely over 60% and the league average is under 50%?” the non-parallel formulation was definitely the way to go.

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4 Responses to “Coordinated Questions at the Memorial Tournament”

  1. david said

    i would have gone for a third option:

    “why is the best player in the tour barely over 60 (percent on sand saves) and the tour average under 50?”

  2. Glen said

    I would have dropped the second ‘is': “Why is the best player in the country barely over 60%, and the tour average under 50?” Ah, the best of both worlds, neither awkward nor non-parallel.

  3. Neal said

    David and Glen: You’re right. The best option is NOT non-parallelism, as I said, but to factor out the is, as you say. If the verbs had been different, non-parallelism would have worked best. Well, that’s the last time I write two posts in one day!

  4. [...] Now, a couple from Language Log. First, here’s one from Geoff Pullum on what linguists refer to as “ATB violations“. This post specifically about an ATB-violating wh-question, much like one the one that came up here a while back: why is the best player in the tour barely over 60 percent on sand saves and the tour average is unde…. [...]

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