Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

It Makes Me Angry and Want to Pulverize You!

Posted by Neal on October 9, 2006

Longtime readers may remember this quotation from a while back:

It makes [my hair big] and [my pits sweat].

It caught my eye because a chunk consisting of a noun phrase (NP) and an adjective (my hair big) was coordinated with a chunk consisting of an NP and a verb (my pits sweat). This non-parallel structure was interesting because it was possible only you parsed the one, single, solitary make in two ways: as a verb taking NP+Adj, and as a verb taking NP+V.

Now this unusual coordination with make has company. First is one from a book I read to Doug and Adam:

They helped him forget what had made [his father sad] and [his mother cry].
James Cross Giblin, The Boy Who Saved Cleveland

Next is one from a comment on a posting at Tasty Research. The post summarizes some research on when and why people who cut in line (or as they say here in central Ohio, ditch) get away with it. (I told my brother about this posting, and he offers his hypotheses here.) Some of the comments are from quite unashamed line-cutters, and this comment responds to them:

why would ya cut in line? it would just make every1 in back of you [ANGRY] AND [WANT TO PULVARIZE YA]!

This one factors out the NP every1 in back of you, and coordinates only an adjective (angry) and a verb phrase (want to pulverize ya), but you still have to parse make in two ways for it to work.

I wonder if it’s coincidence that all three of these non-parallel coordinations with make have the adjective first, and the verb phrase second. Could they go in the other order? Let’s see…

It makes [my pits sweat] and [my hair big].

They helped him forget what had made [his mother cry] and [his father sad].

*it would just make every1 in back of you [WANT TO PULVARIZE YA] AND [ANGRY]!

The first two sound good/strange to about the same extent as their originals, but the last one I starred, because it’s definitely worse. That may be just because longer items in a coordinated list tend to sound better at the end. So what if I made the adjective phrase even longer? How about…

it would just make every1 in back of you [want to pulverize ya] and [angry as hell at your lack of respect]!

I do believe it’s better. What do you think?

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4 Responses to “It Makes Me Angry and Want to Pulverize You!”

  1. It is evident that structural parallelism is broken, but the utterances remain understandable. I think they look awkward when read and not so awkward when heard.
    Warn you: my native language is Spanish, so I’m probably not in the best position to judge.

  2. [...] Another non-parallelism involving make! But this one is one notch stranger than the ones I’ve written about before: It makes [my hair big] and [my pits sweat].They helped him forget what had made [his father sad] and [his mother cry].It would just make everyone in back of you [ANGRY] AND [WANT TO PULVERIZE YA]! [...]

  3. Sunflower said

    No, that last one doesn’t reverse. In the first two examples, the effects described could have occured in no particular order, and may well have occured simultaneously. In the third, anger is a precondition to the desire to pulverize – while I can imagine a case in which this is not so, it’d be a psychological problem more than a linguistic one.

  4. Neal said

    Good point, Sunflower. I hadn’t thought of that.

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