Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Pragmatics Practice

Posted by Neal on September 25, 2008

“Are you getting something to drink?” my wife asked me.

OK, that’s it. I need a pseudonym for my wife, like Better Half or Mrs. Semantic Compositions or something. I’d ask … my wife for a suggestion, but I don’t think she’d be too enthusiastic about helping, since she’s still waiting for me to come up with a pet name for her. In all the time we dated, all the time we were engaged, and all the time we’ve been married, I’ve never had a pet name for my wife. Not as a matter of policy; I just never happened to start calling her by a pet name. Maybe it’s part of my language acquisition that never fully took. (Yes, I admit it: Part of the last line in this story is a lie, a lie! )

Anyway, so where was I? We were getting ready to watch the third episode of the show my brother’s writing for, and my wife asked if I was getting something to drink. I said yes.

“If you decide to open a bottle of wine and wanted to pour me a glass, I wouldn’t say no,” she told me.

“Okay,” I said, and headed off to the kitchen.

I don’t think I want a glass of wine, I thought. I’m going to get me a tall glass of iced tea. Woohoo! I was off the hook for getting my wife a glass of wine!

On the other hand, I thought, as I cut the lemon … my wife didn’t say not to bring her a glass of wine if I was getting something else for myself. She probably wouldn’t mind if I brought her a glass of wine regardless of what I was having.

In fact, I reasoned further, she probably wants me to bring her a glass of wine. She was probably just trying to frame the request in a playful, not quite so demanding way. Maybe I ought to bring her a glass of wine.

So I did, and she called me honey and thanked me. Actually, she said, “You’re so sweet,” but since I’m pretty savvy with these indirect speech acts, I could tell it was an expression of thanks.

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6 Responses to “Pragmatics Practice”

  1. hjælmer said

    A close relative recently told me that he and his friend, both in their mid-twenties, were discussing the fact that several of their friends have recently gotten/planned to get married. My relative said that, were he not so scared, he might propose to his friend. And she said that, were she not so scared, she might accept.

  2. Viola said

    Now…don’t take this the wrong way: I don’t have the relationship with you or your wife to conjure up a pet name that would be suitable for her–neither do I have the inclination. Sure wish I could help you with that one, but…er…no. I do, however, think your wife is one incredibly classy lady and would not be the least bit offended if you passed that information on. :-)

  3. The Ridger said

    Why did I think of TMBG’s “Pet Name”?

    ps – tell your brother to make it less gory, less confusing, and less boring. And yes, I’m not quite sure how manages to be all of those at once.

  4. Glen said

    Reminds of this little exchange from Buffy:

    Oz: I’m gonna ask you to go out with me tomorrow night. And I’m kinda
    nervous about it, actually. It’s interesting.

    Willow: Oh. Well, if it helps at all, I’m gonna say yes.

    Oz: Yeah, it helps. It-it creates a comfort zone. (Willow smiles) Do
    you wanna go out with me tomorrow night?

    Willow: (cringes and slaps her hand to her forehead) Oh! I can’t!

    Oz: Well, see, I like that you’re unpredictable.

  5. riddlej said

    My husband and I have pet names that change all the time. When we think of ones that are too long or wordy to the ear, we make them into initials… like “DOTW” is “dad of the world.” If you’re a lover of words, this might work out for you.

  6. Viola said

    @Riddlej
    Acronyms just might be the key!

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