Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

There Was Supposed to Be a Gap!

Posted by Neal on July 2, 2010

In the newspaper yesterday, I read about the latest reboot of the Wonder Woman comic book, in an article by George Gene Gustines of the New York Times News Service. In sketching out the previous reboots, Gustines stated that are one point,

The character was then overhauled, her previous continuity erased, and ….

How will the sentence finish? It starts with a clause, The character was then overhauled, and continues with a clause missing the auxiliary verb was: her previous continuity erased. This is an example of a kind of coordination called gapping, which I wrote about in this post. So I’m expecting the last item in the coordination to be another clause with a gap instead of a was, like her hair color changed to red. I’d even accept it with a missing were instead of was; for example, her golden wristbands replaced with finger-activated web fluid dispensers. So let’s see how it ends:

The character was then overhauled, her previous continuity erased, and she starred in Volume 2 as a heroine new to the world.

She starred in Volume 2 as a heroine new to the world? An entire clause, complete with verb? What is this? It’s kind of like those multiple-level coordinations, like this one from Wikipedia’s article on Wonder Woman’s publication history:

She was beautiful, intelligent, strong, yet still possessed a soft side. (link)

Adjective, adjective, adjective, yet verb phrase. The adjectives are all part of a verb phrase that begins with was; the verb phrase still possessed a soft side is a verb phrase. But Gustines’s gapping sentence is different. The things he’s coordinating are all at the same level in the sentence: They’re all top-level clauses in the sentence. It’s just that one of them is missing its auxiliary verb. I don’t know if the analyses of gapping that are out there predict that you can do this.

Can you do it? How does the sentence sound to you?

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6 Responses to “There Was Supposed to Be a Gap!”

  1. Ryan said

    I’m a 20 year old native speaker, born and raised in Oregon, and I have no problem with the coordinations. I’d like to say I’d try for something a little more parallel for a college paper, but I mean it’s not unparseable or particularly off-putting.

  2. Estel said

    I think it depends how I read the comma. If I read the sentence merely as a sequence:

    The character
    (1) was then overhauled,
    (2) her previous continuity erased,
    (3) and she starred in Volume 2 as a heroine new to the world.

    it doesn’t sound good.

    But if I read it so that “her previous continuity erased” is a sort of parenthetical comment on “was then overhauled”, then it’s fine.

    The character
    (1) was then overhauled, her previous continuity erased,
    (2) and she starred in Volume 2 as a heroine new to the world.

  3. Glen said

    With Estel’s reading, I think it’s fine. But otherwise, I find it just as offputting as all these non-parallel coordinations.

  4. Ellen K. said

    I read it as a coordination of two things, with “her previous continuity erased” as an explantion of “The character was then overhauled” rather than a separate coordinated item. Except, while that works grammatically, I’m not sure if it works semantically.

    And now having read the comments, I see Estel said that too. And much better than me.

  5. See, now that’s why I like em dashes.

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