Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Two from The Ridger

Posted by Neal on May 9, 2011

Karen Davis, who blogs at The Greenbelt and frequently comments here using the handle The Ridger, emailed me a couple of interesting linguistic finds this week.

First up, a quotation from someone named Matt Smith on BBC America, on what is evidently a feature called “Dr. Who Insider”. He seems to have said it around April 23:

River Song sort of beguiles, infuriates, endears, and turns the Doctor on, all at the same time.

Karen had two things to note. First of all, there’s the unusual usage of endear. For her and for me, endear has to be used in the frame X endear Y to Z, in which X causes Z to like Y. In this passage, though, the frame is X endear Y, with X pleasing Y (or Y liking X).

Karen wondered if this might be something specific to British English. I don’t know. I haven’t found this usage in the Corpus of Contemporary American English, though I didn’t look through every hit. I did find one example of it in the British National Corpus:

Our impression over a two week jaunt round the Republic was of a country shedding the shackles of its tortured past without sacrificing its most endearing features. What endeared us most was the CRACK — convivial evenings of booze, banter and traditional music.

Leaving that aside, Karen’s second observation was that the whole coordination is one more example of right-node wrapping. All four verbs (beguiles, infuriates, endears, and the phrasal verb turn on) share the Doctor as their direct object, but the last one wraps around it. If we were to interpret this coordination as a parallel coordination, we would end up with ungrammatical phrases like *beguiles the Doctor on, *infuriates the Doctor on, and *endears the doctor on.

Karen’s next example is from a workplace flyer for an employee referral program. It says:

Think about getting eight hours paid time off or possibly up to $5,000 for every one of those people you refer and are hired.

She stumbled over the relative clause you refer and are hired. In the first part of it, the noun phrase those people is the understood missing direct object of refer, but in the second part, those people is the understood missing subject of are hired. As Karen puts it, the omitted relative pronoun in for the first clause is whom; for the second clause, it’s who. It’s another case of coordinated relative clauses with different kinds of gaps. Sometimes these sound OK; other times, like this one, they sound strange. Karen suggests that the problem is the case clash between who and whom, but I don’t think so — first, because these coordinations sometimes work; second, because whom is moribund, and many speakers, if they used a relative pronoun for the first clause at all, would use who; and third, because those relative pronouns aren’t there, so I don’t think they can cause a case clash. An example of this kind of coordination that sounds pretty good is this one from one of the other posts on this topic you’ll find under the relevant category at the bottom of this post:

New Mexico, which the president leads [] but [] was still uncalled as of noon Wednesday…

If any of you have some ideas on why this sentence sounds better than Karen’s example, comments are open. (Of course, they’re open in any case, but you know what I mean.)

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19 Responses to “Two from The Ridger”

  1. lynneguist said

    ‘Someone named Matt Smith’? That’s The Doctor, man!
    And here I thought you were a fellow nerd…

  2. Jan Freeman said

    “… the omitted relative pronoun in for the first clause is who; for the second clause, it’s whom.”

    Don’t you mean the reverse? “…up to $5,000 for every one of those people [whom] you refer and [who] are hired.”

    I’m sure it’s just because I’m a no-longer-young editor, but that New Mexico example really doesn’t sound “pretty good” to me; no better than the other example, really. (I would probably write “who IS hired,” too, because the “every one” is so emphatically singular, but I don’t actually mind the plural agreement.)

  3. John said

    Perhaps Karen’s next example reads clumsily because the form of the verb changes: try the sentence with “for every one of those people that you refer and we hire”.

    On endears: endears us has an implied phrase missing and should read * what endeared the country to us was…”; so that us is not the direct object but the disguised indirect, I suggest.

    Also, is it possible that it is we, the audience, who are being beguiled, infuriated and endeared, but the Doctor who is turned on?

    • The Ridger said

      The context of his comment was the Doctor’s relationship to River, so I don’t think that can be supported. (Personally, I’m only infuriated … but I’m in a minority.)

      I can’t use “endears” intransitively though: “she endears” doesn’t work. I need the direct object – the indirect is optional if implied. (And suddenly I’m wondering if ‘endear’ has an alternation ‘she endears herself to him/she endears him … with? in? herself???’ Hmmm. Off to Beth Levin… She says not, which agrees with my inability to come up with a suitable prepostion.)

  4. Ran said

    I wonder if this use of “endear” is at all influenced by the adjective “endearing”? Normally we describe an attribute of X as “endearing”, meaning that it endears X to Y, but since neither X nor Y is made explicit, it’s not surprising that Google finds a fair instances where “endearing” has been transferred to X; see http://www.google.com/search?q=found-him-endearing, for example. At least, to me the transferred application of “endearing” seems less awkward than the altered valence of “endear”; and it’s easy to see how the former could lead to the latter.

  5. lynneguist said

    Not that this is the most relevant comment…but Doctor Who today is really different from how it was in the 80s. Really worth a look-in.

    • I quite agree. More relevantly, I find it interesting that I agree with everything people have said here about the strangeness of Matt’s comment… and yet, I saw that feature when it aired, I heard that line, and it didn’t strike me as at all unusual or unintelligible at the time!

      • The Ridger said

        I think part of that is the way he delivered the line. Because it wasn’t a line, he was coming up with it spontaneously, with pauses between the verbs. That made it easier to process, I think.

  6. The Ridger said

    I think the New Mexico example sounds better because the “which” is there. Or possibly, since I’ve given it some thought, it’s the “are hired”, which doesn’t match “every one” and makes me want it to belong to “you”…

  7. Just so I’m clear, besides the issue you have with endear, would the sentence have been better if it had been “River Song sort of beguiles, infuriates, endears, and turns on the Doctor, all at the same time.”? That wouldn’t be right-node wrapping then, would it? How many other of your collected sentences have included particle verbs?

    I ask because I just wrapped up a very long three months investigating PVC usage, and I’m interested in what this might say about the underlying structure.

    Also, I don’t really like the New Mexico sentence any better, especially because I don’t understand what is “uncalled”. Was this about an election or something? (Actually, reading it again, I think I understand it better. But yeah, it seems “the election” is implied along with “New Mexico”….)

    • Ran said

      I don’t see a non-awkward way to introduce “election” in there. It feels natural to say that “New Mexico is still uncalled”, or “Fox News has called New Mexico for Bush”, but a more-explicit, less-metonymic phrasing would not feel so natural, at least with the given meaning. (Something like “Fox News has called the New Mexico election for Bush” would imply a gubernatorial or senatorial election or something like that, rather than the election of presidential electors.)

      • I was thinking something more along the lines of “the election in New Mexico” or something to that effect. Also, I wasn’t so much saying that it had to be explicit, but that, with the sentence appearing out of context, it wasn’t immediately clear to me that we were using “New Mexico” to refer to the presidential election results from the state of New Mexico. That is, the metonymic use wasn’t immediately apparent to me.

    • Neal said

      Right: beguiles, infuriates, endears, and turns on the Doctor” would not be a right-node wrapping, but the earlier-named construction whose name I tweaked: right-node raising. Many, probably even most, of my examples include this kind of phrasal verb, or at least a verb with a resultative adverbial phrase that wraps around unstressed pronouns.

      Polyvinyl chloride?

  8. Oh, hmm, just thought about the second sentence here. I think you and Karen are on the right track: First, the coalescence of who and whom allows the calsues you refer and are hired to coordinate. Then, the complementizer dropping that is more often allowed with that is used with who.

    As someone whose grammar allows free-varying who/whom coalescence but not who-dropping, I would would feel more comfortable about the sentence if it was “Think about getting eight hours paid time off or possibly up to $5,000 for every one of those people who(m) you refer and are hired.” (And, actually, I think I have a preference for whom here, despite the fact that it may not be appropriate case for one of the coordinates.)

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