No Such Thing as a Fring
Posted by Neal on August 7, 2004
Since beginning his occupational therapy more than a year ago, Adam has made great strides in being willing to try new foods. The range of foods that he will eat has expanded so much that we can actually take him to a restaurant every now and then without having to bring along one of his preferred foods as a failsafe. I took him to a burger place for lunch today, and one of the sides listed on the menu was “Frings.” Ah, frings. That word brings back memories. Here comes one now…
Glen: You know, Dad, I’d like to get some fries, but a basket of onion rings sure sounds good, too.
Dad: Funny you should say that, Glen. I was just thinking about getting an order of onion rings, but I could really go for some fries. I don’t want to order both, though…
Glen: Hey, I have an idea! Maybe I could order some fries, and you could order some onion rings, and we could, you know, share them!
Dad: That’s a great idea, Glen! We could put them all in one big pile between us.
Glen: Yeah, let’s do that! This is such a great idea, we ought to have a name for it. Like… like, onion fries, or…
Dad: Nah, I don’t like that name. What about… fry rings?
Glen: Or just, frings?
Dad: Hey! I like that! Frings!
Later, when the food arrived:
Glen: OK, Dad, here are the fries.
Dad: All right, I’ll just put the onion rings here… mix them up a little bit…
Glen: Mmm, frings!
They would just keep going like this until I said something, so I did what I had to do.
Neal: Frings, huh? Can you show me a fring?
Dad: Well, Neal, look, there’s a whole pile of them right there!
Neal: OK, so pick up one.
Glen: (holding up a french fry threaded through an onion ring) OK, here’s a fring!
Overall, a typical episode of Glen and Dad’s fring-baiting. But this time, the whole business of there being a plural noun which could denote a mass of stuff, but whose singular form didn’t denote anything, was reminding me of something I’d been reading about recently. What was it?
Ah, I remembered! It was reminding me about the different classes of verbs we’d been discussing in my semantics class. One class is the atelic (“without end”) verbs, which denote actions that don’t have a definite endpoint (as opposed to telic verbs, which denote actions that do have a definite endpoint). One way of identifying these verbs is checking to see if they can be modified by an adverb showing duration, such as for two hours. Sleep is an atelic verb: I slept for two hours sounds fine. Wake up is telic: *I woke up for two hours sounds weird. You can say, “It took me two hours to wake up,” or “I kept waking up (and falling back asleep) for two hours,” but not simply, “I woke up for two hours.”
As the details came back to me, I was relaying them to Glen. There was a further distinction among atelic verbs, I told him: simple ones and complex ones. For simple atelics, such as sleep, if it is true that someone was sleeping for some interval (say from 4:00 to 6:00), then it is also true for any subinterval: from 4:10 to 5:00, from 4:30 to 4:31, from 5:55:55 to 5:55:56, etc. But for complex atelics, such as walk, this isn’t true for every possible subinterval. If someone was walking from 4:00 to 6:00, it may be true that they were walking between 4:10 to 5:00, but as you slice the intervals more and more finely, you get to a point where the action no longer qualifies as walking. It will be a foot-lifting action, or a foot-placing action, or a leg-swinging action, but those actions individually do not qualify as walking.
“So,” I concluded, “What we have is a walking event composed of lots of little subevents, none of which itself counts as walking, but which, taken together, uh…” My brilliant analogy wasn’t going in the direction I’d planned. In fact, it looked like I hadn’t had much of a plan for it at all, and now I was kind of sorry I’d brought it up. But it was too late. Glen was saying, “That’s a great example, Neal! Thanks!”