Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Since and Non-Since

Posted by Neal on September 24, 2004

I’ve wondered about the telegraphic phrases you sometimes see under company logoes, along the lines of:

Finest Quality Since 1932

So since 1932, this company’s products have been of the finest quality. Before 1932, that magical year when they finally got it right, who knows? Since then, though, they’ve had the finest quality and they’ve never looked back.

But why would a company want to draw attention to the fact that there is a date before which the “Finest Quality” doesn’t apply? All in all, it’s more reasonable to think that “Since 1932” means that the company has been doing business since 1932, and that right now its products are of the finest quality.

I’d like to read the mini-blurb that way, but I’m afraid I can’t. Since is a two-argument function: You have to supply it an argument denoting a time at which some state of affairs came to be, and another argument denoting that state of affairs. If they had just said “Since 1932” and left it at that, I would have been happy to supply an understood state-of-affairs argument, namely “has been doing business.” But as they put a phrase explicitly naming a state-of-affairs (“Finest Quality”) right next to it, I have to go by the rules and plug it in as argument #2: SINCE(1932)(products_of_finest_quality). The only way for 1932 to be the date of the company’s inception would be for this company to be so damn good that it was making finest-quality products for its entire existence.

This was what was going through my head as I looked at an ad for Copenhagen smokeless tobacco, and noticed this written on the can:

It satisfies since 1822

Now this mini-blurb is unambiguous. It states that this tobacco satisfies now, and that the company has been around since 1822. It’s the verb tense that clears things up. In English, if the state-of-affairs argument for since has a tense at all, it has to be a perfect tense, as illustrated below:

  • They { had been / ?were } married for five years when their daughter was born.
  • They { have been / *are } married for seven years.
  • Next month, they { will have been / *will be } married for ten years.

Because the sentence on the can says, “It satisfies” and not “It has been satisfying”, it escapes the grasp of the since, leaving it to make do with an understood “has been in business” for its state-of-affairs argument.

2 Responses to “Since and Non-Since

  1. I have always thought those “telegraphic phrases” to mean that, let’s say, GM has met the highest quality standards from the very beginning.
    The grammar involved may be messy, but that is not unfrequent in commercials and the like.

  2. I have always thought those “telegraphic phrases” to mean that, let’s say, GM has met the highest quality standards from the very beginning.

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