Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Peach Flambé and Musical Garbage

Posted by Neal on October 25, 2004

Here are two fun posts (from Mark Liberman at Language Log and Dan Quattrone at Doing Things with Words, respectively) about the different ways to parse fake news show: [fake [news show]] and [[fake news] show]. If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you may have noticed I dig this kind of fun with bracketings. In fact, I’ve even noticed a couple of jokes that hinged on ambiguous bracketings recently…

In a recent “Tina’s Groove” comic, it is revealed that the fresh in fresh peach flambé refers to the flambé, not the peaches. That is, [[fresh peach] flambé] turns out to be [fresh [peach flambé]].

In the Muppet Show episode where Dudley Moore guest-stars, the rebracketing goes in the other direction. Dudley Moore attempts to replace Dr. Teeth’s Electric Mayhem band with an R2D2-like musical robot. Dr. Teeth says, “Look! It’s a musical garbage can!” Bandmate Floyd adds, “Yeah! Playing some musical garbage!” Oho: [musical [garbage can]] is reinterpreted as [[musical garbage] can]!

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