Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Meet the Language Guy

Posted by Neal on March 3, 2005

Ohio State University linguistics professor emeritus Mike Geis has started a blog called The Language Guy, and in his first week has put up several posts that you have to read. His blog focuses on “how language is used and abused in advertising, politics, the law, and other areas of public life.”

In this post, he talks about how up to, which ordinarily means “no more than”, is abused in ads like the pre-approved credit lines of “up to” $10,000.

In this one, he wonders why it is you can say, “I don’t mean to” X, and then say something that does precisely that. He also speculates on the limits of what you can get away with by using the “I don’t mean to” disclaimer.

And here’s one that would definitely go under my “You’re So Literal!” tab if I had written it: What exactly does it mean to say you get “more for less”? I’ve sometimes toyed with the idea of wading in and decomposing the semantics of the expression, but never had the mental energy to take on the two comparatives at once. But Mike Geis did, and found that it’s not merely ambiguous and misleading, but actually false (at least in the ads he researched).

(Thanks to languagehat for the pointer.)

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