Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Florida FLoP

Posted by Neal on May 1, 2005

We got back a few days ago from spending a week in Florida, where Doug and Adam got to walk on a beach for the first time, and in another first, discovered the concept of hogging the sheets when sharing a hotel bed. On our last full day, we took a two-hour cruise on the Intracoastal Waterway, while the captain talked about the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse, told stories of sunken treasure, and pointed out rich people’s houses on the waterfront. When he didn’t have any scenery to comment on, he filled in with his opinions on how to fix Social Security. Or berated other boaters for going too fast in the manatee zone, or driving on the wrong side of the channel. (“The owner’s manual is under the seat!” he called out to one of them.)

Near the end, he’d commented on everything he was going to, and had exhausted his spiel on Social Security, but it was still too early to mention that he’d accept tips. So he introduced us to a regular passenger on the cruise, a gentleman named Bruce Graham, who (he informed us) was the designer of the Sears Tower. The boat still hadn’t arrived back at the dock, so the captain went on to tell us that Mr. Graham had somehow been instrumental in acquiring a piece of artwork for the city of Chicago; because of Mr. Graham’s influence, he told us,

Picasso designed, built, and gave a giant sculpture to Chicago.

How about that? My first Friends in Low Places coordination found in spoken rather than written English. If the coordination were intended to be taken as a strictly parallel piece of syntax, it would mean that Picasso:

  1. designed a giant sculpture to Chicago
  2. built a giant sculpture to Chicago
  3. gave a giant sculpture to Chicago

But clearly the captain didn’t mean that; he meant that Picasso designed and built the sculpture, and gave it to Chicago.

This makes the eighth FLoP coordination for my list. Or does it? Reader Lance Nathan recently wrote me to say:

I’m not convinced by the canonical example: “where the whiskey drowns and the beer chases my blues away.”

I think I’m OK with the idea of drowning something away. Robert Johnson was OK with it, too; Google tells me his song “Preachin’ Blues” contains the line “Started raining – drown my blues away”.

Johnny Lang also found it acceptable enough for him to write “I keep drinking malted milk / Tryin’ to drown my blues away.” And the chorus of “Quicksand” by Travis is

Everyday sinking into quicksand
Follow me down the drain
Everyday drinking in the same bar
Drowning my sorrows away

(Google gives other results for “drown * * away”, “drowned * away”, and so forth.)

How inconvenient. The very example that I’ve chosen to give the structure its name might be not a genuine FLoP as I’ve defined them, but a mere case of Right-Node Raising. Now what am I going to call these things? Suggestions are welcomed.

3 Responses to “Florida FLoP”

  1. Before abandoning FLoP, perhaps you should contact Garth Brooks to ask him what he intended. If he did not intend the “drown away” reading, then you still have a genuine example of the phenomenon in question.

  2. Anonymous said

    Why couldn’t you read it to say that Picasso designed Chicago, built it, and gave it a giant sculpture?

  3. Neal said

    Anonymous is right: The sentence is ambiguous between a FLoP reading and the Right-Node Raising reading he or she proposes. Nice catch!–>

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: