Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

The Latest Non-Parallel Coordinations

Posted by Neal on January 3, 2006

I’ve been accumulating some more examples of coordinations in which some operator, such as a negation or question-marking is clearly intended to apply to all the coordinated elements in the coordination, but is positioned inside just the first one.

The first few are more negations. First, there was the time a few months back when Doug was playing with a Happy Meal toy, noticing that you could move its arms with a lever, but not vice versa. He said:

You can push this and these’ll move, but [you can’t push these] and [this will move].

That is, it is not the case that: you can push these (arms) and this (lever) will move.

Then there are a couple that I just read in the past week. One is from a book that my wife gave me just before Doug was born, which I’m finally getting around to reading, about inventor and shipwreck hunter Tommy Thompson:

“It was fun to run into someone who [wasn’t stodgy] and [thought at some point you should call it quits],” remembered Ellen. “He never thought there was some point where you had to call it quits.”
(Gary Kinder, Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea, 1998, p. 89.)

Here you definitely know the negation fused into the wasn’t in the first coordinate also applies to the second coordinate, because Ellen restates the proposition about thinking you should call it quits all by itself, complete with its own negation (never). Next is one from a book she gave me for Christmas, which I am reading right away (since that’s what I do with books by this author):

“…she has vowed that [the sun shall not shine] or [the rain fall on her head] until he is home again.”
(George Macdonald Fraser, Flashman on the March, 2005, p. 49)

Moving out of the examples with negation, here is one with a modal, namely can. A TV ad for a hig-speed Internet provider has a guy saying:

[I can be on the computer] and [she’s talking on the phone].

Even though the can is buried between the subject and predicate of the first clause (I, be), it scopes semantically over both clauses. The guy means that it is possible for him to be on the computer and her to be talking on the phone.

And lastly, here’s one with only, from volume five in the Great Brain series that I’ve been reading to Doug:

And I would be lucky if [I only lost my allowance for six months] and [Papa and Mamma didn’t speak to me for a month].
(John D. Fitzgerald, The Great Brain Reforms, 1972, p. 15)

The narrator means he’ll be lucky if only the following occur: he loses his allowance for six months, and his parents give him the silent treatment for a month. Heh. Usually the complaint about only–indeed, the very complaint that James J. Kilpatrick was writing about once again in his column today–is that it’s placed to take too wide a scope when it actually takes a narrower scope, as in I only ate two instead of I ate only two. Here it’s just the opposite, with only looking like it should apply only to the clause it’s buried in, but actually applying to that clause and its sister in the coordination.

2 Responses to “The Latest Non-Parallel Coordinations”

  1. […] who [wasn’t stodgy] and [thought at some point you should call it quits],” remembered Ellen. (link)Modality: “[They must have loosened the hooks] and [Mr. Cleaver didn’t notice it],” Jerry […]

  2. […] Comments Pullum’s Non-Parallelism « Literal-Minded on The Latest Non-Parallel Coordinationsthe ridger on Stupid Me AgainThe Ridger on Stupid Me AgainEllen K. on Stupid […]

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