Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

I’ll Grant You My Wish

Posted by Neal on April 13, 2006

When I gave blood a few days ago, the portable radio in the bloodmobile was tuned to a light rock station. Faith Hill’s “The Way You Love Me” came on as the technician rubbed iodine into my cubital fossa, and she began to sing along:

If I could grant you one wish,
I wish you could see the way you kiss.

It goes without saying that this line is extremely sappy. And it goes with saying that wish and kiss don’t rhyme, but better that than the extreme sappiness created by vapid but legitimate rhymes like “Someday I’ll find a way to show you / just how lucky I am to know you,” a few verses later on. The real problem with this line, I thought as I looked out the window and gritted my teeth as the needle went in, is that…

Well, others have noticed it, too, and said it better than me. In the words of a blogger callling himself Bootdog from November 2002:

On the face it’s a perfectly fine statement, although it seems like a waste of a wish (then again, assuming this is directed to her husband, it is a wish to see Tim McGraw making out with himself, which I fully support).

The problem is, of course, that the second line is not granting someone a wish, it is making a wish. This line is syntactically equivalent to, “If I could grant you one wish, I wish I had a million dollars.” Gee, thanks, Faith. Love you too. The irritating thing is that it would make more sense and still scan and rhyme if the lyric was “If I could have just one wish…”

As I squeezed the rubber ball every five to ten seconds, I wondered if there could be some way of making sense of these lyrics. Maybe this person imagines that if she could grant wishes, she would do it by contracting the job out to a real genie. Then, to grant someone a wish, she would make the wish herself for the genie to grant. For this scenario to work, though, we’d also have to imagine that being able to see himself kiss (or herself kiss, I suppose) is actually a wish that the addressee has. I personally wouldn’t wish for that. As one commenter on Am I Right (“making fun of music one song at a time”) wrote in the “Nonsensical lyrics” page under the entry for Faith Hill, “What kind of a crappy wish is that?”

It sounds more like grant X a wish, for the writer of this song, can mean “have a wish granted that involves X.” I’m sorry to report that this understanding of grant X a wish may be spreading among the youth, perhaps as a result of listening to “The Way You Love Me” without parents present who could discuss these confusing lyrics with them. Consider first the beginning of the poem “Where Are You?” by Asma N., a student at some point in the Mill Valley (California) Middle School. (This poem, BTW, does not rhyme, nor does it have a perceptible meter. This is OK; it’s a type of poetry known as “Prose with funny line breaks.”)

If I could grant you one wish,
I’d wish that you hadn’t died
the way you did.

And next, “Just One Wish Away”, posted on the site Purely Dreaming by ktb76969 on May 10, 2004. Coincidentally, this is another poem of the PWFLB variety:

If I could grant you one wish
I wish you could see the way you treat me
The difference between
When it’s just one on one
And when you’re around your friends with me
It’s totally different
You are so sweet and innocent
But with your friends you’re daring and careless
I just wish that for one day
You could see the pain
The pain I go through
Each and every day
Without you

I suppose the wished-upon party here might actually wish to see the way he or she treats the poem-writer; after all, Robert Burns made a similar wish:

O was some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!

But the poem makes it clear that this wish is for the benefit of the purported wish-granter, not the wish-receiver.

One Response to “I’ll Grant You My Wish”

  1. […] discussion about women and men, and the psychological phenomena called “projection.” Other ‘bloggers have looked carefully at these nonsensical […]

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