Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Post-Election Post

Posted by Neal on November 8, 2006

Here are a few election-related bits I accumulated during the weeks before the election, on election day, and today.

Ohio’s Democratic governor-elect, Ted Strickland, started off his acceptance speech last night by saying, “I am proud and humbled…” Seems like there should have been a yet in there.

As for statewide issues, if you don’t live in Ohio you might think that two issues, publicized as “Smoke Less Ohio” and “Smoke Free Ohio,” would be redundant. They’re not, though. Smoke Free Ohio is a ban on smoking in indoor public places, meant to level the inconsistencies among cities on smoking policies. Smoke Less called itself a ban, too, but with a few exceptions, such as, oh, restaurants and bars. By smoke less, they mean less smoking in public indoors than there would be without a ban — though in places that already have a ban, such as Columbus, smoke less is a lie, since such bans would be for the most part lifted. Beyond that deception, I wondered if the namers of the issue also were hoping some people would hear it as smokeless instead of smoke less. What a difference a space or a stress makes! And on the website for the issue, there is no space between smoke and less. Luckily, this issue failed, and Smoke Free passed. But hey, now I wonder: Did anyone who voted for Smoke Free think they were voting for free cigarettes for everyone?

And on the national level, I was watching the news this morning talking about the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. They played a week-old clip of George W. Bush talking about soon-to-be Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. He said:

They asked the lady who thinks she’s gonna be Speaker but she’s not, about tax cuts.

Put in strictly parallel syntax, this would have been one of the following:

…the lady who thinks she’s gonna be Speaker but isn’t…
..the lady who thinks she’s gonna be speaker but who isn’t

That is, you can coordinate VPs (thinks she’s gonna be Speaker and isn’t) or entire relative clauses (who thinks… and who isn’t). But Bush coordinated a VP (thinks…) with a clause (she’s not). Don’t you dare call it a Bushism, though! This kind of coordination is everywhere. Look, here’s one from the movie Cars that I never got around to writing about:

You know, the twins who used to be your fans but now they’re my fans?

Even Geoff Pullum does it:

[H]e brings up points that he thinks are new but they’re not.

And last, here’s an issue that was on the ballot for the Columbus suburb of Gahanna: Gender Neutralization. I don’t live in Gahanna, so I’m not familiar with the details of that one, but I really hope it was a language-related issue.

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