Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

iPod FLoP

Posted by Neal on August 5, 2007

I was looking for an old message in my email folders, and came across an email from a Literal-Minded reader named Zohar Kelrich, who thought he might have found another Friends in Low Places coordination to add to my collection. For my consideration:

Creative has asked the ITC to issue an order stopping Apple from marketing, selling or importing iPods into the US. (link)

So we have three coordinated gerunds: marketing, sellling, and importing. Outside them all we have the noun that serves as the direct object for each verb: iPods. And finally, we have a prepositional phrase, into the US. If this were an ordinary coordination, it could be expanded out into:

  • marketing iPods into the US
  • selling iPods into the US
  • importing iPods into the US.

But of these three verbs, only import fits idiomatically into the V+NP+into+NP frame. So moving on to the hypothesis that this is a FLoP coordination, it would have to be expanded as:

  • marketing iPods
  • selling iPods
  • importing iPods into the US.

But wait: Is the order supposed to stop Apple from selling and marketing iPods at all, or just in the United States? I can’t quite tell, but it seems to me that an accurate unpacking of the coordination would be more like this:

  • marketing iPods in the US
  • selling iPods in the US
  • importing iPods into the US.

As I wrote to Zohar, “They want the into the US to go with all three coordinates, but because the preposition is into instead of in, it can only go with the last one. In a language that didn’t make such a distinction, this would be an ordinary coordination, with in/into the US associating with all three coordinates. In short, a perfect specimen of a FLoP (aka RNW) coordination.” In English, though, I don’t know what to call it.

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