Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

20 Questions, and Irreflexive In

Posted by Neal on August 8, 2007

Doug and Adam and I were playing 20 Questions while we waited for our food to arrive one night. The domain was places; the game went down something like this… [cue harp music]

Adam started things off: “Maybe he’s Antarctica.” Doug went for a more systematic approach. He first made sure the place was on Earth, then ruled out that it was in our hemisphere. Then:

Doug: Are you an island?

Me: No.

Doug: Are you in Europe?

Me: No.

Doug: Are you in Asia? Australia? Africa? Antarctica?

Me: No. No. No. No.

Doug: Geez! What are you?

Me: Maybe I’m a body of water.

Doug: Ohhhh! Are you the Atlantic Ocean?

Me: No.

Adam: Are you the Pacific Ocean?

Me: No.

Doug: Are you the Mississippi River?

Me: Well, wait a minute. Before you go a lot further, why don’t you ask me if I’m a body of water?

Doug: Are you a body of water?

Me: No.

Doug got rather exasperated at this point for some reason. He asked for a hint, and I told him that the problem with his earlier questions had been the in. He realized his mistake, so now:

Doug: Are you Europe? Asia? Australia? Africa? Antarctica?

Me: No. No. No. No. Yes!

When I told the story to their mom, she scolded me for not playing fair. But what can I say? In, like other prepositions, is irreflexive!

2 Responses to “20 Questions, and Irreflexive In

  1. Ran said

    Despite the tradition of always answering these questions with “yes” or “no,” I and people I’ve played with have always taken full advantage of [ʔ̃ɛ(ʔ)] and [̃ɛː] (with or without following “I guess” or “I really don’t think so”), and of course “I don’t know” for cases of genuine uncertainty.̃

  2. Neal said

    Yeah, we work with these answers, too, but our idea of taking advantage of them is different from yours. I remember the time my dad had us guessing what person he was thinking of, who turned out to be, let’s say, Ronald Reagan. We asked, “Are you American?” and he frowned slightly, paused, and said, “Yyyeahhh…”

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