Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Condiment Coordination

Posted by Neal on October 21, 2007

As I was setting Doug’s and Adam’s drinks on the table, Doug knew he had to act fast. If I was already sitting down when he asked if he could have some ketchup, he knew from experience that I’d say, “Sure. It’s in the door of the fridge.” If he wanted me to get the ketchup for him, he would have to ask me specifically, and do so before I sat down. Furthermore, if all he requested was for me to bring the ketchup, and then, upon receiving it, he tried to expand the scope of my mission to include actually squeezing some onto his plate, I’d most likely say, “You can do that,” and head to my seat. If he wanted to take his ease while having both of these simple tasks done for him, he’d have to make both requests at the same time, and right now. So he quickly mustered his wits and said,

Hey, Dad, can you bring over and squirt some ketchup onto my plate?

“OK,” I said, but as I walked to the fridge, that familiar feeling came over me, that nagging post-processing sensation that something wasn’t quite right. I mentally reviewed Doug’s utterance as I returned with the ketchup, and realized that — hot dog! — he had just created another “Friends in Low Places” coordination (aka right-node wrapping, or RNW) to add to my list.

A review of the anatomy of an RNW coordination: It has form and B C D, but is semantically equivalent to [A C] and [B C D], instead of [A C D] and [B C D], as it would if it were parsed as an ordinary, parallel coordination. In this example:

A = bring over
B = squirt
C = some ketchup
D = on my plate

His intended meaning was equivalent to [A C] and [B C D], i.e. “bring over some ketchup and squirt it (the ketchup) on my plate”; it was not “bring over some ketchup on my plate and squirt it on my plate.”

Do I dare say that I relish moments like this?


4 Responses to “Condiment Coordination”

  1. Kurt said

    Nice job working in the ‘mustered’ pun.

  2. Steve Hartman Keiser said

    Hey Neal,

    Your post here is timely. A student of mine was running the coordination test for constituency on “was full of” in the sentence “The airbox was full of acorns!” and came up with what I thought was something like a FLoP construction:

    “The airbox was leaking and was full of acorns.”

    Presumably the airbox was leaking acorns. But now that I think about it, this might be one of your WTF constructions since it’s conjoining
    1. a VP containing AUX “was” with
    2. a VP with COPULA “was”.

    Anyhow, I’m giving them the link to your blog.


    PS Couldn’t find your blog at first…looks like the old site has been commandeered by…well I’m not sure what–something named “Mack” that appears to be a nutty text generator, since most of it’s ungrammatical.

  3. Neal said

    Hi, Steve!

    The coordinated VP [[was leaking] and [was full of]] acorns would be a case of ordinary right-node raising, where the thing on the right edge (acorns) completes both coordinates. If there were something farther right than acorns that went just with was full of, then we’d have a FLoP.

    As for the coordinates themselves, we have two VP-lacking-NPs: was leaking [something] and was full of [something], so they’re nice and parallel, regardless of the fact that each one has a was with different meanings. However, if you were to factor out the was to produce was leaking and full of, then that would be a variety of WTF, with a single was doing both those jobs.

    Sorry for the trouble finding my blog; it seems a spam blogger has resurrected my address (and title, and subtitle) at Blogger, where I used to host this blog. I’ve reported it as a spam blog only once, since the administrators admonish people to do so only once, but months later, it’s still up. Every now and then I’ll drop by and flag it as having objectionable content. But maybe… if enough of my loyal readers were to go here and (once each) report http: // literalmind dot blogspot dot com as a spam blog, things would move a little faster…

  4. […] my path this month, I’d’ve saved them all for one post, instead of writing about one of them here and another one here. Oh, well, too late now. I’ll just put the last couple I found in this […]

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