Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Beckham RNW

Posted by Neal on December 10, 2007

I picked up a magazine in the airport on our way back from Las Vegas last week. The cover story was on plastic surgery for people in show business. Actually, there were three articles on the subject, and one of them had several before-and-after photos of famous people. I liked the lead on this one: “For a household name, it’s just as futile to attempt a ‘secret’ eye lift as it is to replace your head ‘discreetly’ with a basketball.” Cool simile! I had to show it to Doug, since his teacher’s been doing similes (and of course metaphors; you’re not allowed to talk about one without the other). As an aside, I never could see why it was so important that “similes use a like or an as,” and metaphors don’t. And I never heard a really interesting one in class; they’re always more entertaining when found in the wild.

Anyway, check out this item I found in the pair of photos for Victoria Beckham:

I suspect Posh’s implants are so hard and round for purely athletic reasons. After all, Beckham can’t touch them. He can only kick, head-butt, or juggle them with his knees.
(Cintra Wilson, quoted in Willa Paskin, “Scar Wars: Double Takes,” Radar, Dec./Jan. 2008, p. 70)

First of all, there’s the apparent restriction of the word touch to mean “touch with one’s hands,” which looks like a clear case of R-based narrowing (“the socially motivated restriction of a set-denoting term to its culturally salient subset or member”, as defined in this manuscript by Larry Horn). The other unusual bit about the sentence is the right node wrapping (“Friends in Low Places” coordination) that Cintra Wilson produces. I know it’s an RNW, because if it were an ordinary coordination, we’d be talking about David Beckham kicking Victoria’s augmented breasts with his knees, head-butting them with his knees, or juggling them with his knees. Now maybe you believe that kicking can include making forcible contact with a knee, and maybe you don’t, but I took an anatomy class in college, and I know for certain that you can’t head-butt something with your knees.

One Response to “Beckham RNW”

  1. Viola said

    This example of an RNW is hilarious! Now that I know about “Friends In Low Places coordinates,” it’s hard not to recognize them. It IS possible (and quite effective, I might add) to kick with the knee–ask any woman who has taken self-defense. This might be best referred to as “kneeing,” but can easily be interpreted as kicking with the knee. Head-butt-kneeing-juggling does not make sense at all, but leaves a lot to the imagination when the phrase is taken literally.🙂 I had to hold my jugs after reading this–just thinking about about forcible contact with them. OUCH!!

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