Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Warriors: Ambiguity

Posted by Neal on January 22, 2009

I’m noticing that Doug and his mom share a perverse characteristic. Once they come across a book series that they like, they will not rest until they have read every last book that author has written. They won’t space them out, intersperse them with other books to make them last. They’ll read them one after another after another until none are left. I can’t even get my wife the latest book by a favorite author for a gift, because she’ll have read it within a month of its publication already.

warriorsDoug, for his part, has finished all the books in the Redwall series he was reading a couple of months ago, and is now busily devouring the feline fantasy meta-series Warriors by Erin Hunter (who is actually three authors writing under one pseudonym). I’ve seen this series take up more and more bookstore shelves in the years before Doug discovered it. They come out so frequently that (Doug has noticed) the editing has sometimes been a bit lax. There are the occasional typos, but sometimes they will refer to a character by the wrong name. And then there was this line in one of the latest ones Doug read:

“Are you coming in?” he meowed. “We have to make sure everyone’s eaten.”
Warriors: The New Prophecy: Dawn, 2006, p. 323

When Doug read that, he stopped short, thinking “Wha–? Everyone’s eaten?” The cats in these books are very territorial, and often fight, but cannibalism was a line they hadn’t crossed yet. Shoot, these cats don’t even mark their territory with urine (at least not in the pages of the books), so this line was quite a surprise. Doug had to read it a couple more times before it made sense: “Oh! Everyone has eaten!” Once he identified the ambiguity of Everyone’s between “Everyone is” and the intended “Everyone has”, he did the right thing: He brought it to me. Good catch, Doug!

The line could have been even harder to parse if it had been something like this:

We have to make sure everyone’s eaten and ready to go.

Ridiculous, you say? I’ve seen it happen:

But depending on the day, they’ve already been outside, or it’s pouring and they can’t go out, or it’s midwinter and been dark since five.
Paula Spencer, “Why I Love TV,” Parenting, June/July 2000, p. 212

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4 Responses to “Warriors: Ambiguity”

  1. The Ridger said

    I do that, to a lesser degree. But I have discovered that it’s a rare author whose books, published at intervals of a year or two, can withstand being read all within a month. Things I’d have forgotten from last year are painfully obvious after a day or so… It’s caused me to stop reading some authors altogether.

    But what a delight when they do stand up!

  2. viola said

    Sweet booklove comes in all forms of idiosyncrasies enveloped in passion…

  3. Holt said

    I remember when Doug told me about that. That was funny.

  4. […] was from Doug in 2009, talking about upcoming volumes in a series of novels he was reading. I made note of Doug’s use of that’s at the time, and noticed it again a couple more […]

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