Family Owned and Imitated
Posted by Neal on July 21, 2009
A tire shop that opened a year or two ago puts funny messages on its marquee. They’re so funny that I can’t seem to recall any of them right now, except of course for the one I’m going to tell you about now. It said:
Family Owned and Imitated
Family owned: So a family, let’s call them the Smiths, owns this business. Family imitated: A family (presumably the Smiths again) also imitates this business. The Smiths imitate their own business? How is that possible? Maybe it’s like that that Greek family I read about. They ran a chocolate shop in nearby Granville for years, but then had a falling out, so that there are now two chocolate shops, run by two branches of the same family, located within two blocks of each other in downtown Granville, each claiming to possess the truest version of the family’s recipes for chocolate confections.
But never mind that. I’m pretty sure all they’re saying is that this business is family-owned, and that it’s imitated. This reading makes sense: Lots of businesses say that they’re imitated, usually before a warning that they’re never equalled or duplicated. In this reading, the coordinated elements are family-owned and imitated, as illustrated on the left.
To get the reading that leads you to imagine a rift in the family, you have to parse it with just owned and imitated as the coordinated elements, with family applying to both, as illustrated on the right. So why did I want to parse it this way, anyway, since it gives the weird and unlikely reading?
It’s at least partly because of the common collocation that the sign is harking to: Family Owned and Operated (or sometimes, family owned and run). In those phrases, family is clearly intended to form a compound with both owned and operated, as in the diagram. After all, who’d want to say that a family owns some particular place of business, and that (get this) someone operates it? If it’s open at all, the latter claim is obvious, and stating it violates the principle of Relevance. Only if it’s taken to mean “family-operated” does the statement say something useful: The fact that some place is run by the family that owns it might not be obvious to the casual observer.
By using this recognizable phrase as their point of departure, they primed me to parse Family Owned and Imitated in the stupid way. Now that I think about it, though, family owned and operated could be useful as a deceptively ambiguous phrase, for a family that has recently contracted out the operation of its family business but doesn’t want to change the wording in their advertisements. I wonder if that’s been done. Do any of you know of businesses that advertise that they’re “family owned and operated”, and are operated by someone other than the family?
This entry was posted on July 21, 2009 at 10:21 pm and is filed under Attachment ambiguity, Compound words, Coordination. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.