Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

The Latest RNWs

Posted by Neal on October 20, 2009

Three more for the “Friends in Low Places”/right-node wrapping files. First, something I heard on All Things Considered one day during the summer:

…attempting to recruit, train, and deploy diplomats to the world’s hot spots.
(NPR, All Things Considered, summer 2009)

You don’t recruit people to a place; you recruit them to an organization. And you don’t train them to a place, either. So the intended meaning is recruiting diplomats, training them, and deploying them to the world’s hot spots. A clear case of RNW.

Second, from my wife’s description of a dream she had one night:

We were selecting and selling wine to restaurants.

You don’t select wine to restaurants. Intended reading: selecting wine, and selling it to restaurants.

Lastly, something I read in a resume a friend asked me to read:

Cofounder and owner of a small consulting firm for 15 years

The cofounding didn’t take place over 15 years; just the owning did. Unlike most of the other RNWs I’ve collected, which involve coordinated verbs, this one has coordinated nouns. The only other one with a noun that I recall is:

Tony Nadal, the uncle and coach of Rafael Nadal since he started playing as a youngster

Presumably, Tony was Rafael’s uncle even before Rafael started playing tennis, although it’s possible that he married into the family at just that time, and really was both uncle and coach for the same period of time. Returning to the cofounder and owner example, I see that the nouns are in fact verbal nouns, which brings them closer to the more typical RNWs I’ve seen. I could even imagine it rephrased as a sentence with actual verbs: Cofounded and owned a small consulting firm for 15 years.

2 Responses to “The Latest RNWs”

  1. David said

    Your correction for “…attempting to recruit, train, and deploy…” still has the original problem — “attempting to recruit them to the world’s hot spots,” “attempting to train them to the world’s hot spots,”…. Shouldn’t the fix be: “…attempting to recruit and train diplomats, and then deploy them to the world’s hot spots.”

    • Neal said

      It’s true that it is still possible to parse my correction with the nonsense reading: [[recruiting diplomats], [training them], and [deploying them]] [to the world’s hot spots]. Difficult, but possible. However, the intended parse is now not only possible, but easy: [recruiting diplomats], [training them], and [deploying them to the world’s hot spots].

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