Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Sorry, Eliot!

Posted by Neal on June 5, 2011

As the wife and kids and I took our seats in Boston’s Pizza, I caught sight of a guy sitting one booth forward of us. It looked like one of those linguists on Twitter I met at LSA 2011 in Pittsburgh back in January. What was his name? I knew his Twitter handle was jeliot, but didn’t remember what the J stood for. In fact, I couldn’t remember much about him at all, other than that we’d met briefly a couple of times during informal linguist tweetups. Didn’t remember what he studied, or where — though apparently he was one of the Ohio State University linguists, enjoying a Sunday evening in the Columbus Arena District, just a mile or so south of the OSU campus. I graduated in 2002, so there are a lot of grad students there now that I haven’t met, or know only on Twitter (for example, KatCarmOSU). Or in this case, met in a tweetup and didn’t remember that they were studying at OSU.

All this was assuming I had the right guy, of course. As soon as we’d ordered drinks, I took out my smartphone and brought up my Twitter app to look for this jeliot and see if the profile photo matched the face that my wife’s face was intermittently obscuring. If it did, I could check the profile for his full name. I did my search and brought up the jeliot page, and found I didn’t even need to check the profile. His latest tweet said:

It was him! I got up, walked over, and said, “I thought that looked like you,” showing him his tweet that I’d just read.

“Wow! What are you doing here?” he asked.

“Having dinner with my family.” I pointed out the wife and kids, who were turning around to see who I was talking to. I introduced myself to his dining partner as Neal.

“I’m sorry,” I confessed. “I don’t remember your real name; I just remembered that you were jeliot on Twitter. Is it Jim, or Jacob … ?”

“It’s Eliot,” he said. “I go by my middle name.”

Oh, one of those weirdos, I thought. Like E. Gordon Gee, or John Calvin Coolidge, or M. Lynne Murphy. “Hey,” I said, “I go by my middle name, too! My first name’s Philip.” Well, that explained why I’d had trouble getting his name straight with the brief words we’d had at LSA.

“So do you live here?” Eliot asked.

“Yeah!” I replied. “Well, in __________,” the nearby city I actually live in. “Anyway, nice to see you. I’ll let you get back to your dinner.” I went back to our booth, where Doug and Adam were asking, “Who was that?”

“He’s an OSU linguist that I met at LSA,” I told them. Then it was time to order our pizza. Half an hour later, we got up to walk around the block to the Arena Grand theater to see the X-Men movie. Eliot and I waved goodbye to each other as I left.

In the theatre, I brought up the Twitter app again to look at Eliot’s Twitter profile again, but first saw that someone had mentioned me in a tweet. I clicked over to check it out, and saw that it was Eliot tweeting about me:

A small world? Oh-kay. Not that that wasn’t true, but the situation didn’t seem to meet the felicity conditions for uttering that it’s a small world. You’re only supposed to say that when you meet someone that in ordinary circumstances you wouldn’t expect to meet, because you live so far apart and haven’t seen each other in so long. It wasn’t that much more unusual for him to run into a fellow Buckeye linguist while out and about in Columbus than it was for me to occasionally see Brian Joseph at the airport, or Bob Levine at a recital for the violin school that his son and Adam go to. Was it?

Clicking over to Eliot’s timeline, I saw that his other recent tweets were a little odd, too. Two hours before our conversation, he’d tweeted:

That’s something I’d expect from someone who hadn’t lived here very long. Or … from someone who’d come to take his town for granted, and had suddenly had his eyes opened by something like the slide I’ve seen in the Arena Grand Theater’s pre-shows, which touts Columbus as the home of the nation’s best zoo, best library, best cancer hospital, etc. Maybe that was it.

Then I finally clicked over to Eliot’s profile page. He had listed himself as J. Eliot DeGolia, of Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh! That’s right! He was one of the local linguists who’d shown us out-of-towners some of the locally popular places to eat. Now those tweets made sense, as well as his surprised question, “You live here?” And right within his hearing, I’d been telling me family, as if I’d known him a lot better than I actually did, “He’s an OSU linguist!” I hope he didn’t take offense.

Wait! Why should he? Isn’t it a compliment to be mistaken for an OSU linguist? In any case, sorry for my conclusion-jumping, Eliot, and treating our encounter as offhandedly as something that might happen any old time I visited the OSU library or linguistics department. If I’d remembered you were from Pittsburgh, I’d have asked what brought you to Columbus. I hope you had a good time while you were here. It looks like you did.

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