Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

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Whoever’s

Posted on December 1, 2016

This post began as an exploration of a head-scratcher of a sentence I heard on an episode of Radiotopia’s Criminal podcast. In it, a woman described being an inmate in a prison that housed both men and women. (She described it as a “co-ed prison,” which is worthy of comment in itself, but not the […]

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Posted in Ambiguity, Fused relatives, Pronouns | 6 Comments »

He Conquers Who Endures

Posted on November 29, 2014

I saw this on the back of a T-shirt when I was at the grocery store: He conquers who endures. Too bad for those people who endure. Even after all their endurance, they get conquered in the end. He, whoever “he” is, is a patient conquerer. However, I suspect the wearer of the T-shirt probably […]

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Posted in Ambiguity, Fused relatives, Pronouns, Relative clauses | 8 Comments »

What I Want

Posted on May 3, 2011

Back in March, I blogged about an ambiguity in a line in a Garth Brooks song: What she’s doin’ now is tearin’ me apart. One reading was the “specificational” reading, which I paraphrased like this: Let X = the thing that she’s doing now. X = the act of tearin’ me apart. The other was […]

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Posted in Ambiguity, Fused relatives, Lexical semantics | 6 Comments »

What She’s Doin’ Now Is Tearin’ Me Apart

Posted on March 3, 2011

Back in January I wrote about an unusual sentence with a fused relative clause (aka a free relative). At the time, I wrote, “This reminds me of one of those great intentional ambiguities in a country song; this one involves a fused relative and a pseudo-cleft. Wait till you hear it; it’s great. But it’ll […]

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Posted in Ambiguity, Fused relatives, Gerunds and participles, Music | 7 Comments »

Who Told Me Was My Dad

Posted on January 15, 2011

Driving home from Doug and Adam’s piano lessons last night, I heard a fluffy piece on NPR about Elizabeth Hughes, an eight-year-old girl who was singing the national anthem at a hockey game (well, before the game, actually), when her mike cut out, and the entire crowd picked up from where her sound went out. […]

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Posted in Diachronic, Fused relatives | 6 Comments »

We Do What We Do

Posted on March 4, 2010

And now for a semantics-focused post on National Grammar Day. Actually, my syntax-focused post was drifting into semantics territory, when I talked about the likely and unlikely intended meanings for the sentence I was talking about. That’s OK: Although this post is mostly about an ambiguity in a sign, I’m going to use some syntactic […]

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Posted in Attachment ambiguity, Fused relatives | Leave a Comment »

It’s a Word! It’s a Phrase! It’s Grammar Girl!

Posted on February 1, 2008

For a while I’d been noticing a podcast called Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Clean Up Your Writing when I browsed through the podcasts at iTunes. I never subscribed to it because first of all, I’m pretty comfortable with my grammar, and second, I figured it would be the same old things grammar […]

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Posted in Diachronic, Prescriptive grammar, Reviews, Variation | 3 Comments »

Whomever Is Never Actually Right

Posted on October 21, 2007

My wife and I watched this week’s episode of The Office last night, which featured the following scene (20:55 into the online version, accessible here): Ryan: What I really want, honestly Michael, is for you to know it, so that you can communicate it to the people here, to your clients, to whomever. Michael: [chuckle] […]

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Posted in Diachronic, Fused relatives, Prescriptive grammar, Pronouns | 20 Comments »

Hatless Syntax

Posted on February 10, 2007

I checked the iTunes store again, as I do every month or so, and this time they were there! Apple must have finally managed to cut a deal and get them on board. So at last, I was able to download both hits from, you guessed it, Men Without Hats. Now that I’ve played them […]

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Posted in Ambiguous song lyrics, Fused relatives, Music, Relative clauses | 3 Comments »