Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Archive for the ‘Ohioana’ Category

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.

Posted in Ohioana, Pragmatics | Leave a Comment »

Dangling Predicative

Posted by Neal on February 9, 2011

I don’t comment too much about dangling participles or misplaced modifiers, but today I just can’t resist. For a traditional take on them, read these episodes of Mignon Fogarty’s Grammar Girl podcast. But if you don’t want to read through all that, here’s an excerpt that illustrates with a good example:

A dangling modifier describes something that isn’t even in your sentence. Usually you are implying the subject and taking for granted that your reader will know what you mean—not a good strategy. Here’s an example:

Hiking the trail, the birds chirped loudly.

The way the sentence is written, the birds are hiking the trail because they are the only subject present in the sentence.

The way that the authors of the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language look at these constructions is a bit different. First of all, they call them predicative adjuncts — predicative because they have understood subjects (and an understood be linking them to the relevant phrases like hiking the trail), and adjuncts because they modify the sentence instead of having some grammatical function like subject or direct object. These linguists don’t call them participles specifically, because predicative adjuncts can include prepositional phrases, noun phrases, and other kinds of adjective phrase. They don’t call them modifiers because predicates don’t modify their subjects; they predicate things of them. Second, as Geoff Pullum writes in this Language Log post,

The line we take on examples of this kind … is not that they violate the syntactic correctness conditions for English — they are simply too common for that to be the case. Roughly, what we think is that the syntax of English leaves things open for you to design your paragraphs in such a way that preposed non-finite adjunct clauses will, in context, be easily and naturally linked up with suitable understood subjects. And as always when you are left some freedom to do things whichever way you judge to be appropriate, you can screw it up. You can write something stunningly inept that baffles the heck out of an intelligent reader for several seconds.

I paraphrase this point of view briefly in this review of Fogarty’s first book. Predicative adjuncts are looking for a subject; the easiest ones to use are the overt NPs in the rest of the sentence, especially the subject. And at least for me, the subject of the sentence can grab on surprisingly tightly to the predicative adjunct, no matter how pragmatically ridiculous the resulting meaning is.

So the background on today’s bungled predicative adjunct is that last November a seriously messed up guy committed a gruesome, cold-blooded triple murder in Knox County, and compounded it with the kidnapping and rape of the teenage girl he allowed to survive. He has just been sentenced to life in prison, and now the newspaper is publishing the details of the investigation that led to the man’s arrest. One of the stranger details is that the murderer had millions of leaves in his house, many of them stuffed into plastic grocery bags that he had used to completely cover the walls of one room. What were they for? Here’s what The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch says:

Already a convicted arsonist, maybe the leaves had another purpose [i.e., a possible accelerant; NW] (link)

I’m familiar with the idea of leaf monsters, thanks to a Calvin and Hobbes strip, but the only danger they posed was that they might consume kids who jumped into them. That they might burn down your house is a new one to me.

Posted in Gerunds and participles, Ohioana, Prescriptive grammar, Syntax | Leave a Comment »

The People Will Uprise!

Posted by Neal on December 5, 2010

Governor-elect John Kasich has been quite blunt about some of the things he’s going to do after taking office — quite a change from the consistently, persistently, insistently vague answers he gave during the campaign about issues like how he would balance the state’s budget without raising taxes. This week he talked about a couple of his predecessor’s executive orders that he plans to rescind; specifically, orders that allowed home-care providers and child-care providers to join unions. I’m not sure what the big deal is about allowing these workers to join unions, but Kasich feels strongly about it. He’s said the orders will most likely be “toast”. His less than diplomatic statement has angered these people, and the leader of one of the home healthcare unions had this to say:

“Act as a reckless and irresponsible governor, and plan to be a one-term governor, because you are just going to cause workers in the state to uprise,” she said. (link)

Nice backformation, I thought. From the phrasal verb rise up, we get the gerund-headed compound noun uprising, and from there via the usual process of stripping off the -ing, we get a brand-new backformed verb: uprise. The Corpus of Contemporary American English has an attestation from 1991, but don’t trust it:

Even some of them, they ask the Iraqi people to uprise, to go up and get rid of Saddam Hussein, but when Iraqi people go and have uprising in all parts of Iraq, they walked away and they said this is an internal affair, we don’t interfere.

Notice how the even is used to comment on the entire sentence, meaning more or less, “It’s was even true that some of them asked the Iraqi people…”? Semantically, it’s sensible, but syntactically, it just doesn’t work. In English, we have to put the even after the subject: Some of them even…. This is clearly a passage from a non-native speaker. When I checked it, I found that it was uttered by a (one assumes) Iraqi named Mahmoud-Osman-Kur. However, this 1993 example from Rolling Stone is more believable:

Oh, this is going to upset people, ignite people. They’re going to riot, they’re going to uprise.

When I checked the OED, I was surprised to find uprise as a verb going back to the 1300s. However, it had a more literal meaning of physically rising up with attestations talking about the sun rising, people rising out of bed, and people rising from the dead. There was also a figurative meaning of attaining a higher social position or position of greater power. The current meaning of “rebel” isn’t listed.

I’d be interested in hearing the word pronounced. Does it have stress on both up and rise, the way that its source uprising does? Or is the up unstressed? If it is, then I’d expect the p to reassociate itself from the end of the first syllable to the beginning of the second one, in accordance with Maximal Onset, making the word homonymous with apprise. If this word is in your active vocabulary, let us know how you say it.

Posted in Backformation, Gerunds and participles, Ohioana, Phonetics and phonology, Politics | 7 Comments »

Serious Charges

Posted by Neal on September 22, 2010

On the front page of the Columbus Dispatch today, I read about a raid on a marijuana farm in Muskingum County. I was interested to read the following in the third paragraph:

[A]uthorities arrested 10 Mexican nationals and charged them with conspiracy to cultivate marijuana in two carefully tended fields about 90 miles apart.

Actually, that was part of the third sentence in the article, but this is a newspaper we’re talking about, so sentences and paragraphs amount to the same thing.
Anyway, those are serious charges: conspiracy to cultivate marijuana in two carefully tended fields about 90 miles apart. Consider what the authorities could have charged the growers with:

  • conspiracy to cultivate marijuana
  • conspiracy to cultivate marijuana in two fields
  • conspiracy to cultivate marijuana in two carefully tended fields
  • conspiracy to cultivate marijuana in two fields 90 miles apart

But no, they threw the book at these guys, and charged them with conspiracy to cultivate marijuana in two carefully tended fields about 90 miles apart. What would they have charged them with if they had had a conspiracy to cultivate marijuana in three fields, two of them 30 miles apart, two of them 40 miles apart, and two of them 20 miles apart, with two fields carefully tended and one haphazardly tended?

Posted in Ohioana, You're so literal! | 10 Comments »

Stool School

Posted by Neal on June 15, 2010

Over the weekend, Adam and I went on his Cub Scout pack’s summer camping trip. The highlight of the trip was a visit to the Wilds, an exotic-animal preserve operated by the Columbus Zoo in eastern Ohio, on lands reclaimed from strip-mining operations. Riding on the safari bus, we saw Bactrian camels, giraffes and rhinoceroses, and something I’d never seen before called the Sichuan takin. The tour guide said that there were also some North American animals there; in particular, they knew that bobcats were starting to recolonize the area, but they were very hard to observe.

“So,” our guide Alex told us, “they use specially trained dogs to look for bobcat scat. Do you know what scat is?”

The scouts knew: “Poop!”

“That’s right!” Alex continued with details about how you teach dogs to sniff out bobcat poop: “You put a piece of it under one of several cups, and reward them when they knock over the right one. So now, they can go out in the field and find where the bobcats have been, because if bobcat poop is there, then a bobcat has been there. And you know what else they can do? They can put that poop under a microscope to find out what kind of things the bobcats have been eating.”

“Wow, smart dogs,” I said to my seatmate Ron, the father of one of Adam’s fellow scouts. “I didn’t know dogs could use microscopes.”

Our guide had switched without warning from anaphoric they (which referred back to the dogs she was already talking about) to generic they to talk about what anyone with the skills and curiosity could find out from bobcat excrement. It had taken me a second to make the switch along with her.

All the talk about dogs and stool samples reminded Ron of a favorite family story involving both. When his daughter Jenny was about four or five years old, he told me, he and his wife Pauline had had to collect a stool sample from their dog to take to the vet. Jenny wanted to know why.

Ron and Pauline explained that the vets were going to send the poop to a lab to find out what was wrong with their dog.

Jenny just couldn’t get this. “But I don’t understand!” she kept protesting. Ron and Pauline tried to explain that labs had microscopes they could use to examine the stool sample and get clues about the dog’s condition.

“But I don’t understand! How can they do that?” Jenny asked. At one point she was almost in tears, Rick recalled.

Finally she burst out, “But how do they teach those dogs to do that!?”, and Ron and Pauline finally realized that all the time they’d been saying “labs,” Jenny had been hearing “Labs”.

And, I might add, when her parents were using generic they to refer to whoever worked at the labs, Jenny was taking it as an anaphoric they, with Labs as its antecedent. It made sense, in a four-year-old kind of way, Ron admitted: Who more appropriate to send your dog’s stool sample to than another dog? Dogs sniff other dogs’ stool samples all the time!

Posted in Ambiguity, Lexical semantics, Morphology, Ohioana, The darndest things | 5 Comments »

The Walking Trail

Posted by Neal on May 25, 2010

Another place we went on our trip two weekends ago was to Magee Marsh, on the shore of Lake Erie in northwestern Ohio, for the tail end of the Biggest Week in American Birding. Yes, there is a biggest week in American birding, Doug and his mother have learned during this past year. It’s the week of the peak of the warblers’ northern migration, as they stop to rest and feed at the shore of Lake Erie before continuing on to Canada. Doug and his mom actually went there the week before, and spent two days looking for birds and listening to talks about birds! Adam and I opted out of that trip. But now, a week later, Doug had read that a Kirtland’s warbler had been sighted at Magee Marsh after his visit, and he was hoping he could see it himself if he took another walk along the boardwalk there. At the trailhead there was this sign:

It reminded me of an error I’ve seen a few times in grammar books or discussions; for example this one. The question is: What part of speech is the word walking in the nominal walking trail? Some (like the author of the book I linked to above) seem to be following this line of reasoning:

  1. Adjectives modify nouns.
  2. Walking modifies the noun trail.
  3. (Invalid conclusion) Therefore, walking is an adjective.

This is like saying, “Dogs dig holes. The guy who’s putting in my swimming pool digs holes. Therefore, the guy who’s putting in my swimming pool is a dog.” The missing piece of information here is that nouns can modify nouns, too. Of course, there is crossover sometimes, when a noun modifier is reinterpreted as an adjective and treated accordingly (see fun and key).

So why not just say that anything that modifies a noun is an adjective? For one thing, you’ve just made it harder on yourself to distinguish between adjectives that can do things like have comparative and superlative forms or be modified by adverbs, and adjectives like walking, which can’t. (Well, you might be able to say “walkingest,” but it would have to refer to something that walks the most. You couldn’t say “the walkingest trail” to mean the trail that is best for walking.) For another, that leads to further reasoning like this:

  1. Verbal adjectives are participles.
  2. (Invalid premise) Walking is a verbal adjective.
  3. Therefore, walking is a participle.

So why is this conclusion bad? Well, now how are you going to explain the difference between a trail that walks and a trail for walking? How will you explain why walking trail in its intended, non-ridiculous meaning means the same thing as trail for walking, where walking is a noun (i.e. gerund)? Calling walking a gerund instead of a participle here is sloppy analysis.

Now lest you think I went all the way to Magee Marsh with my family, only to get carried away by grammar issues that the trail sign reminded me of, let me say that I did learn something about birds, and warblers in particular. I pronounce warble like this: [warbL]. (I’m using [L] to represent syllabic /l/, that is, /l/ that functions as a syllable.) But when I attach the –er suffix, the [L] stops being syllabic, and turns back into a true consonant, so that I pronounce warbler as two syllables: [warb.lR]. (Now I’m using [R] to represent syllabic /r/.) In more ordinary English spelling, I guess it’d be warb-ler. But when Doug says warbler, I was surprised to learn, he doesn’t un-syllabify that [L]. He pronounces it with three syllables: [warb.L.R]. In somewhat regular spelling, that would be warble-er. However, he did cop to shortening it to two syllables, the way I pronounce it, when he’s talking fast. How about that?

Posted in Gerunds and participles, Ohioana, Semantics, Syntax, The darndest things | 2 Comments »

Turning the Gun on Yourself, Revisited

Posted by Neal on March 10, 2010

The top headline on the front page of The Columbus Dispatch today was “Janitor’s desperation turns deadly at OSU”. The subhead read: “Nathaniel Brown lashed out by killing his boss, Larry Wallington, and wounding supervisor Henry Butler Jr. before killing himself”.

“Before killing himself”? I thought. That’s not how they’re supposed to say it! However, I think they only worded it this way because of space constraints. Down in the text of the story, they used the customary phrase for events such as this one:

Early yesterday, Brown walked into the Ohio State University building where he’d worked since October and killed his supervisor, shot another boss and then turned the gun on himself.

The Google News Archive didn’t exist when I wrote that earlier post. I took a look through it just now, and the earliest attestation of “turning the gun on himself” or “turned the gun on himself” is this one from 1897:

John Nichols shot and fatally wounded Joseph Lewis today and then turned the gun on himself with fatal … (link)

What’s interesting is that in most of the examples I’ve looked at from near the turn of the 20th century, the writers go on to say what happened after the gun-turning. Even when the result was fatal and not just an injury, they’ll usually spell it out rather than assume the reader will draw the right conclusion. A few examples:

…the brother turned the gun on himself and sent a bullet through his brain. (link)

he suddenly halted, faced his pursuers and then turning the gun on himself fired the fatal shot. (link)
W. S. Crews, an old and prominent resident of this place shot, killed his wife, then turning the gun on himself, put a bullet into his own head and died an hour afterward. (link)

I’ll leave it as a research project for some inspired reader to go through the archives year by year to find out when turn the gun on [one]self started to convey the meaning of actually successfully committing suicide with a gun.

Posted in Ohioana, Quantity and Relevance | 3 Comments »

White Elephants in the Room

Posted by Neal on October 27, 2008

When I moved to central Ohio, a three-story downtown mall called City Center was the place to go. Across the street from it was an old-school five-story department store, a locally famous business named Lazarus. Connecting the two was an enclosed overhead walkway. I heard so many people say they’d done something or other or gotten such-and-such from City Center that I went to see the place myself. It was pleasant enough, although I didn’t appreciate having to pay to park there. Sixteen years later, City Center is an empty hulk, though it’s still open for people to walk through on their way to the Capital Theatre or the Hyatt on Capital Square after parking in the now-free garage. The Lazarus store across the street is closed, too. (Another Lazarus store has survived, at one of the suburban retail centers that helped kill City Center, but after a merger with Macy’s, it underwent a Cougar-to-Mellencamp-style name change, from Lazarus to Lazarus Macy’s to just Macy’s.) And as for the walkway between the old Lazarus and City Center, I have learned that it has long been considered an eyesore and a scary, gloomy barrier separating the Capital district from the southern part of downtown. I learned that from a newspaper story last week, which said that the walkway is scheduled to be demolished. In announcing the demolition of the walkway, Columbus mayor Michael Coleman also offered some comments about what should become of City Center, which the newspaper reported:

Acknowledging the mall as “the big white elephant in the room,” the mayor said its rebirth is a “marathon and not a sprint.” (Robert Vitale, “Walkway over High Street to bite dust,” The Columbus Dispatch, Oct. 23, 2008, p. B3)

“Big white elephant in the room”? Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Ohioana, Semantics, Syntactic blending, Variation | 9 Comments »

Go… Bucks?

Posted by Neal on November 18, 2006

When I first moved to Ohio, I’d thought they were crazy about football at the University of Texas, but I soon revised my estimation. I went to some campus-area bars with some guys I’d met in my dorm and in each one they were playing the Ohio State fight song, and, for some reason they also were very fond of some song from the 60s called “Hang On, Sloopy.” My roommate had to educate me about OSU football, telling me about some guy that used to coach here named Woody Hayes (ah, he must be who they named Woody Hayes Drive after), about the fans (including my roommate) in Block O, and all about some big rivalry that OSU had with the University of Michigan.

Growing up here, Doug is getting a thorough Ohio acculturation, including OSU football appreciation. He and his mom sometimes watch the OSU game on TV, and I’ve even heard him say things like, “Third and TWELVE?! Oh, man!” He and she were watching the game one Saturday last month, while I looked on from the kitchen, where I was peeling apples for a pie. “Hey! What’s wrong with this picture?” my wife said at one point. Hey, that was nothing. Doug even went to a Buckeye football game a few weeks ago, not with me, who graduated from OSU, but with his mom! And his acculturation continues at school, where he’s soaking up the anti-Michigan spirit. Yesterday, the dress-code restriction on anything written on shirts was temporarily lifted, so that on the last day of “Michigan week,” kids could wear their Buckeye gear… or Michigan stuff, to be fair. A few kids did, but other, less confident ones (including at least one friend of Doug’s) pretend to be OSU fans among their classmates and root for Michigan in the privacy of their homes.

So here it is the day of the OSU-Michigan game, with the undefeated #1 and undefeated #2 teams in the nation (see, I know these things now!) facing each other in a few hours, and all week, I’ve been hearing “Go, Bucks!” even more than usual in Ohio in the fall. I was aware that Ohio was known as the Buckeye State before moving here, and I think I even knew that the OSU team was known as the Buckeyes. But even after living through 15 football seasons, the phrase Go, Bucks! is a little strange to me.

I learned that the buckeye was the nut from a tree that was common in Ohio, so named because it resembled the eye of a buck.


OK, so buckeye was created by compounding. So far, so good. And the football team (and other teams) from Ohio State University were called buckeyes because Ohio was the buckeye state. Fine. But when I take a compound word apart, it doesn’t have the meaning of the whole compound. I can’t call a doghouse a dog, or an apple pie an apple, or a TV dinner a TV. So when people refer to the Buckeye football team as the Bucks, I wonder why it doesn’t bother them that they’re making it sound like OSU’s mascot is a male deer instead of a nut that resembles the eye of a male deer.

On the other hand, State of the Union can be synonymous with State of the Union address; Grand Slam with Grand Slam tournament; and molest with sexually molest, so why am I complaining? Actually, though, I don’t think this is a case of one word in a compound absorbing the meaning of the entire compound. If it were, I think buck would refer to actual buckeye nuts, but I’ve never heard anyone call a buckeye nuts a buck. People make necklaces out of buckeyes to wear to the games and tailgate parties, but they’re called buckeye necklaces, not buck necklaces. I think buck meaning “member of an OSU sports team” is a case of the word being shortened (linguists refer to it as clipping) without regard to whether it’s a compound, acronym, or anything else. In other words, buckeye went on referring to buckeye nuts, while Buckeye formed its semi-independent meaning solidly associated with OSU sports teams before getting shortened to Buck. Etymology is not destiny, as they say.

Posted in Compound words, Lexical semantics, Ohioana, Sports, You're so literal! | 4 Comments »

Post-Election Post

Posted by Neal on November 8, 2006

Here are a few election-related bits I accumulated during the weeks before the election, on election day, and today.

Ohio’s Democratic governor-elect, Ted Strickland, started off his acceptance speech last night by saying, “I am proud and humbled…” Seems like there should have been a yet in there.

As for statewide issues, if you don’t live in Ohio you might think that two issues, publicized as “Smoke Less Ohio” and “Smoke Free Ohio,” would be redundant. They’re not, though. Smoke Free Ohio is a ban on smoking in indoor public places, meant to level the inconsistencies among cities on smoking policies. Smoke Less called itself a ban, too, but with a few exceptions, such as, oh, restaurants and bars. By smoke less, they mean less smoking in public indoors than there would be without a ban — though in places that already have a ban, such as Columbus, smoke less is a lie, since such bans would be for the most part lifted. Beyond that deception, I wondered if the namers of the issue also were hoping some people would hear it as smokeless instead of smoke less. What a difference a space or a stress makes! And on the website for the issue, there is no space between smoke and less. Luckily, this issue failed, and Smoke Free passed. But hey, now I wonder: Did anyone who voted for Smoke Free think they were voting for free cigarettes for everyone?

And on the national level, I was watching the news this morning talking about the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. They played a week-old clip of George W. Bush talking about soon-to-be Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. He said:

They asked the lady who thinks she’s gonna be Speaker but she’s not, about tax cuts.

Put in strictly parallel syntax, this would have been one of the following:

…the lady who thinks she’s gonna be Speaker but isn’t…
..the lady who thinks she’s gonna be speaker but who isn’t

That is, you can coordinate VPs (thinks she’s gonna be Speaker and isn’t) or entire relative clauses (who thinks… and who isn’t). But Bush coordinated a VP (thinks…) with a clause (she’s not). Don’t you dare call it a Bushism, though! This kind of coordination is everywhere. Look, here’s one from the movie Cars that I never got around to writing about:

You know, the twins who used to be your fans but now they’re my fans?

Even Geoff Pullum does it:

[H]e brings up points that he thinks are new but they’re not.

And last, here’s an issue that was on the ballot for the Columbus suburb of Gahanna: Gender Neutralization. I don’t live in Gahanna, so I’m not familiar with the details of that one, but I really hope it was a language-related issue.

Posted in Lexical semantics, Morphology, Ohioana, Wide-scoping operators | Leave a Comment »