Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Archive for the ‘The wife’ Category

Mayonnaise and Margarine

Posted by Neal on November 23, 2009

It happened again. My wife asked me to hand her the mayonnaise, and I did. As soon as I did, I sensed her exasperation, and realized I’d messed up again.

“I mean, Miracle Whip,” she said, handing back the mayo. I handed her the Miracle Whip, and as she spooned it into the bowl of tuna, I knew she was wondering how, after thirteen years of marriage, I could still be thinking she wanted mayonnaise when she asked for mayonnaise.

Well, I’m sorry! Just because it’s white and you spread it on bread for your sandwiches doesn’t make it mayonnaise. I know from unpleasant personal experience that mayonnaise and Miracle Whip are quite different things.

Still and all, I guess my wife figures I can learn to accommodate this feature of her vocabulary. After all, she learned long ago that I want margarine when I ask for the butter.

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Posted in Food-related, Lexical semantics, The wife, Variation | 14 Comments »

Crack the Door

Posted by Neal on October 5, 2009

My first understanding of "crack the door"Sometimes at night, my wife will want to make sure that Doug and Adam aren’t woken up by the noise coming from our bedroom, so she’ll have me shut the door. We don’t want one of the boys walking in on us when we’re busy watching a movie or some of those TV shows I mentioned in my last post.

Still, she doesn’t want the door completely shut: She wants to be able to hear if Doug or Adam has any trouble, and of course the cats need to be able to wander in and out. Here’s where it gets strange. When she makes her request, she asks me to “crack the door” — when the door is already wide open.

I long ago got used to the idiom crack the door/window meaning “open it just a crack”, and not “damage it by putting a crack in it”. The OED has this as chiefly a US usage, with the earliest attestation from 1899. But in my English, you can only crack doors and windows that are shut, not ones that are open. The crack has to be the appearance of a gap, not the narrowing of an existing one. So who else out there can crack doors and windows that are already open?

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Posted in Lexical semantics, The wife, Variation | 9 Comments »

Odd Ones Out Are Not Like the Others

Posted by Neal on July 8, 2009

I see an odd one out!One Sunday morning not long ago, I was making breakfast for everyone. The grits were almost ready to dish up, but before I did that, I had to heat up the water for Doug’s instant oatmeal, because he doesn’t like grits! And after I’d cut wedges of watermelon my wife and Doug and me, I got out a banana for Adam, because for some reason he didn’t want any watermelon that morning. Then I got juice for Doug and Adam and myself; I didn’t have to get any for my wife, because she was just going to keep drinking the Diet Coke she’d popped open. So finally all the different combinations of food and drink were on the table, and we sat down to eat. That’s when Adam observed:

“Doug’s the odd one out because he’s having oatmeal.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Adam, Doug, Food-related, Morphology, The wife | 12 Comments »

Extreme Gapping

Posted by Neal on November 21, 2008

“I can’t believe you put up with me,” my wife said.

“Nor I you me,” I replied.

She burst into laughter. After all, it’s pretty funny to imagine that she might have trouble putting up with me.

Gapping is a kind of nonparallel coordination in which two clauses are coordinated, each having the same main verb, and the verb is omitted from the second clause. Here’s an example:

Jim ordered a milkshake, and Kim (ordered) a beer.

If the subject and direct object in the verbless clause are pronouns, we end up with the somewhat unusual case of an entire clause consisting of pronouns:

Jim: I love you.
Kim: And I (love) you.

But I’d never heard a gapping sentence with both a main verb and an embedded verb omitted in the second clause, until I heard myself saying

Nor (can) I (believe) you (put up with) me.

Have any of you encountered bilevel gapping in the wild?

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Posted in Gapping, The wife | 4 Comments »