Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Archive for the ‘Right-node wrapping ("Friends in Low Places" coordinations)’ Category

Carry or Hold Your Child’s Hand

Posted by Neal on February 8, 2011

Karen Davis (aka The Ridger) emailed me about an interesting coordination that’s been in front of her every day for years, but which she just took note of recently. “I know I’ve heard it before,” she wrote, “but today I noticed it. In the DC Metro system there’s a recorded message about how to take your stroller-riding child on the escalators:

If the elevator is out please carry or hold your child’s hand.

“It would be hard to carry your child’s hand without holding it, but I guess you could stuff it in a pocket or something…”

Indeed. My first reaction on reading this was to think of this song:

Karen has found a great example of a right-node wrapping, those non-parallel coordinations fitting the template A conj B C D, and meaning the same thing as if they had been phrased A C conj B C D. In this case, A = carry; B = hold; C = your child; and D = ‘s hand. The intended meaning (I assume) was “Carry your child, or hold your child’s hand.”

Most of the RNW’s I’ve collected have verbs for A and B, with a shared direct object for C, and an adverb or prepositional phrase to complete the meaning of B, but not all of them. This one is clearly not one of them, either, and I believe it’s the first one I’ve seen in which D contained the possessive sufffix ‘s. Like some of the other troublesome ones I noted in my paper, it is not generated by the analysis I proposed.

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RNW Example from 1813

Posted by Neal on December 1, 2010

Karl Hagen of Polysyllabic sent me the following message…

All the examples I’ve seen for FLoP coordination on your site or Language Log have been fairly recent. I don’t know if the historical dimension of the construction is of interest to you, but I just ran across this example, probably from 1813 (from Eaton Stannard Barrett’s The Heroine), and thought you might be interested:

At midnight you will hear a tapping at your door. Open it, and two men in masks will appear outside. They will blindfold, and conduct you to her.

I say “probably” 1813 because I found it in a 1909 edition [p. 152], which claims to be taken from the first edition, but the 1814 edition that is in Google Books has a modified version this passage that doesn’t have the RNW construction, so I can’t be absolutely certain that it wasn’t added later, although that doesn’t seem too likely.

Thanks, Karl! This is a good one. RNWs (right-node wrappings) you’ll recall, have the form A conj B C D, where C belongs to both A and B, while D goes only with B. In this example, A = blindfold, B = conduct, and C = you. When we arrive at you, the shared direct object for both blindfold and conduct, it looks like the coordination is closed off and finished. But wait, there’s more! Along comes to her, which like you, should also belong to both blindfold and conduct–if we’re looking at a standard, parallel coordination. It would mean “they will blindfold you to her and conduct you to her.” Since you can’t blindfold one person to another, we have to conclude that to her is only intended to go with conduct. We have ourselves an RNW.

Posted in Right-node wrapping ("Friends in Low Places" coordinations), Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

He Chased Down and Killed Himself

Posted by Neal on September 13, 2010

Ben Zimmer alerted me to this headline featured in a post on Headsup: The Blog:

Ben wondered if this might be another example of a right-node wrapping, along the lines of Take and put this away (i.e. “take this and put it away”), or flipped and tore an SUV in half (i.e. “flipped an SUV and tore it in half”).

The headline is definitely weird, but not weird in the right way to be an RNW. Readers will doubtless recall that an RNW typically features a coordination of two or more verbs, sharing a single direct object, with the complication that the last verb is a phrasal transitive verb that wraps around its direct object (e.g. put away, tear in half). This headline looks tantalizingly like an RNW at a first pass, because it almost contains the necessary ingredients. It has a pair of coordinated verbs, one of them an ordinary transitive (kills), and the other a phrasal transitive verb (chase down); it also has a shared direct object for these verbs: 5. In fact, we could make a nice, if nonsensical, RNW out of these ingredients: kills (and) chases 5 down. (I guess it could make sense if someone came and snatched the dead bodies, and the was trying to get them back.)

However, these verbs and their direct object are strung together in a perfectly ordinary English way: chases down (and) kills 5. The weirdness comes in when the headline doesn’t end there, but goes on to say then himself. This could still be an ordinary, if complicated coordination, one involving coordinated verbs and coordinated direct objects. Syntactically, it could be just like

I edited and published a blog post, then a podcast episode.

Multiplying out the two verbs and two direct objects, we end up with four events: editing a blog post, publishing that same blog post, editing a podcast episode, publishing that same podcast episode. Doing the same thing with the headline, we again end up with four events: chasing down five people, killing them, chasing down himself, killing himself. (If we could read the original article, it probably said that the guy “turned the gun on himself“.) It’s at that third event that things break down.

Assuming that the headline writer actually meant, “chases down five people, kills them, then kills himself”, this is some weird syntax, and at this point I think it’s probably an error. Given a chance to rewrite it, the copy editor would probably rephrase. On the other hand, it’s just possible that this is part of someone’s grammar; that is, they would see no problem with it even when prompted to take a second look. If I see coordinations like this again, I’ll have to wonder about that possibility. I know the people at Headsup found it ungrammatical, as did I; how about you?

Posted in Other weird coordinations, Right-node wrapping ("Friends in Low Places" coordinations) | 12 Comments »

College Dorm Right-Node Wrapping

Posted by Neal on April 20, 2010

I was looking at an online photo history of college dorms, and saw this caption:

Until the 1830s, Harvard students were required to purchase, chop and haul their own firewood back to the dorms (while dodging the livestock and pigpens that crowded the university’s campus).

What do you know? Another right-node wrapping. For those new to the blog, these are a long-standing interest of mine. What we have is a coordination of transitive verbs, starting with purchase and chop. Their shared direct object is their own firewood. The complication comes with the third verb in the list: haul. If the coordination were simply

Until the 1830s, Harvard students were required to purchase, chop and haul their own firewood.

…there’d be nothing more to say. However, the verb haul comes with not only a direct object, but a directional prepositional phrase (PP): back to the dorms. This PP comes after their own firewood, the direct object that all the coordinated verbs share. Once you hit something that the coordinated verbs share, that usually means you’re done with the coordination, and everything further down the line is also shared. Going by that rule here, the sentence should mean the same as:

Until the 1830s, Harvard students were required to:

  1. purchase their own firewood back to the dorms,
  2. chop their own firewood back to the dorms, and
  3. haul their own firewood back to the dorms

But you can’t purchase something to someplace, or chop something to someplace. Even though the PP is in a syntactic position to go with all three verbs, semantically it only goes with the last one.

Posted in Right-node wrapping ("Friends in Low Places" coordinations) | 4 Comments »

Almost Right-Node Raisings

Posted by Neal on March 12, 2010

The following sentences are examples of what linguists refer to as Right-Node Raising (RNR):

I don’t care for, but Doug can’t get enough of, bird-watching.
She told me, and I told Boris, that there would be layoffs.
They suspect, but don’t know for sure, that I’ve been eating their Girl Scout cookies.

An RNR structure is a coordination of strings of words that don’t form a nice neat phrase, because something is missing from the right edge of each of them. In the first example, I don’t care for and Doug can’t get enough of are neither verb phrases nor complete sentences, because each is lacking an object of a preposition. The final element in the sentence, bird-watching, fills the hole in each of those partial sentences.

You may recall that I chose the name “right-node wrapping” for what I’d been calling “Friends in Low Places” coordinations because of their similarity to RNR.

I have a couple of new RNWs to add to the list. First is one I heard on All Things Considered yesterday:

“Have we forgotten? Have we forgotten what happened to America on 9/11?” asked Missouri Democrat Ike Skelton, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee. “Have we forgotten who did it? Have we forgotten those who protected and gave them a safe haven?”

Even though them logically belongs to both protected and gave, it’s wrapped inside the gave ~ a safe haven verb phrase.

Next is one sent to me by my brother Glen:

A&E kicks off the original real-life series “Runaway Squad,” following former NYPD detective Joe Mazzilli and his team of private investigators, who track, rescue and reunite runaways with their families. (link)

Here, runaways is the direct object of track, rescue and reunite. The trouble is that reunite has to have a with phrase right after its direct object, so runaways gets wrapped and trapped inside it.

Lastly, here’s another coordination that could almost be an RNR. Ben Zimmer found this one and sent it on to me. But speaking of Ben Zimmer, let me interrupt this post to offer him my warmest congratulations on being selected as the new “On Language” columnist for The New York Times Magazine! He’s done so much good work there as a frequent guest columnist that they couldn’t have made a better choice.

So as I was saying, this next example is from Ben. It’s a quote from Sarah Palin:

I don’t think terrorists are worthy of rights that people like my son fight and are willing to die for.

Ha, ha! Her son fights rights! That’s how you want to read it. But wait a minute: Why can’t this one be an actual RNR? Couldn’t it be a coordination of fight and are willing to die, with for understood to go with both strings of words?

No! The final element in a RNR has to be stressed. In order for this to be a RNR, Palin would have had to put intonational breaks before and after and are willing to fight, and put stress on for, like this:

*…people like my son fight — and are willing to die — for.

Doesn’t that just sound ridiculous? At least to me it does. I’m not sure why I can’t stress that final for, but I can’t. I can do it in phrases like Who is it for?, but when the for is all by itself, with silence before and after, I just can’t.

Posted in Right-node wrapping ("Friends in Low Places" coordinations) | 1 Comment »

More RNWs

Posted by Neal on January 15, 2010

Right-node raisings (aka “Friends in Low Places” coordinations) continue to trickle in from my readers. Here’s one from Ben Zimmer, who has contributed several of the others in the growing collection:

This past spring semester I have been living and working in Washington, DC for a congressman. (link, via Wonkette)

Parsed in parallel manner, it would mean that she lives in Washington, DC for a congressman (the weird part), and that she works in Washington, DC for a congressman (the unremarkable part).

Now for the strangest RNW yet, sent my way by Blar:

A woman has taken out a temporary restraining order against Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, according to online court records. On Friday afternoon, a judge ordered that Suggs cannot abuse, contact or enter the woman’s home. (link)

Taken as a parallel coordination, it would mean:

  1. Suggs cannot abuse the woman’s home.
  2. Suggs cannot contact the woman’s home.
  3. Suggs cannot enter the woman’s home.

In context, though, the first two propositions don’t make sense. Clearly the writer means Suggs cannot abuse or contact the woman herself. So in this RNW, it’s not some adverbial phrase that wraps around the verbs’ shared direct object; it’s the possessive suffix ‘s plus the possessed noun that follows. I don’t know if my analysis will cover this one or not — I’ll have to reread my own paper to see if it will.

UPDATE, Jan. 15, 2010: Oops, I forgot one that I heard earlier this week, just before a commercial on a daytime talk show:

We’ll talk to Carnie Wilson about losing and then gaining weight again.

Now it may be that Wilson has been on a weight-loss roller coaster, so that again could apply to both losing and gaining. But the then is turning me toward the RNW analysis, such that again is intended to apply only to gaining.

Posted in Morphology, Right-node wrapping ("Friends in Low Places" coordinations) | 6 Comments »

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.

Posted in Right-node wrapping ("Friends in Low Places" coordinations) | 2 Comments »

RNWs: Theory and Evidence

Posted by Neal on March 28, 2009

"Written by some of the leading scholars in the field" ... and me!

This month, my categorial-grammar analysis of right-node wrapping (RNW, aka “Friends in Low Places” coordinations) was published in Theory and Evidence in Semantics, a book edited by Erhard Hinrichs and John Nerbonne. Here’s what Nerbonne says about the article in the book’s introduction:

Neal Whitman’s piece “Right-Node Wrapping: Multimodal Categorial Grammar and the ‘Friends in Low Places’ Coordination” appears to describe a novel sort of construction, which he christens right-node wrapping. These coordinations have the form [A conjunction B] C D and are understood as if the element C were distributed over both sides of the conjunction, while the element D is interpreted only with respect to the second conjunct. Whitman offers the following example from the Los Angeles Times, 16 Oct. 2003:

(9) The blast [upended] and [nearly sliced] a […] Chevrolet in half.

The bracketed phrases are the conjuncts A and B, a Chevrolet is the distributed object C, while the underscored in half is understood solely in combination with the likewise underscored second verb sliced, and crucially not with the first conjunct upended. Whitman provides a long list of examples from actual use, demonstrating the existence of the construction, in spite of the suspicion which Whitman himself confesses to having felt when he first encountered it. Coordination has been studied intensively in several grammatical frameworks, and especially within categorial grammar, so that it is surprising to see a new sort of coordination discovered, even more so one which is readily instantiated in newspaper prose (and elsewhere).

Whitman’s work is a clear continuation of other work on coordination in categorial grammar, most specifically work on non-constituent coordination, the earliest examples of which we are aware of being Dowty (1988) and Steedman (1985, 1990). Dowty (1988) based his account of non-constituent coordination on functional composition and type raising. In a sentence such as (10), the objects Mary and Bill are first raised from the type NP to the type (VP/NP)\VP which then compose leftwardly with the VP\VP-category adverbs yesterday and today:

(10) John saw [Mary yesterday] and [Bill today].

This paves the way for straightforward cancellation with respect to the VP/NP transitive verb saw and the subject.

Whitman formalizes his analysis within multi-modal categorial grammar, using a Gentzen-style rule system with an accompanying semantics. It turns out that it is sufficient to add a single rule of “mixed associativity”, which is assumed not to be universal, but rather specific for English. The author contrasts this with an alternative analysis which makes uses of a unary constructor. Although both analyses cover a good deal of the data, Whitman notes some overgeneration in both analyses, as well as undergeneration of data with respect to the first.

The “long list of examples from actual use” was compiled from the various posts on RNWs. I was disappointed to find — some weeks after submitting the final draft — that I’d left out one of my favorite examples because I had neglected to put a “‘Friends in Low Places’ coordination” tag on the relevant post, and missed it during my blog search. So if you read the article, you won’t see this grimly fascinating RNW in it:

Alternatively, infanticide was carried out by [burying alive], [smothering], or [turning a newborn infant on its face].
(Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, 2005, p. 290)

Then there are the RNWs that I only found in the first place after submitting the final draft, like the one about Victoria Beckham’s dress, or the one about Abu Ghraib. In addition to those, there’s also this handful of attestations that I’ve had accumulating for a while:

  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development, which manages the FHA, has [fined], [sued], and even [removed some of the rogue lenders from the program], but they keep coming back. (Froma Harrop, column of Jan. 7, 2009)
  • Until and unless we find it in ourselves to [confront] and [roll that culture back], our inner cities will remained blighted places …. (Leonard Pitts, Jr., column of Feb. 7. 2009)
  • [Wash] and [put wet lettuce/vegetables directly into Salad Sac]. (Instructions on a terrycloth bag to hold your salad. A Christmas present from Mom and Dad!)
  • With the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, players can [collect], [trade] and even [take their dinosaurs into battle with friends to see who will become the ultimate Dinosaur King]! (Product description for Dino-King video game.)
  • [Color], [cut out], and [mount game cards on tagboard]. (Instructions in a book of do-it-yourself games for teachers. I saw it when I was visiting Adam’s classroom.)
  • You don’t [owe] or [have to pay anything back] at the end of the problem. (Answer to the riddle “Why is borrowing a good thing in math?” on one of Doug’s worksheets.)

In addition to the above examples, here are a couple that Ben Zimmer noticed and sent to me last fall:

  • DeCroce said the people of New Jersey would be better served if Gov. Corzine actually stayed in the state long enough to deal with the state’s economic problems instead of traveling around the country and doing the TV talk show circuit “alternately [praising] and [begging President-elect Obama for money].” (link)
  • Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce (R-Morris) said Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex) alternately [threatened] and [tempted him with state grant money] in an effort to halt a Republican hunt for documents that would expose how state funds were really being doled out by ruling Democrats. (link)

Thanks, Ben! I especially like the last one: “He threatened me with state grant money!”

Meanwhile, I’m still waiting to get my author’s copy of Theory and Evidence in Semantics. There’s stuff in there by Chris Barker, Erhard Hinrichs, Jack Hoeksema, Pauline Jacobson, Manfred Krifka, Peter Lasersohn, John Nerbonne, Craige Roberts, and Greg Stump that I want to read. It’s supposed to be here by now!

UPDATE, Apr. 5, 2009: I’ve now received my copy. Looking at my own paper with fresh eyes, I see that I wrote on p. 248 that one drawback of my analysis is that it would generate sentences like *John [put away] and [got the dishes back out], where both verbs (not just the second one) are phrasal verbs. I said, “[I]n the years in which I have been hyperaware of RNW coordinations, I have yet to hear one with this pattern.” Except, of course, for the example on p. 239: Hey, Dad, can you [bring over] and [squirt some ketchup on my plate]? That’s what I get for putting in last minute examples. Oh well, at least what I thought was an overgeneration problem might not be one after all.

I also pointed out two examples on p. 240 in which the shared direct object was an unstressed pronoun (specifically them). My point was that these direct objects therefore had to split up the phrasal verb they appeared in, and could not conceivably be moved out to make the coordinated verb phrases nice and parallel. For some reason, I neglected to make the same observation about the example killing or allowing them to die from the previous page.

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Posted in Right-node wrapping ("Friends in Low Places" coordinations), Self-promotion | 5 Comments »

Human Rights FLoP

Posted by Neal on July 5, 2008

Our old friend, the Friends in Low Places coordination, has popped up again. Arnold Zwicky discusses an example that he found in a headline on

Brinkley spouse slept with, gave teen $300K

Since we’re on the subject, I’ll add the most recent FLoP coordination I’ve found:

As became increasingly obvious in the months after the [Abu Ghraib] photos came to public light, this pattern of abuse did not result from the acts of individual soldiers who broke the rules. It resulted from decisions made by the Bush administration to bend, ignore, or cast rules aside.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Gapping, Right-node wrapping ("Friends in Low Places" coordinations) | 3 Comments »


Posted by Neal on March 13, 2008

They played a clip on NPR yesterday of Franklin Roosevelt’s first fireside chat, which had taken place exactly 71 years earlier, March 12, 1933. At the end of the address he said:

We have provided the machinery to restore our financial system; it is up to you to support and make it work.

A 71-year-old right-node wrapping (aka “Friends in Low Places” coordination). To refresh the memory: an RNW has the form

A and B C D

but means the same thing as “A C and B C D” — not, as you’d expect in a completely parallel coordinate structure, “A C D and B C D”. In this case:

  • A = support
  • B = make
  • C = it
  • D = work

and the meaning is “support it and make it work”, not “support it work and make it work”.

One other thing I noticed in the excerpt on NPR was that Roosevelt said:

You people must have faith.

I guess you people hadn’t acquired the strong connotations of reprimand, disapproval, or prejudice that it does today. (Or maybe it had, and that’s the tone FDR wanted to take, but that doesn’t seem very likely, given that FDR was trying to encourage the citizenry.) I wonder when that happened?

Posted in Diachronic, Right-node wrapping ("Friends in Low Places" coordinations) | 3 Comments »