Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Archive for the ‘Zeugmatic’ Category

DGM and WTF

Posted by Neal on July 18, 2005

DGM is the online handle of my brother’s co-blogger’s wife. She has a blog of her own, where you can find funny stories about vomit, sibling rivalry, or her kids (sometimes the categories overlap). DGM’s most recent post contains this sentence:

I don’t do well with humidity; it makes my hair big and my pits sweat.

This sentence now enters the growing corpus of what linguabloggers have come to refer to as WTF coordinations. Following makes, one of the coordinated chunks consists of an NP (my hair) and an adjective (big). The other coordinated chunk comprises another NP (my pits) and, this time, a base-form verb (sweat). I’m OK with makes my hair big, and also makes my pits sweat, but having a single makes work both ways in the same sentence? It sounds a little weird. On the other hand, also sounds weird to say makes twice: It makes my hair big and makes my pits sweat.

In fact, the phrasing kind of grows on you, and sounds almost normal after a while. Especially if you’ve already been exposed to this kind of coordination, like say in a kids’ book published in 1998:

The jigging made Tabby nervous and Zeke itch.
(Cynthia Rylant, Mr. Putter and Tabby Toot the Horn)

It’s the same double use of make, right down to the ordering of NP+Adj first (Tabby nervous) and NP+Verb second (Zeke itch). I wonder if that’s a coincidence. What happens if we do this?:

The jigging made Zeke itch and Tabby nervous.
It makes my pits sweat and my hair big.

About the same acceptability as the others, I’d say. But what if you try to factor out not only the verb, but also the NP that follows it, leaving only a verb and an adjective to be coordinated? On one of the posts I linked to above, they talk about a sentence that does just that:

The sun makes you hot and sneeze.

Whoa! In light of that one, it seems like DGM’s and Cynthia Rylant’s coordinations ought to be downgraded from WTF status to a mere “Hmm.”

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