Nonsensical English...

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Nonsensical English...

Postby PurplePenguin » Thu Jun 21, 2012 3:27 pm UTC

I spent part of my year abroad for my degree as an English language assistant at a high school, where I discovered that English is a bit of a pain in the ass to teach, since some things don't seem to have proper rules/just don't make sense.
For example, "shit"=bad, "the shit"=good. (not that I taught such words to the students, of course...)
Likewise, "That's life" is a pretty negative statement, while "this is the life" is positive.

(I have had other examples, but I fail to write things down, and am quite forgetful...)

Just wondered if anyone else had any examples of daftness in English (or in any other language I supppose!) since this kind of thing amuses me.

(I do hope there isn't already a topic covering this, I did search first.)

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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Makri » Thu Jun 21, 2012 4:46 pm UTC

"this is the life" is actually not that absurd. It sounds like "this is the life [that one would want]" to me. And for some reason, "this is the life [that one would hate]" seems more absurd. I don't know why, though.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby PurplePenguin » Thu Jun 21, 2012 4:55 pm UTC

I suppose that's the thing. When sayings lose their second half they end up seeing silly/without meaning. Like the whole "I could care less [but it would be bloody difficult] thing.

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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby eSOANEM » Thu Jun 21, 2012 5:46 pm UTC

PurplePenguin wrote: Like the whole "I could care less [but it would be bloody difficult] thing.


No, "could care less" is a bastardisation of the British version of the phrase "couldn't care less" which is perfectly literal and complete.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Jun 21, 2012 6:12 pm UTC

Welcome to idioms, pretty much. Every language has fossilized expressions and partial expressions that are no longer very easy to analyze for their original meaning, if they ever were.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby PurplePenguin » Fri Jun 22, 2012 2:12 pm UTC

eSOANEM wrote:
PurplePenguin wrote: Like the whole "I could care less [but it would be bloody difficult] thing.


No, "could care less" is a bastardisation of the British version of the phrase "couldn't care less" which is perfectly literal and complete.



Well, I always thought they must mean that they "could care less, but it would be hard". That, or they say it sarcastically, but it never sounds sarcastic when I hear someone say it.
But then maybe I'm being silly trying to make sense of it.
(I stick to "couldn't care less" anyway.)

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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Daimon » Fri Jun 22, 2012 7:31 pm UTC

"I'm home."

So you, yourself, are the house?

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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Derek » Fri Jun 22, 2012 7:58 pm UTC

PurplePenguin wrote:Well, I always thought they must mean that they "could care less, but it would be hard".

This is how I always interpreted it as a child, although I know now that's it's actually a corruption. Still, I try to be careful to say "I could care less", if for no other reason than to annoy the prescriptivists.

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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Eugo » Sat Jun 23, 2012 7:50 am UTC

Daimon wrote:"I'm home."

So you, yourself, are the house?

Likewise, "I'm back". Or "so cold war was about who makes a larger fridge?", or "he's a homemaker... he does masonry". Or, "you have a balance there", when applied to your account, actually means you're out of balance because your debit doesn't equal credit. Or "that's classified" doesn't mean there was a classification process done on the that, but means "that's classified as confidential/top secret/have to kill you if you know".

It's already been said that every language has a number of fossilized expressions which used to make a lot of sense once, when they were complete and the words they are composed of had the meaning they did then. Now with an average word in basic english having about ten meanings, of course many may sound ridiculous, if you take a couple of these words the wrong way. Add the sparse morphology (no word forms to speak of, same suffixes used for different purposes), and you get ambiguity. Lose a word which gave it context, and the remainder of the phrase can become downright silly.

I've collected quite a list of ambiguous phrases here, and while most of them are probably not such in the ear of a native speaker, given proper context, they may be rather ambiguous to a foreigner (aka international person). Many of them I found by falling into them, i.e. misunderstanding at first.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Sir Novelty Fashion » Sat Jun 23, 2012 12:34 pm UTC

On the Greek Calends, you should do going-of-the-dog, upon both arms.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby gmalivuk » Sat Jun 23, 2012 2:24 pm UTC

Eugo wrote:I've collected quite a list of ambiguous phrases here, and while most of them are probably not such in the ear of a native speaker, given proper context, they may be rather ambiguous to a foreigner
But the reason for the ambiguity isn't always lack of context. Sometimes a person is simply saying something in a strange or ambiguous way, which I guarantee you is possible with or without context, in every single language.

In your very first example, "A lot of people will share a room, some of which are quite large," the speaker is making one of two mistakes. If their meaning is that some rooms are large, why the singular "a room" in the first clause? There's an ungrammatical number mismatch in the sentence. If their meaning is that some of the people are large, "whom" could have been used instead of "which" to make it clear we're talking about people, or, more grammatically, the relative clause should have been placed properly (after its referent): "A lot of people, some of which/whom are quite large, will share a room."

Also, I deny that lack of context is as common as you think. Text messages and road signs still include context, because they still appear at a specific time and place, physically and temporally among other things that should help us understand what they mean. Admittedly, a text message can be very ambiguous if you read it long after the original context has passed, but I doubt that's more common in English than other languages. I also find it hard to believe other languages have ambiguous road signs or headlines or tweets significantly less frequently than English.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Eugo » Sat Jun 23, 2012 9:41 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
Eugo wrote:I've collected quite a list of ambiguous phrases here, and while most of them are probably not such in the ear of a native speaker, given proper context, they may be rather ambiguous to a foreigner
But the reason for the ambiguity isn't always lack of context. Sometimes a person is simply saying something in a strange or ambiguous way, which I guarantee you is possible with or without context, in every single language.

In your very first example, "A lot of people will share a room, some of which are quite large," the speaker is making one of two mistakes. If their meaning is that some rooms are large, why the singular "a room" in the first clause? There's an ungrammatical number mismatch in the sentence. If their meaning is that some of the people are large, "whom" could have been used instead of "which" to make it clear we're talking about people, or, more grammatically, the relative clause should have been placed properly (after its referent): "A lot of people, some of which/whom are quite large, will share a room."

Thanks for proving half of my points. The distinction between whom/which and singular/plural is just one of the few remaining morphological distinctions left in english. There are cases when you don't know whether -er is a comparative on an adjective, or a suffix to make a tool or an actor out of a verb (even an irregular, like better, can be an adverb, verb or adjective). Go on down the list and see for yourself where such examples do create confusion in real life, don't invalidate the whole because of one example you prove invalid. I didn't even claim that all are valid, specially to a native speaker.

Also, I deny that lack of context is as common as you think. Text messages and road signs still include context, because they still appear at a specific time and place, physically and temporally among other things that should help us understand what they mean. Admittedly, a text message can be very ambiguous if you read it long after the original context has passed, but I doubt that's more common in English than other languages. I also find it hard to believe other languages have ambiguous road signs or headlines or tweets significantly less frequently than English.

It is not as rare as you think, either. I have met situations, in my work (which happens to be in an english-speaking team), where ambiguity took hours to resolve.

Off the cuff: what's server banking? The context is an application which serves ski centers (ski passes, retail, entertainment, restaurants), with lots of remote computers on surrounding hills, which may lose connection to the server at any time.

And, BTW, there are ambiguous phrases in any language, it's just a matter of frequency. As a kid, I was thoroughly confused with the registered mail form, where it listed various options and the instruction above the list was "nepotrebno precrtati" (unnecessary to strike). It took me years to understand that the infinitive here was used as imperative (as was deemed the polite way in some legalese dialects), so it actually meant "do strike the unnecessary", i.e. strike the options you don't want.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby gmalivuk » Sun Jun 24, 2012 4:43 am UTC

Eugo wrote:There are cases when you don't know whether -er is a comparative on an adjective, or a suffix to make a tool or an actor out of a verb (even an irregular, like better, can be an adverb, verb or adjective).
Yes, but it's not actually hard to tell whether a word in a sentence is a verb, adjective, or adverb. It's *possible* to make such a sentence, I'm sure, but it's exceedingly uncommon unless you're making a particular effort.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Makri » Sun Jun 24, 2012 7:41 am UTC

Also, some examples on the list ignore stress patterns, and complaining about the ambiguity of compounds is just silly because N+N compounds are ambiguous in all languages that have them.

And saying that "not all" is ambiguous between "no" and "some but not all not" is absurd; it has one single meaning, which can be equated with neither of the two. By Gricean implicature, it does usually mean "some but not all not"; of course, sometimes there is unclarity about whether to draw the implicature. But again, that's something that no-language disambiguates. It's in the very nature of an implicature not to be marked grammatically. So in order to avoid this, you'd just have to remove "not all" from the language altogether.

And in general, be careful distinguishing ambiguity from "I just don't know what the word/the phrase means". (I must conceed the Slavic example with unnecessary striking is a good instance of the first, though. It is actually disambiguated by context insofar as the other interpretation makes no sense there, but it's hard because your brain might just not care to even come up with the correct interpretation, possibly because it's rarer for the grammatical configuration that you see.)
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Eugo » Sun Jun 24, 2012 10:28 am UTC

OK, what does "makes you smart" mean? Does it make you more intelligent, or does it irritate your eyes? Is "wedding band" the orchestra that plays on weddings or the ring? Or, if "conductor" may be a wire, a ticket checker in transportation, or orchestra chief, depending on the context - how does one disambiguate it when the orchestra travels?

The best example at hand, to show how lack of morphology creates ambiguity, is "I knew him better than anyone else". Does it mean "I knew everyone else less well than I knew him", "Everyone else knew him less well than I did" or "I knew him when he was better than anyone else"? In the other three languages I know, these meanings would be expressed unambiguously, by different forms of words involved ("better" would have the accusative form in one case, and "better" as an adjective and as an adverb wouldn't be the same word; "anyone" would also be once in nominative and once in accusative case).

Still... what's "server banking"? You have the context.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Makri » Sun Jun 24, 2012 10:44 am UTC

Does it make you more intelligent, or does it irritate your eyes?


The things that do one don't do the other, and I have a conception about what kinds of things do which. So there's really no problem there.

Is "wedding band" the orchestra that plays on weddings or the ring?


Rings don't make sounds, have a color and a texture, etc. Orchestras do completely different things.

Or, if "conductor" may be a wire, a ticket checker in transportation, or orchestra chief, depending on the context - how does one disambiguate it when the orchestra travels?


Again, the conductor of a travelling orchestra does different things than the conductor of a train. Depending on the context, the conductor of the train may also stick out more, so that "conductor" will probably refer to him.

Still... what's "server banking"? You have the context.


That's a lexicalized compound, and it's not in my lexicon. You can't blame that on the ambiguity in language.

The best example at hand, to show how lack of morphology creates ambiguity, is "I knew him better than anyone else".


That's actually the only really good example for English you've produced so far. The context - i.e. what you're discussing - can help, though, and you can also make clear the subject reading is intended by adding "does". Given that this is a result of nominative/accusative syncretism, it doesn't seem to be much of the problem, since that is the most frequent case syncretism of all.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby PurplePenguin » Sun Jun 24, 2012 11:27 am UTC

Eugo wrote:
I've collected quite a list of ambiguous phrases here, and while most of them are probably not such in the ear of a native speaker, given proper context, they may be rather ambiguous to a foreigner (aka international person). Many of them I found by falling into them, i.e. misunderstanding at first.


One to add to your list, which I came across the other day: In a woman's singles ad, under the list of things she liked she put "rowing".
I guess I can assume she means rowing as in boats, rather than arguing, but hey, you can never be sure!

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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Makri » Sun Jun 24, 2012 11:50 am UTC

The only way in which you cannot be sure of this is the way in which Bayesian philosophers tell you never to assign probability 1 to anything. ;)
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Eugo » Sun Jun 24, 2012 12:10 pm UTC

Makri wrote:
Does it make you more intelligent, or does it irritate your eyes?


The things that do one don't do the other, and I have a conception about what kinds of things do which. So there's really no problem there.

But there is. It's an unknown pill you took. It may do either.

Is "wedding band" the orchestra that plays on weddings or the ring?


Rings don't make sounds, have a color and a texture, etc. Orchestras do completely different things.

Before they do anything - you're preparing a wedding, and the list of things you should take care of, there's a "wedding band". How do you know whether to phone a jeweler or an impresario?

Or, if "conductor" may be a wire, a ticket checker in transportation, or orchestra chief, depending on the context - how does one disambiguate it when the orchestra travels?


Again, the conductor of a travelling orchestra does different things than the conductor of a train. Depending on the context, the conductor of the train may also stick out more, so that "conductor" will probably refer to him.

I didn't mean a traveling band, just a band which uses such transportation at the moment. And they don't do anything, they're in a hospital because the vehicle crashed. The crash report blames it on the conductor. Which one?

Still... what's "server banking"? You have the context.


That's a lexicalized compound, and it's not in my lexicon. You can't blame that on the ambiguity in language.

Oh, yes I can. The context was programming for a catering industry... so my thinking that the server is a machine (and there are banks inside them - memory banks, for instance, and then there are server farms and clusters as well, so any kind of grouping of servers may have a new name) was wrong. Server, in this case, was the waiter. Server banking meant taking count of the cash, including tips, that the waiter has in the purse, and has to submit at the end of his shift.

I'm fighting ambiguity at work several times a week. During any team meeting there comes at least one case when some on the team take a term in one meaning and others in another, and it usually takes a few minutes of crosstalk ("me about apples, he about cucumbers") until the misunderstanding is noticed, then another minute to clarify what was meant. Even though we're all in the same context, talking about the same thing, looking at the same screen, and 80% of members are native english speakers, while the others speak it for anywhere between 15 and 40 years - it still happens regularly.

The best example at hand, to show how lack of morphology creates ambiguity, is "I knew him better than anyone else".


That's actually the only really good example for English you've produced so far. The context - i.e. what you're discussing - can help, though, and you can also make clear the subject reading is intended by adding "does". Given that this is a result of nominative/accusative syncretism, it doesn't seem to be much of the problem, since that is the most frequent case syncretism of all.

I'd rather take the last sentence as "it doesn't seem to be a rare problem, since that is the most frequent case syncretism of all.". Even in my morphology rich language, the class of cases where the accusative and nominative coincide create ambiguous cases, as in "prase ujelo dete" - piglet bit the kid - where the somewhat arbitrary order of words in a sentence allows both interpretatons, i.e. kid bit the piglet. There were cases when similar headlines appeared in the newspapers, and one had to read the article to discover which was the case.

Sorry for taking the thread in this direction, though, this is about nonsensical phrases, and ambiguity is just one cause of those, when a part of the phrase is lost and the rest is then ambiguous.

Just found one with a lost piece: Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. While I don't speak any greek, in latin it was "timeo Danaos et dona ferentes" - fear the Greeks even [when] bearing gifts. The omission changes the meaning from that to "fear the Greeks who bear gifts".
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Makri » Sun Jun 24, 2012 1:11 pm UTC

I'm fighting ambiguity at work several times a week. During any team meeting there comes at least one case when some on the team take a term in one meaning and others in another, and it usually takes a few minutes of crosstalk ("me about apples, he about cucumbers") until the misunderstanding is noticed, then another minute to clarify what was meant. Even though we're all in the same context, talking about the same thing, looking at the same screen, and 80% of members are native english speakers, while the others speak it for anywhere between 15 and 40 years - it still happens regularly.


That suggests to me that you have a lot of ill-designed technical terms in your business that sound like totally normal English expressions but aren't.

And they don't do anything, they're in a hospital because the vehicle crashed. The crash report blames it on the conductor. Which one?


The imaginary context you're giving is hugely underspecified. The article would give more information (e.g. what kind of vehicle?). But not all kinds of conductors can cause vehicle crashes...

I'd rather take the last sentence as "it doesn't seem to be a rare problem, since that is the most frequent case syncretism of all."


No. Precisely the fact that that syncretism happens so often means that it can't be much of a problem. If it would seriously impair communication, the syncretism wouldn't happen.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby gmalivuk » Sun Jun 24, 2012 1:59 pm UTC

Eugo wrote:Does it mean "I knew everyone else less well than I knew him", "Everyone else knew him less well than I did" or "I knew him when he was better than anyone else"? In the other three languages I know, these meanings would be expressed unambiguously, by different forms of words involved
You can express them unambiguously in English, as well. You've just chosen not to in this example.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Eugo » Sun Jun 24, 2012 2:17 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:You can express them unambiguously in English, as well. You've just chosen not to in this example.

Not I, I'm well aware of what may be ambiguous, so I pick my words carefully. Natives even said I didn't have an accent, but made pauses in unexpected places - that's when I pick the expression that would be the least ambiguous.

The sentence in case is a quote from something I overheard, probably from radio or TV. If many people don't choose their words carefully and still get published is not really my problem, except when I try to understand what exactly did they mean.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby gmalivuk » Sun Jun 24, 2012 2:44 pm UTC

Yes, I'm well aware that native speakers also sometimes say ambiguous things. My point was that there's nothing inherent about English that makes it especially ambiguous.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Eugo » Sun Jun 24, 2012 3:56 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:Yes, I'm well aware that native speakers also sometimes say ambiguous things. My point was that there's nothing inherent about English that makes it especially ambiguous.


Apart from same suffix being used to denote third person singular of a verb and plural of a noun (and a possessive, undistinguished when spoken) which can be a verb too, the same suffix (-ed) to denote active and passive form, no declension to speak of, verbs aren't conjugated (save for that 3rd person singular in one tense only), same pronoun for 2nd person singular and plural, common words with an average of ten distinct meanings... really, nothing.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby eSOANEM » Sun Jun 24, 2012 4:29 pm UTC

Eugo wrote:
gmalivuk wrote:Yes, I'm well aware that native speakers also sometimes say ambiguous things. My point was that there's nothing inherent about English that makes it especially ambiguous.


1. Apart from same suffix being used to denote third person singular of a verb and plural of a noun (and a possessive, undistinguished when spoken) which can be a verb too,

2.the same suffix (-ed) to denote active and passive form,

3. no declension to speak of,

4. verbs aren't conjugated (save for that 3rd person singular in one tense only),

5. same pronoun for 2nd person singular and plural,

6. common words with an average of ten distinct meanings... really, nothing.


(numbers mine for ease of response)

1. Not a case of ambiguity. Because English has a relatively rigid word order, which word is the verb is easy to determine.

2. The preterite (I verb-ed) has a different syntax from the perfect (I have verb-ed) and the passive (I am verb-ed) so they're easily distinguishable with no ambiguity.

3. Again, English has a fairly rigid verb order to compensate for this. Besides, lack of a case system for most nouns is hardly a rare property of languages (although neither is having one). Certainly not an example of English supposed excessive ambiguity and arguably not even a case of significant ambiguity at all.

4. This is why English is not pro-drop. Because the subject has to be specified (in almost all cases, the only exceptions being ones where it would be unambiguous to do so), conjugation for subject is unnecessary to prevent ambiguity.

5. This is a genuine case of ambiguity in standard English however many dialects have standard alternatives to "you" for the plural and most others have fairly standard ways of clarifying when there could be confusion.

6. Don't exaggerate. Most words have only a handful most of which are distinguishable by context, furthermore you claimed English was particularly unusual in its ambiguity, having words spelt and pronounced the same with different meanings is not particularly unusual.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Eugo » Sun Jun 24, 2012 5:40 pm UTC

eSOANEM wrote:1. Not a case of ambiguity. Because English has a relatively rigid word order, which word is the verb is easy to determine.

Sure, when you have a full sentence, which is not always so. "Cheese sticks" could be a short answer to "what happened in there?", and it could be both sticks made of cheese, and the stickiness of cheese.

2. The preterite (I verb-ed) has a different syntax from the perfect (I have verb-ed) and the passive (I am verb-ed) so they're easily distinguishable with no ambiguity.

In headlines, the auxiliary verb is frequently omitted. "Hero remembered" (an actual headline I did not invent) could equally be about a war hero's cured amnesia, or about a function to honor him. You don't know until you read what's below.

3. Again, English has a fairly rigid verb order to compensate for this. Besides, lack of a case system for most nouns is hardly a rare property of languages (although neither is having one). Certainly not an example of English supposed excessive ambiguity and arguably not even a case of significant ambiguity at all.

4. This is why English is not pro-drop. Because the subject has to be specified (in almost all cases, the only exceptions being ones where it would be unambiguous to do so), conjugation for subject is unnecessary to prevent ambiguity.

True, the subject must be there, or it gets really hairy. It's the other clauses where the trouble lies. Is an action taken with or to the object, in company of it or using it as a tool, etc.

6. Don't exaggerate. Most words have only a handful most of which are distinguishable by context, furthermore you claimed English was particularly unusual in its ambiguity, having words spelt and pronounced the same with different meanings is not particularly unusual.

From my own bruises earned while translating, I thought there would be about four. Then I found this datum piece of information about this average of 10 meanings per word in the basic english (i.e. base 500 or 1000 words, don't know which definition was used) and got mildly shocked. As gmalivuk said elsewhere today, if there's a new idea that doesn't have a word in the language, invent one. I wish it was done so in english, my life would have been easier. Instead, the existing words are loaded with more meanings. Just look into our computers - they are full of words which had different meanings before: chip (of wood, of a block, of potato), bar (of lawyers, a watering hole, of soap, of chocolate, of iron - and now there's the progress bar, menu bar, space bar), tower, housing, bus, bank, port, slot, drive...
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Makri » Sun Jun 24, 2012 5:59 pm UTC

Sure, when you have a full sentence, which is not always so. "Cheese sticks" could be a short answer to "what happened in there?", and it could be both sticks made of cheese, and the stickiness of cheese.


Not in spoken English - the two phrases are stressed differently.

"Hero remembered" (an actual headline I did not invent) could equally be about a war hero's cured amnesia, or about a function to honor him. You don't know until you read what's below.


Yes you do know. The amnesia cure scenario is exceedingly unlikely to receive just such a headline. "Hero remembers", or something altogether different, is much more likely.

Is an action taken with or to the object, in company of it or using it as a tool, etc.


I don't understand the "with or to" reference, and the tool thing is also not disambiguated in many languages that do have a case system. However, there are very few things that can be done with the same kind of object as either a tool or company.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby eSOANEM » Sun Jun 24, 2012 9:47 pm UTC

Makri wrote:
Sure, when you have a full sentence, which is not always so. "Cheese sticks" could be a short answer to "what happened in there?", and it could be both sticks made of cheese, and the stickiness of cheese.


Not in spoken English - the two phrases are stressed differently.

"Hero remembered" (an actual headline I did not invent) could equally be about a war hero's cured amnesia, or about a function to honor him. You don't know until you read what's below.


Yes you do know. The amnesia cure scenario is exceedingly unlikely to receive just such a headline. "Hero remembers", or something altogether different, is much more likely.

Is an action taken with or to the object, in company of it or using it as a tool, etc.


I don't understand the "with or to" reference, and the tool thing is also not disambiguated in many languages that do have a case system. However, there are very few things that can be done with the same kind of object as either a tool or company.


I was going to write a reply, but Makri already did one so I thought I'd second it with one addition. English does distinguish between direct and indirect objects through a combination of word order and prepositions.

e.g. "A sent B to C using D" here, C is identified as the indirect object by the use of "to" and D as the tool because of "using" (certain prepositions could be used instead) leaving B as the direct object.

The only other wording I can see for this is "A sent C B using D" whereby, the lack of "to" identifies the second of the two nouns following the verb as the direct object, D is identified as before leaving C as the indirect object.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby roband » Mon Jun 25, 2012 6:30 pm UTC

"Not half" means "Yes"

"Not half bad" means "Pretty good".

Those two always confused me. The first one is "Not half [but in fact 100%]" and the second one I can't explain.
Maybe "less than 50% bad, so therefore mostly good"?

The two always seem conflicting.

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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Eugo » Mon Jun 25, 2012 7:01 pm UTC

eSOANEM wrote:e.g. "A sent B to C using D" here, C is identified as the indirect object by the use of "to" and D as the tool because of "using" (certain prepositions could be used instead) leaving B as the direct object.

I found the example for this in my own tagline. "Confuse with X" means both a tool ("you are trying to confuse me with your tricks") and a direct object ("you must have confused me with somebody else").

Generally, all your rebuttals come down to "language has the tools to make unambiguous", which indirectly proves my point - these tools were necessary. And it doesn't mean that most speakers, at most of the times, recognize that what they say or write is ambiguous, so they don't take that extra step to express themselves unambiguously. Also, every time someone uses "as in" ("free, as in beer"), I chalk up one who did.

The nicest example I remember comes from Terry Pratchett : "Outside, on the battlements, the guard changed. In fact he changed into his gardening apron and went off to hoe the beans."
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Makri » Mon Jun 25, 2012 7:10 pm UTC

I found the example for this in my own tagline. "Confuse with X" means both a tool ("you are trying to confuse me with your tricks") and a direct object ("you must have confused me with somebody else")


And where's the ambiguity?

Generally, all your rebuttals come down to "language has the tools to make unambiguous"


Mine don't.

The nicest example I remember comes from Terry Pratchett : "Outside, on the battlements, the guard changed. In fact he changed into his gardening apron and went off to hoe the beans."


For the joke to work, the ambiguity must precisely be one that is generally easily resolved in the other direction. So actually, that proves my point: on the basis of the probability of utterances and the assumption of cooperativity on the part of the speaker, ambiguity is usually easily resolved. If you're seriously interested in this, I recommend reading up on Gricean implicatures. Fortunately, this is a case where the original source (Grice's "Logic and Conversation") is actually a very good read.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby gmalivuk » Mon Jun 25, 2012 7:29 pm UTC

Eugo wrote:
eSOANEM wrote:which indirectly proves my point - these tools were necessary
Much like case endings in some other languages.

The nicest example I remember comes from Terry Pratchett : "Outside, on the battlements, the guard changed. In fact he changed into his gardening apron and went off to hoe the beans."
Yeah, this one only works because, without the second sentence, we wouldn't attribute any ambiguity to the first sentence. It's funny because, after the second sentence, we notice the ambiguity as it's resolved in the other direction.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby eSOANEM » Mon Jun 25, 2012 7:36 pm UTC

Eugo wrote:
eSOANEM wrote:e.g. "A sent B to C using D" here, C is identified as the indirect object by the use of "to" and D as the tool because of "using" (certain prepositions could be used instead) leaving B as the direct object.

I found the example for this in my own tagline. "Confuse with X" means both a tool ("you are trying to confuse me with your tricks") and a direct object ("you must have confused me with somebody else").

Generally, all your rebuttals come down to "language has the tools to make unambiguous", which indirectly proves my point - these tools were necessary. And it doesn't mean that most speakers, at most of the times, recognize that what they say or write is ambiguous, so they don't take that extra step to express themselves unambiguously. Also, every time someone uses "as in" ("free, as in beer"), I chalk up one who did.


Context easily distinguishes the two options for "confuse with X". If both must be specified, the object will usually take "and" instead of "with".

I did not give ways of making statement unambiguous, I simply gave the standard construction and explained why it is unambiguous.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Quizatzhaderac » Wed Jun 27, 2012 9:07 pm UTC

Not so much the ambiguity, but along the lines of the OP's original "daftness".

"It's raining" What is? The best answer I could give is "the air". Thought the common usage is more like "Something is raining, and I don't care what; just shut up about antecedents and give me your umbrella!"
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby eSOANEM » Wed Jun 27, 2012 10:05 pm UTC

Weather verbs are interesting in lots of languages. The basic problem with describing the weather is that the "raining" is semantically a zero-valent verb and, these being rare, do not normally have their own syntax meaning they have to borrow some other syntax often involving dummy pronouns. So I agree it's nonsensical, it is similarly so in other languages.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Eugo » Wed Jun 27, 2012 10:24 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:Yeah, this one only works because, without the second sentence, we wouldn't attribute any ambiguity to the first sentence. It's funny because, after the second sentence, we notice the ambiguity as it's resolved in the other direction.

Aha, so the ambiguity is completely absent, because we get exactly the wrong meaning, and exactness is on the other end of spectrum. OK.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Daimon » Wed Jun 27, 2012 10:28 pm UTC

Is it just me, or does every single future tense that starts with "Going to" not make literal sense? I am going to eat. Okay, so there`s this thing called "eat" and you are moving towards it.

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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby gmalivuk » Wed Jun 27, 2012 10:33 pm UTC

It makes more sense if you think of it as an infinitive of purpose: I am going (in order) to eat.
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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby Daimon » Wed Jun 27, 2012 10:50 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:It makes more sense if you think of it as an infinitive of purpose: I am going (in order) to eat.


Now that I think about it, there seems to be a difference between "I will eat." and "I am going to eat." I'm just a native speaker; I know things without knowing why. Just now, I thought they were the same, but it doesn't seem to be the case now. It might be obvious to you, but to me, "I will eat." is saying you are 'going to' eat later on, but not right now or soon, while "I am going to eat" means you are going in order to eat right at this moment. You're not eating yet, but you 'will' eat soon.

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Re: Nonsensical English...

Postby eSOANEM » Wed Jun 27, 2012 10:56 pm UTC

I believe the "going to" construction is often described as the immediate future for exactly that reason.
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