Monday, October 5, 2009

Unclear On The Concepts

I don't know if it's me or if things around me have started changing. I find myself uttering the phrase, "You're kidding, right?" a whole lot more often than I used to.

We went to the movies yesterday (The Invention of Lying, a very funny concept that could have easily been condensed into a 5-minute Saturday Night Live skit but was a bit stretched for a 2-hour movie). Before going into the theater, we made the ritual stop at the concession counter.

If you've been to the movies lately, you know that a small popcorn comes in grocery sack and a small drink comes in a 55-gallon drum. A large popcorn is backed in on a flatbed truck and a large drink is delivered via fuel tanker. We ordered a small popcorn and a small Mr. Pibb. The guy behind the counter asked if we'd like to upgrade to a large and informed us that by doing so, we'd get free refills.


Is it just me? If I've ordered the smallest version of something that you offer, would I ever want to get the larger version if all that gets me is even more of what I've just ordered? Who came up with this marketing ploy? Does anybody ever accept this offer? If so, why?

I can see where this might work at, say, a bar. If I ordered a margarita and the waitperson told me that if I got a jumbo margarita then I could get free refills, I'd certainly go for it. But if I don't think I can even finish your smallest pork chop, don't try to sell me a whole pork loin by telling me that I have the option for free pigs.

And now, a brief word on conjunctions. Before the movie, our good friends at Sprint put a reminder on the screen that said, "Don't forget to silence your cell phone and enjoy the movie", which immediately prompted me to say, "Gosh, I remembered to silence my cell phone, but I forgot to enjoy the movie." You see, these were two different, unrelated concepts that they were trying to convey here. They didn't need the "and", and it changed the whole meaning of the sentence. What they wanted there was two sentences: "Don't forget to silence your cell phone. Enjoy the movie."

Yeah, yeah, I know. Trivial little English language peeve. Nobody except Bilbo and me cares. However conjunctions can make a difference in interpretation. Consider the following two sentences:

1) He's got long hair and he's brilliant.

2) He's got long hair but he's brilliant.

When using "and", the first clause is simply descriptive. When using "but", there's an implication that he's brilliant despite the fact that he has long hair, and therefore that long-haired guys are not, as a rule, particularly smart.

Not sure how I got off on this tangent when I was talking about popcorn.

"It was a stupid post and I read the whole thing."

"It was a stupid post but I read the whole thing."

Come to think of it, conjunctions may not necessarily make such a big difference after all.

He's kidding, right?


Mike said...

I having trouble seeing the difference between and and but. I think I may have conjunctivitis. OR I could just have popcorn grease in my eyes.

Gilahi said...

Mike - Or maybe the song running through your head has just clouded your perceptions.

Bilbo said...

Good observation on the movie treats thing. When my son and I went to see the new Star Trek movie, by the time some of the big scenes came up I'd drunk so much iced tea from that 55 gallon drum that I had to sneak out to the men's room before I'd die. Next time I'll take a piddle pack along. And your rant on conjunctions is very perceptive, and much more enjoyable than similar rants professionally presented. It reminded me of the time I went to a lecture by the great linguist Noam Chomsky and listened to him hold forth for two hours on the thrilling topic of "each insertion" meaning changes depending on where in the sentence we put the word "each." It took me days to get the drool wiped off my chin.

vw: realli - how Valley Girls spell "really".

Gilahi said...

Bilbo - If you haven't read it, I strongly recommend Eats, Shoots and Leaves. The author points out how the placement of a comma can make a difference. In the New Testament, Jesus on the cross is talking to one of the thieves. Whether he says, "I say unto you, this day shalt thou be with me in paradise" or says, "I say unto you this day, thou shalt be with me in paradise", makes a HUGE difference and major points of Christian theology can hinge on it. Given that the original Greek didn't have this punctuation, we'll never know for sure.

J.M. Tewkesbury said...

You wrote: "Nobody except Bilbo and me cares."

What you should have written was, "Nobody, except Bilbo and I, cares."

Or, better yet, "Except for me and Bilbo, nobody cares."

God, don't you hate grammar Nazis? I do. ;-)

Gilahi said...

J.M. - Funny, I was taught that when using "and" with a personal pronoun, the way to tell which one to use is to leave off the first noun. So if I left off "Bilbo and" in the above sentence, it would read "Nobody except me cares", and "me" would be the correct pronoun. Otherwise, it would read "Nobody except I cares", which is just wrong. Since "nobody" is the subject of the sentence, then "cares" is the proper verb form. Have I been doing that wrong all these years?

J.M. Tewkesbury said...

G: You're right. I was re-reading and restructuring the sentence to say, "I care." Otherwise, using me as the pronoun is correct. That said, it should read, "Nobody but me and Bilbo cares."

Ah, grammar.

Gilahi said...

J.M. - I can't believe we're having this discussion here, but again I wonder if I've been doing something wrong all these years. I was taught that the personal pronoun always came last. That is, I would always say "Bilbo and me" and never "me and Bilbo".

Bilbo sure is getting a lot of airplay here...

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