December 13, 2004

Becoming Nate Kaedig

An interesting use of "becomes" in this Clark Judge article:

Remember, when the Chargers chose Manning they held him until the Giants made them an offer they couldn't refuse: their first-round pick, quarterback Philip Rivers; a third-rounder, who became kicker Nate Kaeding; and next year's first-and fifth-round choices.

I believe the background is that the trade took place after the Chargers and Giants had chosen Manning and Rivers with their respective first-round picks, but before the Chargers picked Kaedig with the pick they got from the Giants. At least that's what this conveys to me.

A ways back, I posted on "become," and Kent Bach remarked in comments that

'becomes' is almost as big a "disgrace to the human race" (in Russell's famous phrase) as 'is' is. It can mean, roughly, come to have a certain property or come to be a certain other thing. Few metaphysicians think that the latter is possible....

(and you'll have to click the link to see his qualifiers. It's at the bottom of the page.)

In the Nate Kaedig example, compare the following:

(1) Nate Kaedig became a third-round pick.

My naive analysis of "becomes" is as follows

"X becomes F" is true (evaluated at time t) iff in the times immediately before t, X was not F, and after t, X is F.

This analysis will not yield any trouble if F is a predicate and the 'is' involved is the 'is' of predication. If F is a term and the 'is' is the 'is' of identity, then we have the disgrace Kent mentioned.

It seems to me that (1) need not be disgraceful. We can interpret 'being a third-round pick' as involving the 'is' of predication, so that we say Kaedig did not have the property of being a third-round pick until the moment he was picked in the third round. (Take someone who doesn't sign with the team that drafts him and then reenters the draft later--I think this can happen in baseball. We might say "Shlabotnik was a fifth-round pick in 2002 and a third-round pick in 2004.")

But that move isn't available for (2), which is approximately what Judge wrote:

(2) The third-round pick who was traded became Nate Kaedig

because "third-round pick" is in the subject position. So "the third-round pick," naively, has to be treated as a definite description; and "Nate Kaedig" certainly seems to be a name that refers to Nate Kaedig.

Incidentally, this example doesn't look amenable to the metalinguistic solution that Will Davies and Jamie Dreier suggested in the earlier thread to deal with "Leningrad became St. Petersburg." The metalinguistic interpretation here would be that the third round-pick, whoever he was, started calling himself "Nate Kaedig." That's not what's meant.

Of course we might be happy here saying that Judge isn't using words literally. Certainly, if he'd written "which the Chargers used on kicker Nate Kaedig," he would've spared the world a long post.

Bonus question: Should Judge have written "which became kicker Nate Kaedig"? Does it make a difference that he said "third-rounder" instead of "third-round pick"?

Posted by Matt Weiner at December 13, 2004 10:39 AM

The metalinguistic interpretation here would be that the third round-pick, whoever he was, started calling himself "Nate Kaedig." That's not what's meant.

No, but there is a metalinguistic solution available. Think of (2) as meaning that the sentence, "The third round pick who was traded is Nate Kaedig", became... well, something. I was going to say true, but now I'm thinking assertable.

Posted by: Jamie at December 14, 2004 08:43 PM

Maybe "settled true" would work, if you accept the Belnap-Perloff-Xu semantics for indeterminism. (At a moment m, p is settled true iff p is true at moment m for every history h going through moment m. Or something like that.)

This metalinguistic solution does seem to me a bit messier than the one in the Leningrad/St. Petersburg case. (In fact, this solution doesn't seem available for Leningrad/St. Petersburg--"Leningrad is St. Petersburg" doesn't become true, or assertable, or whatever.)

Posted by: Matt Weiner at December 15, 2004 01:20 PM

There's a headline in today's (Dec. 16's) New York Times: "Stocky Monkey Becomes New Primate Species." I took the headline to mean that a known monkey was elevated to primate status, but actually it reports on a species new to science.

Posted by: Matt's mom at December 16, 2004 06:44 AM

That's a good one. (link.) "New" there seems like it might be used nonliterally--the monkeys could say with justice, "We've been here all along." But if we reinterpret "newest species" as "most recently authenticated species," then we can say that this species wasn't the most recently authenticated species until just now.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at December 16, 2004 09:41 AM

Oh, online the headline is "Stocky Monkey Becomes Newest Primate Species." "New" I'd have more trouble accommodating.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at December 16, 2004 11:13 AM