February 26, 2006

Posting Sure Is Sporadic

Here Allan Hazlett says:

I think when you're a philosopher of language on a rainy day and you're feeling sad, you can always cheer yourself up by noting that English muffins aren't muffins, that French toast isn't toast, and delight in the fact that you are somehow especially suited to find quiet comedy in that fact, because you can explain why 'I had two slices of toast: one French, the other rye' is defective.

Which reminds me: I've been eating a lot of peanut butter and apple butter sandwiches. Can I say "I had a peanut and apple butter sandwich"? I think not. But if it were peanut butter and walnut butter, I could say "I had a peanut and walnut butter sandwich," couldn't I?

Posted by Matt Weiner at February 26, 2006 10:03 AM

No, no. On a rainy day, philosophers of language are comforted by eating the warm toasty muffins, just like everyone else. Or vodka.

I think both sentences lead to potential confusion, although they don't clang, exactly. In both cases I imagine that there are peanuts in the sandwiches, which either have apple butter or walnut butter. It's not quite as confusing as:

"I had an apple and peanut butter sandwich"

would be, where I intended by that statement to mean a sandwich of apple butter and peanut butter.

Most people, I think would assume I had eaten a sandwich of apple slices on peanut butter.

Posted by: Cala at February 26, 2006 10:12 AM

by eating the warm toasty muffins, just like everyone else. Or vodka.

You need a really cold freezer to eat the vodka.

Posted by: slolernr at February 26, 2006 02:19 PM

Vodka is for snowy days; for rainy days, I think something with gin.

Cala, you have a good point. It's sort of related to this one, I think, in that we get sort of garden-pathed; particularly in "apple and x sandwich" we expect it to be a sandwich of apples and x, and get confused when it's expected that 'apple' modify part of an x. Something like that.

We could rephrase it "I had a sandwich containing two kinds of butter: apple and peanut," which sounds goofy, but so does "I had a sandwich containing a kind of butter: peanut." Maybe linguistics just can't tell us whether there is a deep-seated ontological difference between apple butter and peanut butter.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at February 26, 2006 04:31 PM

Well for my part I think there's an ontological (or at least culinary) difference between apple butter, on the one hand, and peanut butter and walnut butter, on the other, a difference that is parasitic on the ontologico-culinary difference between fruits and nuts. I can't help but think that some of the weirdness of "I had a peanut and apple butter sandwich" (as compared to "I had a peanut and walnut butter sandwhich") comes from this; walnut and peanut butters are butters of the same kind; apple butter is sui generis.

(Frankly we may be confused by some of these sentences because the thought of a sandwhich with two separate kinds of butter is a little weird.)

I don't think it makes any sense to say: "I had a peanut and cow's butter sandwhich" - even if one did have one, which is gross. (One website I consulted recommends toast with cow butter and apple butter, though.)

Matt, when you say: "I had a peanut and walnut butter sandwhich" what comes to mind (for what its worth) is a sandwhich made from something called "Peanut and Walnut Butter", i.e. what I imagine is one substance, made of peanuts and walnuts. (I assume this is pragmatic.)

Posted by: Allan at February 27, 2006 02:32 PM

Peanuts aren't nuts, they're legumes. Though I suppose for culinary purposes they count as nuts. The problem with "I had a peanut and cow's butter sandwich" is that it's just plain gross to call it "cow's butter" anyway -- toast with butter and apple butter sounds OK, though, an extension of butter and jam principle. Peanut and Walnut Butter might be a good idea.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at February 27, 2006 03:38 PM

I spent entirely too much time today thinking of a good example of this, proving that almost anything is more interesting than grading papers.

IANALinguist, but try this pair out: "Yesterday I had a banana and peanut butter sandwich, but today I felt like a change, so I had an banana and apple butter sandwich. Tomorrow I'm going to mix it up Weiner-style and have an apple and peanut butter sandwich."

Now, my ear may be tin. But in this case, it's pretty clear (?) that both peanuts and apples were smushed prior to the making of this sandwich. And I think this shows that gardenpathing is a good explanation for the earlier phenomenon; once I have a clue that I'm talking about fruit and nut butters, I don't get tangled up in the weedy gardenpath.

Any futher considerations of the ontological status of peanut butter will bring out the m3in0ng calab0t.

Posted by: Cala at February 27, 2006 03:38 PM

The Butter and Jam Principle? Do we need to consider the agential status of the toast?

Posted by: Cala at February 27, 2006 03:40 PM

I think it sounds better with "peanut butter and banana," and the many-headed agree.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at February 27, 2006 04:41 PM

I agree, but I couldn't set up my apple butter comparison that way.

What did philosophers of language do before Google, besides make stuff up?

Posted by: Cala at February 27, 2006 04:46 PM

Hey, I still make stuff up. (While I was at UWM someone gave a talk, which I was unable to attend, on how to use Google for linguistics research. I think the idea was you can use it to show formulations occur, but not to show they don't, and you really shouldn't take the comparative statistics seriously.)

I actually think the sentence sounds better as "peanut butter and banana, apple butter and banana, and peanut and apple butter." I guess you want a sentence in which we have both structures at once, and we can understand it.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at February 27, 2006 04:50 PM

I think if I meant "peanut butter", I wouldn't say "peanut and xyz butter." To me it still sounds a bit off. I think I'd say "peanut butter & apple butter (weirdass) sandwich."

Most of the uses of Google I've seen confirm what you say. Usually, it goes like this: "BigShot So-and-so says that "knows" is not gradable. But a quick Google search shows 60 gazillion examples of graded knowledge...."

Posted by: at February 27, 2006 05:11 PM

Wow, no name needed! 5:11pm me.

Posted by: Cala at February 27, 2006 05:11 PM

Funny you should bring this up. Just this morning, I made myself an omelette with green, red, and ground pepper. Then for lunch, I had a deliciously crunchy confection: a potato and chocolate chip sandwich. And tonight I went over to a friend's house to play a card game that shall remain nameless for fear of offending the filter gods. I brought the p0ker and potato chips, and came home with my p0ker winnings and chips.

Posted by: Blar at February 27, 2006 10:00 PM

Jerry [to Kramer]: You sure can talk some trash. [Then to George, who just admitting eating an eclair out of the garbage] I guess that's better than eating it.

I take it that the reason this is funny is because there are not two kinds of trash, the kind that goes in the dumpster and the kind that people talk. The claim that "I had a peanut and apple butter sandwhich" is defective doesn't amount to the claim that someone might not utter it and avoid criticism. Context means a lot. (Let that be a warning, perhaps, about quantitative Google searches.)

I remember someone I was arguing with saying that "He bit two things: the sandwhich, and then the dust" was acceptable (of someone who fell off a bicycle while eating a sandwhich), and that therefore the standard ambiguity tests don't work. I suppose the lesson is that I think that one can tell the difference between a sentence that is acceptable, but still defective in some way (because it's funny, say), and one that is acceptable and not defective. (Chomsky et. al. deny this, but so what.)

Posted by: Allan at February 28, 2006 08:22 AM

Would you prefer a cow butter and bologna sandwich, or a peanut butter and bologna sandwich?

Is a cow butter and bologna sandwich necessarily made with beef (cow) bologna?


Posted by: Ben at February 28, 2006 01:24 PM

Peanut butter and bologna is gross. That was something you used to eat, wasn't it?

Posted by: Matt Weiner at February 28, 2006 03:53 PM

As a bewildered Scot new to all this living in Texas lark, can someone tell me what apple butter is? It sounds goddamn awful.

Posted by: Aidan at February 28, 2006 11:43 PM

Dunno that it's a Texas thing -- anyway, it's kind of to applesauce as apple cider is to apple juice, if that makes sense. I'm not exactly sure why I started using it as a jam equivalent. It's OK but I don't actually prefer it to jam.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at March 1, 2006 08:03 AM

> Peanut butter and bologna is gross. That was something you used to eat, wasn't it?

I don't like peanut butter, you punk. Except in satay. You're the one who likes grossing people out with peanut butter breath. Peanut butter and bologna may have come from one of my friends, possibly Ian.

Apple butter is a Pennsylvania Dutch thing if anything, not Texas. Or maybe it's just generic to Appalachian regions. It's spiced cooked and reduced apples. No milk butter is harmed in the making of apple butter.

Posted by: Ben at March 1, 2006 01:03 PM

apple butter is excellent. i don't know where it comes from, but in wv the best you'd find was made in the tiny town of helvetia, where a few people still spoke swiss-german 150 years after it was settled. soooooo good on toast, muffins, etc.

Posted by: matty at March 1, 2006 09:39 PM

I learned that the sort of thing Blar and Allan give examples of is called "zeugma," though the first relevant website I found cautions that it is "syllepsis," not to be confused (or confounded?) with zeugma. As I recall, the classic examples (in English classes) were "She fled in tears and a sedan coach" and "Where thou, great Anna, whom three realms obey/Do sometimes counsel take, and sometimes tea" [pronounced "tay" in c18]. Definition: a word or phrase that has to be understood in two senses in a sentence. Here the two senses seem to be an abstract and a concrete/metaphorical sense, just as with "trash." Yet that doesn't quite seem to capture the incongruities. I think the problem with some of the examples is that one term is a molecule and the other an atom. That is, that the two-word phrases are tightly bound, compound-like, and the single word ought to be bound equally to its noun. You know, I'm a hyphen fan, I'd be tempted of to hyphenate thus: apple- and peanut-butter sandwich. And isn't a cow butter likely to be a goat?

Posted by: Matt's mom at March 3, 2006 01:35 PM

'Peanut Butter Cups' does not easily decompose:


Posted by: Allan at March 21, 2006 09:12 AM