December 19, 2006

Past the Barn

Timothy Williamson's new book The Philosophy of Philosophy (Carrie Jenkins provides a link to the 392-page pdf) reminds me of the notorious "The horse raced past the barn fell." On p. 119 Williamson observes that native speakers usually reject this as synactically ill-formed on first hearing, but when they are invited to consider reading it as "The horse [that was] raced past the barn fell" they accept it as grammatical.

My question about this is: This depends on accepting "The horse raced past the barn" as the subject of the sentence. But does anyone know of anywhere, outside of linguistic examples, in which something like "the horse raced past the barn" is used as a stand-alone NP? Consider:

I ran away from the horse raced past the barn.

Which animal fell? The horse raced past the barn.

Stop the horse raced past the barn!

All of these sound distinctly odd to me, and in at least the first and third cases this can't be attributed to garden-path effects (where you're expecting 'raced' to be the main verb and 'the horse' alone to be the subject). Peter Norvig gives "The horse raced at Belmont died," which sounds better, but it doesn't sound entirely right to me; still, I'll admit that my intuitions here are corrupted. I just found "Many of the horses raced here are of Derby and Preakness fame," which seems more like it; though it's not actually "the horse raced" + prepositional phrase.

Now, there are some similar locutions which clearly occur in the wild all the time. Take the results for "the man dressed", for instance; nine of the ten results on the first page (AOTW) are noun phrases of the form "the man dressed" + PP. But even potential garden-path sentences of the form "The man dressed" + PP + VP seem to pass without protest. Take the subhead here: "The man dressed in a skirt didn't raise suspicion at CWEA" doesn't raise any suspicion itself, I think, even though it has exactly the same structure as "The horse raced past the barn fell" (or "The horse raced past the barn didn't fall to the ground" if you like). Which seems to me to indicate some difference between "the man dressed" and "the horse raced." But what could it be?

Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:11 PM | Comments (22)

December 18, 2006

A Sentence

What plan for Iraq did one top expert warn was doomed to likely failure when he advised the ISG?

If I understood why that sentence is or is not grammatical, I'd understand more linguistics than I do. Can whs move like that?

Posted by Matt Weiner at 08:50 PM | Comments (7)

December 17, 2006


I just ran across a random reference to a band that I was in, on a primitive blog from 2000. Scroll down to "open bar" (there wasn't one) or "post-human" (a label I reject). Searching around a little more, I find that the name was based on a misapprehension -- the collectors collect petrified droppings rather than crystallized urine of woolly flying squirrels. [The name was only used for one performance, as were all the other names that band had.]

Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:24 AM | Comments (0)

December 15, 2006


I find the recent immigration raids very disturbing. Leaving aside the wisdom of our immigration policy, it seems that the DHS instituted mass raids on a flimsy pretext, may have initially detained people based on skin color, and—most disturbing of all to me—shipped a lot of people, including legal immigrants, to undisclosed locations in unmarked buses and denied them access to lawyers and family. In view of the Administration's claims that it can lock people up without judicial process, we should be very very worried about any attempts to push this sort of thing farther.

This is also worrisome.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 08:23 AM | Comments (0)

December 13, 2006

Rawls on Dignity

Looks like an interesting discussion at Ezra's on Rawls, taking off from Sigrid Fry-Revere's attack on Rawlsianism for allegedly "neglect[ing] to realize that any form of distributive justice is disrespectful of the person to whom goods are being distributed at the expense of others." (Also check out Ezra's links, espcially Julian Sanchez.)

The first point I'd make is the one that Blar did -- Rawls wrote a lot about respect, and it's bizarre to discuss him without actually looking at what he had to say about it. The second point is one that Andrew makes, at least indirectly: Rawls wasn't a fan of our welfare system, precisely because it does mark the poor out as undeserving and thus undermines their self-respect. IIRC (I don't have any of my Rawls right here) Rawls was a much bigger fan of universal systems like a guaranteed income for all. People who collect Social Security aren't stigmatized, because everyone does it once they're old enough.

Fry-Revere's basic argument (in comments) perhaps can be summed up as, "the best kind of caring isnít anonymous, and that our society would be better off if we all gave each other more time instead of expecting government to do it for us." Hence the welfare state is bad because it institutionalizes anonymous caring. I think it is good for society to encourage more personal caring, but I'm very dubious that this is an argument for demolishing public welfare systems; Fry-Revere's argument comes uncomfortably close to the idea that society's goal should be to increase the virtue of those who care for the worst-off rather than to better the lot of the worst-off themselves. But this is backwards, carrying what Julian describes as "a whiff of moral self-indulgence."

Perhaps more important, the personal-caring model seems very poorly suited to a heterogenous society like ours. Personal caring will most likely in most cases be caring for people around us and people like us. That'll leave many people out in the cold. And the people who are most hurt by this will be exactly the poor black people who suffer the most because of the past and present injustices in our society. We need truly universal programs if we're to ensure that everyone is cared for.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:48 AM | Comments (13)

December 12, 2006

Some Really Awkward Data for the Knowledge Account of Assertion

In response to an obnoxious dude mocking his use of qualifiers, Spencer Ackerman says:

Sorry, you'd rather I be less transparent about what I assert and what I know? Take the analysis or leave it.

[Aside: When you accidentally paste that into the "I feel lucky" Googlebar in Firefox, you get this.]

This sounds like Ackerman is saying that what he asserts is not what he knows. Now it makes sense to read "what I assert" as "what I merely assert," but even that won't help out the view that asserting is representing yourself as knowing, for Ackerman seems to be explicitly acknowledging that he's asserting things that he doesn't know. I honestly can't think of a thing that the knowledge account can do to make sense of this, except to say that he's asserting a paradox and that we have to do some serious interpretation to figure that out. Or possibly to say that "assert" in ordinary parlance doesn't name the technical philosophical notion of assertion, as when we say "I believe that p" many philosophers take it that we are not actually expressing full-fledged belief.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 08:27 AM | Comments (8)

December 06, 2006

Speaking of Not Making Sense

This list of misquotations (found while looking for the "Now is the winter of our discontent" speech for a discussion of Hedda Gabler) gives (AOTW):

"It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing"

* Although this is the correct quote from the song of the same name, its meaning is often misinterpreted by those not familiar with it. It is first assumed to mean "the song is worthless without the swing," but it actually means "you don't need the swing to make the song."
* This meaning is better portrayed when the quote is accompanied by the next line, "It don't mean a thing, all you have to do is sing."

Eh? I can see how the title line can, out of context, be interpreted as "It don't mean a thing whether it has that swing" -- though then there shouldn't be a comma. And you could even say that the third line, "It makes no difference if it's sweet or hot" bolsters this interpretation; but that is clearly intended to modify the fourth line, "Just hit that rhythm, give it everything you got," which is an injunction to swing no matter what style of music you're playing. Admittedly this leaves the second line a bit unclear, but I think it can comfortably be interpreted as an injunction not to worry about the deep meaning of whatever song you're singing, but just to sing; in, of course, a swinging manner.

The intro to this Cab Calloway version (ignore 'hard' for 'hot', that's silly) seem to clinch the case, but those words weren't actually included in the original Duke Ellington recording; they may have been included in later renditions. If you're going by original intent, however, "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing" was originally a saying of (Ellington's original plunger-muted trumpeter) Bubber Miley, and he certainly intended my reading.

("Doo wah doo wah doo wah doo wah"s omitted from lyrics for clarity. Note also that this post was infinitely more worth my brain-time than the last one.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:30 AM | Comments (5)

December 05, 2006

Cathy Seipp Is Not Making Sense

This is a pretty amazing string of non sequiturs -- it's not clear that any two consecutive sentences have any logical relation -- but I think my favorite part is the next-to-last sentence:

For some reason, though, the feminist establishment seems to worry more about masculine girls or effeminate boys being beaten up than they do about much more common ordinary heterosexual crimes of passion.

Because the feminist establishment never promoted battered women's shelters, or marital rape laws, or the Violence Against Women Act, or... GAH!

Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:19 PM | Comments (4)

December 03, 2006

Non-Factive 'Know' Watch

Carrollgambled because he knew that the Trojans could pick up the yard on fourth down.

Perhaps he forgot what happened the last time he went for a fourth-and-short at this stadium. USC failed to convert against Texas last January, and failed again Saturday.

Somehow this one seems especially egregious. Not so much because the claim isn't adequately justified (we often say things like "Bush knew that Saddam was an important funder of al-Qaeda," where there's no justification for it); perhaps because the narrative doesn't show any other signs of telling things from Carroll's point of view. Of course it could be argued that Carroll was right to think that they could pick up the yard; just because they didn't doesn't necessarily mean they couldn't.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 08:19 AM | Comments (2)

December 01, 2006

Cool YouTube Stuff: Max Roach Meets Fab Five Freddy

At the Kitchen in 1983: one, two. I had no idea that anything like this had happened.

Also the "Deeds, Not Words" quintet with Booker Little, trumpet, Ray Draper, tuba, George Coleman, tenor (I'm not positive who the bassist is): Minor Mode Blues, The Scene Is Clean. Not nearly as unexpected, but there can't be much Booker Little video out there.

And more.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:31 PM | Comments (0)