History Main / AmbiguousSyntax

23rd Jun '16 5:09:09 AM Doug86
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--> From the ''{{Peanuts}}'' JustBugsMe page:

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--> From the ''{{Peanuts}}'' ''ComicStrip/{{Peanuts}}'' JustBugsMe page:
2nd Jun '16 10:27:48 AM LordGro
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* [[Literature/TenSixtySixAndAllThat 'Charles the First walked and talked half an hour after his head was cut off']]. Obviously a dead Charles the First cannot have done this, so add punctuation and voila 'Charles the First walked and talked; half an hour after, his head was cut off.'.[[labelnote:note]]This only works in UsefulNotes/BritishEnglish, though. The American version would be 'half an hour ''later'' or ''afterwards'''.[[/labelnote]]

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* [[Literature/TenSixtySixAndAllThat ''Literature/TenSixtySixAndAllThat'': 'Charles the First walked and talked half an hour after his head was cut off']].off'. Obviously a dead Charles the First cannot have done this, so add punctuation and voila 'Charles the First walked and talked; half an hour after, his head was cut off.'.[[labelnote:note]]This only works in UsefulNotes/BritishEnglish, though. The American version would be 'half an hour ''later'' or ''afterwards'''.[[/labelnote]]
2nd Jun '16 10:09:22 AM The_Sluagh
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* [[Literature/TenSixtySixAndAllThat 'Charles the First walked and talked half an hour after his head was cut off']]. Obviously a dead Charles the First cannot have done this, so add punctuation and voila 'Charles the First walked and talked - half an hour after, his head was cut off.'.[[labelnote:note]]This only works in UsefulNotes/BritishEnglish, though. The American version would be 'half an hour ''later'' or ''afterwards'''.[[/labelnote]]

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* [[Literature/TenSixtySixAndAllThat 'Charles the First walked and talked half an hour after his head was cut off']]. Obviously a dead Charles the First cannot have done this, so add punctuation and voila 'Charles the First walked and talked - talked; half an hour after, his head was cut off.'.[[labelnote:note]]This only works in UsefulNotes/BritishEnglish, though. The American version would be 'half an hour ''later'' or ''afterwards'''.[[/labelnote]]
1st Jun '16 12:12:01 PM MikeK
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* Mike Doughty's "Rising Sign" includes the deliberately ambiguous line "I resent the way you make me like myself". "Like" can be read as a verb or a preposition in the context, so it could mean either "I resent that you make me feel good about myself" or "I resent that you make me act in a way characteristic of myself".

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* [[Music/SoulCoughing Mike Doughty's Doughty's]] "Rising Sign" includes the deliberately ambiguous line "I resent the way you make me like myself". "Like" can be read as a verb or a preposition in the context, so it could mean either "I resent that you make me feel good about myself" or "I resent that you make me act in a way characteristic of myself".
1st Jun '16 12:10:18 PM MikeK
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* The last verse of Music/TheKinks' "Lola" ends in "...I'm glad I'm a man and so is Lola". This could either mean that the naive narrator never found out that Lola was a man at all ("Lola and I are both glad that I am a man"), or that he ''did'' eventually figure it out and just doesn't mind ("I'm glad that Lola and I are both men" or [[BreadEggsBreadedEggs I'm glad I'm a man, and Lola is also glad she's a man."]]).

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* The last verse of Music/TheKinks' "Lola" ends in "...I'm glad I'm a man and so is Lola". This could either mean that the naive narrator never found out that Lola was a man transvestite at all ("Lola and I are both glad that I am a man"), or that he ''did'' eventually figure it out and just doesn't mind ("I'm glad that Lola and I are both men" or [[BreadEggsBreadedEggs I'm glad I'm a man, and Lola is also glad she's a man."]]).
9th May '16 1:41:47 PM escamilla
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* In a 'garden path sentence,' ambiguous syntax leads to misinterpretation of a phrase because a particular reading is more quickly analyzed by the reader's brain. For example, "The horse raced past the barn fell," is a perfectly grammatical sentence. If you are a native English speaker, however, there is a very high probability your brain was garden-pathed into interpreting "The horse raced past the barn" as Subject-Verb-Object. That's a complete thought, and your brain was satisfied until you got to 'fell' and were confused. However, "The horse raced past the barn" could also be a noun phrase with 'horse' as the noun and all other words modifying 'horse.' (Which horse? The horse raced past the barn. The horse that was raced past the barn fell.) This is mentioned in the Webcomics section under Dinosaur Comics as well. Interestingly, though the sentence is a famous garden-path example, it's technically ambiguous: Either the "horse raced past the barn" fell (down), or the horse (was) raced past the "barn fell", referring to the uncommon noun usage of a fell[[note]]an area of uncultivated high grounds used for grazing[[/note]] identified by its concurrence with the location of the barn.[[note]]

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* In a 'garden path sentence,' ambiguous syntax leads to misinterpretation of a phrase because a particular reading is more quickly analyzed by the reader's brain. For example, "The horse raced past the barn fell," is a perfectly grammatical sentence. If you are a native English speaker, however, there is a very high probability your brain was garden-pathed into interpreting "The horse raced past the barn" as Subject-Verb-Object. That's a complete thought, and your brain was satisfied until you got to 'fell' and were confused. However, "The horse raced past the barn" could also be a noun phrase with 'horse' as the noun and all other words modifying 'horse.' (Which horse? The horse raced past the barn. The horse that was raced past the barn fell.) This is mentioned in the Webcomics section under Dinosaur Comics as well. Interestingly, though the sentence is a famous garden-path example, it's technically ambiguous: Either the "horse raced past the barn" fell (down), or the horse (was) raced past the "barn fell", referring to the uncommon noun usage of a fell[[note]]an area of uncultivated high grounds used for grazing[[/note]] identified by its concurrence with the location of the barn.[[note]]



* Ancient Chinese didn't have punctuation marks, relying on context to determine the flow of a sentence instead. Jokes based on ambiguous syntax abound, including the famous 下雨天留客天留我不留.

to:

* Ancient Chinese didn't have punctuation marks, relying on context to determine the flow of a sentence instead. Jokes based on ambiguous syntax abound, including the famous 下雨天留客天留我不留.下雨天留客天天留我不留; differing punctuation yields different ideas about whether a guest should stay or go on a rainy day: 下雨天留客天天留我不留 A: 下雨天[a rainy day]留客天 [is a day for keeping visitors]天留我不留 [The weather keeps the visitor, but I don't!]; B: 下雨天[a rainy day]留客天[is a day for keeping visitors]天留我不? [Does the weather keep me?] 留! [Yes!]
9th May '16 1:30:00 PM escamilla
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Yet another common variant: A cries "X!" refering to seeing an X approaching, but B interprets it as answer to his preceding rhetoric question.

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Yet another common variant: A cries "X!" refering referring to seeing an X approaching, but B interprets it as answer to his preceding rhetoric question.



* The short story of {{Creator/Moebius}}, "Man - is it good?" [[IAmAHumanitarian This]] is the correct interpretation. (Luckily, the pun works in other languages than the original French.)

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* The short story of {{Creator/Moebius}}, "Man - is it good?" [[IAmAHumanitarian This]] is the correct interpretation. (Luckily, the pun works in other languages other than the original French.)



** Some of these are repeated ad nauseum and it was awesome.



* This famous exchange from ''Film/HappyGilmore'' sort of qualifies:
-->'''Shooter [=McGavin=]:''' You're in big trouble though, pal. I eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast!\\
'''Happy Gilmore:''' (''laughing'') You eat pieces of shit for breakfast?



* [[Literature/TenSixtySixAndAllThat 'Charles the First walked and talked half an hour after his head was cut off']]. Obviously a dead Charles the First cannot have done this, so add punctuation and voila 'Charles the First walked and talked - half an hour after, his head was cut off.'.[[labelnote:note]]This only works in UsefulNotes/BritishEnglish, though. The American version would be 'half an hour ''later'' or ''afterwards'''.[[/labelnote]]



* ''Literature/LemonySnicketTheUnauthorizedAutobiography'', supplementary material for ''Literature/ASeriesOfUnfortunateEvents'', contains many ambiguous sentences. For instance, a photograph of a baby labeled "Who took this?"[[note]]The picture had been shot, and the baby in the picture had been kidnapped.[[/note]]



* Introductory linguistics classes sometimes have homework assignments that involve analyzing the possible meanings of such phrases.



** Similarly, Zach Galifianakis used one of these during his Standup Comedy days as an example of "It's not what you say, but how you say it".
-->'''Zach''': ''(Somberly)'' She had a crack-baby. ''({{beat}} - then enthusiastically)'' She had a crack, baby!
* Another one that crops up in syntactical studies: I saw a man on a hill with a telescope.
* Another good one - [[Literature/TenSixtySixAndAllThat 'Charles the First walked and talked half an hour after his head was cut off']]. Obviously a dead Charles the First cannot have done this, so add punctuation and voila 'Charles the First walked and talked - half an hour after, his head was cut off.'.[[labelnote:note]]This only works in UsefulNotes/BritishEnglish, though. The American version would be 'half an hour ''later'' or ''afterwards'''.[[/labelnote]]



* "A woman without her man is useless." Is it "A woman: without her, man is useless" or is it "a woman, without her man, is useless"?
** The first sentence is complete however. It would only be wrong if you didn't mean for it to say the latter - it's not really ambiguous on its own.

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* "A woman without her man is useless." Is it Can also be read as "A woman: without her, man is useless" or is it "a woman, without her man, is useless"?
** The first sentence is complete however. It would only be wrong if you didn't mean for it to say the latter - it's not really ambiguous on its own.
useless."



* There's a well-known Russian phrase that is a deliberate invocation of this trope: "execute musn't pardon" ("казнить нельзя помиловать"). Depending on where you put the comma, this either calls for the person to be executed or set free (it sounds better in Russian). The expression refers to an ambiguous situation with mutually exclusive outcomes.
** The usual English translation is "Pardon impossible to be executed", which could mean either "Pardon; impossible to be executed" or "Pardon impossible; to be executed."
*** Without added punctuation, it has a third meaning: that a pardon could not be processed.

to:

* There's a well-known Russian phrase that is a deliberate invocation of this trope: "execute musn't pardon" ("казнить нельзя помиловать"). Depending on where you put the comma, this either calls for the person to be executed or set free (it sounds better in Russian). The expression refers to an ambiguous situation with mutually exclusive outcomes.
**
outcomes. The usual English translation is "Pardon impossible to be executed", which could mean either "Pardon; impossible to be executed" or "Pardon impossible; to be executed."
***
" Without added punctuation, it has a third meaning: that a pardon could not be processed.



* Linguistics, psychology, and computer science texts often discuss the difficulty of parsing natural language due to this trope. No native English speaker would misunderstand, "Time flies like an arrow." There are at least three alternate meanings depending on the interpretation of 'like', the validity of a metaphor depicting time as a physical object [[ShapedLikeItself changing in time]], and the personal preferences of [[ClockRoaches time flies]].
** The clarification 'time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana' is... even worse, really.
** Likewise, they teach the phenomena of the 'garden path sentence,' where ambiguous syntax leads to misinterpretation of a phrase because a particular reading is more quickly analyzed by the recipient's brain. For example, "The horse raced past the barn fell," is a perfectly grammatical sentence. If you are a native English speaker, there is a very high probability your brain was garden-pathed into interpreting "The horse raced past the barn" as Subject-Verb-Object. That's a complete thought, and your brain was satisfied until you got to fell and were confused. However, "The horse raced past the barn" could also be a noun phrase with horse as the noun and all other words modifying horse. (Which horse? The horse raced past the barn. The horse raced past the barn fell.) This is mentioned in the Webcomics section under Dinosaur Comics as well.
*** Extra points for the sentence being not only a garden-path, but still being ambiguous even when complete: Either the "horse raced past the barn" fell (down), or the horse (was) raced past the "barn fell", referring to the uncommon noun usage of a fell[[note]]an area of uncultivated high grounds used for grazing[[/note]] identified by its concurrence with the location of the barn.[[note]] Therefore, the best way to rewrite the sentence would be "the horse that raced past the barn, fell" while a more sloppy, but equally effective sentence would be "the horse that had raced past the barn, fell down." The former sentence would be more acceptable in a professionally written paper as it lacks the superfluous "had" and "down" while maintaining clarity.[[/note]]
*** Some more examples with explanations: The young man the boat. (Youths serve as the boat's crew.) The cool rhyme with style. (Cool people make stylistic rhymes.) The government plans to raise taxes flounder. (The government's attempt to increase taxes is floundering.) The felon escaped from jail was caught. (The escapee was caught.)
*** As you can see, English is very prone to AmbiguousSyntax, at least compared to other European languages. It's because of its simple morphology (many of the examples listed here would not work in other languages because of things like genders and different endings) and word order being very important to precise meanings of words.

to:

* Linguistics, psychology, and computer science texts often discuss the difficulty of parsing natural language due to this trope. No native English speaker would misunderstand, "Time flies like an arrow." There arrow," but there are at least three alternate meanings depending on the interpretation of 'like', the validity of a metaphor depicting time as a physical object [[ShapedLikeItself changing in time]], and the personal preferences of [[ClockRoaches time flies]].
** The clarification 'time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like
flies]].
* In
a banana' is... even worse, really.
** Likewise, they teach the phenomena of the
'garden path sentence,' where ambiguous syntax leads to misinterpretation of a phrase because a particular reading is more quickly analyzed by the recipient's reader's brain. For example, "The horse raced past the barn fell," is a perfectly grammatical sentence. If you are a native English speaker, however, there is a very high probability your brain was garden-pathed into interpreting "The horse raced past the barn" as Subject-Verb-Object. That's a complete thought, and your brain was satisfied until you got to fell 'fell' and were confused. However, "The horse raced past the barn" could also be a noun phrase with horse 'horse' as the noun and all other words modifying horse. 'horse.' (Which horse? The horse raced past the barn. The horse that was raced past the barn fell.) This is mentioned in the Webcomics section under Dinosaur Comics as well.
*** Extra points for
well. Interestingly, though the sentence being not only is a garden-path, but still being ambiguous even when complete: famous garden-path example, it's technically ambiguous: Either the "horse raced past the barn" fell (down), or the horse (was) raced past the "barn fell", referring to the uncommon noun usage of a fell[[note]]an area of uncultivated high grounds used for grazing[[/note]] identified by its concurrence with the location of the barn.[[note]] Therefore, the best way to rewrite the sentence would be "the horse that raced past the barn, fell" while a more sloppy, but equally effective sentence would be "the horse that had raced past the barn, fell down." The former sentence would be more acceptable in a professionally written paper as it lacks the superfluous "had" and "down" while maintaining clarity.[[/note]]
***
[[note]]
**
Some more examples of garden path sentences with explanations: The young man the boat. (Youths serve as the boat's crew.) The cool rhyme with style. (Cool people make stylistic rhymes.) The government plans to raise taxes flounder. (The government's attempt to increase taxes is floundering.) The felon escaped from jail was caught. (The escapee was caught.)
*** As you can see, English is very prone to AmbiguousSyntax, at least compared to other European languages. It's because of its simple morphology (many of the examples listed here would not work in other languages because of things like genders and different endings) and word order being very important to precise meanings of words.
)



* Ambiguity of this magnitude is guaranteed to cause '''''immense''''' distress to autistic listeners. Consider yourself warned.
* Ancient Chinese didn't have punctuation marks, relying on context and filler words to determine the flow of a sentence instead. Cue a million ambiguous wording jokes, the most famous of which is 下雨天留客天留我不留.

to:

* Ambiguity of this magnitude is guaranteed to cause '''''immense''''' distress to autistic listeners. Consider yourself warned.
* Ancient Chinese didn't have punctuation marks, relying on context and filler words to determine the flow of a sentence instead. Cue a million Jokes based on ambiguous wording jokes, syntax abound, including the most famous of which is 下雨天留客天留我不留.
8th May '16 5:31:51 AM shawn_allen
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Added DiffLines:

* There is a classic tongue-twister "Rubber Baby Buggy Bumpers." Now, are they baby buggy bumpers made of rubber, bumpers for a baby buggy made of rubber, or bumpers for a buggy containing a baby made of rubber?
7th May '16 11:53:46 PM nombretomado
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* Paul Merton likes to use this trope on ''HaveIGotNewsForYou''. For example, when he was asked to complete the headline "(BLANK) flies off without warning", he suggested "Spider scares..." and "[[UsefulNotes/BillClinton Clinton's...]]".

to:

* Paul Merton likes to use this trope on ''HaveIGotNewsForYou''.''Series/HaveIGotNewsForYou''. For example, when he was asked to complete the headline "(BLANK) flies off without warning", he suggested "Spider scares..." and "[[UsefulNotes/BillClinton Clinton's...]]".
7th May '16 1:56:18 PM CaptainTedium
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* From a ''MickeyMouseWorks'' short:

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* From a ''MickeyMouseWorks'' short:''Mickey [=MouseWorks=]'' short adapting ''Literature/AroundTheWorldInEightyDays'', which was recycled for the ''WesternAnimation/HouseOfMouse'' episode "House of Scrooge":


Added DiffLines:

* Discussed on ''WesternAnimation/ChalkZone'' whenever Rudy Tabootie talks to his friend Snap about his idea for a comic about Vampire Cannibals, most notably with Snap asking whether they're vampires that eat other vampires or if they're cannibals that happen to be vampires. This eventually proves to cause serious problems for Rudy in the episode "Vampire Cannibals of New York" when Gore, the Vampire Cannibal King, decides to eat Rudy and responds to his claims that Vampire Cannibals only eat other vampires by pointing out that it was never made clear.
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