Signs of ambiguity

Youtube more-or-less randomly showed me two ads with similar taglines: 

We’re built for growing businesses.

and:

Your business matters.

Ambiguity in English arises for a number of reasons. One is that a gerund-particle (like growing) can be used in a noun-type way (We’re built for the purpose of growing businesses), or an adjective-type way (We’re built for businesses which happen to be growing). In this case, the ambiguity is small, and probably deliberate. 

Compare Moving pianos can be dangerous (which can have both interpretations), Tuning pianos can be dangerous (which can only have the noun-type meaning) and Falling pianos can be dangerous (which can only have the adjective-type meaning). Note that the ambiguity can be resolved by using a different verb tense: Moving pianos is dangerous (gerund) v Moving pianos are dangerous (participle).

Another reason for ambiguity is that many words ending with –s (like matters) can be a plural noun or a 3rd person present simple verb. In this case, the full stop probably forces the verb interpretation. Even without the full stop, most people would find the verb interpretation, which creates a complete sentence, in preference to the noun interpretation, which creates a noun phrase: compare Your business matters are important to us

Last weekend we went for a drive in the Blue Mountains. I saw a sign saying Falling rocks, and thought that it probably doesn’t, especially from the height of the cliffs there. Another sign said Slow buses, in which slow might be an adjective or an imperative verb. In this case, most people would find the incomplete adj + noun interpretation. In the imperative verb + noun interpretation, there are further options if you are the bus driver, a super-hero or a pedestrian. 

Today we drove in another direction. We visited a business which proclaimed Growing since 1919. Especially apt for an orchard/nursery/garden supplies business. One of the banners in the outdoor furnishing section stated Dark matters, which I couldn’t quite figure either way.  

Advertisement

The editor of your dreams

I was in the process of researching another post which I may or may not finish, and spotted an ad saying:

Find your dream editor

Is that an editor of the kind you dream about (if you actually dream about editors!), or someone who edits dreams? Given the disjointed dreams I’ve been having lately, I need the latter. You’d think that dream editors wouldn’t write ambiguous ad headings.

Note that “the editor of your dreams” is also ambiguous, but compare “the wo/man of your dreams” (and a “dream catcher”).

less cold

A new fridge from a major appliance manufacturer features a panel in the door which is mostly opaque but which turns transparent when tapped, so that the owner/user can see what’s inside without opening the door. The manufacturer promises

less cold air loss

Unfortunately, the four words are placed two-by-two, and it results in 

less cold (    and    ) air loss

neither of which is a good selling point for a fridge.   

Less cold sounds slightly strange. We wouldn’t say more cold – we’d say colder, but there’s no immediate equivalent for the opposite. Warmer is not always appropriate. After several sub-zero mornings in a row, a zero-degree morning is hardly warmer. And imagine that the person who always gives you a frosty reception actually smiles one morning. Your reception may be less cold, but it’s hardly warmer

Once a pun a time …

One of the problems with listening to music for most of the day as I work from home is that most free music platforms support themselves with advertising revenue, so the music is regularly interrupted by ads which have nothing to do with the music, and often nothing to do with me. That’s the price I pay for not paying the price.

One assiduous advertiser on one major video hosting site enables shoppers to get significant discounts on purchases from many major retailers. (I’m not sure how this works – I can’t figure out how the company and the retailers both make money from the retailers selling at a discount). These purchases are illustrated by “everyday Aussies” holding their purchases, where [Name’s product] makes a pun on the name of someone famous. Some of these puns are better or worse, depending on your taste in puns. I think Camilla’s pasta bowls is better and Kim’s car dash cam is worse. 

Two are particularly noteworthy, because the possessive ’s’ becomes part of surname of the famous person: Sylvester’s cologne and Jack’s barrow. But while ‘scologne’ is still distinguishable from ‘Stallone’ because of the difference between /k/ and /t/, ‘sbarrow’ is almost indistinguishable from ‘Sparrow’ because the differences between /p/ and /b/ are almost neutralised following /s/. By itself, /p/ is unvoiced and aspirated; following /s/ it is non-aspirated. By itself, /b/ is voiced and unaspirated; following /b/ it is devoiced. 

(No names, no free adversing. Search and you will find.)

dirty stinking

Dirty and stinking are usually used negatively, but an advertisement for headphones highlights the “big dirty stinking bass” provided by them, purportedly quoting a user.

Dirty is most often used to describe: work, clothes, water, trick(s), hands, linen, business, streets and shirt, being a combination of literal and figurative dirtiness. Stinking is most often used to describe: water, breath, fish, mud, smoke, hole, smut, fume, oil and savour, most of them literal stinkingness. Stinking smut isn’t pornography, but another name for common bunt, a disease which affects wheat. Wikipedia doesn’t record whether it actually smells, compared with just any old smut. Stinking savour is found only or mainly in the Authorised Version of the Bible: “Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour” (Ecclesiastes 10:1). This sounds unusual to me, because I would immediately think that savour as a noun was a positive word. Modern translations (eg New International Version) give: “As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.” See also a fly in the ointment.

Google’s only result for dirty, stinking *_NOUN is insects. I’m not sure how many dirty stinking insects there are – I can’t immediately think of any, apart from stink bugs, which aren’t necessarily dirty. Otherwise, dirty and stinking appear close together in The planet of the apes (but not  in the Simpson’s parody Stop the planet of the apes, I want to get off).

“More than 10”

My wife bought a new variety of muesli, which promises “more than 10 delicious ingredients” (not “over 10”!). So how many is “more than 10”? The back of the package shows and names 12. So why say “more than 10” instead of “12”? I suspect it’s to give them some wriggle room if they ever want to tweak the ingredients. They can remove one or add any number, and still have “more than 10”. 

I’m not sure that oats by themselves are “delicious”, which is why so many varieties of porridge and muesli exist. 

Speaking of which, one student yesterday said he “drank porridge” for breakfast. I just couldn’t, either by words or actions, explain the difference between “drink porridge” (from a cup or possibly a bowl raised to the mouth) and “eat porridge” (from bowl, with a spoon). Maybe, in a beginner class, I should have left well enough alone.

How much more?

In Australia, a standard bottle of wine contains 750 millilitres. Today I bought a bottle containing 1 litre. The label proclaims “OVER 33% THAN A 750 ML BOTTLE”.

This is true. 250 ml is 33 point 33 recurring percent more than a 750 ml bottle, which is indeed over 33 percent (or more than, if that’s what your style guide says). To be fair, the winery may not legally be able to claim “33 percent more” when there’s actually “33 point 33 recurring more”. But is anyone going to complain that they got 2.5 ml more than promised, which is what the difference between 33 point 33 recurring percent and 33 percent actually comes down to?

I’ve just got to remember not to drink 33 point 33 recurring percent more of it.