Must sell

I am a member of Facebook buy/sell/swap/free group in my local area. One member is selling an item of furniture with the explanation:

Must sell father in nursing home

Just … no.

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My dog has no nose

A; My dog has nose.
B: How does it smell?
A: Terrible!

At the risk of over-explaining a venerable joke (your mileage may vary as to how funny it actually is(n’t)), this joke relies on the fact that smell means both emit an odour and perceive an odour. B means How does it perceive an odour?. A’s response means It emits a terrible odour. But you knew that.

The same thing happens with taste, which means both emit a flavour (for the want of a better, short description) and perceive a flavour. Because dogs are more famous for their sense of smell than their sense of taste, and because we are more likely to smell dogs than to taste them (even in Korea), the following joke would not work (unless as a bizarre parody):

A: My dog has no tongue.
B: How does it taste?
A: Terrible!

(Actually, there are taste buds elsewhere in the mouth, so it has a reduced sense of taste.) Continue reading

“a privately-owned solar system”

An article I subedited referred to a company having Australia’s largest privately-owned solar system. The context made it clear that the company owned panels and generators and batteries, but I couldn’t help thinking that it owned a sun and planets and moons, even though this is impossible in practice – there’d be nowhere to put it, for a start.

A major search engine thinks that solar system means a sun and planets and moons. To get an image of panels and generators and batteries, you need to search for solar energy/power/electric system.

(Compare Douglas Adams’ character Hotblack Desiato, a member of the biggest, loudest, richest rock band in the history of history itself, who went from being a man who despised the star system to being a man who buys star systems.)

What?!

Sanitation has gained importance on the global development agenda, starting in 2008 with the UN International Year of Sanitation, followed by the recognition of the human right to water and sanitation in 2010 and the call for an end to open defecation by the UN Deputy Secretary General in 2013.

You’d think the UN Deputy Secretary General would have known better …

Oh, wait …

“He’d run them all”

I’ve read a few books by Sir Terry Pratchett, but I’m not a big fan. I know of one Discworld novel titled The last continent, in which the ?hero Rincewind  is magically transported to the continent of XXXX” (pronounced Four-ex), loosely based on Australia.

Today I was reading through the synopsis and quotations, for no particular reason. My eye was caught by this one:

Rincewind had always been happy to think of himself as a racist. The One Hundred Meters, the Mile, the Marathon — he’d run them all.

Haha. Race has two meanings, athletic and anthropological, which are unrelated. In real life, racist can only mean “a person who believes in racism, the doctrine that one’s own racial group is superior or that a particular racial group is inferior to others”. It does not mean “someone who takes part in an athletics competition” (though Wikipedia notes that Rincewind “spends most of his time running away from bands of people who want to kill him for various reasons. The fact that he’s still alive and running is explained in that, although he was born with a wizard’s spirit, he has the body of a long-distance sprinter.”)

In particular, my eye was caught by “he’d run them all”. This is perfectly ambiguous between “he would run them all” and “he had run them all”. Grammatically, the first is an infinitive verb (compare “he would swim them all”), and the second is a past-participle verb (compare “he had swum them all”). This ambiguity is possible only with the two small groups of verbs in which the infinitive form and the past-participle form are the same: come, become and run; and burst, cost, cut, hit, hurt, let, put, set and shut (with perhaps a few others).

I have previously posted about saying to a student “I wish you’d come on time”, in which the same ambiguity arises. 

entertaining cheeses

Today I sub-edited an article about “entertaining cheeses”. My first thought was of them singing and dancing for us. My second thought was of us singing and dancing for them. My third thought was of us chatting together, while eating the cheeses and drinking a nice bottle of red.

And I didn’t know until today that Camembert and Brie are towns in France.

qualified and unqualified

Today I edited an article featuring a pharmacy that offers its customers, among other things “qualified advice”.

Qualified has developed two almost opposite meanings, for reasons none of the dictionaries I’ve looked at explains: “1a) officially recognised as being trained to perform a particular job; certified; 1b) competent or knowledgeable; capable” and “2) not complete or absolute; limited.” (Oxford Living Dictionaries Online)

A qualified pharmacist would usually give unqualified advice, while an unqualified one would give qualified advice.

I assume that the advice given in this pharmacy is “of or pertaining to someone who is qualified”. I can’t really change it to “this pharmacy offers unqualified advice”.

Google Ngrams shows that qualified advice (in whatever meaning(s)) is more common than unqualified advice, while unqualified opinion (likewise) is more common than qualified opinion.