A few posts ago I talked about the song Sweet Caroline. The morning after I posted that, one of my sisters, who is one of my regular reader messaged me “I read your blog this morning and the first song on the radio when I got in the car to drive to church was … Sweet Caroline. Freaky eh!”

The freakiest coincidence of music I experienced was in a bookshop while browsing through a book which attempts to answer rhetorical questions in songs, for example “How deep is the ocean, how high is the sky?”. One chapter was on “Do you know the way to San Jose?”, the answer to which depends on which San Jose you are headed to; the way to San José, Costa Rica is very different from the way to San Jose, California (which is undoubtedly the one Hal David had in mind). Right then, I heard on the bookshop’s sound system:

doof … doof … doof … doof …  
woah … woah … woah.woah … woah … woah…woah.woah … woah … woah

The simplest answer to the question “Do you know the way to San Jose?” is “Yes” (or “No”), but communicative cooperation means we can’t actually say that.


Romeo loves Juliet?

English has a number of ways to ask questions, with some smaller or bigger differences in effect.

We can ask:

Romeo loves Juliet?

by adding an upwards inflection at the end. This probably indicates that I haven’t heard you properly, or surprise on my part.

We can emphasise one, two or even all of the words:

Romeo loves Juliet? Who did you say? Did you say Romeo? or I thought Tybalt loved Juliet. 
Romeo loves Juliet? What did you say? Did you say he loves her? or I thought he hated her. 
Romeo loves Juliet? Who did you say? Did you say Juliet? or I thought he loved Rosaline.  

Romeo loves Juliet? Let me get this right – we’re talking about Romeo, and you’re saying he loves her.
Romeo loves Juliet? etc
Romeo loves Juliet?

Romeo loves Juliet? probably Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: RomeolovesJuliet? (I can’t even …)  

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"Why did you go to bed last night?"

This year I have been teaching English on Saturdays as well as doing a weekday job not related to English teaching. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the college managers decided that teaching will be done online, but gave us very little time to prepare. I downloaded a conferencing tool and got as far as setting up sessions and inviting students. Today six students joined, four of them for most of the time. Among other things, I reviewed questions with who, what, where, when, how and why (and later whose, which, how much, how many, how many times, how often and how long). One student wrote:

Why did you go to bed last night?

She very quickly changed it to:

Why did you go to bed late last night?

As with many things in English, the ‘wrong’ question is actually more interesting than the ‘right’ one. “Why did you go to bed last night?” is perfectly grammatical and makes sense, but no-one ever asks it because there are basically only two overlapping reasons why any human goes to bed: they are tired (or sick) and/or they have to get up earlier rather than later the next morning. (We might also add boredom, habit or social convention.) 

On the other hand, “Why did you go to bed late last night?” needs a context where the asker knows that the askee did, in fact, go to bed late: either the askee says “I went to bed at (some late time)” or the asker first asks “What time did you go to bed last night?” and got “(Some late time)” as an answer. Asking “Why did you go to bed late last night?” out of such a context is likely to just confuse the askee.

Root canal

Today I had a major dental procedure, my first since I was a teenager and my first while awake since I was a child (the procedure when I was a teenager was done under general anaesthetic). It went reasonably well, but I need to have three or four more related procedures. Most people’s fear of dental treatment is based on pain or fear of pain (though anaesthetics and dental equipment are constantly improving). But there are other factors, including powerlessness, not knowing what is being done or how much longer it’s going to take, and not being able to communicate. When he said ‘Is it painful?’, I couldn’t say ‘A little bit, but I can cope. Please continue.’

The anaesthetic is now almost completely worn off, and some pain in beginning to set it. I’m going to take a pain-killing tablet and go to bed.


A few nights ago a man was stabbed on a suburban street. He walked several blocks to a police station, from where he was taken to hospital in a survivable condition. The news report I saw interviewed a random man from that suburb, who was not even an eyewitness.  The reporter asked ‘Are you surprised there was a stabbing here?’. He said ‘Yeah. Usually it’s over there’ (pointing to the other side of the road).

The implied comparison of the question is ‘… as opposed to there not being a stabbing here?’, not ‘… as opposed to there being a stabbing over there?’. If there are usually stabbings over there, then a stabbing here cannot be especially surprising.

The man was obviously taking the mickey. Did the reporter and editor realise that but include the interview anyway, or didn’t they realise it? I would have thought news reporters and editors could recognise mickey being taken when they saw it.