An Interactive Guide to Ambiguous Grammar

Vijith Assar:

As a thought experiment, let's examine in extremely close detail a set of iterative changes that can be made to a single simple grammatical structure, turning it from a statement taken at face value into one loaded with unrealized implication. This makes for rich writing which rewards -- or even demands -- close scrutiny. [...]

The verb is still concrete, but it shouldn't be. In fact, the verb can be removed completely: convert it into a present participle adjective, and then use that participle as a modifier for a broad, general-purpose noun. In this example we'll use "incident" to at least acknowledge that the events took place along a common timeline, but even that much is still an unnecessary concession to specificity -- we could just as easily substitute "thing," which is so broad that unpacking it will command the reader's complete attention.

In addition, there is still a distinction between the subject and object which can be further erased. Both subject and object were "involved" in the proceedings, simply because both are present in the sentence. That new verb can apply to both nouns, making them equal and indistinguishable partners.

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11 Responses:

  1. Replicant says:

    Does it ever strike anyone else as odd that, despite the fact that- in absolute terms- U.S. police kill a far larger number of white people, it only makes the news and elicits demonstrations and outrage when it's a black person?

    I know that sounds like the opener for some cringeworthy racist tirade, but I don't mean it that way; I actually find it odd. Just statistically, not all of those people can be more deserving of being shot than their famous black equivalents, and yet little to no popular coverage.

    When a white person kills another white person, or a black person kills another black person, it's not "sexy" enough to be punditworthy, I guess a person's death only becomes a tragedy in the eyes of bloggers and reporters when it gives them the excuse to ask "Was this racially motivated?". Of course, they always loudly ask that whether or not they have any reason to believe race was relevant, and no one ever seems to pause to point out that, to the victims, the bullets killed them just as dead whether those shots were racially motivated or not.

    But it's always comforting to know that the underlying and always-relevant problems of police force militarization, poverty, and gun use in the U.S. are always drowned out by insipid speculation about how the shooter felt about the shooter's skin melanin content.

    ...All that aside, though, good article. Reminds me of every press release I've ever gotten at uni when something unpleasant happened. They'd never actually tell you what it was, they'd just vaguely let you know there was an "incident" which- surprise, surprise- invariably turned out to be frat-related.

    • AntaBaka says:

      "despite the fact that- in absolute terms"
      Source please.
      (non-american here, so naturally curious about the data)

    • margaret says:

      it's not a racist tirade, it's a racist tirade packaged as pseudo-intellectual non sequitur.

    • Glaurung says:

      "I know that sounds like the opener for some cringeworthy racist tirade"

      Maybe that should have been a clue that you were barking up the wrong tree.

      "despite the fact that- in absolute terms- U.S. police kill a far larger number of white people,"

      Citation needed. I've seen quite a few stories about improper police killings of white people. Sometimes even white people with money. But most of the time the stories are about mentally ill, homeless, aboriginal, or black people getting beaten or killed by cops.

      Why so disproportionately those groups? If you bothered to think for five seconds, you'd realize that they're all people who are outcast, powerless, and traditionally not regarded as real human beings in American culture. Which is the culture that the cops have grown up in.

      Some cops are bullies, plain and simple. They aren't going to beat the shit out of random white dudes. They're going to go after the people who cannot defend themselves, who cannot afford to hire a lawyer to sue the cops for misconduct, who nobody cares if they beat the crap out of. So that would be the outcast, the homeless, the insane, and the brown skinned. So guess who's going to die most often in police custody? Yup.

      Other cops have just drunk deep of the biased propaganda put forth by TV and movies, which has taught them ever since they were babies that certain groups of people are innately criminal, are specially dangerous and super threatening. That would be black people and crazy people. So guess who gets shot by cops even if they're unarmed and not a threat? Yup.

      • Replicant says:

        Sure. I have no doubt that there are a significant number of police who get into it because it's an excuse to be sadists.

        In point of fact, it seems like they're targeting the poor. A higher percentage of poor people are black, so it ends up disproportionately harming the black community, but it's everyone's problem.

      • joe says:

        "Maybe that should have been a clue that you were barking up the wrong tree"

        Vigilance is the key to preventing wrongthink.

  2. John says:

    Sorry for posting off topic, but a random bug report - while loading any blog posts on this site on my phone (Chrome/Android 6, on Nexus 5), everything displays very small (like the page is zoomed way out) and then snaps back in when loading finishes. Kind of annoying.

    I'm pretty sure it's related to the Facebook login - it only seems to happen if I'm logged in with Facebook. possibly it's related to Android 6, I only noticed this issue today after upgrading.

    Edit: also, I think posting comments isn't working from a Facebook login (clicking Post Comment didn't seem to do anything).