So, I’m sitting on the front porch with Champ, idly smoking a cigarette and wondering how you tell the difference between a wasp and a hornet, when Champ says: “Wanna chewing gum.”
Idly smoking a cigarette and wondering how you tell the difference between a wasp and a hornet is an example of scope ambiguity. The issue is the word idly. It may “have scope over” both the verb smoking and the verb wondering, in which case you could paraphrase the sentence fragment as idly wondering how you tell the difference between a wasp and a hornet and smoking a cigarette or, indeed, as idly wondering how you tell the difference between a wasp and a hornet and idly smoking a cigarette.
On the other hand, it might only “have scope over” smoking a cigarette, in which case the only possible paraphrase is smoking a cigarette and idly wondering how you tell the difference between a wasp and a hornet.
I was a little distracted by the “wasp versus hornet” question, ’cause I had just stepped on a nest of one or the other, and was now covered in a paste of baking soda and water. So, I didn’t immediately notice how fucking weird it was that Champ was asking for chewing gum, given that he’s a chow-shepherd mix.
Autrement dit: Champ is a dog. You know that Champ is a dog even though all I said was that he’s a chow-shepherd mix because of two things. One is that you have a chunk of knowledge about the world–an ontology to a philosopher, lexical or encyclopedic knowledge to a linguist (long story, don’t ask–or if you really want to know, see Elisabetta Jezek’s wonderful book The Lexicon). Your chunk of knowledge: a chow is a kind of dog, a shepherd is a kind of dog, and a mix is a kind of dog. The other thing is that deductive logic is, like, a law of the universe–if the premises are true, then anything that follows from them must, necessarily, be true. Chow-shepherd mixes are dogs, Champ is a chow-shepherd mix, therefore Champ is a dog. It’s just, like, the way reality works. Trump’s insanity notwithstanding.
So, I say “Champ, you don’t even know what chewing gum is.” “Um, yeah… no, don’t know.” “Champ, you don’t even know how to use a pronoun.” “Um, no… don’t know.” I was feeling pretty smug. I mean, I’m dumb enough to step on a hornet’s nest (or were those fuckers wasps?), but I’m smarter than the dog, right?
“Wanna pizza,” says Champ.
I smirked. Time to make fun of the dog, right? Make myself feel better about myself by insulting someone else. Show that dog which of us went to Wharton, and which of us didn’t.
I always wondered how Trump could have gotten into Wharton, as incurious and proudly ignorant he is. Then we find out that he paid someone to take the business school entrance exams for him. Big shock, right?
“Champ, you don’t even know what a pizza is.”
“Well…” …and he paused. I smirked again: another “no” coming, no doubt. Another missing pronoun coming, too–no doubt about that, either.
“Well… people mostly think of as circular, but that’s not entirely correct, ’cause crust is always irregular. But, thinking about as circular is not necessarily a problem even though ‘re irregular, ’cause can model circumference by setting a fixed value for radius, defining a range of values for an error term, and then drawing a random number (with replacement) from that range and randomly either adding or subtracting from radius.”
Sampling “with replacement” means that you can draw the same thing (in this case, a number for fucking with the radius) more than once. So, you could draw, say, 0.05 inches this time, and still draw 0.05 inches another time.
“Real problem with circular model,” he continued, “is not failure of real pizzas to form a perfect circle. Real problem is that not all pizzas are circular. In particular, Chicago deep dish pizzas are, believe, typically rectangular. But, although ‘s a real conceptual flaw with model, market share of Chicago deep dish pizza has dropped so low since 1980s that in practice, doesn’t really matter.”
What the fuck could I say to that? I mean, I’m not totally clear on what exactly a “radius” is, but it sounded convincing.
Still: I can’t be out-smarted by a chow-shepherd mix, right? No problem–in the end, I have an MBA, and he doesn’t. “Well…you’re not so smart–you don’t even know how to use pronouns. You don’t even know when to say “the.”
“Weeeell…”, he says. Ha, I thought. Got him there. And notice that I know how to use pronouns…”
“Weeeell…, ‘s not that surprising, if think about it. Pronouns and definite articles are very similar with respect to any good model of discourse. Both require a known antecedent. Well, with exception of frame-licensed definites and pleonastic pronouns, of course.”
I dabbed some more baking-soda-and-water paste on my wasp bites (or hornet bites–who knows?) to gain some time. Finally, I thought: fuck it–unlike Trump, I know an expert when I see one.
“Hey, Champ? How do you tell the difference between a wasp and a hornet?”
“Weeeeell… Actually, think were yellowjackets….”