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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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Rebellious Scots to crush
This is really a linguistics question. The lyrics of the national anthem have been in the news recently, which I suppose is what prompted the line "Rebellious Scots to crush" to saunter through my mind on the train today.

It's unpleasant however you read it, but it occurred to me that I was unsure of the scope of the exhortation. Is God being urged to crush some Scots (but only the rebellious ones), or to crush Scots in general (who are, as we know, rebellious)?

There must be many sentences that are similarly ambiguous. For example:

I love to eat tasty Italian pizza.

Does tasty describe Italian pizza in general here, or just the kind that the speaker loves to eat - while viewing less toothsome varieties with relative distaste?

I'm sure there's some linguistic terminology to describe this difference in the scope of adjectives, but I don't know it. nightspore?

Of course, if only the writer of the anthem had eschewed the ungainliness of dactylic dimeter in favour of good old iambic pentameter, as patronised by Shakespeare and Milton, a relative clause (with or without comma) would have resolved the issue:

Now crush the Scots who are rebellious

Now crush the Scots, who are rebellious

Talking of ambiguity, this morning as I was walking (at a stupidly early hour) through central Cardiff, I saw a newspaper headline that read, "Axes Used to Threaten Police". My immediate thought was, "Well, maybe they used to, but how is that news?"

Time for bed, I think.

Thanks for letting me start my day with a chuckle! Mostly, I'd guess the context would help with the ambiguity. Possibly that last bit might have been better as "Police threatened with axes", though some bloody-minded soul might say, "Is this referring to some police or the police force in general?" ;-) And there ARE horrible people out there determined to find ambiguity, even if they know perfectly well what the sentence means, such as a friend of mine who argued that I couldn't refer to "his seventeen year old farm hand, Fred" because that implied other farmhands of varying ages. Really!

So, here's my favourite, though the missing comma is what makes it hilarious: a magazine cover proclaiming that a certain woman takes great joy in cooking her family and dog. ;-)

Or that other parts of his body had different names or were of different ages. Hand, you know: hand.

a certain woman takes great joy in cooking her family and dog.

It will be a sad day when such headlines disappear from the earth. That one's in the foothills of Mt. Zeugma.