nothing is better

Greg Pulliam pulliam at EMAIL.IIT.EDU
Fri May 7 19:27:08 UTC 1999

As long as we're looking into things like "looks like rain," can
anyone explain the nature of the ambiguity in a phrase we hear all
the time in commercials:  "nothing is better for x than y."  The
obvious sense is, of course, that "(there is) nothing (that) is
better for x than y."  But the other, almost opposite sense has
always struck me: "(using) nothing is better for x than (using) y."

My rewrites are only intended to capture the general meaning of the
two possible interpretations--not the (underlying) structure.  And I
don't really intuit these structures when I hear the phrase.  But
they lead me to ask if these very different interpretations are
structural or lexical in nature?  And if lexical, is it something in
the term _nothing_, in _better_, or in the (apparently) somewhat
idiomatic _nothing is better_?

I am NOT suggesting that ad copywriters are inept--no one really
misinterprets this phrase in the context of commericals.  I'm
honestly wondering about the source of the potential ambiguity--have
wondered about it for several years, actually.

Please note that my email address has changed.  If you've already
noted this, please disregard this message.


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