"exchange X for Y"

Thomas Paikeday thomaspaikeday at SPRINT.CA
Sat Dec 3 23:02:53 UTC 2005

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Benjamin Zimmer" <bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU>
Sent: Saturday, December 03, 2005 12:47 PM
Subject: Re: "exchange X for Y"

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: "exchange X for Y"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On 12/3/05, Douglas G. Wilson <douglas at nb.net> wrote:
>> At 11:30 PM 12/2/2005, you wrote:
>> >A recent item on Wonkette begins...
>> >
>> >      An atheist student group in Texas has set up shop on
>> >      their campus offering to exchange porn for Bibles.
>> >      http://www.wonkette.com/politics/porn/porno-for-lordos-140689.php
>> >
>> >I was momentarily confused until I continued reading the story and
>> >realized that the group was trying to get students to drop off their
>> >Bibles and get porn in return. To me, the sentence reads like it
>> >should be the other way around. Is "exchange NEW for OLD" a new
>> >phenomenon? I know Arnold Zwicky and others have looked at similar
>> >reversals with "substitute" and "replace", but I don't recall
>> >"exchange" being discussed.
>> >
>> >The more I think about this the less sure of my intuitions I get, so
>> >just to confirm that "exchange OLD for NEW" is the default, I found
>> >this passage, appropriately enough in a salacious section of the New
>> >American Bible (Romans 1:22-27):
> [snip]
>> I think "exchange OLD for NEW" is the default, all righty, but I think the
>> above example matches the default. If the atheists give Joe some porno and
>> Joe gives them a Bible, then Joe has exchanged an old [to him] Bible for
>> some new [to him] porno, while the atheists have exchanged some old [to
>> them] porno for a new [to them] Bible. Which is what they offered to do, I
>> think; they didn't offer e.g. "a chance for Joe to exchange porn for
>> Bibles" as I read the above piece. At least that's how it seems to me;
>> maybe I'm missing something again.
> Interesting... I think that "offering" has something to do with my
> difficulty parsing this. If someone makes me an offer to exchange X
> for Y, my default assumption is that the offer is to exchange my X for
> his Y -- so Y is new from the offeree's perspective. Here are some exx
> pulled off Google, many dealing with the recent rootkit fiasco:
> "Sony is now pulling rootkit CDs off the shelves and offering to
> exchange rootkit CDs for DRM-free copies."
> "Sony is offering to exchange affected CDs for non-affected CDs."
> "The record label is also offering to exchange the CDs for non-DRM versions."
> "After first denying the extent of the problem, the company is now
> offering to exchange the corrupted CDs for copies without the
> software."
> "Under the terms of the amended exchange offers, Grupo TMM is offering
> to exchange
> existing notes for an equal principal amount of new notes."
> "HCR Manor Care is offering to exchange old notes for new notes with a net share
> settlement mechanism."
> etc., etc.
> But there's the occasional example like this:
> "After numerous complaints, BMG is offering to exchange uncorrupted CDs for the
> ones purchased."
> So both interpretations of "offering to exchange X for Y" seem
> possible, though the one taking the offeree's perspective is heavily
> favored.
> --Ben Zimmer
Aren’t we forgetting the essential meaning of "exchange = give and receive reciprocally" as in all good dictionaries? If you read this meaning into the text in question, we get: "to give porn and receive Bibles in return." I don’t translate Bibles (I have little Greek and less Hebrew), but in my humble opinion, the King James version written at an earlier time is less confusing: "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and to four-footed beasts, and creeping things" (Romans 1:22-23). Exegetes?



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