"exchange X for Y"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Sun Dec 4 00:01:15 UTC 2005

Part of the dissonance that many of us seem to feel about the cited example may come from our real-world experience with "exchange."  Consider:

  1. They are students who want to exchange porn for Bibles.

  This can only mean that they have the porn and want to trade it for Bibles.  So from a strictly grammatical perspective, the real-life example is unexceptionable.

  Surprisingly, the dissonance may arise from specifying the students as "atheist."  In 1, above, I believe that the usual implication is that

  2. They are students who want to *get rid of undesirable* porn in a trade for *desirable" bibles.

  But combine "atheist student[s]" with our knowledge of postmodern pranks and publicity stunts, and the meaning of the situation appears to be

  3. They are students who want to *bestow desirable* porn in a trade for *undesirable* Bibles.

  In 1 and 2, the students make the exchange for their own benefit. That's the nature of most exchanges: they're initiated for the benefit of one or both parties.  In 3, however, the atheist students are making a humorous point of "benefiting" the Bible-owning students by giving them something presumably more desirable than what they already have, in the tradition, for example, of paying ("exchanging") desirable money for undesirable (because incriminating) contraband firearms.

  In the case of the students, they presumably set up the situation in order to make a statement to the rest of us. By parodying cash-for-contraband exchanges, they behave as though their porn is or should be more beneficial to society than are the Bibles they expect to get for it.  Less dissonant would be

  4. Fundamentalist students want to exchange Bibles for porn.

  They'd be encouraging Bible reading and discouraging porn consumption.

  The problem in the original example, I think, is with the real-life connotations of "exchange" rather than with its dictionary meaning.


  Thomas Paikeday <thomaspaikeday at SPRINT.CA> wrote:
  ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Thomas Paikeday
Subject: Re: "exchange X for Y"

----- Original Message -----=20
From: "Benjamin Zimmer"
Sent: Saturday, December 03, 2005 12:47 PM
Subject: Re: "exchange X for Y"

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header =
> Sender: American Dialect Society
> Poster: Benjamin Zimmer
> Subject: Re: "exchange X for Y"
> =
> On 12/3/05, Douglas G. Wilson 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.
>> > =
>> >
>> >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 =
>> some new [to him] porno, while the atheists have exchanged some old =
>> 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 =
>> 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 =
> "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=92t we forgetting the essential meaning of "exchange =3D 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=92t 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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