an odd example of legalese
laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Jan 30 20:37:26 UTC 2012
On Jan 30, 2012, at 3:26 PM, Brian Hitchcock wrote:
> Here is what Reuters says:
> "The Le Roy school is safe," Hammond said. "The environment or an
> infection is not the cause of the students' tics. There are many causes of
> tics-like symptoms."
> Even the above Reuters phrasing strikes me as being off, in that it uses
> the conveniently short, but inexact, construction:
> A or B is not the cause of C
> What I infer they meant us to understand is this:
> A is not the cause of C, and B is not the cause of C
> Which could be succinctly put as:
> Neither A nor B is the cause of C
> (Do the Venn diagram.)
The Venn diagram won't help, since this would be an instance of "free choice permission", which is a misleading label for the general phenomenon of disjunctions with the force of conjunctions. Four such cases:
(1) negation ("De Morgan's Law" contexts)
"I don't eat meat or fish" = "I don't eat meat" & "I don't eat fish"
"If you eat meat or fish, you're not a vegetarian" =
"If you eat meat you're not a vegetarian" & "If you eat fish you're not a vegetarian"
(3) "free-choice" permission and possibility contexts
"You can go to the movies or the beach" = "You can go to the movies" & "You can go to the beach"
"He could be Italian or Greek" = "He could be Italian" & "He could be Greek"
"Tigers live in Siberia or India" = "Tigers live in Siberia" & "Tigers live in India"
In each case, there's a true disjunctive reading possible, brought out by a continuation like "…I don't remember/know which" or "Guess which". But all things being equal, the conjunctive reading is more likely. The tricky thing about the example "A or B is not the cause of C" is that it doesn't obviously fall into any of these categories, but if you take it to be paraphrasable along the lines of
"Choose A or B, it doesn't matter which. That's not the cause of C"
it's similar to the other examples.
> ---- Also, wouldn't you be more inclined to write of 'tic-like symptoms',
> rather than 'tics-like symptoms'?
Yes, I would.
The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
More information about the Ads-l