misunderstanding"wear" vs. "put on"

Salinas17 at aol.com Salinas17 at aol.com
Wed May 11 17:28:48 UTC 2005

In a message dated 5/11/05 11:51:09 AM, mark at polymathix.com writes:
<< The brother-in-law was expecting WEAR to carry a change-of-state meaning

and for his wife to comply, but it doesn't and she didn't. >>

No, I don't think so.  The story says, 'He indicated a dress and said "wear
that".  She said "OK" and went on doing her make-up.'

The nature of the misunderstanding was about time.  The brother-in-law
apparently meant put the dress on now.  The wife thought he meant wear it when the
time comes.

I suspect English speakers do not feel comfortable saying "wear that dress,
right now."  They seem to feel more comfortable saying "put that dress on,
right now."  There seems to be a constraint on what the word "wear" as a command
can refer to.  We want to refer to the process and not the end result when the
sense is immediate.

Of course, in common English usage, "wear" can be used without a nod to the
inceptive.  "Wait.  It's cold outside.  Wear a coat."    But it feels more
comfortable to acknowledge the immediacy and say, "Wait.  It's cold outside.  Put
on a coat."

This is evident in the misunderstanding.  "Wear that" does command a change
of state.  But so does "put that on."  In English, we only jump the inchoative
step -- put on that dress --when we are talking about some more distant future
state and not immediacy -- at least with these specific words.  The listener
reasonably assumed that the speaker was not referring to any kind of
immediacy.  But the word "wear" had a broader meaning for the speaker, which included
the implied "right now."

Steve Long

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