the vital importance of grammar in everyday life

Benjamin Barrett gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM
Wed Jun 7 01:21:36 UTC 2000

I have to agree with Peter that this is more amusing than most threads.

First off, I want to stress that I am not trying to befuddle or irritate
Ron. My point is simply that my interpretation is different than his, and in
fact, when I first commented on this thread, I genuinely believed that Ron
had simply overlooked the normal interpretation. I believe this is a matter
of pragmatic interpretation as well as grammar.

I do read the newspaper in the bathroom (the room of refuge at home), but I
don't smoke (in or out of the restroom), so cigarette paper wouldn't occur
to me. As for term papers, well it just seems silly (even more than the
thread itself!) that someone might ask me for any dissertation much less
*the* dissertation in the john.

This is why if the questioner had a non-native accent, I might analyze what
part of his grammar was making the question strange. I might then figure out
that he means *any* toilet paper.

I can only interpret Ron's interpretation to mean that he doesn't and has
never thought of reading the newspaper in the bathroom, hence his

If I had no newspaper, my neighbor asked me for *the* paper, *and* I somehow
felt obliged to reply, I would say I didn't have *one*.

As for the grammar, if the form of the question were, "Is there any paper
over there?" I would assume toilet paper to be the object being asked for.
But, "Do you have the paper?" is definitely a newspaper to me. Not to say
that others don't have other interpretations.

Again, my earlier posts were not intended to be inflammatory, and I
apologize if they appeared that way.

Benjamin Barrett
gogaku at

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On Behalf Of
RonButters at AOL.COM

In a message dated 6/6/2000 3:58:06 PM, gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM writes:

<< Good point. I would ignore the person in the next stall. My
*interpretation* would be that he was asking for a newspaper. If it were the
dorm, I would hand over the sports section.

I would probably assume that the person in the stall next to me *heard* me
turning the paper. >>

Well, this just goes to demonstrate the vital importance of grammar in
everyday life! Here we see a case where a grammatical error could lead to
getting toilet paper when it is really needed!

Good point yourself, gogaku. I should have made it clear that I was assuming
that I didn't actually HAVE a newspaper (I assume further that the majority
of people in toilet stalls do not have newspapers). Even so, since the use
toilet paper in a toilet is pretty fundamental (no pun intended), I find it
difficult to believe that the interpretation of THE PAPER to mean 'the
paper' would not occur to most people (despite the non-native use of the
determiner). Such an interpretation is made even more likely by the form of
the question--"Do you have the X?"--which entails that the questioner does
not know whether or not the hearer actually has X. Absent a rustling
newspaper, it is hard for me to see why 'newspaper' is a greatly better
interpretation than 'cigarette paper' or 'term paper'.

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