the missing comma

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Mon Nov 28 21:17:58 UTC 2005

seen on a sweatshirt worn by a colleague's daughter, who's a UC Santa
Cruz student:

i was momentarily taken aback, thinking first that it was saying
'there is slime on slugs' (which is true, but what is that relevant
to?), then that it was an instruction to slime on ('attack, demean')
slugs (ok, slugs are not most people's favorite creatures) or the
Banana Slugs (the UCSC school mascot is the banana slug, so this
would be an odd sentiment for a UCSC student to be wearing), but
finally realized that it was an exact parallel to "Go Bears" at UC
Berkeley: an exhortation to the slugs to slime on ('keep going/moving').

then i thought, oh, this is another instance of ambiguity introduced
by the elimination of punctuation marks on signs and similar labels
(i've complained about this on other occasions); it should be "Slime
on, Slugs".  but then i realized that the sports cheer doesn't have
the intonational contour that is indicated by the comma in "Slime On,
Slugs" -- which is a perfectly possible thing to say, but not what
the *sweatshirt* was trying to say.  writing "Go, Bears", as a report
of what the folks at Cal are cheering,  would be just as wrong.

so either you get the prosody wrong or you risk not getting your
message across.  though
        Slime on
might have worked a bit better.

arnold (zwicky at

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