Prescriptive Linguists

Andrea Morrow aandrea1234 at GMAIL.COM
Thu Jan 31 17:48:37 UTC 2008

OK, I'm new on this list, but I just have to reply.  Of the variants
David gives as (according to my reading of his message) examples of
how ridiculous people have been to say there's no such thing as a
meaningless sentence, many of them seem OK to me.  They're not
punctuated as they would be in standard written English, of course,
but that's not the point.  Here's how I gloss each one:
> "Which Mary car did you put in the garage?"
Which Mary-car did you put in the garage?  Meaning, which of Mary's
cars did you put in there?  My son (age 16, white Michigander), says
this kind of thing all the time.

> "Which car Mary did you put in the garage?"
Which car, Mary, did you put in the garage?  Self explanatory.

> "Which car did you put in the Mary garage?"
Which car did you put in the Mary-garage?  Meaning which car did you
put in the garage associated with or belonging to Mary.  Again, I've
heard people say this kind of thing in rural Michigan.

I can't come up with natural-sounding interpretations of the other
ones, but I wouldn't be surprised if other people could.

It seems to me that we all know there CAN BE meaningless strings of
words, but if speakers find meaning in certain ones, it doesn't make
sense to call THOSE meaningless.  And what may seem meaningless to me,
may be meaningful to someone else.  Apologies if this is way too

(A former presidential ADS member, returning to the fold after many years away)

Andrea Morrow
Director of Writing Programs
Stephen M. Ross School of Business
The University of Michigan
Room ER3615 Executive Residence
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1234
aandrea at

The American Dialect Society -

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