[Ads-l] "still" a question?

Amy West medievalist at W-STS.COM
Tue Feb 10 13:00:55 UTC 2015

On 2/10/15 12:00 AM, ADS-L automatic digest system wrote:
> Date:    Mon, 9 Feb 2015 20:06:13 -0500
> From:    Laurence Horn<laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> Subject: "still" a question?
> Some of you may recall Seattle coach Pete Carroll's ill-fated decision at the end of last week's Super Bowl by Seattle coach Pete Carroll to try a pass from the 1 yard line. The decision backfired and has been almost universally second-guessed ever since.  On ESPN's weekly Sports Reporters panel show yesterday, moderator Jay Harris began the discussion of Carroll's play call with this question:
> "Maybe THE most controversial call in the history of America's biggest sporting event…Can you still believe it?
> He later uses the same syntax in asking Boston-based journalist Bob Ryan "Bob, can you still believe that call?"
> For me, these questions are impossible as given, even though they clearly expect (and in Ryan's case received) the response "I still can't believe it."  In other words, it's as if Harris is asking "You still can't believe that call, right?"
> Am I just being old and crotchety?  Is there a "dialect difference" on the use of "still" in this sort of question?  Notice that it's perfectly natural to ask "Can you still ride the subway for $2.50?" or "Do bears still shit in the woods?", where there's a presupposition that the mentioned practice or state of affairs used to hold in the past.  The only question is whether "still" questions are possible when the opposite assumption holds, i.e. here that you couldn't believe the call after it happened, and I'm asking whether that's still true.
> LH
What seems to be going on to my non-semanticist/non-syntactician eyes is 
that the speaker is using "believe" to indicate 
amazement/dumbfoundedness/lack of comprehension. It would make more 
sense to me if he had a "not" in there, as in "I still can't believe he 
did that." That I think is what makes this phrasing "off". I'm with Dan 
and Gerald on this.

---Amy West

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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