Friday, September 14, 2007

language, truth and logic

On Language Log, Mark Logan writes in with this contribution to a post on scalar implicature:

Your post on the Zits comic reminded me of an episode from my grad school days. A friend who was somewhat frazzled from her math courses (and thoroughly indoctrinated in mathspeak where one has to follow very strict entailment) went to a hardware store in search of some kind of bolt. She brought an example, and said "I need five of these." The clerk said "I checked, and we have three of them." My friend responded, "Okay, but do you have five of them?" This supposedly went on for several rounds to the increasing exasperation of both sides. I still find it hard to believe that the clerk didn't say "only three" at some early stage, but whatever. In the same vein of mathematicians being reluctant to follow everyday implicature, this also reminds me that I want to make a cartoon featuring a mathematician ordering two distinct hotdogs.

2 comments:

Tom Slee said...

" I still find it hard to believe that the clerk didn't say "only three" at some early stage,"

- there are other things I'm surprised the clerk didn't say. The clerk is not the clueless one here. Funny story though.

Ithaca said...

Oh, I think ML knew his girlfriend had lost track of the way ordinary conversation works. I don't think he thought the clerk was clueless; I assumed he was surprised that at an early stage the clerk did not say something like, 'LOOK, lady, there are ONLY THREE IN STOCK.' As it might be.