"If it's causing you more stress than it's worth... it's not worth it." - Yellow
Question #21180 posted on 12/03/2005 3:01 a.m.

Dear 100 Hour Board,
Anyone willing to admit they like Hillary Duff Christmas? Cause I do.

I can take it

A: Dear you can take it,


- Optimistic, a fan of non-cookie cutter music.
A: Dear but can you really?

Right. The interesting thing about this question is that the setup of the question actually puts us Board writers in an interesting quandary as we try to answer, due to the fact that this single question contains two different propositions: 1. liking Hillary Duff Christmas and 2. being willing to admit to liking Hillary Duff Christmas. The second proposition presupposes the first, since liking Hillary Duff Christmas is a necessary prerequisite to either being willing to admit one likes it or not being willing to admit one likes it. So, in fact, by answering "no," Optimistic has actually only said that he is not willing to admit to liking Hillary Duff Christmas, not that he dislikes Hillary Duff Christmas. In addition, he suggests, by the ordinary pragmatic interpretation of the implications of his statement, that he does actually like it.

So this is basically a classic example of presupposition failure, similar the more famous example "have you stopped beating your wife yet?" Interesting, no? After this mini-lecture on some intriguing aspects of formal semantics, I will give a properly unambiguous answer: I do not like Hillary Duff Christmas, or indeed anything Hillary Duff--and I'm perfectly willing to admit it.


A: Dear Petra,

A similar word game was played in my elementary school when silly boys who thought they were clever would find someone and ask, "Do your parents know you're [whatever]?" and this trick made not uncommon reappearances throughout both the junior and senior varieties of High School.

-Colin the [whatever]
A: Dear Petra,

Two can play at the semantics game.

While I'll admit that my response may have been misleading, I'd like to point out that my signature was telling in my opinion of the music in question. The fact that I mentioned "non-cookie cutter music" implied, albeit indirectly, that I consider Hillary Duff's music to be cookie cutter style. Furthermore, I mentioned that I was a fan of the aforementioned style of music, implying, once again, somewhat indirectly, that I am not a fan of Ms. Duff's music.

The trick is to look beyond the words here. I would have expected someone with your background in linguistics to understand that. Clearly, I was wrong. So much for false suppositions...but, I guess that was the point in the first place.

- Optimistic.
A: Dear Optimistic,

Of course I understood that you dislike Hillary Duff's music; pragmatic interpretation of your signature line makes that abundantly clear. (Also, my knowledge of your musical tastes would lead me to believe this anyway. I think I would have to disown our friendship and take back all my CDs should I find you happy singing along to Hillary Duff Christmas.) In fact, taking both the answer and the signature line into consideration, any normal reader would perfectly understand your point. The point of my response was not to criticize your answer as a whole; it was just to point out the problems inherent in your actual answer to the question (that is, "no"). It was an approach vaguely reminiscent of formal semantics, which means, of course, that pragmatics plays no role, and one must base all interpretation entirely on logic. Moreover, 88 people out of a hundred would have read your actual answer, regardless of signature line, as sufficient to indicate that you do not, in fact, like Hillary Duff. I just wanted to speak up for the irritating 12% of the population. Precision, dear Opto, precision.

As a side note, you should not suggest to me that I "look beyond the words," as the words are all the information the readers have about your feelings on this question. Rather, you should suggest to me that I "look beyond the narrow formal semantics approach to the words in my actual response to the question and use pragmatics in looking at the words in my signature line." In any case, yours is a moot point anyway because I, and I presume most of our readers as well, had no actual difficulty in interpreting your intended meaning.


PS: Have you taken the new test yet? For the question "if you're reading something, which of these flaws in the writing bothers you the most?" the purple response is "statements close to the truth, but not as precise and accurate as they could be." I exhort you to take note of this as you consider continuing this argument.