Friday, July 25, 2008

Low humor

A lot of humorous signage and announcements arise from our preference for low attachment (attaching a NP to the lowest possible node, or in a more linear sense, having it complement the most recent verb, preposition, etc.) I heard a nice one a little while ago on Jay Leno's Headlines segment on the Tonight Show. It was a wedding announcement that mentioned the couple's traditional Hawai'ian wedding, complete with "the blowing of the conch shell and Hawai'ian minister". The intended reading is [[the blowing [of [the conch shell]]] and [Hawai'ian minister]], with two separate NP's joined by the conjunction "and". The humorous reading results from the fact that we don't want to attach "Hawai'ian minister" high up on the tree where it is sister to "the blowing of the conch shell". We want to attach it way down low to "blowing", giving us something like [[the blowing [of [the conch shell] and [Hawai'ian minister]]]].