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Compulsory or optional?

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Compulsory or optional?

Postby raymond » Fri Aug 11, 2006 10:36 am

In the following two sentences, is the use of that in asterisk compulsory as in 1) or optional as in 2)? It seems that the meaning of that in asterisk is implicit in the meaning of the second part of 2) and therefore its omission causes no concern for ambiguity.

1) We often interpret people’s nod as an affirmative reaction, or that* when they stare at us, they show interest in us, without suspecting that they may give us a mixed message.

2) We often interpret people’s nod as an affirmative reaction, or when they stare at us, they show interest in us, without suspecting that they may give us a mixed message.

Will appreciate your comments. Many thanks.
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Postby skinem » Fri Aug 11, 2006 10:48 am

I believe number two is preferable. It's cleaner. The message is clear. The first is unnecessarily wordy in my opinion.
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Re: Compulsory or optional?

Postby Palewriter » Fri Aug 11, 2006 12:35 pm

raymond wrote:In the following two sentences, is the use of that in asterisk compulsory as in 1) or optional as in 2)? It seems that the meaning of that in asterisk is implicit in the meaning of the second part of 2) and therefore its omission causes no concern for ambiguity.

1) We often interpret people’s nod as an affirmative reaction, or that* when they stare at us, they show interest in us, without suspecting that they may give us a mixed message.

2) We often interpret people’s nod as an affirmative reaction, or when they stare at us, they show interest in us, without suspecting that they may give us a mixed message.

Will appreciate your comments. Many thanks.


I somewhat prefer 1). However, I think there's a problem with the tenses here. It works better with the present continuous tense, since the action takes place in a supposed present, defined by "when they stare..." Also, in my opinion, "people's" calls for plural nods.

Thus:

3) We often interpret people's nods as an affirmative reaction, or that, when they stare at us, they're showing interest in us without suspecting that they may be giving us a mixed message.

To split hairs a little, the case could also be made for using "affirmative reactions" or "interpret a person's nod as an affirmative..." But, on the whole, I think that 3) works as is.

-- PW (nodding)
"Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention to arrive safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming: Wow!!! What a ride!"
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Postby raymond » Fri Aug 11, 2006 10:11 pm

Quote:
[I somewhat prefer 1)]

Will appreciate your reasonings.

Quote:
[..."interpret a person's nod as an affirmative..." ]

I presume that in this case I need to adjust pronouns from "they" to "he." Isn't it?
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Postby Palewriter » Fri Aug 11, 2006 10:30 pm

raymond wrote:Quote:
[I somewhat prefer 1)]

Will appreciate your reasonings.

Quote:
[..."interpret a person's nod as an affirmative..." ]

I presume that in this case I need to adjust pronouns from "they" to "he." Isn't it?


OK Raymond. Let's see:

I somewhat prefer #1 because of the distance between the verbs. That's not to say that #2 is awful, but the farther the distance between verbs, the less easy it is for readers to link clauses in their heads back to an earlier verb. It just makes for clearer English.

The only reason I said "somewhat" is because I was having trouble with the tenses, so I couldn't really say okey to either #1 or #2 without qualification.

As for adjusting pronouns from "they" to "he", I don't think you need to at all, unless you have a VERY pedantic audience. But then you also run into the gender problem. What if the person we're talking about is a she? Does every sentence need to use the "he or she" or "he/she" workaround? Very tedious, I'd say.

Hope this helps.


-- PW
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Postby raymond » Sat Aug 12, 2006 9:31 pm

That's not to say that #2 is awful, but the farther the distance between verbs, the less easy it is for readers to link clauses in their heads back to an earlier verb.


I got a bit confused. Correct me if I am wrong. If the distance between verbs is a factor, then the omission of that in asterisk (as in 2)) should yield a shorter sentence which in turn should make it easier for the reader to echo back to an earlier verb. Isn’t it?

As for adjusting pronouns from "they" to "he", I don't think you need to at all, unless you have a VERY pedantic audience
.

If the use of “a person's nod …” does not affect the use of plural pronouns, one wonders whether the use of “somebody’ nod…” here is also acceptable in speech, if not in serious writing.
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Re: Compulsory or optional?

Postby sluggo » Mon Aug 14, 2006 1:16 am

I don't know if I'm smoking bananas or what, but neither of these sentences makes any sense at all to my eyes, with or without that. I'm unable to discern in what way the two statements on each side of the conjunction "or" might work with each other. :?:

1) We often interpret people’s nod as an affirmative reaction, or that* when they stare at us, they show interest in us, without suspecting that they may give us a mixed message.

2) We often interpret people’s nod as an affirmative reaction, or when they stare at us, they show interest in us, without suspecting that they may give us a mixed message.


First part speaks of a nod; second part of a stare. How are they related? Two different statements are being made. With what choice is "or" presenting us?

If the or/or that were replaced with, say, but, then the sentence starts to make sense, though I have no idea if this is the intended meaning.
We often interpret people’s nod as an affirmative reaction, but when they stare at us, they show interest in us without suspecting...

Breaking it into two sentences (dropping or/or that) also leaves two good statements, but again, is that the meaning?
We often interpret people’s nod as an affirmative reaction.
When they stare at us, they show interest....


Moreover it shifts from 1st person to 3rd after the conjuntion (we interpret... they stare), which adds to the confusion. It just begs a rewrite; I can't tell what's intended to be said, so the function of that is a mystery.

For the plural-posessive problem I'd definitely restate as "a person's nod".
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Re: Compulsory or optional?

Postby raymond » Tue Aug 15, 2006 10:07 am

[
quote="sluggo"]First part speaks of a nod; second part of a stare. How are they related? Two different statements are being made. With what choice is "or" presenting us?


Sorry for the confusion. I suspect I didn’t express myself well in the first place. The “that in asterisk” refers to what’s being interpreted in the second part of 1). The two clauses are linked together with an “or,” shading over into another possible interpretation. You may recall that in my original question I indicated something to the effect that the meaning of “that in asterisk” is implicit in the meaning of the second part of 2) and, as a result, its omission should cause no concern for ambiguity. Therefore I felt that the “that in asterisk” is optional, not compulsory. Not sure of myself, I solicited views to confirm (or to dispute, if you wish) my reasoning.
Your comments on this specific issue are welcome.
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Re: Compulsory or optional?

Postby sluggo » Tue Aug 15, 2006 6:11 pm

raymond wrote:
sluggo wrote:]First part speaks of a nod; second part of a stare. How are they related? Two different statements are being made. With what choice is "or" presenting us?


Sorry for the confusion. I suspect I didn’t express myself well in the first place. The “that in asterisk” refers to what’s being interpreted in the second part of 1). The two clauses are linked together with an “or,” shading over into another possible interpretation. You may recall that in my original question I indicated something to the effect that the meaning of “that in asterisk” is implicit in the meaning of the second part of 2) and, as a result, its omission should cause no concern for ambiguity. Therefore I felt that the “that in asterisk” is optional, not compulsory. Not sure of myself, I solicited views to confirm (or to dispute, if you wish) my reasoning.
Your comments on this specific issue are welcome.


Hi Raymond.
I do understand about the asterisk and the question of whether "that" is needed. Sorry if it wasn't clear.

What I do not get is what is being said in the sentence as a whole (regardless whether "that" is included or not). Therefore I don't know what the function of "that" is, just as I don't know what the function of "or" is here (though I think I do know what "is" is :wink: ).

The dilemma starts with "or", which usually denotes a choice between two things. As far as I see the two things are:

First part: we are interpreting (a nod)
Second part: they are staring
We and they are different voices (two different people are doing the action) plus, the actions themselves are different (first nodding, then staring), so "or" really can't connect them.

If we had:
"Either we are speaking a sentence, or we aren't"
-two possible conditions are presented by "or":
1) We are speaking a sentence
2) We are not speaking a sentence.
Likewise, "Was it a blue car, or a green one"
-gives two choices:
1) Was it a blue car?
2) Was it a green car?
But what I see here is more like:
"Are we speaking a sentence, or was it a blue car?"

Not to get technical for its own sake, but this prevents its meaning from coming across. Is it a statement about what we do or is it about what they do? Is it about nodding or or is it about staring? What choice does "or" refer to? I can't tell. :(

Thus: We often interpret a nod as either (a) affirmative, or else (b) - - - ? (we don't know, since apparently they have now moved on to a stare and are considering or failing to consider the effect therof (an action that takes place within him/her/theyself), which has no effect on how we might have interpreted their previous nod)...

After staring (but not nodding) at this puzzle for the better part of a week I just can't navigate it, so unfortunately the question of whether or not "that" is optional cannot be answered :? without knowing what is being said.
Last edited by sluggo on Wed Aug 16, 2006 9:57 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby tcward » Wed Aug 16, 2006 9:52 am

Raymond, I agree with Sluggo here. The entire sentence is a bit confusing.

Are you saying that nodding can send a mixed message? Is that why there is an 'or' there?

If that's what you're saying, then I would propose the following:

Original
We often interpret people’s nod as an affirmative reaction, or that* when they stare at us, they show interest in us, without suspecting that they may give us a mixed message.

Proposed Change
When people nod at us or stare at us, we often assume this is a positive reaction, when in fact it may be something entirely different.

I know this is a complete rewrite, but this is what I think you are trying to say. Am I correct?

-Tim
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Postby sluggo » Wed Aug 16, 2006 10:48 am

tcward wrote:Original
We often interpret people’s nod as an affirmative reaction, or that* when they stare at us, they show interest in us, without suspecting that they may give us a mixed message.

Proposed Change
When people nod at us or stare at us, we often assume this is a positive reaction, when in fact it may be something entirely different.


Thanks Tim- it could be thus, though I tend to infer a contrast:
"nodding = affirmative; staring... not so much"
--but it could go either way, or something else.

Skinem, PW, how did youse guise get through this?
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Postby tcward » Wed Aug 16, 2006 10:51 am

Sluggo, I agree. I was just trying to interpret the original intent. 'Twould be Raymond's obligation to defend the statement. ;)

-Tim
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Re: Compulsory or optional?

Postby raymond » Wed Aug 16, 2006 4:02 pm

sluggo wrote:[Not to get technical for its own sake, but this prevents its meaning from coming across. Is it a statement about what we do or is it about what they do? Is it about nodding or or is it about staring? What choice does "or" refer to? I can't tell. :(


Hi, Sluggo,
I will make another attempt to clarify the meaning of my sentence so that I will have a chance to hear your views on the original question that I raised.
One may argue that these two clauses actually describe two different actions and that the use of a we-clause juxtaposed (with an “or”) together with a they-clause makes the meaning of the entire sentence obscure (“we and they are different voices”), if not absurd – the result of using words glibly and without thought. However, it is possible to read the whole sentence, not as a description of actions but as an interpretation of behaviors. The “when they stare at us, they show interest in us, without suspecting that they may give us a mixed message” clause is a clause out of a compound-complex sentence. I embedded it in the sentence to fit it into a commonplace statement, with the omission of an explicit verb “interpret” that takes the clause out of a description, and into a matter-of-fact interpretation, of human behavior. If one takes on the meaning of the original sentence as a matter-of-fact interpretation of human behaviors ( nodding leaves in our mind a positive reaction and staring, an uncertain attitude (a mixed message)) – as opposed to a description of human behaviors – there emerges at once the question of “that in asterisk” used to imply what’s being interpreted in the second part of the setence. My point here is how should “that in astrisk” be treated?
The above explains the original intent of my sentence.

-- Ray (still anticipating your views on the original question I asked). :)
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Postby raymond » Wed Aug 16, 2006 4:10 pm

[quote="tcward"] 'Twould be Raymond's obligation to defend the statement. ;)

Hi, Tim,
Thanks for the suggestion. Please see the reply that I have just posted to Sluggo. In my reply, I tried to "explain," but not to "defend," my statement.:)


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Postby sluggo » Wed Aug 16, 2006 8:00 pm

Hi Ray- a quick thought to try to cut to the chase:

Leaving aside the relatively unimportant matter of voicing, these following two ideas:
1) We often interpret people’s nod as an affirmative reaction
and
2) (we interpret that) when they stare at us, they show interest in us, without suspecting that they may give us a mixed message

... being two distincty different things, are in no way mutually exclusive. We can interpret either a nod or a stare -or both- in different ways or in the same way, and to the best of my knowledge neither interpretation must influence the other. This throws "or" into question as to its role, which throws "that" into question as to its role. We are left with apples and oranges; the sentence itself is in all its glorious irony the mother of mixed messages.

The sentence cannot be read as a description of human behaviour (or anything else) if its meaning is unknown, so I'm still in the same place, my brain hurts like a Gumby, and I hope someone else with a more lucid eye will tackle this. Sorry I can't offer any opinion about "that". I believe the question as stated is unanswerable.
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