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« Offense as context-free grammar | Main | Hospital naming »

March 05, 2004



"In the first case, the parse is something like NP[odds against an audit] VP[are good], where the meaning of odds is exactly like the for/of cases discussed previously, and the odds in question are low. However, for the latter two, it's something more like S'[Rudy T's doctors like odds] PP[against diabetes], and the expression is meant to signify that the odds being discussed are highly likely, and favor the overcoming of whatever's against them."

I suppose I don't understand what you mean, because I think your second parse makes sense for the "Olympic swimmer" sentence, but... the way you have analyzed the "liking odds" sentence makes me all confuzzled.

Neal Whitman

I was interested in the negation thread, too, and wrote about my own favorite example--"I miss not seeing her"--a couple of months ago on my brother's blog:

Semantic Compositions

"confuzzled"? Is that a reference to this song?

The argument for the two sentences I grouped together is that "against X" is an adjunct in both cases, and that the parse is thus not "odds against X". The sentences both work without the against-phrase: "Rudy T's doctors like odds" and "Olympic swimmer defies odds". While the other one could also be reduced to "odds are good", it's not the same as the other cases because the structure that dominates the odds-phrase is different.

The phrases where some further description is a complement of the word "odds" are descriptions of the odds themselves. The phrases where "against X" is an adjunct are cases where the character of the odds has to be inferred from something else; in this case, "like" meaning that they're good, and "defies" meaning that they're bad.

I'm afraid that I'll have to dig up some more examples and write out some parse trees to make the analysis even more explicit, so it'll take me a few days. But I'm enjoying this one, so it's worth it.


I do love that song, but no, it's just a mix of "confused" and "puzzled."

I suppose I wasn't clear. I understood your analysis for everything but the "like odds" sentence; it's just that my intuitions are telling me in no uncertain terms that "against cancer" in that sentence is not an adjunct.

"Odds against an audit are good." What kind of odds? Odds against an audit. "Rudy T's doctors like odds against cancer." What kind of odds? Odds against cancer.

"Olympic swimmer defies odds against diabetes" -> "Olympic swimmer does so against diabetes." OK. "Rudy T's doctors like odds against cancer" -> "Rudy T's doctors do so against cancer." Huh?

(Of course, I may be all wrong, as usual.)

Roger Schlaifer

These discussions seem a bit oblivious to the realities of odds and probabilities. Check out this website-- a less pretentious--and more understandable use of odds--and a missleadingly simple=minded brand name.

bladder control

Well, confuzzled is a new word for me.

Sam Nisbett

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