December 01, 2003

Postcard from Vegas, 1: twilight-zone semantics

I spent the long Thanksgiving weekend in Las Vegas. (I may be a grammarian, but as grammarians go, I am a very sexy super fun wild and crazy guy, as I believe I have previously mentioned.) The linguist in Las Vegas will rapidly learn that this is a town with a twilight-zone semantics. Superlatives everywhere (the greatest, the finest, the best, the most chances of winning...); Elvises who aren't Elvis; signs saying things that are outrageously false (like the ones saying you can book to see Siegfried and Roy at the Mirage); free things not really free; even the term "Las Vegas" doesn't mean what you thought (all of the strip, from the Four Seasons and Mandalay Bay all the way up to Circus Circus and the Sahara, is in a place called Paradise, and is outside the boundaries of the city of Las Vegas, which most visitors never actually enter); nobody means the things they say. I told the server at a restaurant that I'd like the check now please, and the reaction, with a beaming smile, was, "Fantastic!" Now how could it be fantastic for me to want the check? Isn't such a request included in virtually every restaurant transaction script? I was baffled. Had a wonderful time, though. Best steak: The Steak House, at Circus Circus. Best music: by good luck, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons were in town, at the Orleans, and did an extraordinary show -- Frankie still has the wonderful voice heard on Sherry more than 40 years ago. Best show: Cirque du Soleil's show entitled "O", at Bellagio, is beyond belief -- fully worth the 3-digit ticket price.

My server's phraseology may have seemed to indicate that Vegas has a low fantasticness threshhold, but some of the things in Vegas are... well, just fantastic.

And I gathered some interesting data too... but that's a different postcard.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at December 1, 2003 02:48 PM