January 08, 2005

Our indoor or outdoor pool

Like Mark, I'm at the LSA annual meeting at the Marriott in downtown Oakland. And in my room there is a binder detailing guest services, and on one page of that I read the following sentence. Study it closely.

During your stay, you can enjoy a relaxing swim in our indoor or outdoor pool or take advantage of our state-of-the-art equipment including StairMasters®, treadmills and LifeCycles®.

What does that mean to you? How many pools are there? The wordingis utterly baffling. If there is one pool, and it is indoors, they could just say "in our indoor pool". For an outdoor pool, they could say outdoor pool. Even if they didn't know (if the sheet had been printed from standard Marriott boilerplate before the hotel was designed and built), they could just have said "in our pool". But what could possibly justify saying "in our indoor or outdoor pool"? One has to assume that there are two, one indoor and one outdoor. Consider someone who said, "I will pick you up in my Ford or Chevrolet pickup truck." One would have to assume the man had two trucks.

But there weren't two pools. Barbara and I spent a frustrating and unhappy quarter of an hour roaming the 4th floor in swimming apparel, hunting for the alleged indoor pool. Outside it was grey, windy, and raining — California is being battered by winter storms right now. When we gave up the hunt and returned to our room to learn by phone that there was no indoor pool, we felt distinctly cheated. It's sometimes a rather subtle business to interpret badly or puzzlingly written prose (as you may recall from this recent legal story). But after long and embittered reflection, I see no possible honest construal of "in our indoor or outdoor pool" as uttered by a hotel that has just one forlorn pool outdoors on a rainy, windy rooftop.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at January 8, 2005 01:15 PM