March 30, 2005

Pick a site, any adjunct site

Another one for the WTF grammar file: a San Diego lawyer, who had at least once faced Johnnie Cochran in court, was interviewed for a local news spot on Cochran's death yesterday. The lawyer (whose name I unfortunately didn't catch) said that Cochran cared about people, and added:

I think that was clear from the day that I certainly met him.

I know that I've seen or heard examples like this before, where an adverb shows up in a spot where it doesn't seem to belong. In this case, I'm fairly sure the lawyer did not intend certainly to modify met; he meant it to modify was clear in some way.

My suspicion is that the lawyer added the certainly as an afterthought because he wanted to be more definitive about his claim than what was otherwise suggested by his introductory hedge (I think). But note that if the adverb had been placed in the "right" spot, it would have still sounded strange (to me, at least) simply due to the semantic incompatibility with the (now more proximate) hedge:

I think that was certainly clear from the day that I met him.

I do wish I had a sound clip to share, because I think the lawyer's intonation is relevant here. To my (relatively untrained) ear, the I before certainly met was higher-pitched (and lengthened), in such a way that it indicated to me that the lawyer was contrasting his experience of meeting Cochran with the possibly different experiences that others may have had. If this is right, then it's possible that he may have intended for certainly to modify a separate, unexpressed be clear as in the following paraphrase:

I think that was clear; it was certainly clear to me from the day that I met him.

Meaning (roughly): "I think it was clear to everyone that Cochran cared about people, but if not everyone, it was certainly clear to me." Since the second be clear was not expressed, though, certainly was tossed up in the air and just happened to land in (what I consider to be) a WTF site.

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Posted by Eric Bakovic at March 30, 2005 02:19 PM