July 12, 2005

Vocatives we doubt ever got vocked

I have a long-standing interest in vocatives and other free-standing uses of NPs -- I am the author of "Hey, whatsyourname!" (Chicago Linguistic Society 10.787-801 (1974)), after all -- so I was entertained to see the vocatives that Merck & Co. advises its sales reps to use in pitching its drugs to M.D.s at social events organized by the company. This from training materials put together by Merck, as quoted in the July 2005 Harper's Magazine, pp. 16-7.

Merck provides "scenarios" for "transitioning" from small talk to a "HEL [Health Education Learning] situation" during a "dinner program". Two of the scenarios come with vocatives:

Scenario 3
Physician says: "What a great footgame yesterday. Did you see how effective Drew Bledsoe was in the fourth quarter? That guy is amazing."
Possible rep response: "Bledsoe is effective on so many levels. He's a leader, you feel safe with him carrying the ball, and he's a proven winner. You know who else sounds like that? Zocor, a market leader with an eight-year safe record, proven to save the lives of your patients. Physician, what concerns do you have about Zocor leading your team in the fight against congenital heart disease?"
Scenario 4
Physician says: "So, what plans do you have for the holidays?"
Possible rep response: "Well, my wife and I are going to visit my grandmother. It should be a lot of fun, though I feel so bad for her. She really has advanced osteoporosis and can't travel at all. She wasn't on any treatment plan for the longest time. Physician, what do you think the reasons are that some physicians don't do much about osteoporosis until it's in its advanced stages and nearly too late?"

No doubt the vocative "physician" is just a stand-in for a personal name -- "Dr. Krankheit" or "Otto" -- or the title that real people (rather than fictional sales reps) use when addressing M.D.s, namely "doctor". Anyone who used "physician" as a vocative (other than in the quotation, "Physician, heal thyself") would be looked at very oddly. But then anyone who uses the human question word who in reference to the drug Zocor is already not fully in the real world. Not to mention the lame twisting of the topic of conversation to suit Merck's interests.

The other two scenarios are equally entertaining, but lack vocatives.

zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at July 12, 2005 01:15 PM