April 07, 2006

WTF coordination in the bullpen

Here's another gem from Ball Four by Jim Bouton, who clearly has a keen ear for ballplayer-talk. Bouton's no-holds-barred memoir recounts the 1969 baseball season, during which time he pitched for a short-lived expansion team, the Seattle Pilots. An aging knuckleballer, Bouton spent much of the season in the Pilots bullpen hoping to be called in for relief appearances. He describes a game where the starter Steve Barber runs into trouble in the fifth inning (the inning that a starting pitcher needs to complete to get credit for a win), while he and fellow pitcher Fred Talbot wait anxiously in the bullpen.

In the fifth, when Barber walks a couple, the call comes — for me. With two out I'm all set to go in and collect my Big W when Barber, the rat, goes ahead and gets the third out on a pop-up. Says Talbot: "Ah, sit down. No chance now. All you can get is a save or your ass kicked in."

(Even though he missed out on his chance at a win or "Big W," Bouton came in to pitch the last four innings and got a save, not his ass kicked in.)

Talbot provides a lovely in-the-wild example of what Neal Whitman calls "cross-subcategorization complement-complement coordination" — or "WTF coordination," to use the snappier term used by folks around Language Log Plaza. One of the examples Neal gives in his 2004 Language article "Semantics and Pragmatics of English Verbal Dependent Coordination" (available in PDF form here for subscribers to Project Muse) also incorporates an unlike coordination of complements for get:

It makes it tough for him to get [his things done] and [to bed on time].

Each of these examples involves the coordination of a passive "small clause" complement for get: [your ass kicked in], [his things done]. (See Nicholas Fleischer's recent CLS paper for more on get with passive complements.) By coordinating an NP complement ([a save]) with a passive complement ([your ass kicked in]), Fred Talbot's comment resembles another of Neal's examples, this time with the verb need:

He also needs [a refill on his juice] and [his diaper changed].

Neal credits the above exempla to his sister-in-law and his wife, respectively. I wonder if he married into the Talbot family.

Posted by Benjamin Zimmer at April 7, 2006 06:13 PM