Crash Bag, Vol. 50: I Will Judge You For Misusing Heir Apparent

I was going to write last week that the success of the Phillies on a given night seemed to depend on whether or not I was watching, because for the first eight games, they were 3-0 when I didn’t watch the game and 0-5 when I did. And I’m a fairly well-reasoned person, not the type at all to give in to superstitions or small sample flukes.

But with that said, the Phillies are now 5-1 when I don’t watch the game and 1-9 when I do. I mean, that’s probably still just flukey. I can’t imagine a confluence of events in the evolution of the universe in which whether or not I watch the Phillies has any impact on whether or not they win. I’m just saying it’s getting to be a large enough sample where I’m starting to check my closet for poltergeists.

Question time.

@Jrmcgeev: “who’d be the coolest phillie to go to Mexico with.”

For nearly a year, I’ve been fielding Crash Bag questions along the lines of “What Phillies player would you most like to socialize with?” and every time I respond with Ryan Howard.

I’ve never been to Mexico, and while I enjoy Mexican food and mariachi music (which, to someone who’s spent the vast majority of his life in the northern parts of the United States, is what constitutes Mexico), I have no real desire to go there.

But I’m not going to act like re-enacting the Mexico trip Riggins, Street and Lyla took in Friday Night Lights with Howard, Cole Hamels and Ben Revere wouldn’t be an absolute laugh riot. Howard would be the life of the party, making iPod mixes for the car, always bringing around the next round of tequila shots, getting up and doing drunken karaoke the night before he’s supposed to have shark DNA therapy for his leg injury or whatever they were there for. Hamels would be the responsible one, making sure nobody got into trouble, and Ben Revere could laugh at everyone’s jokes. I would absolutely go to Mexico under these circumstances.

@KGEich: “If you had to carry the child of any phillies player, which player would you pick? Would they be a good father?”

Of course, if you spend all night out on the beach pounding back mezcal with Ryan Howard, and the moonlight hits the water in a certain way…well, sometimes you wind up pregnant.

As to whether Howard would be a good father, he’s already got a kid, of whom there don’t seem to be any rumors about destroying things or falling in with the wrong crowd, so that’s a good sign. Never having met the man and only judging him by his public persona, I like to think he’d be a good father.

That said, there’s only one way to find out. So if you want to go to Mexico, Ryan, I’m in.

@magoplasma: “I have to graduate in three weeks. What should I do with my life?”

Go to Mexico with Ryan Howard, Ben Revere and Cole Hamels. Get pregnant. Figure out the rest later.

@pivnert: “is there any realistic chance that the phils let cholly go before the end of the season?”

Not that I can see. Though I’m having a lot of fun imagining Uncle Cholly getting so angry at a missed call at the plate that he literally strangles Bob Davidson to death.

Charlie Manuel has presided over the greatest period of success in franchise history–five straight division titles, two pennants and a World Series–so I can’t imagine Ruben Amaro suddenly deciding that Manuel’s been the problem all year and cashiering him midseason, particularly given his age and contract situation. As I’m sure you know, the Phillies seem to be grooming Ryne Sandberg as Manuel’s heir…

…hang on a second, I’m going to get pedantic for a moment.

Whenever, in sports or politics, it looks like an older person is going to retire or step aside to make room for a younger person being groomed to succeed him or her in that position, the media insists on calling that younger person the “heir apparent.” Like Ryne Sandberg is Charlie Manuel’s “heir apparent.” Because it’s “apparent” that Sandberg will be Manuel’s “heir,” in which case it sounds like an  heir apparent is someone who might take over someone else’s job.

Except that’s not what heir apparent means. An heir apparent, in a royal line of succession, is guaranteed to take over the throne unless they change the rules. Is Ryne Sandberg guaranteed to be the Phillies’ next manager? Of course not. Ruben Amaro could hire Juan Samuel, or Manny Acta, or Jim Tracy, or Lou Brown or Roz from Monsters, Inc. if he wanted to. And you know what, that’s kind of a dick thing to do, call out a minor idiomatic error. Particularly when the idiom only survives in our lexicon when countries such as the United Kingdom continue to fetishize hereditary monarchy, the yoke of which which most right-thinking countries in the world threw off centuries ago when they tired of the way it perpetuated the oppression of the majority, often with a level of passionate violence appropriate for the dissolution of such a government.

Or it would be a dick thing to do if there weren’t already a name for someone who seemed likely to take over a given role, but was not guaranteed to do so. Ryne Sandberg is more accurately called the heir presumptive to Charlie Manuel, not the heir apparent. So get it right–I will judge you for misusing heir apparent.

I don’t even remember what I was writing about.

Oh, yeah, so Sandberg appears to be the heir presumptive to Charlie Manuel, but the thing is that field managers and coaches only get fired either for 1) gross professional misconduct or 2) when general managers fear for their own jobs and are looking for a scapegoat. Neither is the case right now. Ruben Amaro has no reason to suspect that his job is jeopardy. Not because he hasn’t run the Phillies into the ground with the panache of Evel Knievel failing to pilot the Skycycle across the Snake River Canyon, but because that’s just how much leash GMs get anymore.

@Cody011: “Sooooo… Who are the top prospects in this years draft?”

Right now it’s a two-horse race between two college pitchers: Mark Appel of Stanford and Jonathan Gray of Oklahoma. Earlier this week, Keith Law and Kiley McDaniel broke down the top of the amateur draft on the Behind the Dish podcast earlier this week, and since both of them know far more than I do about such things, you should go give that podcast a listen. You might know Appel because he was also the No. 1 overall prospect in last year’s draft, but when he fell to No. 8, he refused to sign with the Pirates and went back to Stanford for his senior year.

Also of interest: the ongoing draft coverage at The Crawfish Boxes, the SB Nation site for the Houston Astros. The Astros have the No. 1 overall pick, so those folks (including Jordan Sams, who may be a familiar face to the readers here after his time at Liberty Ballers) have been going all-out breaking down the potential top picks throughout the spring.

But apart from Gray and Appel, you’re going to have to ask someone more knowledgeable than I am, because out of Law’s top 50 draft prospects, only one is from the SEC East.

@fotodave: “What’s your top five movies set in Boston?”

  1. The Departed. I know it’s easy to mock, but that movie has about as deep a roster of good actors as any major movie I can remember. I love movies that feel like you read them rather than watched them by the end, and this is one of them. I have no complaints. Okay, James Badge Dale wasn’t all that great. Almost no complaints. 
  2. The Social Network. I had the same reaction to this movie being announced that I did about Moneyball–well, it’s an important story from recent history, but I have no idea how they’re going to make this into a decent movie. ButMoneyball largely played it safe, down to wimping former college football player Paul DePodesta down into a flaccid stereotype played by Jonah Hill and employing a game but kind of limp noodle Brad Pitt in the lead role. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adore Brad Pitt. But it seemed like he took Billy Beane too seriously and went a little conservative in the role. Brad Pitt’s at his best when he’s having fun in a role: Ocean’s ElevenFight Club, even those critically panned movies I love like Spy Game and Meet Joe Black.
    I mean, look at Inglourious Basterds. He was TERRIBLE in that movie, putting on perhaps the worst fake Southern accent I’ve ever heard. But it seemed like he was having a laugh riot in that role, and that translates to the viewer having fun.
    Anyway, where Moneyball was kind of conservative, David Fincher took the founding of Facebook and made it an opportunity to just get up to his thighs in the inherent weak, manipulative and sinful nature of man, which is how I like my fiction.
  3. Good Will Hunting. Maybe I should just marry Matt Damon. Gus Van Sant, I feel, is one of those directors who needs to have boundaries set for him. Good Will Hunting was phenomenal, I think, because the story was just so imaginative. But apart from Robin Williams, I’m not sure that it featured a single above-average acting performance. Which isn’t Van Sant’s fault. But I remember watching Elephant and being left thinking that the movie had made profound statements about 1) the Columbine shootings and 2) how badly Van Sant wants you to know that he’s DIRECTING REALLY REALLY HARD. Anyway, I liked Good Will Hunting a lot.
  4. Mystic River. Sean Penn wants you to how hard he’s acting even more than Gus Van Sant wants you to know how hard he’s directing. Which might be why my favorite thing about Milk was Victor Garber’s insistence on coming to the office and putting on a workmanlike performance in the shadow of so many weirdo egomaniacs. Victor Garber in Milk is like Robert Horry on the turn-of-the-century Lakers.
  5. The Town. I would have absolutely loved this movie if I hadn’t seen the trailer so many times. I don’t know that it’s anything a whole lot better than an East Coast version of Heat with better actors (which Jon Hamm managed to pull off with much less shouting than Al Pacino did). Mostly I mean to say this: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a heist movie I didn’t like.

@MisterBrendan: “question: how do all the ships in BSG have gravity? This bothers me now.”

Just like the seminal line in Thank You for Smoking, it’s a one-line fix. I love space opera as much as the next guy, and much of my favorite fiction would be impossible if they had to either account for weightlessness all the time or make it so everything had to be on a rotating disc to create enough centripetal force to keep everyone’s feet on the ground. Yawn.

I’m glad they ignored that particular bit of scientific minutiae, as well as several others, in Battlestar Galactica. Because I like scientific accuracy, but not as much as I love the pseudo-submarine-warfare ideal of barking out contacts and bearings and “Set Condition One throughout the ship. Launch the alert fighters.” Even if the idea of a combo-submarine/aircraft carrier in space is impractical.

@Wzeiders: “If the NL gets the DH, then the AL will want 2 DHs, where will it end? #slipperyslope

Where, indeed? I think we all know that one league’s worth of the designated hitter has allowed indolence to sneak into our society. This is an indisputable fact. But two leagues’ worth? Let’s just say that I’m more proud of this, from a moral standpoint, than perhaps anything else I’ve ever written.

@uublog: “How can we go about overthrowing Rube and who should we replace him with? Are you busy the next couple years?”

You’ve got to be patient. General managers get to fail to build a winner, then they get to wait too long to scrap it all and rebuild, then they get to fail at the rebuild before they get canned. I’ve already gone on the record as saying that I think I’ll watch the next Phillies playoff game with my son or daughter.

Let me answer your question by quoting another:

@DarylIT: “Does it really matter who is in charge when they finally decide to jump they are all going to crashbag at the bottom.”

Which, I feel, is a pretty good metaphor for the 2012/13 Phillies, even if he was talking about something else entirely.

@Bennyc50: “Why does it seem so many Twins bloggers/tweeters follow the Philly ones more than others?”

Is that so? I think the Twins have a lot of good bloggers for a team that bad in a city that podunk. I know I can vouch personally for my Water Brother, Mike Bates, who is a Twins blogger/tweeter, and whose work (most conspicuously for SB Nation) is a must-consume for any serious baseball fan.

I’m not sure what the point of that was, except to create an excuse to call someone my Water Brother.


@SoMuchForPathos: “Which television characters would make great baseball GMs?”

Cannot attempt to create an exhaustive list. Television is too vast and baseball too complicated. So here are a couple ideas:

  • Don Draper. Because it takes a lot of imagination to believe that a silver-tongued, Machiavellian creative genius could run a ballclub. I’m pretty sure Don Draper was based on the young Pat Gillick.
  • Lt. Cmdr. Data. He’d be possessed of an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball, and would probably solve most of the bedeviling problems in modern baseball analysis just on his own. He’d politely fleece the Twins and Phillies routinely. “Well, sure, Mr. Data. We’ll give up Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton for An Established Closer. You do drive a hard bargain.” But there’s something about Data’s naivete that makes me wonder if Alex Anthopoulos or Jeff Luhnow wouldn’t take him to the cleaners just as often.
  • Stringer Bell. I could actually imagine Stringer being an MLB GM more than any other fictional character. He just seems like the well-meaning, ambitious, intelligent guy who finds himself out of his depth and doing…well…as Ruben Amaro did.
  • Jamie Lannister. He could probably talk me into giving him Justin Upton for a plate of spaghetti.

I apologize for this being something of a truncated Crash Bag, but there’s no shortage of other good stuff for you to read this week from the Crashburn folks. Let’s run those down right quick:


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  1. Jesse

    April 19, 2013 07:33 AM

    People misuse “heir apparent” confusingly as often as they misuse “direct descendant”. Listen, folks, if you’re not reading a will from royalty (or at least minor (Lichtensteinische even) nobility) the word is “descendant”. In crazy fiefdom-influenced olden times, “direct descendant” in your testament was the only way to get those good-for-nothing second cousins and great-uncles from claiming your peerage. So Farnsworth is not Fry’s direct descendant — well, he is, but it’s redundant — just his descendant.

  2. SJHaack

    April 19, 2013 07:56 AM

    ooh. OOOH. Next time do “begs the question”. I love hating that.

    And Bill graphing the time periods. Man, classic.

  3. Ryan

    April 19, 2013 08:49 AM

    You are hereby banned from watching the Phillies for the rest of the season. Thanks.

  4. Scott G

    April 19, 2013 09:35 AM

    I hate when people say “could care less”. The phrase is said in an attempt to convey that the speaker doesn’t care at all. In which case, they mean to say “couldn’t care less”. If you COULD care less, you care some amount more than not at all.

    And “5 (or any plural) RBI “… but that’s already be argued on a Crashburn thread.

  5. Phillie697

    April 19, 2013 11:01 AM

    @Scott G,

    They actually really mean the same thing, but just from two different angles. “Couldn’t care less” means “I care, but about as little as one can care,” which is to say I care very little. “Could care less” means “I could care about this, but I don’t really give a shit,” which also says I care very little. Your “error” is assuming that the person who says “I could care less” actually cared at all.

  6. Pmonge

    April 19, 2013 11:43 AM

    does any other team not tie that game in that situation in the 9th? so damn irritating.

  7. Scott G

    April 19, 2013 11:50 AM


    My argument would be that you’re making that the case (the 2nd half of your sentiment) because so many people say it erroneously. I obviously know what they mean, but to have the ability to care less IMPLIES that the person cares some amount. It is not technically possible to say “I could care less” while actually not caring at all.

  8. Phillie697

    April 19, 2013 01:10 PM

    @Scott G,

    This is what happens on Fridays, people argue over nothing 🙂

  9. JM

    April 19, 2013 02:17 PM

    I know I could care less….really, I do care, but not a lot…

  10. Miguel

    April 19, 2013 02:43 PM

    Can we just get rid of the redneck right wing nutball, Papelbon? He’s a freakin’ moron.

  11. Oliver

    April 19, 2013 03:39 PM

    I read the title and was instantly reminded why this is my favorite Phillies feature.

  12. LTG

    April 19, 2013 04:42 PM

    So, there’s evidence that idiomatic phrases are not processed compositionally but rather as single lexical items. For example, ‘he let the cat out of the bag’ is processed at once as if the whole sentence were a word meaning ‘he revealed something that was supposed to remain secret’. It is possible that ‘I could care less’ is like this. We all know what it means whenever it is said and are completely untroubled by the miscomposed literal meaning until we reflect on it, which is to say precisely when we are not just using it. If this is right, then I don’t think that people who say ‘I could care less’ meaning ‘I don’t care’ are making a mistake.

    ‘Begs the question’, on the other hand, bothers me. Of course, the phrase publicly means merely ‘raises a question’. Nevertheless, people still use it as if it meant ‘argues in a vicious circle’ because they use it to object to an argument. But raising a question in an argument is not by itself objectionable–indeed, it is unavoidable–whereas arguing in a vicious circle is always objectionable. I guess this is because people hear the phrase used as an objection and assimilate the public meaning that does not constitute an objection to the technical meaning that does. I just wish they wouldn’t. It would make question and answer periods run more smoothly.

  13. LTG

    April 19, 2013 04:47 PM

    The comment about idiomatic phrases probably applies mutatis mutandis for ‘heir apparent’ and ‘direct descendant’.

    Also, I always thought direct descent was opposed to indirect descent, which would be if a person were related to a close relative (sibling or first cousin) of the ancestor in question. So, thanks for disabusing me, Jesse.

  14. Scott G

    April 20, 2013 12:47 AM


    I probably didnt comprehend anything you just said, but I’d still maintain that the first person to ever say “I could care less” messed up.

  15. Phillie697

    April 20, 2013 03:34 AM


    is proof that RAJ needs to be canned so that there is actual worthy baseball to talk about here before we all go nuts.

  16. NickFromGermantown

    April 20, 2013 07:35 AM

    I think I almost threw up in my mouth at the thought of Juan Samuel being manager.

    I will now use this time to point out that it’s amazing how much of a drop-off we’ve had at first base coach. Whether it was spilling the beans on Chase Utley’s knees or asking for an extra $100,000 (versus, you know, Ryan Howard’s $65,000,000), losing Davey Lopes has been huge. Although I can’t fault them for trying, it was amusing seeing them run Sam Perlozzo out there with a stopwatch. Meanwhile, Juan Samuel on the other side of the diamond was tearing his rotator cuff from furiously sending people home. With Juan Samuel now at first, whatever advantage we once had is surely gone.

    It’s sad that the Phillies let this happen over something that was likely trivial. If Juan Samuel became manager, I think I would have to make the A’s my primary team as the Phillies would have become unbearable at this point.

  17. Jesse

    April 20, 2013 09:00 AM

    LTG, in that circumstance an “indirect descendant” is not a descendant at all, but would be called such only in probate matters. Hence why we only used to hear the term re: royalty, because they had complicated wills and lots of long-lost “descendants” who were like, “I’m the oldest child of your grandfather’s younger brother, so I should inherit ___ before your child!” under the claims of being a prior descendant, although indirect over direct.
    We, fortunately, are rarely privy to such conversations anymore. But people still want to say things like so and so is a direct descendant of Groucho Marx like it means something other than a descendant of him.

    And yeah, idioms are parsed as single lexical units — but only by people who know them! So Scott G is totally right. Living language changes and collectively we shouldnt be so grumpy, but I think MB’s beef is not stodgy prescriptivism but valid as there are two phrases and people are using one when they mean the other. I only have beef with language change when it moves toward inefficiency – like saying an extra word like “direct” or *adding* an apostrophe when it’s wrong and unneeded, e.g. to make plurals.

  18. LTG

    April 20, 2013 10:22 AM

    Of course Scott G is right about the first person, but that person existed a long, long time ago at this point. That person–and some early followers–might have been criticizable, but people today are not.

    So when you say that “people are using one to mean the other” what makes it the case that they mean the other and not just what the phrase means now? To me that looks akin to saying that a person who uses ‘hawk’ to refer to a kind of bird is mistaken because ‘hawk’ originally referred to a kind of tool. Although the phrase ‘heir apparent’ entered common use via a certain history, nothing makes the history binding for its current use.

    And why is efficiency a value language use ought to pursue? I can understand worries about the decrease of expressive power, although I doubt it ever really happens, but I don’t understand what makes efficiency a linguistic value. Isn’t some of the most beautiful language use rather inefficient?

    These criticisms of how phrases are publicly used strike me as misguided. They are presented as criticisms based on language incompetence, but they are really based on in-group/out-group norms. Surely, language has always been caught up in politicking. But that doesn’t mean we have to continue cloaking our politics in linguistic costumes.

  19. WayneKerrins

    April 20, 2013 01:44 PM

    Yeah that tyrannical Queen Elizabeth. Pushing 90 and imparting the fear of god into her suppressed subjects.
    Actually she has no real power and brings (net) billions into my debt ridden country.
    Maybe we should go for a Chavez or a Putin.
    Or set up that model of good governance you have over there.

    Actually, on reflection, you can keep your Constitution Michael.

  20. Jesse

    April 20, 2013 07:15 PM

    It’s not inefficiency of language itself, it’s the fact that some people are wrong and going about it in a dumb way.

    And don’t get me wrong, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool descriptivist. Perscripivists tend to, as a hallmark, be wrong. And yes, language is living and changing, but that doesn’t mean things are incapable of being wrong. For instance the schoolmarm’s refrain of “not ending a sentence in a preposition” or “not splitting an infinitive” – those are wrong. They are simply not actual rules of English grammar. Sure, stylistically they’re expected by some writing formats for certain audiences, but language is not writing, and speaking is not following these memorized rote rules (but, as I’m sure you know, other rules which we’re unaware of and employ without thinking – the linguistic definition of “grammar” and begrudgingly also called “rules”).
    I use “whom” about 80% of the time I should, but do I care if in 40 years nobody does anymore? No, that’s a natural change, and we’ve done fine for the past 300 or so years with the subject and the object of the much more common “you” being the same form.

    So your hawk example is not really the same thing, there’s no other way to refer to that particular type of raptor. There’s hundreds of better examples to that point, for instance “peruse” used to mean read carefully now has come to mean skim quickly. But that’s not wrong, that’s language change (though it started off as wrong). Word choice *can* be wrong. Calling a car a bicycle is wrong. It’s the wrong word, plain and simple, and if not a one-time goof it shows a lack either in one’s competence or performance.

    For example in terms of pure inefficiency, GSW. Perfect initialization in writing. But when speaking, why say that instead of “gunshot wound” – 3 syllables, instead of 5.
    Language change that’s wrong: “heir apparent” when what is meant is “heir presumptive” — these are different things and have different words because they express different thoughts and if two speakers don’t share the same idiolect as to what “heir apparent” means, a SNAFU is possible. Shouldn’t it be desired that if one is prone to conversations about heirs, one should learn the right terms? Would you have any faith in an electrician like Peter Stormare’s character in the Frogger episode of Seinfeld who called outlets “the holes”? Let’s suppose [x] is the thing itself and /X/ is the word for it. Isn’t it a bit arrogant to insist that *you* call [x] /Y/ when there is a word /X/ and there is a thing [y]? That inefficiency is not just about economy of ease of language, but interacting in a community – insisting on your own ignorance that others change the meanings of their words just so you don’t have to learn something?

    To combine them, inefficient and wrong, is when one adds an apostrophe S to mark it as plural or third-person conjugation. This wouldn’t be *that* bad if apostrophe S weren’t already used in those circumstances to mark possessives or contracted “is/has”s. It also wouldn’t be as confusingly bad if it weren’t an extra step. Why add length/keystrokes? For me, in my casual writing I seldom type an apostrophe for “wouldve” because that can’t mean anything else. But I always try to for “we’re”. And “wont” and “cant” are rare enough spelled as such, so sometimes I skip those too, even if doing so marks me as wont to cant.

  21. Steve

    April 20, 2013 08:30 PM

    Good lord, this is a damn baseball website, our team sucks and your comments are stupid, I believe there is a miss manners website the two of you can go have your idiotic debate. If you think anyone thinks “My how smart they are to be able to have an intelligent conversation over grammer and phrase usage!” you live in the wrong city and coast. Perhaps you can move to Atlanta or, better yet, SanDiego, where no one pays attention to their baseball teams anyway.

  22. Scott G

    April 20, 2013 08:56 PM


    The title of the post opened up the door for such comments if you ask me. Are you really trying to brag about not wanting to be able to hold intelligent conversation? Wow.


    That Frogger episode was just on the other day.

  23. LTG

    April 20, 2013 10:06 PM

    “And “wont” and “cant” are rare enough spelled as such, so sometimes I skip those too, even if doing so marks me as wont to cant.”

    Loved this line.

    Anyway, I didn’t mean to sound as if I am Noam Chomsky, claiming every person has an idiolect with perfectly valid semantics. It is possible to misuse words because it is possible to be mistaken about the public meaning of a term. I might use ‘deer’ to refer to rabbits because I mistook the object of the ostensive definition at the time I first heard the word. If I go around talking about rabbits by saying ‘deer’, I’m really not talking about rabbits at all. I’m wrong linguistically.

    That said, the semantic facts that determine right and wrong usage are community-relative. And it seems to me incorrect to apply the norms of one community to the language use of a member of a different community. And this is precisely what seems to be happening in the ‘heir apparent’ case. The people to whom MB refers are not part of the community where the heir apparent/heir presumptive distinction matters. They are not in the business of talking about heirs, at least in a technical way. Since no miscommunication arises with this use and the above distinction can be reconstructed by other linguistic means, I don’t see a specifically linguistic reason to criticize this use of the phrase. Modern usage has shifted here as it has with other things. And it is no surprise that it shifted because the context in which the original distinction was relevant (monarchies and landed aristocracy) has disappeared from the life of the average person. Insisting on using ‘heir apparent’ in its original meaning seems more likely to create miscommunication with the average American English speaker than relenting to modern common usage would. It is possible my judgment about common usage is incorrect, in which case I’m wrong about the case.

    The Frogger case strikes me as disanalogous for the obvious reason that ‘holes’ is not a word commonly used to refer to outlets.

    I’m still not sure what you mean to say about efficiency. Is it that you value efficiency in how you use language? Or that this is a general aim of language use? Surely, in some contexts we adopt efficiency as a value for how we use language, but not in all and not generally. No?

    Oh and baseball… Go Sawx?

  24. Scott G

    April 21, 2013 10:16 AM


    I don’t know that I’ll ever agree on this. You’re admitting that heir “apparent” (as now used) and “could care less” are technically not correct, but you’re willing to let it pass/call it correct? Why put the burden of right/wrong/weeding through meaning on the people who are correct rather than those who don’t realize, and are therefore wrong.

    apparent has a meaning. So when people use this phrase it’s wrong.

    the collection of words could-care-less means one thing, but people use it to mean the opposite when I think it was merely a blunder that resulted in someone “could” rather than “couldn’t”.

    Just because you and I know what they mean, that makes it okay?

  25. LTG

    April 21, 2013 11:58 AM

    Scott G,

    You’re misunderstanding my claim. First, the analyses of ‘heir apparent’ and ‘could care less’ are different. The latter is just an idiom whose linguistic meaning is independent of it compositional semantic meaning like ‘let the cat out of the bag’ or ‘the whole nine yards’. The blunder caught on and now that is just what the phrase means when uttered in most contexts. (I find it hard to remember a scenario, or imagine a plausible one, where someone would say, “I could care less…” and mean its compositional meaning.) Those who use it in the idiomatic sense use it correctly. The former is a quasi-technical phrase, whose meaning was narrowed for specific purposes. As the phrase remained but the purposes departed, the phrase’s meaning got reinterpreted into the broader sense of ‘apparent’, as in ‘that which appears’ rather than ‘that which is manifestly true’. (Or at least this is the sort of story I would tell if I’m right that the public meaning has changed; if not, I’m wrong.) Unless the average speaker is in the technical context, she uses the phrase correctly when she uses it in its public meaning. If she is in the technical context, then the mistake seems to be an ignorance of useful distinctions–i.e., an ignorance of the phenomena–rather than a linguistic mistake (or, since I worry about a strong distinction between phenomena and language, a merely linguistic mistake).

    Second, I’m not claiming that those who use ‘heir apparent’ in its original sense are linguistically wrong to use it that way and the same goes, obviously, for those who say ‘couldn’t care less’. Semantics are flexible and negotiable on the fly. Words and phrases are ambiguous, getting temporarily refined by uses in particular contexts. I have no interest in privileging some contexts over others in linguistic analysis. This doesn’t mean semantic mistakes are impossible, but they are probably rarer than we tend to believe.

    Third, I would not say that language use is licensed whenever the hearer can figure out what the speaker means to say. People can say obvious wrong things like, “Hand me the scissors,” while pointing to a knife, yet we can figure out what they mean. This does not entail no linguistic mistake was made. In cases like that we use relevance to correct for the speaker’s word choice. Psychologically, this is often marked by a moment of confusion (a brief “does not compute” if you will). When there is no psychological interruption in the processing, I start to suspect that no semantic error was made. That’s just what the word means then and there. Obviously, the psychological standard is questionable and a more thorough theory would have to cash it out in more precise terms. But this is the kind of evidence that seems relevant when considering whether a word bears a particular meaning. Of course, I don’t think word meanings are only in an individual’s head; so, the evidence has to be taken over a whole language-community.

  26. Scott G

    April 22, 2013 11:10 AM

    I think I’m only really focusing on your first paragraph. So, if I say something wrong enough, and it catches on, it because acceptable?

    I also don’t see “I couldn’t care less” in the same light as “the whole 9 yards” or “let the cat out of the bag”.

    I couldn’t care less is a group of words that’s used to mean exactly what is said. The other phrases don’t really have any direct meaning.

  27. Jesse

    April 22, 2013 12:10 PM

    Small quibble with: “Semantics are flexible and negotiable on the fly. Words and phrases are ambiguous, getting temporarily refined by uses in particular contexts.”

    What you’re referring to there are pragmatics, not semantics. Semantics is more or less fixed.

    What I was referring to as “efficiency” and by “economy of language” is precisely that woe the world where people who are both native speakers of the same dialect are only able to just “eventually figure out what is meant” instead of speaking clearly. This isn’t problematic to you? Forget about contracts and laws where either party can just assume what is meant, that’d be a world in which it’d be damned near impossible to even go to the corner store and buy a bag of chips.
    Sure, there’s a time and a place for novel uses and poetry and comedy would be bereft if there weren’t, but in the interests of the speech community standards need to be observed. That’s why there are standard dialects which need to be taught and mastered if you want to communicate with the larger language community – a dialecta franca, if you will. Since “heir apparent” is not idiomatic (though metaphoric, so the first step to idiom) it isn’t subject to the same rules as idioms. It is a case of calling a knife “scissors”, but unlike in a pointing context it is not clear if the speaker is actually referring to a heir apparent or a heir presumptive. Just like if there were a knife and a scissors on the table. So the conversational economy is not optimal if the audience has to ask the speaker “do you mean the knife or the scissors?” every single time an item is requested. It only makes sense to assume that people know what they’re talking about and react/understand accordingly, and the 1% of the time the speaker messed up to allow the non-optimal re-exchange as they correct themself, “No, sorry I meant the knife, did I say “scissors”? Wow…” rather than 100% of the time constantly questioning what our coloquitors mean.

    Scott, the other phrases did use to have actual meaning. Letting the cat (originally a pig I believe) out of the bag was as real a thing as getting one’s goat (that had something to do with fucking with a rival’s horse because goats were used to train them to pace them or something) and the whole nine yards still exists where we say someone is “dressed to the nines”. What LTG is referring to is idiomatic lexicalization (also sometimes called “idiomatic chunks”) where something goes from real referent to metaphor to meaningless expression – but what’s important about them is they can’t be syntactically rearranged. “Jim kicked the bucket” can be literal or idiomatic, but “The bucket was kicked by Jim” can only be literal. LTGs argument is that while “I couldn’t care less” does have literal meaning, it’s also starting to be lexicalized as one chunk, and in the process be simplified to take out the negation. Like “Can[‘t] hardly wait”. Similar simplifications are found in things like “ice coffee/tea” instead of “iced”.

  28. Western Dave

    April 22, 2013 03:01 PM

    Can we start calling Ryne Sandberg “The Electress of Hanover” (an heir presumptive who never took the British throne because she died before Queen Anne leading us to George I). Please, please, please.

    Steve, Philly is not an anti-intellectual town. We’ve got Penn, Swarthmore, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and Drexel. Not to mention the Academy of Natural Sciences and the Library Company. And that doesn’t even count some of the smaller things like the Wagner Free Institute or the tremendous art culture. Atlanta and San Diego are pathetic in terms of intellectual culture (Emory has what? UCSD had a nice world history program for a while). Really, it’s Boston and Philly for this type of thing with New York and Chicago as recent interlopers.

  29. Jesse

    April 22, 2013 03:26 PM

    I can totally see Electress of Hanover being exclusively and exhaustively used in these circles like The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton.

  30. LTG

    April 22, 2013 03:45 PM

    Jesse is going to force me to put my cards on the table. I don’t think there is a hard distinction between semantics and pragmatics. And to really explain this takes a lot of technical notions. But basically I hold that sentences require pragmatic effects in order to mean a determinate thing *linguistically* in any utterance. The standing semantic contribution by individual words is at all times too indeterminate to express a single proposition. For this reason, word meanings are constantly available for negotiation in contexts where the speakers have not agreed on the proper application. (The now classic example of this is an argument over whether Secretariat is an athlete. The disputants don’t disagree over any of the facts besides whether ‘athlete’ should apply to Secretariat. More familiarly, see the dispute over whether a tomato is a vegetable. I’ve even seen a talk where someone argued that ‘a whale is a fish’ is true in some American dialects, e.g., New England fishing communities.) On this view, the whole context of accepted facts and reasonable inferences stabilizes meaning, rather than abstract word meanings. Of course, it also means that any particular application of a word could become questionable no matter how standard it seems here an now.

    That should help explain why I don’t think we need hard semantics to do the work you are talking about in terms of efficiency. (By the way, I once heard a talk about the evolution of language according to which preventing outsiders from understanding was just as important a value in language development as allowing insiders to understand. It strikes me as a tantalizing suggestion.)

    I don’t think we’ll ever agree on ‘heir apparent’. Unless you can produce evidence that ‘apparent’ doesn’t mean, at times, ‘what seems to be the case’, I don’t see how this is a linguistic mistake. Surely, those users are ignorant of the original context of the phrase and its precisified meaning, but what is the mistake they are making in linguistic processing? And if they aren’t in the aristocratic context where the phrase originated and everyone they talk to understands them, why should they adjust their use? Because they might miscommunicate with the last remaining Bourbon heir? In other words, the reason I don’t think it is like the scissor-knife case is that the word ‘apparent’ does sometimes mean what they are using it to mean, unlike ‘scissor’, and they are not in a context where the lack of precision matters.

    One question, why did you say that ‘heir apparent’ is metaphoric? What is the implicit comparison? I just took it to be a rather literal description of the heir as manifestly true or something like that (an old use of ‘apparent’ that is out of fashion anymore).

  31. LTG

    April 22, 2013 03:47 PM

    What if Sandberg gets the job? Then he’d just be George III or something…

  32. Jesse

    April 22, 2013 03:51 PM

    The last point is quickest answered: Because Ryne Sandberg isn’t in Charlie Manuel’s will.

    He’s a successor, which makes him only a metaphoric “heir”. He’s not inheriting Manuel’s estate, but being hired to replace him. Using heir apparent/presumptive in any non-probate context is metaphorical.

  33. LTG

    April 22, 2013 04:10 PM

    Oh, I see, I thought you meant the phrase is a metaphor even as originally used.

  34. Jesse

    April 22, 2013 04:14 PM

    What you’re describing as “semantics in context” is precisely what pragmatics is.

    “The standing semantic contribution by individual words is at all times too indeterminate to express a single proposition”
    Which is why pragmatics is used in an utterance. Semantics is at the “vacuum” level. So any sentence can have any and all semantically-allowed readings. But an utterance (even when written this is the word used) is a real world iteration and the speaker (with coy, glib, and other intentionally ambiguous intentions aside) has one meaning in mind. This is why pragmatics is necessary for sarcasm, because semantics would give the wrong reading.

    So the Secretariat issue is semantics. Tomato is an ingroup-outgroup distinction, as botanists and chefs have different needs to communicate – that’d actually be closer to a sociolinguistics domain. For the best explanation to pragmatic concepts look up Paul Grice’s Conversational Maxims – particularly how and when they’re “flouted”. Whereas semantics is mostly concerned with truth values and such matters as married bachelors and whether the present king of France is bald.

  35. LTG

    April 22, 2013 05:37 PM

    Yeah, I know Grice. His theory depends on semantics being sufficient to produce a proposition without pragmatic effects. All pragmatic effects are then just implicatures that follow from the previous assignment of a proposition to an utterance. But see Bach, Soames, and Recanati (who refers to his theory as ‘truth-conditional pragmatics’) for reasons why the pragmatics have to operate before any determinate proposition is assigned to the utterance. Recanati does not specify the pragmatic rules for this, but Soames essentially incorporates Grice’s Maxims into the processing of the original utterance. Implicatures are, of course, still possible but they are not the only way that pragmatics affect meaning. Pragmatics isn’t just to do with speaker meaning; it is also to do with sentence meaning.

    Just to clarify the indeterminacy of semantic meaning, the claim is that the range of possible readings is left wide open by the semantics. Any particular semantic constraint is defeasible, although not all are at once. Before the pragmatic effects set in there is not even a determinate range of meanings allowed by the semantics.

    And if you want something really weird, read Charles Travis’s arguments that abstract word meaning is not even a thing. I don’t go that far because I don’t think the arguments justify the conclusion. But Travis does and he’s a smart guy.

    My view is between Recanati and Travis. Recanati holds that word meanings are determinate enough that semantic processing alone could produce a proposition. It simply almost never does because that proposition only fits the utterance very rarely. I hold that words meanings are not determinate enough for the semantic processing to produce a proposition. But, unlike Travis, I still think there are abstract word meanings.

    On tomatoes, I’m pretty sure ‘vegetable’ isn’t a botanical term (whereas ‘fruit’ is), which is why I used the example. As far as I know, ‘vegetable’ just means the edible part of a plant (often, that isn’t a fruit in the traditional, non-technical sense).

  36. Marty

    April 26, 2013 06:05 PM

    Whoa! Both Michael and LTG use the linguistic oddity that is the positive “anymore”!

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