Anaphoric ambiguity of the week

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Obeying the sign:

See also "Another step towards gender equality", 8/20/2006, "Dogless in Albion", 9/12/2011, and John Wells on "carrying dogs", 3/15/2013.

[From here via Carmen Fought]


  1. Guy said,

    September 9, 2017 @ 5:07 pm

    Another ambiguity is that "if your dog poops" could mean "if and when the event of your dog pooping occurs" or "if it is generally true that your dog sometimes poops". In many contexts this ambiguity might be clarified by various markers of tense/aspect/mood but that kind of disambiguation is a little unnatural here".

    It's worth noting that the intended referent of "it" here is only present by being relevant to the discourse, there is no noun phrase denoting it that could be the "antecedent" in the traditional sense (although there is an antecedent for the alternative interpretation).

  2. Ray said,

    September 9, 2017 @ 5:17 pm

    I like that the sign uses Cooper Black typeface (same as Tootsie Roll)!

  3. Martha said,

    September 9, 2017 @ 5:49 pm

    Guy, what about just "If your dog poops in this park…"?

  4. Giles said,

    September 9, 2017 @ 7:19 pm

    Martha — but wouldn't picking up the park be rather hard work?

  5. D.O. said,

    September 9, 2017 @ 10:34 pm

    It's a jolly good photo. Are we sure it's not photoshoped?

  6. Lazar said,

    September 10, 2017 @ 12:52 am

    My favorite ambiguous imperative is "Drink responsibly." The intended meaning is "To the extent that you drink, do so responsibly", but you could take it as a general command for all people to drink, albeit responsibly.

  7. Roscoe said,

    September 10, 2017 @ 12:53 am

    "I like that the sign uses Cooper Black typeface (same as Tootsie Roll)!"

    And "Pet Sounds."

  8. unekdoud said,

    September 10, 2017 @ 1:19 am

    "If your dog poops pick it up please" also has a garden-path reading, suppressed here by the sign design.

  9. Graeme said,

    September 10, 2017 @ 5:01 am

    I goad all local governments to just erect "Your Pooch, Your Poo" signs

  10. Andy Stow said,

    September 10, 2017 @ 12:10 pm

    "Must have dog on leash." I guess I can't use the trail if I left my dog at home.

  11. Guy said,

    September 10, 2017 @ 12:30 pm


    Considering that I usually hear "drink responsibly" in ads for alcohol, I imagine the speakers are fine with the ambiguity and it may even be semi-intentional (at least in the sense that it conspicuously avoids mentioning abstention entirely).

  12. Ray said,

    September 11, 2017 @ 6:48 am

    all this reminds me of a sign that's posted on the wall surrounding the Friends Meeting House in Old City here in Philly:


    (it's as if they did a user survey and realized they needed the OF!)

  13. richardelguru said,

    September 11, 2017 @ 6:48 am

    It just goes to show….

         There’s no business like dog business,
         Like no business I know.
         Everything about it is appalling;
         Everything the neighbours will allow!
         Where else would you get that awful feeling,
         When you are scooping a load of poop….

  14. BZ said,

    September 11, 2017 @ 2:26 pm

    Isn't not drinking a subset of drinking responsibly?

  15. Seonachan said,

    September 12, 2017 @ 8:42 am

    In Leo Rosten's "The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N", Mr. Kaplan composes a letter to his uncle, telling him, "If your eye falls on a bargain, please pick it up." When the other students in the ELL class tease him for this construction, he says, "Mine uncle has a glass eye!"

  16. Jeff B. said,

    September 21, 2017 @ 2:17 am

    Thank God for pragmatics.

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