Sex with Senator Bob Taft?

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Last Friday, Bill O'Neill decided to "speak up on the behalf of all heterosexual males" by posting this on Facebook:

Since O'Neill is a justice of the Ohio State Supreme Court, and a declared candidate for governor of Ohio, this occasioned a certain amount of commentary.

Since this is Language Log and not Patriarchy Discussion Log, I'll focus on the garden path created by the substring

In the last fifty years I was sexually intimate with approximately 50 very attractive females. It ranged from a gorgeous personal secretary to Senator Bob Taft (Senior) who was my first true love

This is clearly the PP-attachment ambiguity of the year. A small sample of the commentary on Twitter:

Ben Mathis-Lilley ("Ohio Gubernatorial Candidate Inadvertently Announces He Made Love to Senator Bob Taft in a Hayloft", Slate 11/17/2017) suggests that

I think he means Bob Taft Jr., because Bob Taft Sr. died in 1953 and Bill O'Neill was born in 1947.

Even correcting the reference to Robert Taft Jr., the timeline is a bit odd, since he became senator in 1971, when O'Neill would have been 24 — the hidden revelation would then be that O'Neill managed to live through the 60s, from age 13 in 1960 to age 23 in 1970, without any sexual experience.



  1. Gregory Kusnick said,

    November 19, 2017 @ 3:35 pm

    Even in the updated version, he still seems to be saying that his "true love" for the gorgeous blonde ended with a gorgeous redhead.

  2. Ray said,

    November 19, 2017 @ 5:44 pm

    "blonde." "red head." lordy.

    is he posting to the personals?

  3. djw said,

    November 19, 2017 @ 6:12 pm

    Since I have a redheaded granddaughter, I thought this one was the outcome of the affair with the secretary and wondered how she felt about the other 49 women in her father's life. This is really getting too bizarre….

  4. S Frankel said,

    November 19, 2017 @ 7:24 pm

    "Attachment ambiguity." Exactly the right term.

  5. Rebecca said,

    November 19, 2017 @ 9:11 pm

    This post just served as a reminder to me that I am constitutionally unable to remember how to pronounce Gallipolis until I’ve first pronounced wrong (ie, stressed like ‘metropolis’). This even though I’ve only ever heard it pronounced as the natives do (ie GA-li-puh-LEES), as it was home to numerous elderly relatives. I’d blame the spelling, except I’d heard the name throughout my childhood, long before I ever saw it written.

  6. Keith Ivey said,

    November 19, 2017 @ 10:08 pm

    managed to live through the 60s, from age 13 in 1960 to age 23 in 1970, without any sexual experience.

    Not necessarily. It could be that his earlier experiences were not with "very attractive females" (as those are the only ones being counted in his statement).

  7. Yuval said,

    November 20, 2017 @ 12:07 am

    The Slate story makes a false accusation – the pronoun ("her parents") removes any ambiguity.

  8. Guy said,

    November 20, 2017 @ 1:22 am


    Couldn’t Bob Taft (Senior) have been his first true love and he made love to him in the hayloft of his secretary’s parents’ barn?

  9. Neal Goldfarb said,

    November 20, 2017 @ 2:28 am

    This garden-path sentence gets an A+ in unintentional allusiveness. In The Language Instinct, Pinker talks about attachment ambiguities, and one of his examples was, "We discussed sex with Dick Cavett."

  10. Eleanor said,

    November 20, 2017 @ 4:31 am

    "… sexually intimate with approximately 50 very attractive females."

    That choice of word seems like a big hint that they may have come from more than one species.

  11. BlueLoom said,

    November 20, 2017 @ 7:58 am

    @Eleanor: When I read "50 very attractive females," I immediately thought that this was going to turn out to be about golden retrievers and yellow labs, not people.

  12. Emily said,

    November 20, 2017 @ 9:52 am

    And that last one may be a duck

  13. BZ said,

    November 20, 2017 @ 1:06 pm

    It's not an ambiguity. It's a mistake which results in only one possible interpretation. He's basically saying "It ranged from X and ended with Y". That is not a valid construction. It should either be "It ranged from X to Y" or "It started with (from is a bit odd) and ended with Y". The only half-way intelligible parsing of what was actually written is "It ranged from X to Y and ended with Z". It's not the best formulation either, because it requires the range to not be a time range, but an unspecified metric, and specifies an end but not a start. Either way, Senator Bob Taft must be interpreted as a female and O'Neill's first true love in the only grammatical reading.

  14. Ryan said,

    November 20, 2017 @ 4:00 pm

    Why are people making fun of him for referring to the women as "females", when he refers to himself as a "heterosexual male"? If anything, this shows that Bill O'Neill can't seem to turn off his lawyer/politician habit of pompous verbosity. Which would probably also explain his use of the phrase "was sexually intimate".

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