Bad news for hunters and bears

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J.M. wrote to alert me to a frightening prospect for hunters and bears in Maryland, revealed by the Washington Post's Afternoon Buzz email newsletter:

The new hunting season opens today, with more hunters and more bears allowed to be killed.

Here the ubiquitous ambiguity of conjunction comes into stark relief:

[more hunters] [and more bears allowed to be killed]


[more hunters and more bears] [allowed to be killed]



  1. parkrrrr said,

    October 22, 2012 @ 3:05 pm

    Insert inevitable mention of Tom Lehrer song here.

  2. pj said,

    October 22, 2012 @ 4:04 pm

    @parkrrrr – quite! Any news on the quotas for game wardens and cows?
    I find 'allowed to be killed' a little infelicitous in itself. It seems rather to place the responsibility at the wrong end of the gun.

  3. ALEX MCCRAE said,

    October 22, 2012 @ 4:19 pm

    It's about darn time wild bears competed on a level killing-field with the hunters.

    I say give the clever ursine a couple of opposable thumbs and a few lessons in marksmanship, and those predatory 'bar stalkers' could be in some seriously deep doo doo. Just sayin'.

  4. Stephen Hilderbrand said,

    October 22, 2012 @ 4:20 pm

    I'm hearing the deer rejoice, for they have enemies on both ends of the conjunction.

  5. ALEX MCCRAE said,

    October 22, 2012 @ 4:27 pm

    Sorry. I must have been unwittingly channeling "The Far Side" cartoonist Gary Larson's warped sensibilities in that last post, with my wacky notion of gun-toting bears.

    Reminds me of the expression, "Loaded for bear"….. never mind.

    I really do miss Larson's genius level zaniness.

  6. Keith M Ellis said,

    October 22, 2012 @ 4:54 pm

    I really do miss Larson's genius level zaniness.

    Oh, yes … and ABC's Friday's and Chrysler's K-cars. And Reagan's Interior Secretary, James G. Watt. You don't find genius level zaniness of that caliber anymore, by gum.

  7. Ellen K. said,

    October 22, 2012 @ 4:57 pm

    P.J. I don't follow why you don't like "allowed to be killed". It's neither the bears, nor the hunters doing the allowing, but a 3rd party.

    As for the original post, my thinking is, the lede (I think that's the right term) would be helped by a second comma, after "hunters". ("Hunters" in quotes, lest we get images of commas chasing hunters.)

  8. Thom said,

    October 22, 2012 @ 5:01 pm

    Would stating

    The new hunting season opens today, with more hunters and more bears that are allowed to be killed.

    change the ambiguity? I really don't think so, but maybe it does…Any opinions?

  9. Robert Coren said,

    October 22, 2012 @ 5:16 pm

    @Ellen K.: I think the problem with "…bears are allowed to be killed" is that it seems to be giving the bears permission to be killed. It reminds me of a sign in the lobby of a Boston theater, presumably designed to avoid the imperative mood: "Drinks are not permitted to be carried into the theater".

  10. pj said,

    October 22, 2012 @ 5:41 pm

    Ellen K. – yes, Robert Coren has what I meant. Who's doing the allowing doesn't come into it; it's the implication of whose action is allowed or disallowed. It's the image of the first over-quota bear being in a hunter's sights, and the Hand of Authority halting proceedings and giving the bear a good ticking off: 'Stop it! How dare you stand in front of this man's gun? You're not allowed to be killed this season.'

    (Don't worry, I know that the passive is grammatically legitimate in constructions like this; I'm not really cavilling, just idly late-night-musing on what struck me, like I said, as slightly infelicitous. With a verb like 'kill', after all, the patient's privilege in being 'allowed' to have it done to them is questionable.)

    I'd kill two birds with one stone and amend to 'more hunters allowed to kill more bears', myself.

  11. The Ridger said,

    October 22, 2012 @ 5:59 pm

    "More hunters allowed to kill more bears" however does not say that there are more hunters this year than before, only that more of the hunters there are are allowed to kill more bears than they were before.

    "with more hunters and a higher bear kill total" or something, perhaps?

  12. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    October 22, 2012 @ 6:37 pm

    @pj, Ellen K.: Constructions such as "more bears are allowed to be killed", meaning that someone is allowing someone-else to kill more bears, have been called "double passives". Neal Whitman has posted several times about them on his blog, "Literal-Minded"; see It turns out that analogous constructions also occur to various extents in at least Turkish, Malagasy, Spanish, Hebrew, German, Norwegian, and Dutch.

  13. David Morris said,

    October 22, 2012 @ 6:37 pm

    At least it's not "with more hunters and bears allowed to be killed".

  14. GeorgeW said,

    October 22, 2012 @ 7:16 pm

    @ALEX MCCRAE; "It's about darn time wild bears competed on a level killing-field with the hunters."

    The Southern humorist, Lewis Grizzard, used to say that to make the hunting field level, there should be a rule that hunters, like their prey, must be nude. None of those expensive camouflage jackets, boots and the like.

  15. Theophylact said,

    October 22, 2012 @ 7:27 pm

    And, of course, "Support the right to arm bears".

  16. David L said,

    October 22, 2012 @ 7:57 pm

    On the double passive construction, it seems to me that the awkwardness arises in part because the agency is different for the two verbs: the bears were allowed [by the authorities] to be killed [by hunters]. So I have to make an implicit change of gears, so to speak, as I read the sentence.

    You could say "more hunters and more bear kills will be allowed," but perhaps that's a bit too close to the bone. Talking about bears being allowed to be killed distances the reader from the gory act.

  17. David Morris said,

    October 22, 2012 @ 8:30 pm

    The humans have a right to bear arms and the bears have a right to human arms (and legs and heads …).

  18. ALEX MCCRAE said,

    October 22, 2012 @ 9:53 pm

    @Keith M Ellis,

    You wear your sarcasm well… by gum.

    Hmm… at least Friday's DID give us the likes of future major TV comedy successes, namely Larry David and Michael 'Kramer' Richards.

    You've clearly 'curbed' YOUR enthusiasm.

    I'm surprised you didn't include the Pinto, the Edsel, the films Ishtar, and Michael Cimino's "Heaven's Gate", on your list of 'clunkers', for good measure.

    @GeorgeW— That's quite the image humorist Grizzard conjured up w/ his notion of bare hunters vs. hunted bears. Puts a whole new slant on the term 'naturist', don't it?

  19. Dmajor said,

    October 22, 2012 @ 10:07 pm

    Where zeugmas and 2nd Amendment rights collide.

  20. Mark Mandel said,

    October 22, 2012 @ 11:22 pm

    There was in fact an sf story, whose author and title I can't remember, involving the right to arm "bears" — actually, iirc, bearlike, somewhat intelligent creatures on another planet. Human exploiters were giving them guns and selling one-only permits for the exciting, dangerous, fair hunting to human hunters. But the ursinoids never shot back: they just stood there with their guns and got killed, while each hunter had his thrill, risk, and trophy.

    Until some humans with a different point of view started doing surgery on the "bears", severing the bit of tendon that prevented them from pulling the trigger.

  21. Duncan said,

    October 22, 2012 @ 11:25 pm

    > "Drinks are not permitted to be carried into the theater".

    I can just see the local high school football team, /passing/ the drinks into the theater. (Or the non-USian football, /kicking/ them in.)

    Or the older guy with the bottle of oxygen on a cart, drink fastened beside it, /wheeling/ it in.

    As for the hunters and bears, I believe part of the problem is the parallelism. That certainly got me. I just passed it on up, not even realizing there was something wrong with the image in my head, until I got to the end and realized I was on LL, stopped, looked… OUCH, that kink in the logic HURTS!

    But had I not been on LL and read that, I'd have likely continued on, oblivious, until maybe an hour later when I'd burst out laughing for "no visible reason", causing everybody around to stare at me like I was addled!

  22. Gene Callahan said,

    October 23, 2012 @ 2:02 am

    "More bear kills permitted."

  23. PaulB said,

    October 23, 2012 @ 3:19 am

    A natural way to write this would be "more hunting permits and more killing of bears allowed".

  24. Keith M Ellis said,

    October 23, 2012 @ 8:40 am

    @Mark Mandel, the story you mention brings to my mind William Barton's Acts of Conscience, which is blurbed as

    When space construction worker Gaetan du Cheyne visits the planet Green Heaven, he discovers a fascinating ecosystem whose intelligent life forms are being hunted for sport and exported as slaves by human colonists. Now du Cheyne must follow his conscience and try to rescue the natives of Green Heaven–or die trying.

    What's really quite remarkable (and, I think, quite laudable) about this book is that rather than the typical anthropocentric self-congratulations of most science-fiction, Barton follows the minority SF tradition of social criticism (not including the usual dystopianism, which is arguably more a very narrowly targeted critique of specific ideologies, not blanket, pessimistic criticism) and doubles-down on it, by having humans play the rapacious, amoral, villainous role that so many alien races otherwise do in SF.

    Because, after all, looking at our own history, I agree with Barton that the claim that we're unusually enlightened and benevloent, especially with regard to the "other" (and what's more "other" than actual aliens?), is delusional. The book works because of Gaetan's dawning awareness that we're the bad guys in this story, which the reader doesn't really expect and which is uncomfortable. More pointedly, Gaetan himself isn't particularly virtuous — Barton doesn't make it easy for the reader to identify with Gaeton as being exceptional, as the reader is predisposed to imagine themselves as being in such a situation.

    Morally, this is much more mature and interesting than is usual in science-fiction, more literary, but, weirdly and disoncertingly, other aspects of the novel are pulpy and lurid. Which I found interesting and worthwhile in itself because this combination made the book challenging in a unique way. Overall, it's pretty discomfort-inducing.

  25. Nicholas Waller said,

    October 23, 2012 @ 8:53 am

    @ Mark Mandel – there's a collection of sf novellas by Gordon Dickson published as The Right to Arm Bears, though none of the synopses match your storyline that I can see.

    That wikipedia page has this helpful note: "Not to be confused with Right to bear arms (disambiguation)".

  26. Theophylact said,

    October 23, 2012 @ 9:44 am

    Then there's Iorek Byrnison, an armored (and armed) bear.

  27. Rod Johnson said,

    October 23, 2012 @ 10:01 am

    Anyone see where the linguistics blog went?

  28. Neil Dolinger said,

    October 23, 2012 @ 11:44 am

    For want of a comma, a hunter was lost….

    "The new hunting season opens today, with more hunters, and more bears allowed to be killed." There, isn't that better? Unless the headline writers are short of space for one punctuation mark.

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