Driving waste for the world

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The University of New South Wales wants you to know that it's driving waste, and also recycling innovation for the world.

It's not clear what either of those activities really are, and it's not easy to construe either of them as something to boast about.

UNSW seems to be taking a contrarian stance here — "driving waste" sounds like "working to create more garbage", or maybe "carting it away by the truckload" — and "recycling innovation" seems to mean "copying others' inventions". Not your typical 21st century academic slogans.

But then you realize that what they're proud of "driving" is innovation in the area of "waste and recycling", so that the intended parse is

(( Driving 
   (( waste and recycling ) innovation )
   ( for the world ))

[h/t Bob Ladd]


  1. KevinM said,

    September 15, 2019 @ 12:58 pm

    For "driving waste" I pictured someone at the helm of a garbage truck.

  2. Gregory Kusnick said,

    September 15, 2019 @ 1:25 pm

    And "recycling innovation" would be the province of patent trolls, I suppose.

  3. KevinM said,

    September 15, 2019 @ 1:46 pm

    Of course "driving waste" could also be car exhaust, McDonald's wrappers, etc.

  4. Polyspaston said,

    September 15, 2019 @ 4:31 pm

    Sounds like the perfect description of the modern university.

  5. Bloix said,

    September 15, 2019 @ 4:53 pm

    Perhaps this is an example of what this blog has called "nerdview." As someone who has worked for decades on lawsuits concerning responsibility for pollution caused by improper disposal practices, I didn't have a moment's pause over the concept of "waste [disposal] innovation." But apparently others find it difficult.

  6. Andrew Usher said,

    September 15, 2019 @ 7:34 pm

    I don't think this is really a mistake – yes, it has ambiguity, as does many natural languange sentences, but there is only one _sensible_ meaning. And I can't imagine most people wouldn't get it on reading it normally. Of course the though expressed may be criticised for being of a 'management-speak' nature, but it's not unclear, especially if you're familar with other business slogans that are similar.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

  7. AntC said,

    September 15, 2019 @ 7:36 pm

    I got the intended parse straight away, whilst also seeing the sheer dysfunction of the idiom.

    I guess I've spent too long with managementspeak noun pile-ups. I remember a long editting session with my boss wanting to turn everything I wrote into such agentless nounified-verb pile-ups; and me trying to be explicit about which party was doing what — as in be accountable for parts of the project. Apparently Management Consultants are supposed to be vague like that so that when the project gets close to deadline and nothing done, the Consultancy can make themselves heroes by doing everybody else's work (and charging for it, of course).

  8. Mark P said,

    September 15, 2019 @ 7:55 pm

    The university's intended meaning was what I immediately thought of. It took me a few seconds to see the ambiguity. As with some other commenters, maybe my familiarity with this kind of thing in my previous life made it seem obvious. I used to work in the defense business. Things were often driven in PP presentations.

  9. Viseguy said,

    September 15, 2019 @ 10:45 pm

    There's a perfectly good catchphrase there. All it needed was a blue pencil:

    In case the image doesn't come through:

    "Innovations to revolutionise recycling and help manage the world's waste"

  10. Viseguy said,

    September 15, 2019 @ 10:47 pm


  11. JPL said,

    September 16, 2019 @ 12:46 am


    Nobody here (including the OP) has the slightest difficulty recognizing the intended interpretation; we just find the possible alternative interpretations interesting, all the more so if the alternative interpretation is the first one we recognize.

  12. Bob Ladd said,

    September 16, 2019 @ 1:14 am

    @Bloix, JPL, Andrew Usher: When I first read it – especially the way it's laid out on the page – I got the wrong interpretation, and it actually took me a second or two to work out what it was supposed to mean (perhaps I retired soon enough to avoid becoming fully competent in university sloganese). So strictly speaking I did have "the slightest difficulty" getting the intended interpretation. Also, I then read it aloud to a couple of others using the intonation of the wrong interpretation (try it!) and they couldn't get any sense out of it at all. But yes, clearly it's not a mistake of any sort, just an ordinary ambiguity (and like many ordinary ambiguities, not really ambiguous if you take intonation into account).

  13. rosie said,

    September 16, 2019 @ 1:17 am

    I think there is a mistake. There was a complicated notion the book's title had to convey, and it failed. And the failure was needless, as English is perfectly capable of expressing it. Piling nouns is all very well if it's clear how to parse the result, but this title's another matter.

    Using a compound noun to modify a noun gets us off to a bad start straight away. I agree with Bloix that the phrase "waste innovation" must be nerdview. Those who are au fait with the waste disposal industry's jargon might see the phrase as a lexical item and understand it as such, but the rest of us must try to determine its meaning from the individual words.

    How would I express it? Driving innovation in waste disposal and recycling for the world.

  14. Andrew McCarthy said,

    September 16, 2019 @ 2:02 am

    Personally, I think the sign would make more sense if it said "recycling waste and driving innovation for the world" rather than vice versa.

  15. shubert said,

    September 16, 2019 @ 7:30 am

    I tried to using a picture of a building being constructed–look like jointed picture frames, adding a slogan: there is still a room for your portraiture. A young visitor said: It is bizarre to use the word room. I wonder if it is wrong or bizarre is a neutral comment here?

  16. Francois Lang said,

    September 16, 2019 @ 9:32 am

    Reminds me of the

    Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities


    that was discussed on LL a few years back


  17. Jerry Kreuscher said,

    September 16, 2019 @ 9:57 am

    Long ago I had a textbook that illustrated the fallacy it called amphiboly with the WWII homefront exhortation "Save fat and waste paper". In recent years I've noticed that fallacy called amphibology. Is there a distinction that should make us prefer this change, or is this just love of the long word?

  18. Joseph Bottum said,

    September 16, 2019 @ 1:49 pm

    The likelihood for misreading is increased by the line-breaks in the headline. By breaking after the "and" and stacking up a pair of participles and nouns, the printing actively encourages us to read "driving waste" and "recycling innovation" as parallel phrases.

    Typography: A friend in times of syntactical trouble.

  19. John Swindle said,

    September 16, 2019 @ 3:01 pm

    @shubert: I donʻt entirely understand your comment, but in English there is a difference between "room" and "a room". Could that be the question?

    "A room for your portraiture" means a room in the building, a room with floor and ceiling and walls and a door or doorway; and in that room you can either hang portraits or make portraits.

    "Room for your portraiture," on the other hand, means enough space for your portraits or your portrait-making but not necessarily a room with walls and floors and ceiling. An empty picture frame, for example, could have room (i.e., enough space) for a portrait, but it wouldnʻt be "a room".

  20. Chandra said,

    September 16, 2019 @ 4:50 pm

    Not a crash blossom, but at the institution where I work there's a poster in every washroom whose wording always strikes me as needlessly weird and opaque: "Please respect a scent-free campus". I can imagine this must throw many an ESL student for a loop. Why not simply "Please avoid wearing strong scents on campus"?

  21. shubert said,

    September 16, 2019 @ 6:16 pm

    @John Swindle
    Thanks! You know "a, the" is big headache for Asians :( and (English is my second Foreign language after Russian.)

  22. B.Ma said,

    September 17, 2019 @ 4:33 am

    The line breaks are the problem because they don't match up with the clause breaks.

    My suggested fix is:

    Driving innovation in
    waste and recycling
    for the world

  23. BZ said,

    September 18, 2019 @ 2:52 pm

    Does anyone else find "for the world" ambiguous? I'm still not quite sure what it means. To save the world? To provide services or information to the entire world? Doing something that benefits the whole world?

  24. Gregory Kusnick said,

    September 19, 2019 @ 6:32 am

    Maybe the world is what you win if you drive hard enough.

  25. Rodger C said,

    September 19, 2019 @ 6:53 am

    @Chandra: I think "Please respect a scent-free campus" is nerdview. "Let's see, how do we promote the Scent-Free Campus policy?"

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