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Jun 27 2012

Grammar Oddity

Here is a teevee ad with Derek Jeter selling some fucken car:

When he says the following, the second sentence sounds grammatically wrong to me, as if it refers incorrectly to the antecedent of the first sentence:

Everything looks good in pinstripes. So can you.

Is this because “you” is referring back to “everything”, but “you” is a person and “everything” excludes people? Any grammar experts got any ideas? Am I fucken high?

14 comments

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  1. 1
    rq

    Because the verbs don’t agree.
    The ‘proper’ second sentence should be ‘So do you’ (this is assuming that the point is to look good in pinstripes). If they want to keep ‘So can you’, then the first sentence has to read ‘Everything can look good in pinstripes’.
    That’s where I see the problem.

  2. 2
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    Imagine a car commercial that said,

    “All Nigerians look good in pinstripes. So can you.”

    Now imagine that the commercial is broadcast in Australia or Mexico or Estonia or Mongolia. Or any place where it is expected that a vanishingly small percentage of viewers will consider them selves Nigerian.

    Is “you” out of place here because you’re speaking to someone who doesn’t ID as Nigerian? Nope.

    You’s antecedent isn’t necessary here because the speech is directed at someone/s. It certainly doesn’t refer back to Nigerians. In fact, the “so can” implies that the speaker is certain that “you” is not included in “All Nigerians”.

    Likewise, “everything” is sometimes used to include persons, but other times used to mean all “things” – things being distinct from people. Thus the two situations are analogous: there is some very minor ambiguity as to whether the person addressed might be a thing and/or a Nigerian, but the default assumption is that neither is true. The referent (not technically an antecedent) is clear by the very nature of the second person and further clarified by the implied eye contact when Jeter looks into the camera.

    This is grammatically fine, though it will sound odd to some.

    Not unlike the phrase, “up with which I will not put,” sounds odd to the modern ear.

  3. 3
    Dr Becca

    I agree with rq. However, there has to be a way to convey that while you might not currently look good in pinstripes (because you’ve never worn them), you have the potential to. Maybe “you would, too!”

  4. 4
    James Sweet

    I don’t believe it’s grammatically incorrect, but it’s definitely a little wonky. I think part of it is that the first sentence is making a universal declaration, which makes the second sentence’s conditional sound weird.

    Say that an object is “pinsty” if and only if it looks good in pinstripes. An object can be pinsty independent of whether it is now, or ever, is wearing pinstripes.

    Using that terminology, I think the problem is that the sentences in question are trying to say:

    “Everything is pinsty. Since you are also pinsty, if you wear pinstripes then you can look good!”

    But it sounds like it is saying:

    “Everything is pinsty. You have the opportunity to be (but are not necessarily at present) pinsty!”

    Which doesn’t make any sense, because if you are a subset of “everything”, then you must already be pinsty.

  5. 5
    Nicoleandmaggie

    I really liked the Colbert tome, I Am America, and So Can You.

  6. 6
    Comradde PhysioProffe

    I Am America, and So Can You.

    It sounds weird to me *exactly* like that!!!!!

  7. 7
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    physioprof –

    then your objection was never with pronouns.

    As for verbs, “can” is perfectly appropriate here and not in conflict with the verb “look”. The original would only fail if one of the following sentences was grammatically incorrect:

    Things look good.

    You can look good.

    Since both of these are proper sentences, there isn’t a problem with the original.

    How about, “I Embody America and So Can You!” If that works, then what is grammatically incorrect with, “I look good, and so can you!”

    Ans: Nothing.

  8. 8
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    James Sweet #4:

    Which doesn’t make any sense, because if you are a subset of “everything”, then you must already be pinsty.

    Which is exactly what i addressed in my comment #2. Since “everything” has multiple meanings, one of which is specifically exclusive of persons, then this is grammatically weird only if you choose to interpret “everything” as intending a non-sensical definition.

    But it’s not grammatically wrong. Its grammar excludes the inclusive-of-persons use of “everything” but does not exclude all possible definitions of everything or any other single word. Grammatically wrong would mean that the sentence cannot work as constructed. The fact that it can adequately convey certain meanings but not others, given the grammar, is a feature not a bug.

  9. 9
    skeptifem

    god damn, where did you all learn about grammar? I am always looking to improve.

  10. 10
    Chebag

    Of course you are high. Aren’t you always?

  11. 11
    Lithified Detritus

    Fucken Yankees. How ’bout them Tygerz?

  12. 12
    Egbert

    Nothing wrong with wonky sentences. So can you.

  13. 13
    jonw

    Strictly, this isn’t a matter of grammar, it is a matter of usage.
    Everything can, be and is, used in statements which include people, although as a matter of style some people dislike it and tend to avoid it especially when they wish to emphasize people.

  14. 14
    Namnezia

    How about “You can too.”

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