Losing heart
Posted: 18 June 2017 04:47 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Since there has been just a smidgen of peevery about whom and the past perfect shared recently, I make bold to say that I have been at first boggled, then peeved, by a recent Audi commercial that asserts that the reason Secretariat was such an extraordinary racehorse was that he had a heart “twice the size of a normal horse.”

Not “twice the size of a normal horse’s” or “of that of a normal horse”.

I’m left wondering how such a gigantic organ managed to fit into Secretariat’s body.

Is my reaction at least somewhat justified, or is it time to move to the Old Pedant’s Home?

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Posted: 18 June 2017 11:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I make bold to say that I have been at first boggled, then peeved, by a recent Audi commercial that asserts that the reason Secretariat was such an extraordinary racehorse was that he had a heart “twice the size of a normal horse.”

It’s imprecise and poorly written, and that’s the heart of the matter.

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Posted: 19 June 2017 04:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I’m more forgiving of advertisements. They’re carefully crafted to create an overall effect, and if the niceties of grammar interfere with that, the grammar quite rightly (in terms of the advertiser’s objective) goes out the window.

Here is the ad in question.

First, it must be stated there is no real ambiguity in the construction. No one seriously thinks they were talking about a heart that weighed a ton. The intended meaning is clear. So the question is merely that of form, not of substance.

There’s a rhythm to the phrase of an average horse. But inserting the extra syllables--and this is a spoken phrase, not a written one--required for the standard grammar (of an average horse’s or of that of an average horse) disrupts that cadence. It’s less mellifluous and sounds more stilted, less natural. (Which gets me wondering how common this construction is in ordinary speech--it may not even be incorrect at all.) Just about the worst thing you can do in an ad is have stilted language that calls attention to grammar rather than the message. Yes, us grammar nerds may notice, but we’re a small minority.

An alternative explanation is that hypercorrection is at play here. The advertisers might be trying to avoid a double genitive. Of course, heart of an average horse’s is not a double genitive, but it has the same form of one, as in father of Kim’s.

Nitpick: the ad says average, not normal, not that it makes a difference to the grammatical analysis.

And here’s an article on the truth of the claim that Secretariat’s heart was twice average size. In summary, it is likely that it was larger than normal (not unusual among champion thoroughbreds), but probably not twice the size. The vet who performed the necropsy and is the source of the claim did not actually weigh Secretariat’s heart. He just estimated its weight from visual inspection.

[ Edited: 19 June 2017 04:47 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 19 June 2017 07:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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They’re carefully crafted to create an overall effect, and if the niceties of grammar interfere with that, the grammar quite rightly (in terms of the advertiser’s objective) goes out the window.

Very true, remember: Winston tastes good like a cigarette should,

WikipediA

During the campaign’s long run in the media, many criticized the slogan as grammatically incorrect and that it should say, “Winston tastes good as a cigarette should.” Ogden Nash, in The New Yorker, published a poem that ran “Like goes Madison Avenue, like so goes the nation."[10] Walter Cronkite, then hosting The Morning Show, refused to say the line as written, and an announcer was used instead.[11]
Malcolm Gladwell, in The Tipping Point, says that this “ungrammatical and somehow provocative use of ‘like’ instead of ‘as’ created a minor sensation” in 1954 and implies that the phrase itself was responsible for vaulting the brand to second place in the U.S. market.[12] Winston overtook Pall Mall cigarettes as the #1 cigarette in the United States in 1966, while the advertising campaign continued to make an impression on the mass media.

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Posted: 19 June 2017 10:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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The difference is that the conjunctive like, as in the Winston ad, has never been ungrammatical. It’s one of those zombie rules invented by armchair grammarians who know little about the language (like Strunk and White). This usage of like goes back to the fourteenth century and has been used by such writers as Shakespeare, Keats, Emily Bronte, Thackeray, Eliot, Dickens, Kipling, Wells, Shaw, Churchill, and Maugham.

In the case of the Audi ad, none of the sources I’ve looked at address this particular construction. So while I suspect the construction is in widespread use, I have no firm evidence that it is. So, until shown otherwise, it is not correct according standard grammar.

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Posted: 19 June 2017 12:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Of course, if they were saying that it had twice the volume of a normal horse’s heart that would only be 1.25 times larger in linear dimension.

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