Where the boys aren't garden path sentences

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2008/09/14 02:01 +00:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/michkap/archive/2008/09/13/8950706.aspx

Regular readers (and devoted couple!) Don and Tammy asked via the Suggestion Box:

We found another interesting language issue in adult films. This time it is in the title.

There is a long-running series from Vivid entitled _Where_the_Boys_Aren't_. As you can probably guess if you have never seen any of them, it is an "all girls" series. It started some time in the early '90s and new ones are still coming out to this day. Some are good, some not. Just like with mainstream movies.

But the point is that there are 19 different releases. The meaning of "Where the Boys Aren't 16" and "Where the Boys Aren't 17" and "Where the Boys Aren't 18" and so forth seems like a confusing use of, doesn't it? We were joking about this  while watching the latest one, and decided to forward it to you since I think you haven't covered it before.

Don (and Tammy)

Well, as Don allowed for, I was unaware of the specific series. My experience is these things is much more limited then theirs, but what is the sense of reader feedback if not to afford me the chance to live vicariously through them? :-)

Of course if the goal is to allow for the confusion (you know -- to have fun with it) then perhaps it is intentional, though if every one of them since the beginning had a number on it, I doubt that it started that way -- no one is really expecting anything sordid out of a title like Where the Boys Aren't 3, for example. Plus with lower numbers it is much more common to use the spelled out number which would be even less confusing, I think? Again, I'm kind of guessing on some of this.

Though this perhaps kind of a garden path sentence, like in this blog or this one or this one or this one or this one or even this one. Though in this case for many it is not so much a garden path at all -- it is just a regular old path that one may choose to be walking down if one likes. Either one successfully parses it and thinks of

Where the Boys Aren't 20

as if it were

Where the Boys Aren't, #20

and not, as if it were

Where the Boys Aren't 20 years old

depending (I suppose) on one's frame of mind or movo\ie preference.

The two paths here suggest two completely different types of movies with two completely different target markets -- each of which might contain members very willing to skip the movie if they read the sentence the other way, which would suggest that Vivid would be better off putting the # in the title since the "pun" is dumb and the misunderstanding doesn't really help them make extra sales (in fact, customers expecting a "no guys" feature are almost certainly going to run away from a "guys of a specific age" feature!).

Though I doubt that the company producing the series has on-staff linguists to control title quality, and not only am I not a linguist but even if it were okay under the moonlighting clause it would probably fail for "moral turpitude" reasons. So there is no sense trying to ask for the job....

With a series running for so long that (assuming 1992 to 2008 with #18 as the last one, a little over one a year) people might really know the series well enough to have no confusion, it may never come up as an issue in practice.

I know that it might be awkward to go the video counter to complain about being misled, at least....

Either way, it is sort of a garden path sentence kind of thing I guess, though the path may not be heading toward the most appropriate destination for all of us (as is the title of this blog, only moreso)! :-)


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