Saturday, April 10, 2010

why I love linguistic ambiguity

In the movie "The Running Man," there's a scene in which Arnold Schwarzenegger is riding a crowded bus with his unwilling partner in crime, Maria Conchita Alonso. Because Maria might bolt at any moment (at about this point in the movie, she's already threatened to vomit all over Arnold's Hawaiian shirt), Arnold growls a threat to make her stay put and keep silent: "I'll break your neck like a chicken!"

What Arnold means, of course, is that he's strong enough to snap Maria's neck as if she were merely a chicken. But because of the line's ambiguous phrasing, a second reading is possible: "I'll break your neck the way a chicken would break it." This second reading conjures up an interesting image: that of a chicken, accomplished in the martial arts, who can snap a human neck.

Driving through the countryside becomes a very different experience when you start wondering whether all those farm animals are secretly proficient in karate, jujitsu, hapkido, muay thai, pankration, etc. What would it be like to have your head caved in by a horse throwing a jumping, spinning, reverse turning kick? Or to receive paralyzing nerve strikes from a duck? Or to experience a sternum-shattering one-inch punch from a cow? You might find yourself showing a bit more humility before nature, I think.

And if Arnold could break poor Maria's neck the way a chicken would, what would the death blow look like?



Charles said...

Been watching Kung Fu Panda again, have we?

Kevin Kim said...

They needed a Master Chicken.