Sentences with double meaning
Some time ago I came across this anecdote about the actor Cary Grant.
A news reporter was trying to find when Cary Grant was born, so he sent the following telegram to Grant's agent:
"HOW OLD CARY GRANT"
As it happened, Cary Grant himself picked the telegram and, upon reading it, sent back the answer:
"OLD CARY GRANT FINE. HOW YOU"
I quite liked this little story and was wondering if any of you native english-speakers can give any example of sentences with double meaning or sentences that, by lacking a word, can have a different meaning.
It's difficult for me to understand. Just because I'm not a native speaker!
It can be read two ways:
How old Cary Grant - inquiring about his age
How (is) old Cary Grant - asking how Cary Grant is doing
The reason is that in a telegram words like "is", "the", "a" etc are implied, that is, a sentence is comprehensible without them.
But there are certain sentences where this is dubious and one can read more than one meaning.
I don't think I ever sent a telegram (I'm 30), but I guess that in the age of email and the average age of internet users being low, asking you people to understand what telegram-writing is may be too much!...
There's a delicious old Hollywood anecdote that when Bette Davis was about to open a new play, the outrageously flamboyant, bisexual film and theater actress, Tallulah Bankhead sent her a telegram that read:
"KISSES ON YOUR OPENING."
One that I hear people saying occasionally is "I need my hair cutting badly", when what they really mean is "I badly need my hair cutting".
I've never heard anyone say "I need my hair cutting" ever. Must be an Americanism.
<<I've never heard anyone say "I need my hair cutting" ever. Must be an Americanism.>>
I'm an American and I've never heard that expression in my life. (Also, Rick Johnson is from England.)
"I need my hair cutting." sounds like something people say in England, zxczxc. Where are you from?
Perhaps this would be clearer.
"It can be read two ways:
"'How old is Cary Grant?' - inquiring about his age
"'How is old Cary Grant?' - asking how Cary Grant, who is old, is doing"
Another story from an English textbook for Russian students
One man from Europe once decided to visit his English friend. When crossing the English channel by vessel, there was a storm. The captain commanded : "HANDS ON DECK!". The guy put his hands on the deck and somebody trod on them.
In England he put up at a hotel. And when he was in the hotel room he heard somebody shout :"WATCH OUT!". He looked out of the window and a bucket of water was poured upon him.
Next morning he went to see his friend. He came to the friend's house, the servant opened and said : "Mr Smith IS NOT UP YET". The guy walked around for awhile and when some time after he came to his friend's house again, the servant said : "Mr Smith IS NOT DOWN YET".
<<I need my hair cutting>>
It's a fairly common thing to say when ones barnet* is overgrown!
*Barnet Fair = Hair