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2 Comments

  • I like this passage from Chapter 7, “The Lion And The Unicorn”, of Through the Looking-Glass even better:

    “Who did you pass on the road?” the King went on, holding out his hand to the Messenger for some more hay.

    “Nobody,” said the Messenger.

    “Quite right,” said the King: “this young lady saw him too. So of course Nobody walks slower than you.”

    “I do my best,” the Messenger said in a sulky tone. “I’m sure nobody walks much faster than I do!”

    “He can’t do that,” said the King, “or else he’d have been here first.”

    My commentary:

    This nonsensical conversation results because the King insists on treating the word “nobody” as a name, a name of somebody. However, the essential nature of the English word “nobody” is that it doesn’t refer to somebody; or to put the matter another way, there isn’t anybody to which it refers.

    The central point of contradiction in the dialogue arises in the third sentence, when the King says “… Nobody walks slower than you”. This claim would be plausible if “Nobody” were really a name, since the Messenger could only pass someone who does walk more slowly than he. But the Messenger interprets the word “nobody” in the ordinary English way, and says (in the fourth sentence) “… nobody walks much faster than I do” (i.e., I walk faster than, or as fast as, almost everyone), which the King then again misunderstands. Both the King and the Messenger are correct according to their respective understandings of the ambiguous word “nobody/Nobody”.

  • That’s a great example, John. It recalls Odysseus’ escape from Polyphemus, where he tells the giant his name is Nobody and can therefore make his escape when the other cyclops ask Polyphemus if anyone hurt him.