Wearing Alexander McQueen, Reading Charles Dickens

An interesting post from Prof. Geoffrey Pullum (Language Log) (which he posted two weeks ago):

Sex and the City 2 premiered in London last night. Sarah Jessica Parker arrived in a black strapless dress from the house of her favorite British designer, and what she told her fans provided another interesting example of what Mark Liberman noted in a recent post on fashion talk:

There’s only one person I could have worn tonight and that was Alexander McQueen.

Ms Parker didn’t just say she was wearing Alexander McQueen; she actually used an expression quantifying over persons (only one person) as the understood object of wear (in the sense that she modified person with the relative clause I could have worn ___), and then clarified that the person was Alexander McQueen; and still the metonymic reading survived and was understood by fans and journalists alike.

This usage is a close relative of the construction Who are you wearing? that Mark drew attention to. It is a slight though not unprecedented extension of normal metonymy. It needs a special term; call it creative work metonymy.

I say it is not unprecedented because of examples like Who are you reading? (the phrase gets about 695,000 Google hits). When you say that you are reading Dan Brown, you are likely to mean not that you can look into his eyes and see what he’s thinking but merely that you are engrossed in The Lost Symbol. But you can also ask someone who they are reading, or say that Dan Brown is the only person you read now. In creative work metonymy, a reference to a person is robustly construed as conveying a reference to their creative work product….

Read the rest here.

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