March 11, 2006

In the commuter rail terminal of Chicago’s Union Station, where I was this morning, a pleasant female voice makes frequent announcements. One of them is the following sentence:

In the interests of security, we are asking you, our passengers, to add your eyes and ears to that of our own.

The only way I can parse this is by assuming that “our own” is short for “our own young.” This allows for the interpretation that the Chicago commuter rail has children who have, collectively, not eyes and ears but one organ that functions simultaneously as an eye and an ear, and that it is asking its passengers to give up their eyes and ears, surely not an unreasonable request in the face of such mutational cruelty on the part of the universe, especially since the children are employed as station guards and their function as such is severely impaired by the lack of vision and hearing.

I am really hoping that somebody out there can come up with something better than this.

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13 Responses to In the commuter rail terminal of Chicago’s Union Station, where

  1. anapestic says:

    What you heard was not one sentence; rather, it was two sentences and an attribution, though why the Chicago transit people thought the two sentences belonged together escapes me.

    2 Dat of our Owen ( is a relatively obscure — some would even say underground — Chicago poet. One of his most famous poems (“Ode on an Unused Turnstile”) includes the line “You are eyes and ears.” It is unfortunate that Chicago went with the contraction, and I hear that 2 Dat is not happy about it.

    The first sentence is fairly obvious. “In the interests of security, we are asking you, our passengers, to add.” Nothing comforts the contemporary computer more than a sound command of arithmetic. I don’t know whether you’ve been to DC recently, but the Metro now has abacuses that you can borrow at the beginning of your trip, and when you’re exiting, you return it to the designated abacus receptacle. The implementation of the Abacus Project reduced incidences of transit-related hysteria by 30% between January 2004 and January 2006. It’s good to hear that the word is spreading.

  2. Mr. Anon says:

    Actually, “Security” is the name of the blind homeless woman who lives in the station. They consider her one of their own.

  3. chris says:

    Why can’t you talk about orgies some more?

  4. sam says:

    I’ll go with anapestic and say that although it involves no arithmetic, sudoku apparently reduces transit-related hysteria as well.

  5. David says:

    Life in the modern world must be extremely confounding for you.

  6. jim says:

    What Chris said.

  7. raph says:

    ha! you used the word ‘parse’.

    a former supervisor of mine for a generals paper used to use the word ‘parse’ when he meant ‘tree’. no one in syntax class understood him for two weeks.

  8. David says:

    I think it is some sort of reference to potatoes and corn. No? A food drive maybe? For the security of the poor?

  9. bhoygary says:

    Today, I’ve been told repeatedly that i don’t exist by a social security attendant in front of which I was standing*. And you complain about syntax???

    *for full details read my blog although I can’t guarantee that the grammar is perfect.

  10. Mush says:

    I got a nifty visual of a big pile of eyes and ears, twitching and blinking as passengers hurried by.

  11. verbify says:

    But at least they still have noses, and are therefore worthy of your love.

  12. birdfarm says:

    I don’t think there’s any way you can make this sentence parse, because “that” is singular, is it not?

    “…add your eye to that of our own…[something]” could make sense, since it is one eye that is being added to one other [eye, presumably].

    “…add your eyes and ears to those of our own… [something]” could also be turned into a fragment of a meaningful phrase.

    But since “eyes and ears” is plural and “that” is singular it just isn’t going to work. Sorry.

    I like what Verbify said. Hee hee.

  13. Sean says:

    Actually, your gloss on the syntax of the announcement was only your subconscious trying to avoid the inevitable insanity if you were to fully comprehend the infinite logical loop it contains:

    “In the interests of security, we are asking you, our passengers, to add your eyes and ears to that of our own.”

    In fact, “to that of our own” can only refer to the eyes and ears of their own _passengers_, and since, as they have pointed out, you are their passenger, you would be adding your eyes and ears TO YOUR OWN EYES AND EARS! Stop! Stop thinking now! Cover your eyes and ears!


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