Language Politics

By Nicholas Fleisher

Quotation vs. paraphrase: Ozzie Guillen edition

From today’s New York Times article on Ozzie Guillen’s suspension:

[The article] also quotes him saying: “I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years,” but Mr. Castro is still here, he added, referring to him as an expletive.

Here we run up against the limits of indirect quotation. In the locution refer to X as Y, the as phrase contains indirectly quoted material, as we can verify through standard indexicality tests (e.g., change of personal pronouns):

1a. Ozzie said, “Castro is my favorite dictator.” (direct quotation*)
1b. Ozzie referred to Castro as his favorite dictator. (indirect quotation)

While the NYT will not sully itself by telling us exactly which expletive Guillen used to refer to Castro, we can be reasonably sure that he did not utter the word expletive. That is, “Castro is an expletive” or similar is not a plausible direct quotation. The awkwardness of the excerpt above thus reveals an interesting fact about the as phrase in refer to X as Y: it seems to support only quotation, and not the more abstract paraphrase involved in the use of the category term expletive. Metaquotation of this sort appears to be impossible in an environment associated with quotation or mention; instead, we must choose a construction in which we can unambiguously use (not mention) the term. In this case, all we need to do is change the preposition: referring to him with an expletive.

So much for the NYT‘s prose. Ozzie’s linguistic problems may not have such a simple fix.

(*Made up! not real! for linguistic-philosophical-expository purposes only!)