Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

In an answer to another question this sentence was proposed:

Was it specifically mentioned as part of their teaching, or they just happened not to have killed anyone?

In comment, another user wrote:

That doesn’t scan in English. Sorry.

What does scan mean in this context? I've searched the online dictionaries I normally consult (NOAD, M-W, Dictionary.com, TheFreeDictionary.com, Oxford Dictionaries Online, Cambridge Dictionaries Online), but cannot find a meaning other than "(of verse) conform to metrical principles" (NOAD).

share|improve this question
add comment

3 Answers

up vote 18 down vote accepted

It's a figurative extension of scansion. It just means that the words don't flow naturally in English.

share|improve this answer
3  
Interesting. Left to my own devices, I probably would've intepreted it as a neologism inspired by barcode readers. –  J.R. May 2 '12 at 14:28
6  
@J.R.: It's a term musicians have used for decades at least, referring to how words fit together with music. And poets for longer than that. –  Robusto May 2 '12 at 14:46
6  
This is the right answer. –  tchrist May 2 '12 at 15:33
7  
+1 Given that tchrist wrote the sentence in question, I think his agreement with this answer should carry a lot of weight. –  jimreed May 2 '12 at 15:56
    
Given that @tchrist was the original commenter and has confirmed it here, this is obviously the correct answer. Would scan be used in this sense in "formal" writing, or is it more of an informal thing? –  zpletan May 2 '12 at 17:14
show 2 more comments

Technically, "scan" is usually used as your dictionary suggests to mean "conform to metrical expectations/tradition".

But I don't think the person in question is using the word with any technical sense. What they really mean is "In some vague, unspecified way, I don't like the way this sentence sounds".

[If pressed, probably what is raising their objection is that the sentence sounds imbalanced as it has the inverted structure "Was it..." in the first part, but no inversion in the second. The reader half expects you to write "...or did they just happen..." to keep the balance.]

share|improve this answer
add comment

"To scan" in this sense is slang meaning "to make sense".

To say "that doesn't scan" is to say "that doesn't make sense".

share|improve this answer
1  
Please cite a reputable reference. –  MετάEd Dec 6 '12 at 0:26
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.