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Let us read the dialogue below between two people, A and B:

A :   Have you even eaten squid fried?

B :   Yes.

A :   How was it?

B :   Better than when I was sober.

Can the adjective fried be understood to modify either the subject or the object? If so, is there some way to disambiguate the dialogue?

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This is a joke -- there was a question about such garden-path constructions recently. If you disambiguate the question ("...eaten fried squid") it's no longer funny. –  Andrew Leach Sep 1 '12 at 11:06
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This is a typical example of a paraprosdokian. –  RegDwigнt Sep 1 '12 at 11:12
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@ЯegDwight Excellent! ... but not entirely typical, I think, since it depends for its effect on paronomasia. –  StoneyB Sep 1 '12 at 12:07
    
Not Constructive (requests rewrite). -1 research not shown. –  MετάEd Sep 1 '12 at 20:40
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2 Answers

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  • Can the adjective fried be understood to modify either the subject or the object?

Yes, but most people would understand what you mean in the context and answer accordingly i.e. Yes, I have (eaten fried squid). It was good.

But, like what Andrew mentioned in a comment, it's a source of humor. And some would take the opportunity.

  • If so, is there some way to disambiguate the dialogue?

Yes, "Have you ever eaten fried squid?"

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  • 'Have you eaten squid, fried?' - "Have you eaten fried squid?"

  • 'Have you eaten squid, ... fried?' - "Have you eaten squid while fried?"

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I'm not clear what the difference is supposed to be between the first halves. Agree that in speech you can pause (if you want to ruin the joke), but in writing all you can do is insert a comma. –  TimLymington Sep 2 '12 at 11:54
    
@TimLymington Pauses are optional when reading a period. Ellipses points and sentence-ending punctuation marks are read with a pause. The first halves are defined by the second halves. Sometimes adjectives are missed, in speech, and re-inserted into a sentence at the end. To indicate that the adjective is out of place, a comma is used. Punchline humor works with an ellipse, but if you feel it is unclear, write {pause}, instead. I don't think that people will take the latter meaning if you write 'Have you eaten squid fried?' I think they will stare agape, in want for an object... –  Wolfpack'08 Sep 3 '12 at 12:27
    
...thinking, '"squid-fried" what?' –  Wolfpack'08 Sep 3 '12 at 12:27
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