I want a foo that doesn't bar, such as a baz.

Is baz referring to a foo that does bar, or a foo that does not bar?

  • 3
    It can refer to either; this is what's called an "attachment ambiguity", because the such as clause appears in a place where it can be attached to either 'a foo that doesn't bar' or its (unspoken) opposite. Commented May 3, 2016 at 18:42
  • @JohnLawler Do you have a moment to give a critical look at english.stackexchange.com/questions/322534/…
    – MetaEd
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 19:01
  • @MετάEd Um, the idiom is totally foreign to me (i.e, I've never encountered it in American English), so I'm afraid I have no intuitions, lacking context. It certainly is zero-derivation, or verbing, but what kind? Substituting intercourse for fuck doesn't change the problem of what kind of construction Fuck the penguins! is. Clearly it is not an imperative command to engage in sexual intercourse with at least one penguin. Quang Phuc Dong takes up this question in his classic "English Sentences Without Overt Grammatical Subject". Commented May 3, 2016 at 20:04
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    @JohnLawler It feels good to laugh like that. I might avoid calling violate a verbing of violate (because both are verbs) but I was hoping you would agree it's a zero derivation.
    – MetaEd
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 20:17
  • It's only ambiguous if both "a foo, such as a baz" and "to bar, such as a baz" make sense. To me the latter sounds wrong, so I'd have to say that the meaning is clearly that a baz in an example of a foo that doesn't bar.
    – Hank D
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 22:44

2 Answers 2


Neither. It's just an construction that is both ambiguous and logically incomplete.

As it stands, your imagined or intended foo could be one that by habit or external setting does not bar at all, or one that we must assume has the potential to bar but so far seems not to have done so (although we might be unequipped to tell).

The entire statement indicates that barring is somehow assumed to be in the general nature of foos. 'Baz' is some relevant designation in this area, not specifically defined but evidently related to a capacity for barring.

Right now, given this text, we must assume that any given foo could bar at any moment: we just don't yet know enough about it.

  • 1
    How is this ambiguous? The only possible way I can see to interpret the statement is that they want a foo that does not bar, and a baz is an example of a foo that does not bar. Commented May 3, 2016 at 19:15
  • An ambiguous wording would have been "I want a foo that does not bar like a baz." Commented May 3, 2016 at 19:19
  • @SomethingDark The ambiguity that I must assume OP is worrying about lies in 'that doesn't bar, such as a baz'. A foo might or might not bar (but certainly could, in theory). A baz seems to be likely to do so, and we don't want our foo to behave like that. It's an inelegant thing, where 'such as' serves' for something like 'like'. I wouldn't write a user manual like that. Commented May 3, 2016 at 19:42
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    I would never understand a baz as being anything other than 'a foo that does not bar' Commented May 3, 2016 at 19:47
  • Love how this answer sounds!
    – texnic
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 22:04

The placeholder words throw my brain for a loop. How about some real world examples? Here's one - I want a dog that doesn't bark, such as a basenji [which doesn't bark].

  • 1
    I deliberately avoided using real words, because the intended meaning would be obvious from context. I wanted to know how the phrase should be interpreted generally. Commented May 3, 2016 at 21:58

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