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When hunching myself answering a reading comprehension task, I was particularly unsettled with one question, which I will show you right now:

This is an excerpt from Susan Orlean's "Life is Swell" - 1998 in Women Outside

... On our way to the video store, the girls told me they admired my rental car and said that they thought rental cars totally ripped and that they each wanted to get one. My car, which until then I had sort of hated, suddenly took on a glow...

Question:

In the highlighted portion of the passage, the phrase "they thought rental cars totally ripped" suggests the girls:

A. Assumed rental cars broke easily

B. Considered rental cars were appealing

C. Were surprised that rental cars were new

D. Determined rental cars were ugly

Now, it is obvious that D is easily eliminated, and that left us with A,B,C. The official answer is B. Nevertheless, I thought that A and C were also very sound too. This is because we can infer that the girls' presumption or prejudice of rental cars was that they would be all ripped, in the other word, in bad condition. As a result, I want to have someone clarify this situation for me. Am I wrong because it is a literal question instead of an inference question? Thanks for any help!

Best regards

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    I guess it is just context and feel for language. Since the admiration and their desire to get a car too is described A & C are excluded. – Helmar Jul 20 '16 at 15:35
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You don't need to understand what "ripped" means to answer the question correctly, and you were probably not expected to know in the reading comprehension task.

By process of elimination:

they admired my rental car and said that they thought rental cars broke easily and that they each wanted to get one

NO: if this was the case it would be had thought - until they saw my rental car.

they admired my rental car and said that they thought rental cars were appealing

OK - it makes sense, what they said demonstrates their admiration.

they admired my rental car and said that they were surprised that rental cars were new

NO: to "totally" rip = to be unexpectedly new? Highly unlikely because of the strong adverb.

they admired my rental car and said that they determined rental cars were ugly

NO: "We like your rental car and we have reached the conclusion that rental cars are ugly" - this would only make sense if they especially admire ugly things - unlikely.

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I think the meaning is the opposite of what you think it is.

"ripped" is a word used to describe a very good muscle tone. Eg a woman might describe a man as "ripped" if he has a good six-pack.

By extension, it means "physically attractive", and it's being further extended here to apply to cars as well as people. It's also being used as a verb rather than an adjective, but I think the meaning is the same.

So, they are saying that they like rental cars very much. That's in keeping with their next statement about how they want to get one. That's my take on it anyway.

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    I don't think 'ripped' is being used as a verb in this case. It's an adjective. – DJClayworth Jul 20 '16 at 16:12
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    I think it's meant as an adjective but the sentence structure indicates a verb: "they thought rental cars totally ripped". The adjective would be "they thought rental cars were totally ripped" for example. Either way I think the intended meaning is an adjective. – Max Williams Jul 20 '16 at 16:14
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    The sentence structure certainly admits of an adjective in that place: e.g. "They thought rental cars totally hot", "Ripped" the verb does not mean the same as "ripped" the adjective. – DJClayworth Jul 20 '16 at 16:17
  • That makes sense. In addition, I now realize that if the phrase the question quoted was intended for drawing the conclusion of the presumption or prejudice of those girls, its tense should be "past perfect" owing to the fact that the thinking of the girls had been attached to their minds before the moment, which appeared to be expressed in the past tense, they exposed their opinion. – nthntn Jul 20 '16 at 16:39
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    @DJClayworth I see what you mean but that feels unlikely to me: that type of structure is fairly archaic now isn't it? I think it's more likely to just be a transcription error anyway. – Max Williams Jul 20 '16 at 16:40
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Your point about answers A and C are reasonable, it would take very few changes to suggest either of them as a better answer. Without those changes, B is the best answer because of some specific contextual clues.

Ripped has a connotation of 'attractive' in some contexts, as Max Williams pointed out. It can also mean damaged, as you originally assumed. In this particular sentence, the first connotation seems more likely since it is immediately followed by "and they wanted to get one". If the sentence used "but", to contrast the phrases (damaged but they wanted one anyway) or included a time indicator like "now" (that they want one after they have seen a good rental) then it would be more likely that they meant easily broken as answer A suggested. Otherwise, the way the sentence flowed straight from their admiration to the descriptor (ripped) to the girls' desire for one suggests they thought "ripped" was a good thing.

Likewise, if they were surprised at the newness of the car, I would expect some expression of that in the sentence. Similar cues might suggest surprise, using "but" instead of "and" to contrast the car's condition with their beliefs, or something temporal to suggest their opinion changed after seeing his particular rental. Or a description of their surprise.

Two things point to answer B, that they believed "ripped" was a positive attribute. One, there is the set of cues that sandwiched the descriptor between two other positive affirmations. The other, is that the set of cues that might lead to the other two answers are very similar. If the car was not as they expected, and his particular rental changed their views positively, then answers "A" and "C" are very similar, and so the actual answer is probably neither.

  • That makes sense. In addition, I now realize that if the phrase the question quoted was intended for drawing the conclusion of the presumption or prejudice of those girls, its tense should be "past perfect" owing to the fact that the thinking of the girls had been attached to their minds before the moment, which appeared to be expressed in the past tense, they exposed their opinion. – nthntn Jul 20 '16 at 16:39
  • @nthntn - I'm glad you found my answer useful. Sometimes the little cues are tricky. – Megha Jul 20 '16 at 16:48

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