Monday, 25 February 2013

Stuffed monkey

In the Guardian at the weekend, Jane Goodall did the Q&A regular feature. One of the questions is 'What is your most treasured possession?', and she answered: 
My mascot Mr H, a stuffed monkey that I have had for 19 years.
Generally, 'a stuffed monkey' means something like this:
But is that what 'stuffed monkey' means here? It could also be this: 

Given that Goodall worked with chimps in Africa, it's entirely possible that she has an actual monkey that has been stuffed, perhaps a favourite pet. It wouldn't be a chimp, because as an expert she would not call a chimp a monkey, but still a possibility, no? 

This ambiguity is not normally present, because the first meaning is so much more accessible, so this is an example of how context can make a big difference to the salience of a secondary reading. 

In case you're curious, it is a toy:

And she made no mention of whether she made the chimps work in a diamond mine, as her fictional counterpart did in the Simpsons.

1 comment:

  1. Goodall not only wouldn't call chimps monkeys, it's inconceivable that she would carry stuffed ones (in the second sense) about. There's a wonderful passage in Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi that comes to mind:

    Of course, on the great rise [of the Missisippi], down came a swarm of prodigious timber-rafts from the head waters of the Mississippi, coal barges from Pittsburgh, little trading scows from everywhere, and broad-horns from 'Posey County,' Indiana, freighted with 'fruit and furniture' — the usual term for describing it, though in plain English the freight thus aggrandized was hoop-poles and pumpkins. Pilots [of steamboats] bore a mortal hatred to these craft; and it was returned with usury. The law required all such helpless traders to keep a light burning, but it was a law that was often broken. All of a sudden, on a murky night, a light would hop up, right under our bows, almost, and an agonized voice, with the backwoods 'whang' to it, would wail out —

    "Whar'n the —— you goin' to! Cain't you see nothin', you dash-dashed aig-suckin', sheep-stealin', one-eyed son of a stuffed monkey!"