Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Another one bites

Quick post on Alex Trebek and an odd stress pattern from this evening's Jeopardy!.

Reading the name of Ben Stiller's movie, Reality Bites, Alex put the phrase's primary stress on reality. This would be okay if the name of the movie referred to 'bites of reality' or something like that in which 'reality bites' is a noun with 'bites' as the head noun, and 'reality' as the specifier. So you'd have computer bytes, and be covered in mosquito bites, and have all sorts of bites in addition to reality bites.

But I've always understood the title to be a sentence. The noun/subject is 'reality' and the verb/predicate is 'bites.' In that case the primary stress of the phrase should be on 'bites' unless a contrastive stress is intended. As in a correction if someone were to say that fantasy bites.

"No, fantasy doesn't bite; reality bites."

I would call Alex unhip if the movie were actually any good.


  1. I never did know which parse was intended for the movie title, or maybe if both were. Watching the movie might give me a clue.

  2. it was a lame movie, but I think the title was supposed to have a clever(?) double meaning:
    Reality Bites=Life Sucks
    Reality Bites=this movie presents snippets (bites) from the real lives of a bunch of 20-something whiners

  3. 'Bite' as a verb meaning 'suck' didn't catch on in Ireland, but I was eventually exposed to it through American media. So at first I thought the film title meant 'bites of reality', and when the second meaning occurred to me I decided that I didn't know whether the ambiguity was deliberate or not. I never watched the film.

  4. I figured Alex was just treating as a meaningless pair of words with compound noun stress.

    Like the teenaged girls ahead of me in line a couple of weeks ago who wanted to see "Newman" (aka New Moon).


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