Homework assignment for formal semanticists

Lambda monkey I came across the following quote from Sylvia Plath on Passive Guy’s blog:

If neurotic is wanting two mutually exclusive things at one and the same time, then I’m neurotic as hell. I’ll be flying back and forth between one mutually exclusive thing and another for the rest of my days.

I thought, “That’s me!” While toying with the idea of copy-pasting this into my collection of quotes I might want to use one day, I read it again, and the part of my brain that has been thinking far too much about formal semantics this month said, “Hey, wait a minute.”

Which leads us to Dr. Monkey’s first homework assignment for formal semanticists….

Explain how the phrase one mutually exclusive thing gets interpreted.

You may use any plausible assumptions you like. You may use any system of logic you like whose name isn’t an oxymoron (quantum logic is fine; intuitionist logic, borderline; business logic, not on your life). You may use any kind of quantifiers you like (generalized, branching, non-branching, loop-de-loop).

Bonus marks for not using any Greek letters except, in an emergency, lambda. Bonus marks for legitimately using all of the Unicode symbols for the see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, and speak-no-evil monkeys, illustrated above (offer not available to any analysis framed in Optimality Theory, or to Maria Bittner).

Any answers that deny that this needs an analysis (because it’s performance not competence, periphery not core, E-language not I-language, or any similar excuse) will be referred to the authorities for academic dishonesty.

Hurry. Every day I don’t see a good explanation causes me milliseconds and milliseconds of emotional angst.

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