Quine and Groucho

I was watching the Marx brothers film Horse Feathers and noticed a reference to the distinction between de reand de dicto readings of vernacular sentences. Groucho says to Chico, “You have the brain of a four year old…and I bet he was glad to get rid of it”. The joke depends upon switching from a narrow scope reading of the quantifier to a wide scope reading–as if Chico had stolen the brain of an actual four year old. I wonder if Quine ever saw the film and had his attention drawn to the ambiguity of the original sentence. The unexpected reading is: “There is a four year old whose brain you have”.

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