What’s not actually happening?

I’ve been following pourmecoffee on Twitter for a while now. S/he is a minor Twitter celebrity due to her/his regular supply of interesting links and accompanying amusing commentary. A tweet from last night provides a new entry in the ‘fun with structural ambiguity’ category here (with all the usual caveats about how this may or may not constitute actual fun for anyone other than me, and even for me it’s often kind of borderline):

CPAC starts tomorrow. This is annual conservative convention to defend against socialism that isn’t actually happening.

Clearly, the joke is that socialism isn’t actually happening, but I found it much easier at first to give it the reading in which the clause “that isn’t actually happening” modifies “annual conservative convention”.

That is, the natural reading seems (or seemed at first, anyway) to be something like:

[This is [... convention [to defend against socialism] that isn’t actually happening.]]

Rather than the intended (since CPAC is, I assume, actually happening):

[This is [... convention [to defend against [socialism that isn't actually happening.]]]]

So, yeah. Not much fun after all. The tweet was mildly amusing at first, but the joke died on the operating table. And it was elective surgery, too.

Plenty of structural ambiguity, though, so the category tag is at least partially justified.

I’ll stop now.

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