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Feb 5, 2008

Hey there Delilah

There's a song which is currently popular enough to merit about thirteen dozen plays on ICRT every day. It's the Plain White Ts' Hey there Delilah, a soft little guitar/vocals ditty. I think the chorus is fascinating too. Here is the opening of the song and the refrain:

Hey there Delilah / What's it like in New York City? / I'm a thousand miles away / But girl, tonight you look so pretty / Yes you do / Times Square can't shine as bright as you / I swear it's true

Hey there Delilah / Don't you worry about the distance / I'm right there if you get lonely / Give this song another listen / Close your eyes / Listen to my voice, it's my disguise / I'm by your side

Oh it's what you do to me / Oh it's what you do to me / Oh it's what you do to me / Oh it's what you do to me / What you do to me
Now what's so fascinating here is that obviously, the chorus only spells out half of the construction, and leaves the other half to the listener's imagination. And I wonder if I'm alone in projecting at least a few words of that construction:

1. It's what you do to me [that makes me ... (have a positive emotional response of some sort)]

or perhaps

2. It's what you do to me [that I ... (love, can't do without, etc)]

I get the distinct impression the implied sentence is not

3. It's what you do to me [that my mother can't stand.]

The chorus engages the listener because he or she anticipates the second half of the utterance and will in some way try to finish the sentence. The listener becomes even further engaged because of the need to identify and empathize with the singer in order to make an intelligent guess as to how the sentence ends, which is why possibilities like (3) are not likely interpretations.

Additionally, the sentence is arranged with a sort of emphatic construction "it's x that y" which moves the x element closer to the default subject position -- even though it's not the real subject -- to make x more important. Consider the difference in tone between:

4. It's you that I can't stand.


5. I can't stand you.

I'm not sure there's a way to conclude this post well. It's just a rant that I wanted to post.

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