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A previous question post by a new user was put on hold because five people, incuding me, voted it to be "primarily opinion-based" because (or despite) it asking about one line in a song. Therefore I am restating the original post in a way that focuses on grammar.

1 In the title of this blog post, "Loyalty points to nowhere," is points a verb or a noun?

2 Also, in the phrase "assessing points to nowhere," is points a verb or a noun? The complete sentence is "And assessing points to nowhere, leading every single one."

3 Does the grammar of "assessing loyalty points to nowhere" work the same as the grammar of "assessing points to nowhere"? Edit: Please briefly explain the grammar if there is difference.

Since adding a bounty, I have added the following question:

4 Does this interpretation of the phrase act in accord with the grammar of the phrase? Why or why not?

I don't want answers that are largely opinion based, but that are grammatically, linguistically, and contextually based. Thanks.

  • 1. "Loyalty points" are nouns like frequent flier miles. The title "loyalty points to nowhere" suggests that the article is about how that you may accumulate frequent flier miles but not be able to use them. A big clue to this is the first sentence of the second paragraph: "Finally you have accumulated the required number of points...." in which points is unambiguously a noun. – Adam Dec 24 '14 at 19:34
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    2. This is still a poem. The usage of "points" is ambiguous, and it may or may not be a complete sentence. Since the context makes no sense, there is no way of determining whether it is a noun or a verb without either asking the songwriter or making interpretive assumptions (i.e. any answer you get will be opinion based.) – Adam Dec 24 '14 at 19:36
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    @Adam Could you answer Question 3 that I added? And could you answer in an answer not in a comment, if you have the time? There's no hurry. Thanks – user6951 Dec 24 '14 at 19:53
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The following are the supporting grammatical, linguistic, and context details as requested by the OP. There is a Summary at the end.

1. "Loyalty Points to Nowhere"

Generally speaking, points can be interpreted as either a noun or a verb. On its own, the title is ambiguous. In cases of ambiguity, interpretation solely within the mind of the reader/listener, and in a sense, it matters not what the author intended. Both interpretations work to the advantage of the article, as described next.

1.a Points as a Verb

Before reading the article, the verb interpretation is more probable. Before the reader reads the article body, "points" is more easily interpreted as a verb, indicating that the act of loyalty itself is not rewarded.


Labeled Bracket Notation: [S [N Loyalty][VP [V Points][PP^ to nowhere]]] ] (Link)

Meaning: Grammatically, this is similar to "Happiness leads to sadness." Being loyal (loyalty) leads (points) one nowhere. Being loyal is not rewarded. Note that grammatically, the verb-interpretation creates an independent clause so it can be read as a complete sentence.

Editors are keen to watch for double meanings in article titles because they are usually cause for embarrassment. There are famous examples of such, like "Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim". Of course, the squad helped the person who was bitten by a dog, but one can chuckle at the absurd thought of a squad encouraging a dog to bite a victim. On the other hand, a well crafted title or slogan that carries two meanings can be powerful.

Article titles are intended to entice readers to read the article. The idea that "Loyalty itself points ("gets you") nowhere" is just the type of spicy and controversial title that would lead one to click/read such an article. "What!?!? Loyalty leads you nowhere!?!? I take "loyalty" seriously. I don't believe it leads to nowhere! What is this author saying??? I'm going to read this..."

The writer/editor was most likely aware of this clever word play; it's their job to do so. Because this verb-interpretation is much more compelling than the bland noun-interpretation, we can assume the writers would have been quite pleased with the double meaning, whether intentional or not.

1b) Points as a Noun

After reading the article, the noun interpretation becomes immediately apparent. It becomes obvious that the word Points can refer to the "Loyalty Points" reward program, meaning something like you got a "ticket to nowhere".

Labeled Bracket Notation: [NP [NP^ Loyalty Points][PP^ to nowhere]] (Link)

Meaning: "Loyalty Points" are part of a Loyalty Program, and in this article, it refers to Frequent Flyer Miles](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frequent-flyer_program). This is grammatically similar to "Roads to Nowhere" or "Loyalty Reward Programs to Nowhere". Noun phrases are commonly used for titles of articles and songs, like "10 Tips for Better Health" and "A Day in the Life" (Beatles). Note that a noun phrase is not a complete sentence.

Note however, that the verb interpretation is also supported from the article's overall meaning. In the supermarket example, he is directed to "a very small hidden section in the back of the shop". (That is, he is pointed to nowhere.)

The two alternative interpretations overlap in meaning. This double meaning, intentional or not, complements the article and illustrates the power of a clever word play.

2. "Assessing points to nowhere."

Analysis of the meaning of this song phrase is beyond the scope of ell.stackexchange.1 But we can help the English language learner with the options available based on the grammar and other contextual elements.

First of all, songs are uttered, and in this case, the pace and tone of the sung lyrics has pauses and tonality that places the lyric as the beginning to the verse/stanza/paragraph of lines that follow it.

Secondly, most online lyrics for this song do not properly illustrate the original typography/layout structure, which can lead to inaccurate conjectures. A look at the original written lyrics also indicates this phrase construction belongs with the words/phrases/sentences that follows it, and not with the ones that precede it. The following is a picture of the lyrics from original vinyl album (click to see larger image):
enter image description here

The following is lyrics from the remastered CD insert. It also shows the line as an introduction to a new stanza (in accord with both the original publications as well as the sung lyrics).
enter image description here
Lyrics By Anderson / Howe, (c) 1972 Atlantic Recording Corporation.

The phrase can now be seen as part of a couplet:

Assessing points to nowhere leading every single one, 
A dewdrop can exalt us like the music of the sun

We therefore have reason to view this as the following sentence:

  • Assessing points to nowhere leading every single one, a dewdrop can exalt us like the music of the sun.

There are many ways to parse this, and very little semantic content to help us narrow it down. (See ERG LOGON Online Demonstrator and try entering the sentence.) But we could we could make two general choices preferring the noun or verb:

  • Leading every single one, a dewdrop's assessing points(v) to nowhere, and so it can exalt us like the music of the sun.2
    enter image description here

  • Leading every single one, a dewdrop's assessing points-to-nowhere (noun-phrase) can exalt us like the music of the sun.3a 3b 3c
    enter image description here

Running the original sentence through the Stanford Parser yields the noun-phrase. Running through ERG LOGON Online Demonstrator yields mostly noun-phrases.

Jon Anderson was writing this in a stream of altered consciousness. The lyric is both rich in imagery and quasi-grammatical, but this is as far as we can take it. Again, the interpretation is completely in the mind of the listener, especially with psychedelic music.

3. Grammar Differences Between Title and Lyrics.

There is a big difference in the grammars of the two phrases. The title of the article stands alone as a complete entity, and may easily be considered either a noun-phrase or a sentence. This generally affords titles more room for ambiguity -- often in an unintentional and undesirable way! In this case, it's quite plausible that the double-meaning of the title was intentional for the sake of attention-grabbing and cleverness.

To illustrate the grammatical difference, consider the same title within a larger context that forces points to be a verb:

  • When leadership wants to fire someone and they point to their corporate rules, loyalty points to nowhere.

Unlike the article title, the song lyric is part of a larger grammatical context and does not stand on its own. This can influences a preferred interpretation of points based on how one interprets the context. But since the context is also ambiguous, the meaning of that context still depends on assumptions or associations that the listener makes.

4. Does Ahyh's interpretation respect the grammar of the phrase?

No. Ahyh's interpretation is like an intense trip into his own associations of metaphors and often made without regard to larger grammatical contexts. Each line was interpreted as describing a complete meaning of its own. Sometimes even small phrases or single words have complete meanings to Ahyh, independent of their grammatical role. That doesn't mean he's wrong. But his interpretation does not adhere to the grammar.


Summary/Conclusion

1. 'Points' is most likely interpreted as a verb before reading the article. The concept of "Loyalty Points" becomes obvious after reading the article. The ambiguity serves the article well and was most likely intentional since writers and editors watch for such double meanings in article titles.

2. An analysis of the original lyrics suggests it belongs to the sentence: - "Assessing points to nowhere leading every single one, a dewdrop can exalt us like the music of the sun." Respected online language parsers suggest a preference for a noun interpretation of 'points'. However, the colorful language and intent of the psychedelic music genre defies any single definitive interpretation.

3. Grammar Differences. The title stands on its own as a complete entity interpreted before the article is read. The song lyric is embedded within a larger context of a sentence within the song, and gains meaning from (and lends to) its larger context.

4. Ahyh's interpretation does not follow the grammar of the lyrics; it focuses on small fragments of the lyrics without respect to the overall grammatical context.


Footnotes

  1. The meaning of the song is most likely based on whatever personal impact it has upon the listener. Jon Anderson himself said, "“It’s all metaphors... that’s when I went through that very strong period of just sketching and writing whatever I sang as being a state of consciousness. I would smoke a joint and just have fun and write the lyrics to Close to the Edge." (From "Yes, ‘Close to the Edge’ Turns 40" by Ryan Reed, September 15, 2012 8:51 AM)

  2. Points = Verb. Image rendered by Yoichiro Hasebe's RSyntax Tree. Sorry but I lost the Labeled Bracket Notation for this one! See next one.

3a. Points = Noun. Image rendered by Yoichiro Hasebe's RSyntax Tree.

3b. Here is a link to Mike Shang's Syntax Tree Generator which can run from links. (RSyntaxTree website currently does not support linking, but creates better images.)

3c. Here's the Labeled Bracket Notation:

[S
    [NP
        [VP 
            [V Leading] 
            [NP^ every single one,]
        ] 
        [NP
            [NP-POS^ a dewdrop's]
            [GER-PH
                [GER assessing] 
                [NP^ points to nowhere]
            ]
        ]
    ]
    [VP 
        [V can exalt] 
        [N us]
        [PP^ like the music of the sun.]
    ]
]
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    I appreciate that you went back to the original layout of the lyric and the phrasing of the song to determine the context. – ColleenV Jan 2 '15 at 15:45
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    Good answer @CoolHandLouis! CarSmack may loose some sleep deciding who gets the bounty, but I quote Plonius: "Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit, And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief... (Hamlet Act 2, scene 2, 86-92) – ScotM Jan 2 '15 at 23:44
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    Hey, @CoolHandLouis I'm "the new user." Thanks for your explanation. Especially your reference to the original lyrics and the examples helped me. – fill Jan 3 '15 at 16:52
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    +1 Nice read. Makes it worth being on here. I had a little fiddle at the end there to make the link work out in the text. Hope that's ok! :) – Araucaria Jan 5 '15 at 18:11
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    @Araucaria, I'm glad you enjoyed it! There is no greater compliment than what you said. And thanks for the helpful edit! – CoolHandLouis Jan 6 '15 at 0:35
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+500

In the body of the article Loyalty Points to Nowhere, points is used as a noun six times:

  • your statement of loyalty points is looking particularly flash [sic]--the noun points is the object of the preposition of.
  • you have accumulated the required number of points--the noun points is the object of the preposition of.
  • with your loyalty points you could pick up some potatoes--the noun points is the object of the preposition with.
  • my hard-earned points are so inferior--the noun points is the subject of a dependent clause.
  • that is exactly what my points are--the noun points is the subject of a relative clause.
  • I applied for an upgrade to business class with points--the noun points is the object of the preposition with.

Each time points is used like miles in the phrase frequent flier miles--the things you earn but can never use!

The way points was used in the body, does not determine how it is used in the title, but it might impact how we interpret the word. In the title, Loyalty Points to Nowhere, it would make perfect sense to interpret points as a noun. With Points as a noun, Loyalty would be an adjective describing what kind of points, and to nowhere is an adjectival prepositional phrase describing what kind of points. Without a verb, the expression would be a noun phrase instead of a sentence, but a title doesn't need to be a sentence.

Loyalty points to nowhere also leaves room for a cute little play on words where loyalty behaves like a noun (in stead of an adjective), points behaves like a verb (instead of a noun), and to nowhere is an adverbial prepositional phrase describing where the loyalty points. Loosely interpreted: Loyalty directs attention to nowhere. That little play on words makes it an interesting title.


In the song Close to the Edge, by Yes, the line And assessing points to nowhere, leading every single one is part of a free flowing poem, written by Jon Anderson to be heard more than read. I recommend the entire song as good music and existential poetry, but if you listen to the song starting at the 3:30 mark on the youtube video link, you will hear the lines sung as the author intended.

The usage of points is ambiguous, as poetry can be, because poets use different rules of syntax for creative effect. The parallelism between the musical phrases could connect assessing and leading:

assessing points to no where--loosely interpreted: *Evaluating details to nowhere*...

leading every single one...

Using points in that way, like a noun, produces two dependent clauses, with assessing and leading used as present participles. Both dependent clauses could find resolution in the surrounding lines of the poem, because poetry is guided by different rules of syntax.

At the same time, the meaning of points, as a verb, could develop a theme with leading.

assessing points to no where--loosely interpreted: *Estimating value directs attention to nowhere*...

leading every single one...

Assessing, as a gerund, becomes the subject of the verb points. That yields the sentence, Assessing points to nowhere.

One might ask: "What other part of the song talks about points as things?" because later in the song another phrase appears to reinforce the point-lead theme:

And assessing points to nowhere, leading every single one

...

He turned around and pointed, revealing all the human race

There are plenty of other interpretive questions to ask; but this is not the venue for those. I would lean toward interpreting the word point as a verb, but the ambiguity seems to add value to this song, and the linguistic point is that point could be interpreted either way.


Though his subjective interpretation was fairly clear, Psycho-boy seems to have followed Jon Anderson's grammatical ambiguity. The only time he used the word points in his explanation was in the fragment:

Points to nowhere.

He emphasized ideas, details and statistics, so one might infer that he leaned toward interpreting points as a noun, but that would be another subjective interpretation. If that was his interpretation, it would be consistent with a poetic syntax using points as a noun, but he did not use a grammatical argument for his conclusions.


Point in the Oxford English Dictionary

NOUN

  1. A particular spot, place, or position in an area or on a map, object, or surface: [see 3.1-3.6]

At some point, we will need to make a decision.

  1. A single item or detail in an extended discussion, list, or text: [see 4.1-4.5]

The points of his presentation were clearly outlined.

  1. (In sports and games) a mark or unit of scoring: [see 5.1-5.10]

The loyalty points he earned were actually worthless.

VERB

1 [NO OBJECT] Direct someone’s attention to the position or direction of something, [se 1.1-1.7]

That grand central arch points to the the Gothic influence of his architecture.

Emphasis mine


Conclusion

  1. Point is a noun when it's used as a noun. It is a verb when it's used as a verb.
  2. The usage was ambiguous in both the title and the song, but the rules of grammar are flexible for titles and poetry.
  3. In both cases, because the syntax of the phrases is ambiguous, the meaning of the word points is ambiguous.
  4. In particular, the richness of meaning in the song Close to the Edge is best experienced in the listening.
  5. Psycho-boy expressed a reasoned opinion on the song, but did not address the grammar of the phrase directly.
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    Who is John Anderson? You mention his name out of the blue. Don't answer that question here as a comment. – user6951 Jan 2 '15 at 22:08
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    What is the use of 'points' in 'assessing points to nowhere' as the singer sings it in the video link you have provided? Is it clear enough to resolve the ambiguity of 'points' being a noun or points being a verb. Or is it still ambiguous the way he sings it? – user6951 Jan 2 '15 at 22:15
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    I created a chat room, if you know how to acess it, maybe this link will show it chat.stackexchange.com – user6951 Jan 2 '15 at 22:21
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    Also, since both post-bounty answers contain valuable insights, and neither answer is clearly "better" (they complement) , I am not choosing either answer. True, fill did, but this question is ultimately mine. – user6951 Jan 3 '15 at 18:05
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    @CarSmack - I want to thank YOU for creating an interesting question and offering a generous bounty to the community! Personally, I'm not concerned about the bounty! I just answer interesting questions with in-depth research because I enjoy giving to the community and I learn a lot in the process. Also, to be clear, the tie-rule you mentioned about bounties is an automation rule that chooses a winner when one is not explicitly selected by the bounty-poster. See ell.stackexchange.com/help/bounty for complete details. – CoolHandLouis Jan 3 '15 at 18:40
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  1. Loyalty points to nowhere (Title of a blog post) In the article "loyalty points" are nouns like frequent flier miles. A big clue to this is the first sentence of the second paragraph: "Finally you have accumulated the required number of points...." in which points is unambiguously a noun. The title "Loyalty points to nowhere" introduces an article about how that you may accumulate reward miles but not be able to use them.

  2. And assessing points to nowhere, leading every single one This is from a poem (a song by the band Yes). The usage of points is ambiguous, and the whole thing may or may not be a complete sentence. Since the context makes no sense, there is no way of determining whether points is a noun or a verb without either asking the songwriter or making interpretive assumptions (i.e. any answer you get will be opinion based.) I can imagine multiple meanings with multiple grammatical structures, and none of them are very interesting.

  3. Assessing loyalty points to nowhere: If you can promise that it is a complete sentence, then the verb has to be points. It has the same structure as Eating giraffe makes you taller. It means something like The act of evaluating how loyal someone is does not reveal anything.

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    Is it possible the article's title is nevertheless using the word point in a deliberately ambiguous way? I mean if you can't use the Loyalty points, don't they point to nowhere? Or fly you to nowhere? – user6951 Dec 26 '14 at 19:35
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A previous question post by a new user was put on hold because five people, incuding me, voted it to be "primarily opinion-based" because (or despite) it asking about one line in a song. Therefore I am restating the original post in a way that focuses on grammar.

I've never answered my own question before. (It seems like cheating. Who else could know the mind of the questioner?) I was hoping this question might serve as an example how to ask about the "interpretation" of a line or two of a song.

And I was keen to see what kinds of answers would show up. What approaches would people take? After all, this question asks for a 'grammatically-based' answer. I've seen some great answers; and I've learned some things from them. Which I will get to, by and by.

I don't want answers that are largely opinion based, but that are grammatically, linguistically, and contextually based. Thanks.

You're welcome. What a kind chap. It really does to hang around such.

1 In the title of this blog post, "Loyalty points to nowhere," is points a verb or a noun?

Loyalty points to nowhere

What type of discourse is this? It is a headline. It is also a speech-act. What act is it performing? It is trying to get your attention so that you will read the article it is attached to, so that you will stay on the internet site longer and maybe click on some advertisements. That's is its first duty.

Who writes headlines. Not the same person who writes the article. A reporter or feature writer writes his piece, turns it in, and then turns himself in (to home or to the bar or to bed--or to all three). He is not around when the copy editor writes the headlines.

Headlines are written in headlinese, which has its own syntax, punctuation and vocabulary. Headlines often use the instantaneous present for dramatic effect. 'Fifteen Hundred Lives Lost When Titanic Plunges Headlong Into Depths of the Sea' is headlinese, as is the seventy-word subtitle.

The copy editor writes the headline in headlinese, makes it catchy and makes it fit--to the page layout, not always to the article content. The copy editor is not going to read the whole article. He is going to skim it, get the gist of it and then write a headline for it.

I'll answer this question from the pragmatic viewpoint. Which makes the better headline of the following two options:

A) Loyalty points to nowhere
B) Points

A is 'points' as a verb. If 'points' is a verb, it requires a subject. When 'points' means to have the end or tip extended, aimed, or turned in a specified direction, it is always followed by an adverb or preposition (M-W, verb 3). As a verb, 'point' carries with it the sense of the instantaneous present, bringing us to the exact time that loyalty points. And so, we have a sentence. It is also a complete speech-act.

B is 'points' as a noun. Both the would-be adjective 'loyalty' and the prepositional phrase are dispensible. The head of the noun phrase 'loyalty points to nowhere' needs only its head ('points') to be complete.

Given what we know about headlines, which of A and B makes the better headline? When you answer that, you are also answering whether 'points' is a verb or noun.


2 Also, in the phrase "assessing points to nowhere," is points a verb or a noun? The complete sentence is "And assessing points to nowhere, leading every single one."

I only said it was a complete sentence because the user fill said so. I was trying to stay as faithful to his/her question as possible.

As for an answer, even though my question stresses grammar, it also mentions context. In answering, it is right to try to put this freefloating progressive participle into some kind of grammatical context. fill had done that by stating it was part of a particular complete sentence.

Reading the song lyrics (grabbed from a site that doesn't take hours to open) does not help much. It sets the questioned phrases into the midst of an mangled octuplet. It was ScotM who first pointed out the parallelism of

And assessing points to nowhere

and

leading every single one.

ScotM suggested that the meaning could be found within "surrounding lines." While this might not be as exacting as some might like, perhaps it is enough analysis to allow the reader/listener a syntactical framework by which to make a better-educated guess as to meaning.

But ScotM's best suggestion, which was the critical part of his answer, was to point out that the lyrics were best listened to. Song reflects that language is, imho, primarily an oral-aural experience. Most languages in the world have I believe not yet been set to writing. And in our age, and in the SE-ELU/ELL mileau we are geared toward language as a spoken rather than heard event.

It was an afternoon delight to get a look at the album cover whereon are the lyrics. Which presentation made it now doubly clear (one, from the listening; two, from the cover) that the phrase was meant to be associated mostly with what follows and not with what precedes, a clarity that this answer apparently does not have.

The analysis and diagrams and charts and links also provided by CoolHandLouis (one of the coolest handles here, although heretofore referenced as CHL) are also productive and illuminating.

Yet, for me, the paradigm for answering how to interpret a line or two of song lyrics is to place them within as broad as possible a grammatical context possible. I know this does not provide the asker with the most detailed response. But ultimately, as suggested by the caveats that accompany the trees, ultimately the interpretation is subjective. Was J Anderson abiding by a recognized grammar? Whatever the case he uses a lot of participial phrases.

3 Does the grammar of "assessing loyalty points to nowhere" work the same as the grammar of "assessing points to nowhere"? Edit: Please briefly explain the grammar if there is difference.

Yes.

4 Does this interpretation of the phrase act in accord with the grammar of the phrase? Why or why not?

Psycho-boy presents his website as speaking for God. As such his interpretation is an exposition inundated by his view of meaning. It seems he treats assessing as a noun and points as a verb. Not that I'm going to read his verbiage more than once, in order to confirm this. He does seem to connect our phrases with the following one and gives the dewdrop due due. This may characterize his entire exposition.

helpful conclusion
1 This answer breaks no new interpretative ground except for its handling of the headline.

2 The first step in attempting a grammatical analysis of possibly ambiguous lyrics is to listen to the song. Another helpful thing is to get the intended phrasing of the lyrics.

3 An exacting grammatical analysis offers greater understanding of a possible syntax. A less rigorous analysis offers a sufficient scaffold from which to better understand the song.

4 My question to the second language learner becomes: how much 'explaining (of grammar') do you want? Given the inherent power gap between educator and learner, too detailed an explanation could be taken by the learner as offering a canonical interpretation.

5 Perhaps the best answer is: go listen to the song and intuit the grammar/meaning as much as you can, and return to the song as your command of English improves; surely this song is long enough that it will still be playing.

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