At Hilton Washington Dulles Airport hotel, everything is complimentary! That’s because to them “complimentary” actually means “for a price.” Last week, a linguistics professor tried to take advantage of their “Complimentary High-speed Internet access on the lobby level,” which is how they describe the service on their website. He quickly discovered that he’d have to agree to a $9.99 charge in order to get the free service.
On his blog Language Log, Geoffrey K. Pullum writes,
I went and asked at the registration desk. And here is what Hilton Hotels thought “complimentary high-speed Internet access” meant: if you are a guest, and you register for Internet access in your room, and agree to have the $9.99 charged thereto, then after that you can also use your laptop in the lobby for no extra charge. So if you pay $9.99 for the relevant 24 hours it’s free.
Pullum was pretty surprised at this rather creative interpretation of the word “complimentary,” so he explained to the manager why it was idiotic by using an analogy:
Suppose (I invited the assistant manager to imagine) they said there were complimentary apples on the lobby level, and when you went to get some they explained that they actually meant that if you went up to your room and paid for an order of room-service apples to be brought up and signed for, you could then bring one down and eat it in the lobby area. Would you not be mildly surprised?
In the end, the manager had Pullum log onto his hotel account and pay for the $10 Wi-Fi charge, and then she reversed the fee. As far as Pullum is concerned, this solved the problem—”I don’t tell this story to criticize Hilton Hotels,” he writes—but of course it doesn’t solve it for anyone else who reads the description on the official hotel website and shows up expecting free Internet access in the lobby.
“Complimentary Internet in the lobby” [Language Log] (Thanks to Lisa!)