Archive for Peeving

Entitled: Zombie chain shift

Where do zombies come from? As Wikipedia tells us, it all started with evil Haitian sorcerers using necromancy to create undead slaves. But then, Hollywood invented contagious zombification, originally attributed to radioactive contamination from Venus, but more recently understood to be due to human zombism virus (HZV).

As for zombie rules, all that we really know, in most cases, is where they don't come from. They're not based on observations of language use, even of formal writing by elite authors. Nor are they based on usage advice from knowledgeable authorities. Rather, these mutations in the meme pool seem to pop up spontaneously from time to time, in ordinary literate people who are heavily invested in the idea that some aspects of common usage are ignorant mistakes. Like sexual selection in genetics, prestige-based cultural selection can favor arbitrary and even maladaptive traits, and therefore zombie ideas like "no initial conjunctions", "no final prepositions", and "no split verbs" can spread through an intimidated population for no apparent reason at all.

But still, it's natural to want an explanation, even for weird pseudo-elitist fashion epidemics. So at the risk of post-hoc rationalization, I'll offer a theory about the origins of one zombie rule which came to my attention recently, the "titled not entitled" prescription.

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Assortative peeving

Girls With Slingshots for 12/23/2014:

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"Not a verb" is not an argument

This morning, when I checked out the website of The Atlantic, I saw an article by Megan Garber with the headline, "Gifting Is Not a Verb":

Megan has written perceptively about language before, notably in her piece from last year, "English Has a New Preposition, Because Internet," which played a large role in bringing attention to the emerging use of "because" — shortly thereafter recognized as the American Dialect Society's 2013 Word of the Year. (Some might argue that the new "because" isn't a preposition; Geoff Pullum defends that classification here and here but says it actually was one all along.)

The article itself is a seasonally appropriate exercise in word aversion, and Megan quotes one of Mark Liberman's posts on the topic to try to understand the source of her intense dislike of "gift" as a verb. But the headline goes much further, declaring that it is not a verb, despite the fact that the article clearly demonstrates that it is a verb, even if it's one that many people don't care for.

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"Due to" and the Conservation of Peeving

From Megan Stone, via Heidi Harley:

A friend of mine, who was an English major with me in undergrad, runs the Twitter account for MBTA, the Boston public transportation system.  This morning, she posted the following:  “#MBTA #OrangeLine Svc is suspended at DTX due to a Medical Emergency. For Green Line Svc, please board at Park St. http://bit.ly/1c6GJEk”.  And a follower replied: “@MBTA BECAUSE OF a medical emergency NOT due to one! The use of due to REQUIRES a fiduciary (that means $$) responsibility. #GrammarMatters”.  Now, I know my ridiculous prescriptivist rules pretty well, between being one (a prescriptivist, not a rule) for most of my life and following LLog, but I’d never heard this one.  So, I did what any responsible language scientist would do; I googled diligently to see what might be underlying this guy’s claim.  What I found were several people railing about the differences between “due to” and “because of” in a different sense:  apparently “due to” is supposed to head an adjectival phrase, while “because of” heads an adverbial one.  As such, @MBTA’s use of “due to” was technically incorrect, but for a totally different reason.  (See, for example, this page.)  What I did NOT find was anyone who even mentioned this “fiduciary” business.

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Couple without of

Scott K. Johnson, "The Scablands: A scarred landscape as strange as fiction", ars technica 10/12/2014:

In 1922, Bretz tried to bring a group of students to the Cascades, but they were unable to make the last leg of the trip. Instead, they used their remaining time to poke around the Scablands near Spokane. The experience hooked him, and Bretz would return every year to further his research.  

In the first couple summers, Bretz and his students mapped an impressive amount of territory, carefully surveying elevations and making observations of the many strange landforms they discovered. They made their way through a number of the dry valleys locally known as “coulees.” While these were plainly products of erosion, there were no streams to be seen. The surrounding region is composed of soft, rolling hills of silty soil, but the rocky coulees had been scraped clean of their sedimentary mantle.

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Get the rope, Bill

It's been a while since we featured a Partially Clips comic — here's the most recent one:

 

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At the Peevers' Jamboree

Alison Flood at Guardian Books extracts a famous author's top linguistic peeves from an interview about how to teach writing ("Stephen King has named his most hated expressions. What are yours?", 9/15/2014),

The Atlantic’s fantastic interview on teaching, writing and reading with Stephen King is well worth reading in full. […] But perhaps the most interesting part is where teacher and writer Jessica Lahey wrangles out of King what his most irritating phrases of the moment are. […] Naming her own most irksome new phrase as “on accident” – and I’m slightly bemused as to how to use this one, so can happily state I’ve not sinned here – Lahey asked King if he had any additions to this list.

King's response was rather mild:

“’Some people say’, or ‘Many believe,’ or ‘The consensus is’. That kind of lazy attribution makes me want to kick something. Also, IMHO, YOLO, and LOL,” said the novelist.

So Flood confesses her own sin, identifying her "own most irritating word/phrase of the moment: brainchild", and then gets to the clickbait point, inviting her readers to let their own peeve flags fly:

I have used it in the past, on a few occasions , and I’m cringing to see it. What a terrible mutant hybrid of a word – why not just say “idea”? Why does it have to be the child of a brain? I vow, here and now, never to let it darken my keyboard again.  […] Comfort me, please, with your own moments of linguistic shame – and your current most-hated turns of phrase."

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Gwynne again

John McIntyre, "What to say to peevers", Baltimore Sun 9/3/2014:

A recent article in the Boston Globe by Britt Peterson, "Why we love the language police," along with comments it has prompted on Facebook and other venues, shows that some people have become dangerously overstimulated by the publication of N.M. Gwynne's Gwynne's Grammar.

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25 Questions for Teaching with "Word Crimes"

The following is a guest post by Lauren Squires.


While "grammar nerds" are psyched about Weird Al's new "Word Crimes" video, many linguists are shaking their heads and feeling a little hopeless about what the public enthusiasm about it represents: a society where largely trivial, largely arbitrary standards of linguistic correctness are heavily privileged, and people feel justified in degrading and attacking those who don't do things the "correct" way. What's behind linguists' reactions are at least three factors.

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Word Crimes

For his new album Mandatory Fun, Weird Al Yankovic has crafted the ultimate peever's anthem: "Word Crimes," to the tune of last summer's big hit, "Blurred Lines."

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Tilting at hashtags

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So appealing

A few days ago, (someone using the initials) C D C commented:

I get so annoyed when I hear sloppy English on the news.
Today I heard that one of the killers of that soldier in London was going to "appeal his sentence" instead of "appeal against his sentence"!

This was a free-floating peeve, completely unrelated to the content of the post  ("The case of the persevering pedestrian", 4/7/2014) or to any of the previous comments — C D C apparently mis-interpreted our discussion of grammatical analysis as one of those articles meant to stir up "Angry linguistic mobs with torches" that the media, especially in Britain, features from time to time.

And as usual for peevers, C D C was not at all curious about the nature and history of the usage in question, and was therefore soon exposed as ignorant as well as intolerant.

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Laowai: the old furriner

Lǎowài 老外 (lit., "old foreign") is a ubiquitous term for a certain type of person from abroad in China, and dictionaries almost invariably gloss it as "foreigner".  Yet the subtleties and nuances of the term seem almost endless, and they can sometimes lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings.  To try to get a handle on this colloquial expression, I asked a number of laowai who have had long experience in China what they thought of this appellation that they had doubtless been called hundreds of times and some Chinese friends who most likely had had occasion to employ that designation themselves.

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