Archive for Peeving

Their inability not to comprehend that they are incapable

Jonathan Bouquet, "May I have a word… about toolkits, real and metaphorical", The Observer 10/14/2018 [emphasis added]:

No one, least of all my family and close friends, would deny that I am somewhat hidebound, stuck up to my nethers in mud. I mean, don’t get me started on the subject of mobile phones and the inability of so many of their owners not to comprehend that they are incapable of walking and using these devices at the same time.

Thus, when I see the word toolkit, it conjures up images of the contents of a red cantilevered box, containing hammers, various screwdrivers, bradawl, spanners (again various), sundry nails, screws and broken electric saw blades (no, I don’t know why either), and assorted oddly shaped pieces of plastic that probably came from a long-discarded Black & Decker Workmate.

Alas, no longer. A recent report, on parents who won’t let their sons wear a skirt to school possibly being referred to social services, talked of “Brighton and Hove city council’s ‘trans inclusion schools toolkit’”.

Now, without wishing to get involved in the tangled issue of gender identity, I would just like to stick my crusty old arm over the parapet and stand up for toolkit’s proper meaning. Brighton and Hove council could just as easily have used the word advice and it would have had exactly the same meaning.

Or, to put it another way, ain't no toolkit without no hammers.

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An explosion of curation

From June Teufel Dreyer:

Have you noticed that suddenly “curated,” previously almost exclusively used to refer to museum exhibitions, is turning up everywhere? A talking head recently said she was “curating [her] thoughts,” the floral arrangements for a society wedding were described as “curated” by a local florist… and so on.

I have a feeling I’m going to soon dislike the word as much as I do “the perfect storm.”

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Your English is not bad

Thought-provoking observations by a native speaker:

"Racism in Hong Kong: why ‘your English is very good’ is not a compliment, it’s actually very insulting:  An Australian of Chinese descent reveals why she is offended every time she is praised for her excellent English-language skills", by Charmaine Chan, SCMP Magazine (5/19/18)

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Smart should check the OED

A couple of days ago, I wondered why modern English is reluctant to turn adjectives into verbs ("This towel kinds to your skin", 5/12/2018, and Laura Morland commented that "Universal verbing privileges would indeed be the kinder option." We were lamenting the loss of certain kinds of category-bending freedom, but Christopher Beanland wants us to have even less of it ("Smart knows that’s not English – how adland took a mallet to the language", The Guardian 5/14/2018):

It’s taken a millennium and a half for English to develop into a language as rich and complex as a character from your favourite multi-part Netflix drama series – and just a few years for the advertising industry to batter it into submission like a stained piñata at a child’s party.

Baffling slogans have become the new norm in adland. Perhaps Apple laid the foundations in 1997 with its famous Think Different campaign, but things have since gone up a notch: in 2010, Diesel blurted out perplexing offerings such as “Smart had one good idea and that idea was stupid”. Then came Zoopla with its “Smart knows” campaign. Now we’re informed by Ireland’s flag carrier that “Smart flies Aer Lingus”. Who are these people called Smart and how can we avoid sitting next to them on our next flight?

Today’s language-mangling ad campaigns run the greasy gamut from the somewhat confusing “Live your unexpected Luxembourg” to the head-scratching “Start your impossible”.

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Able to read and write, yet illiterate

In the course of doing research for a series of posts I plan on doing, I was listening to an interview from a few years ago with Bryan Garner, and something he said bothered me. Well, actually, I was bothered by more than one thing that he said, but this post is only about one of them: Garner’s use of the word literate. And truth be told, that’s something that’s bothered me for a while.

Garner doesn’t usually use literate to mean ‘able to read and write’. Rather, he uses it as a term of praise for the kind of people and publications that use the expressions he approves of and avoid those he condemns. Thus, his usage guides tell us that the double comparative is uncommon “among literate speakers and writers,” that irrelevant is sometimes misspelled irrevelant in “otherwise literate publications,” that singular they “sets many literate Americans’ teeth on edge.” In contrast, pronouncing the –p– in comptroller “has traditionally been viewed as semiliterate,” as is the word irregardless and writing would of instead of would have. Saying where’s it at is “a badge of illiteracy.”

Garner would say that he’s using literate to mean ‘educated’ or ‘cultured.’ Although there’s no entry for the word in his usage guides, there is one for illiterate, which obviously illuminates Garner’s understanding of literate:

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Peeving and changes in relative frequency

What follows is a guest post by Bob Ladd.


When I lived in Germany in the early 1980s, I bought a few style guides in the hope of improving my written German. One of them turned out to consist primarily of what I would now (as a long-time Language Log reader) recognize as ‘peeving’ – short essays about clichés, neologisms, and trendy new expressions that drove the author crazy. Among many other supposed novelties, the guy hated the expression ich gehe davon aus, which (as I had noticed myself) is used to mean ‘I assume’. Literally, ich gehe von X aus just means ‘I go from X out’, i.e. ‘I start from X’, but the grammar of German is such that X can be a clause. The ‘assume’ meaning comes from ‘I start from [the assumption that] CLAUSE’.

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Il congiuntivo: Peeving and breeding, Italian style

As a counterpoint to "Peeving and breeding", 3/4/2018, here's Lorenzo Baglioni's "Il Congiuntivo":

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Don't skunk me, bro!

At Arrant Pedantry, Jonathon Owen continues the conversation about begs the question (Skunked Terms and Scorched Earth). Citing my previous post Begging the question of whether to use "begging the question", Jonathon describes me as writing that "the term should be avoided, either because it’s likely to be misunderstood or because it will incur the wrath of sticklers." I wouldn't put it that way; I did quote Mark Liberman's statement to that effect, and I did note that I had, in an instance I was discussing, decided to follow that advice, but I don't think I went so far as to offer advice to others.

As it happens, I'm meeting Jonathon for lunch (and for the first time) later today. I'm in Utah, where the law-and-corpus-linguistics conference put on by the Brigham Young law school was held yesterday, near where Jonathon lives. So I will have it out with him over the aspersion he has cast on my descriptivist honor.

Despite my peeve about Jonathon's post, it's worth reading. He discusses the practice of declaring a word or phrase "skunked".  As far as I know, that is a practice engaged in mainly by Bryan Garner, who offers this description of the phenomenon of skunking: “When a word undergoes a marked change from one use to another . . . it’s likely to be the subject of dispute. . . . A word is most hotly disputed in the middle part of this process: any use of it is likely to distract some readers. . . . The word has become 'skunked.'”

Jonathan writes, "Many people find this a useful idea, but it has always rubbed me the wrong way." He explains:

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[. ] or [. ]?

You may have thought that idea of rhinoceroses peeving about semicolons (when they're not snorting and snuffing) was silly. But the comments on Mark's post Peeving and breeding have devolved to a level of even greater silliness: the pressing question of whether to type one space after a period or two.

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Begging the question of whether to use "begging the question"

The tweets above have extra salience for me, because I used begs the question in the traditional way ('assumes the answer to the question in dispute') in my most recent post on LAWnLinguistics. I did so with some trepidation—not because I was worried that someone would think I was using the phrase wrong, but because I was worried that someone would think I was using it in the 'raise the question' sense and wonder what the question was that I thought was being begged.

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Global drop in GNP?

Is it my imagination, or has there been a drop in GNP (Gross National Peeving) across the Anglophone world? I'm not seeing nearly the volume of "Angry linguistic mobs with torches" that I (think I) did a decade ago.

So the recently viral story about this sign on the door of the Continental bar makes me kind of nostalgic:

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The factual impenetrability of zombie rules

Frank Bruni, "What Happened to Who?", NYT 4/8/2017:

I first noticed it during the 2016 Republican presidential debates, which were crazy-making for so many reasons that I’m not sure how I zeroed in on this one. “Who” was being exiled from its rightful habitat. It was a linguistic bonobo: endangered, possibly en route to extinction.

Instead of saying “people who,” Donald Trump said “people that.” Marco Rubio followed suit. Even Jeb Bush, putatively the brainy one, was “that”-ing when he should have been “who”-ing, so I was cringing when I should have been oohing.

It’s always a dangerous thing when politicians get near the English language: Run for the exits and cover the children’s ears. But this bit of wreckage particularly bothered me. This was who, a pronoun that acknowledges our humanity, our personhood, separating us from the flotsam and jetsam out there. We’re supposed to refer to “the trash that” we took out or “the table that” we discovered at a flea market. We’re not supposed to refer to “people that call my office” (Rubio) or “people that come with a legal visa and overstay” (Bush).

Or so I always assumed, but this nicety is clearly falling by the wayside, and I can’t shake the feeling that its plunge is part of a larger story, a reflection of so much else that is going wrong in this warped world of ours.

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Impact Effect

I recently saw a list of revisions suggested by the editor of a scientific journal, which combined technical issues with a number of points of English usage, including these two:

Please try to avoid the word ‘impact,’ unless it is part of a proper name.  It is now over-used (its ‘impact’ is diminished), and doesn’t communicate anything specific.  If used as a verb, it is better to describe exactly what happens.  As a noun, ‘effect’ (or similar) would suffice.  For example, “The impact on quality of life…” could be rendered as “The reduction in quality of life…” […]

Be clear and direct; avoid the passive voice.

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