Archive for Peeving

The scandalous Ms. Jodelka

Filipa Jodelka, "The Scandalous Lady W: a disturbing tale of sex and sensibility", The Guardian 8/17/2015:

When looking for evidence of the death of love, it’s normal to wheel out divorce stats, but the BBC’s newest period extravaganza tells a different story. A look at the nasty business between Lady Seymour Worsley, her lover George Bisset and her politician husband Sir Richard Worsley, an affair that culminated in a criminal trial in 1782, The Scandalous Lady W (Monday, 9pm, BBC2) is perhaps the biggest advert not only for divorce but radical, militarised feminism and premarital sex, too.

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"Language cancer"

David Bandurski has posted a fine article about "The 'cancer' of all things Western" on the website of cmp (China Media Project), at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre of The University of Hong Kong.  (3/24/15)

Bandurski draws the inspiration for the title of his article from a February piece in the Beijing Daily, in which the Taiwanese poet and critic, Yu Kwang-chung, is quoted as warning against a yǔyán ái 语言癌 ("language cancer") eroding Chinese literacy through èxìng xīhuà 恶性西化 ("malignant Westernization").

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Speke Englysch, dammit

From John Trevisa's 1385 translation of Ranulph Higben's Polychronicon (from version here):

…by comyxtioun and mellynge firste wiþ Danes and afterward wiþ Normans, in meny thynges þe contray longage is apayred, and som vseþ straunge wlafferynge, chiterynge, harrynge, and garrynge grisbayting..

…by mixing and mingling, first with Danes and afterwards with Normans, in many cases the country's language is impaired, and some use strange stammering, chattering, snarling, and grating gnashing of teeth.

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Can 50,000 Wikipedia edits be wrong?

Or alternatively, were 50,000 Wikipedia word choices actually errors to start with? Andrew McMillen, "Meet the Ultimate WikiGnome: One Man’s Quest to Rid Wikipedia of Exactly One Grammatical Mistake", Medium 2/3/2015:

On a Friday in July 2012, two employees of the Wikimedia Foundation gave a talk at Wikimania, their organization’s annual conference. Maryana Pinchuk and Steven Walling addressed a packed room as they answered a question that has likely popped into the minds of even the most casual users of Wikipedia: who the hell edits the site, and why do they do it?  

Pinchuk and Walling conducted hundreds of interviews to find out. They learned that many serious contributors have an independent streak and thrive off the opportunity to work on any topic they like. Other prolific editors highlight the encyclopedia’s huge global audience or say they derive satisfaction from feeling that their work is of use to someone, no matter how arcane their interests. Then Walling lands on a slide entitled, ‘perfectionism.’ The bespectacled young man pauses, frowning.  

“I feel sometimes that this motivation feels a little bit fuzzy, or a little bit negative in some ways… Like, one of my favorite Wikipedians of all time is this user called Giraffedata,” he says. “He has, like, 15,000 edits, and he’s done almost nothing except fix the incorrect use of ‘comprised of’ in articles.”

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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.”.  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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