Archive for Peeving

"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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I saw one thousand commenting and nobody listening

Sometimes I look at the informed and insightful comments below Mark Liberman's technical posts here on Language Log, and I find myself thinking: These people are smart, and their wisdom enhances the value of our site. Maybe I should return to opening up comments on my posts too. But then something awful happens to convince me never to click the Allow Comments button again, unless at gunpoint. Something awful like the comments below Tom Chivers' article about me in the The Daily Telegraph, a quality UK newspaper of broadly Conservative persuasion (see their Sunday magazine Seven, 16 March 2014, 16–17; the article is regrettably headlined "Are grammar Nazis ruining the English language?" online, but the print version has "Do these words drive you crazy"—neither captures anything about the content).

I unwisely scrolled down too far and saw a few of the comments. There were already way more than 1,300 of them. It was like glimpsing a drunken brawl in the alley behind the worst bar in the worst city you ever visited. Discussion seemed to be dominated by an army of nutballs who often hadn't read the article. They seemed to want (i) a platform from which to assert some pre-formed opinion about grammar, or (ii) a chance to insult someone who had been the subject of an article, or (iii) an opportunity to publicly beat up another commenter. I didn't read many of the comments, but I saw that one charged me with spawning a cult, and claimed that I am the leader of an organization comparable to the brown-shirted Sturmabteilung who aided Hitler's rise to power:

Pullum is not so much the problem; he's just an ivory tower academic whose opinions are largely irrelevant to the average person. The problem is the cult following he has spawned. I don't know if he condones the thuggish tactics his Brownshirts regularly employ against the infidels, but it is certainly disturbing.

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Media uptake on uptalk

Yesterday afternoon, UC San Diego Linguistics grad student Amanda Ritchart presented her research (joint with Amalia Arvaniti) on the use and realization of uptalk in Southern California English at the 166th Acoustical Society of America meeting. This work is profiled in the ASA's press room, and has thus far received a fair amount of attention. You can hear and/or read about it on KPBS (San Diego's public radio station), at WBUR's Here & Now, on BBC News, and in the Washington Post. (See also this shout-out on the Linguistic Society of America website.)

Uptalk has been discussed many times here on Language Log, so regular readers are probably not unfamiliar with it. But one of the most recent Language Log posts on the topic ("Uptalk awakening", 9/29/2013) shows how relatively unaware of this long-standing feature of many varieties of English some folks still are. So the media coverage of Ritchart & Arvaniti's work is welcome — and on the whole pretty good, if a little biased toward a "wow, it's spreading to men!" interpretation of the research results, which kinda misses the point. But of course, if you scroll down to the comments (why oh why do I ever scroll down to the comments???), you'll see that many appear to think that the use of rising intonation at the ends of (some!) statements is the clearest evidence we have of the decline of western civilization. Sigh.

Update — more here.

 

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