25 Questions for Teaching with "Word Crimes"

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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.

First, while Weird Al talks about "grammar," most of his prescriptions do not pertain to what linguists consider the "grammar" of English, and this reflects a widespread divide between the use of the term "grammar" in everyday language and "grammar" by linguists. This divide frustrates linguists, because it makes them feel like everyone misunderstands the very substance and nature of their field of study.

Second, a little rumination on Weird Al's violent reactions against "bad grammar" raises deep and longstanding questions of social equity regarding class, education, race, age, ethnicity, gender, and how these relate to languages, dialects, and social registers. There is ample research on these issues (which any sociolinguist could point you to), but the upshot is that the notion of "Proper English" typically serves to prop up the already-privileged speakers whose native language variety it is (sort of) based on. This puts speakers whose native language variety does not approximate "Proper English" at an immediate disadvantage in society, the same way that privileging Whiteness puts those who are not White at an immediate disadvantage in society. It is not the linguistic differences themselves that do this (just as it is not the racial/ethnic difference themselves that determine privilege), but the *attitudes* about them. This is why many linguists are having a hard time laughing with Word Crimes: to do so feels like complicity in an ongoing project of linguistic discrimination that intersects with class, race, and other kinds of discrimination.

Third—and the motivation for this post—is that the view of "grammar" as "you must learn the rules or else be ostracized" just makes grammar no fun at all! Studying language—really digging into it, uncovering its remarkably complex yet orderly structure, investigating what makes it different across speakers and communities—is SUPER FUN! Giving people a list of rules of things to do in order to not be criticized is NOT FUN! I want my students to think language is FUN, and to have FUN thinking about language!

So as a teacher, I want to say: Weird Al can think what he wants about language, and you the audience can laugh along or not, depending on your views on language or taste in music or whatever. But please do not mistake the video itself for an educational video. It will not teach students about language. It will not teach students about grammar. I've seen many comparisons to Schoolhouse Rock, but would any student who didn't already know what a "preposition" was leave Weird Al's video understanding it? No. Rather, on its face, this video teaches people that there is a right way to speak/write, and if you don't do things that way, you're a bad person (or a sewer person? or a person with a disability?) who should not breed. Nothing about how language works, or why these "rules" are what they are.

There are certainly valuable linguistic lessons that can be taken from Word Crimes, but not without a teacher encouraging students to think beyond the video itself, to ask questions about the rules Weird Al wants us to abide by. In this spirit, I worked up an off-the-top-of-my-head list of questions for teachers considering using this video in the classroom. I teach college English linguistics classes, so that's the audience I'm familiar with, but I think these questions could be useful for teachers at any level to think through for themselves and maybe modify for earlier grades, different subjects, etc. Some are questions about language/grammar, while some are discussion questions to spark class conversation about some really important issues. Whether you like these questions or not, I hope that if you do use this video in teaching, you work up your own list of questions, rather than letting the video stand on its own. Have fun!

25 Questions for Teaching with "Word Crimes"

  1. What is the difference between "spelling" and "grammar"?
  2. What is the role of words in grammar?
  3. What is the function of dictionaries in society?
  4. Who makes dictionaries? Why? How do dictionary makers decide what a word means?
  5. What is the difference between "language," "English," and "literacy"? How does "literacy" relate to spelling and/or grammar?
  6. Weird Al points out that nouns can be divided into mass nouns (which are typically modified with "less") and count nouns (which are typically modified with "fewer"). Can you think of other sub-categories of nouns (that is, nouns that behave in different ways from other nouns)?
  7. When someone says "I could care less," do you interpret it as Weird Al says (that they DO care), or do you understand their intention? If you understand their intention, why would it matter which way they say it? Can you think of other examples when what someone says may be ambiguous, but their meaning is clear from context?
  8. Who decides what is "the right way" to say things?
  9. Why do you/we trust some people, but not others, to decide what is "right"?
  10. Weird Al discusses the difference between "it's" and "its." He says people need to use "the right pronoun" in deciding when to use one or the other. Are "it's" and "its" actually different pronouns, or the same pronouns with different functions? (not as easy as it may seem!)
  11. What is the difference between a "possessive" and a "contraction"? Give more examples of each.
  12. What is a "participle," and what would it mean for a participle to be "dangling"? Why do writers sometimes want to avoid "dangling participles"?
  13. What is an "Oxford comma"? Some professional editors use the Oxford comma, and others do not. Come up with an argument to support each rule.
  14. Weird Al claims that "B" "C" "R" and "U" are "words not letters." Do you agree? Can you make an argument that these ARE, indeed, words?
  15. Weird Al says you should NEVER write words using numbers (like "WORD5"). But people DO write words using numbers, sometimes (otherwise Weird Al wouldn't need to tell them not to!). When do you think people might choose to spell words this way? Are there times when it might be appropriate to do so? Are there times when it would be completely inappropriate to do so? Does the spelling affect how the words convey their meaning?
  16. Weird Al says it's ok to write words using numbers if you're 7 years old (or if your name is Prince…you probably don't get that joke). What do you think is behind his acceptance of spelling this way for children? Do you think 7-year-olds spell this way?
  17. Weird Al mentions "Proper English." What do you think he means by this term? What does this term mean to you? How do you think you learned the meaning of "Proper English"? Do you think you speak "Proper English" all the time? When do you or don't you?
  18. Do you use the word "whom"? (advanced: Do a search using an online corpus for "to who" versus "to whom" and see what you find. Is "to whom" in as widespread usage? If not, should we be worried? Why or why not?)
  19. Weird Al makes sentence diagrams! Try to diagram this simple sentence using Weird Al's system (which are Reed-Kellogg diagrams): "Weird Al hates bad grammar." What do you think the purpose of sentence diagramming is?
  20. What IS the difference between "good" and "well"? Would you say "I'm doing good" or "I'm doing well"? Why?
  21. Weird Al doesn't like people "misusing" the terms "literally" and "irony." Can you think of words that you and your friends use to mean something different than what other people might mean by them?
  22. Weird Al singles out emails and blog posts as places where particular bad grammar resides. What do you think is behind this? Do you think YOUR emails, blog posts, or Facebook posts contain different grammar than your school papers, texts, or spoken conversations?
  23. What do you think the function of emoji are is in online communication? Do you or your friends use them? Where do they usually go in a message (beginning, middle, end)? How does their position relate to their function?
  24. Weird Al seems to think that preschool is where proper grammar education begins. Do you remember learning about grammar in preschool? What are your first memories of learning about grammar? Do you feel satisfied with the amount of formal grammar instruction you have had in school? Why or why not?
  25. Weird Al says some pretty mean things about people who don't use "proper English." Where do you think his negative attitudes about such people come from? Do you think he's justified in his beliefs? Why or why not?

The above is a guest post by Lauren Squires.

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139 Comments »

  1. Dick Margulis said,

    July 17, 2014 @ 9:12 pm

    "This divide frustrates linguists, because it makes them feel like everyone misunderstands the very substance and nature of their field of study."

    Seems to me that linguists generally mock specialists in other fields who complain that their terms of art are misunderstood and misused by people outside the field (first example that comes to mind is mathematicians with the word "parameter"). So when the shoe is on the other foot, maybe whinging about it is unbecoming.

  2. Michael Watts said,

    July 17, 2014 @ 9:17 pm

    9. Matching the tense of the question, the answer is "because I'm young". You have to get your information from somewhere. It's the same reason I recited the pledge of allegiance when we were supposed to in elementary school; I'd never do that today. (The question is worded as if it's asking what makes some people a better source of outside authority than other people when it comes to deciding what's "right". I think this is a false premise, so I've answered as if the question didn't contain the words "but not others".)

    16. I'd interpret "it's ok to do X… if you're 7 years old" as an insult that implies anyone who does X is behaving in a manner you might expect of a 7-year-old, not as a statement that 7-year-olds actually do X or that it would be acceptable if they did.

    18. Yes, exclusively in preposed PPs such as "the person for whom this was purchased".

    24. I put emoticons at the end of sentences. For me they function as, um, "mood" (not linguistic mood) or intention markers that guide how to interpret the sentence, with ":p" being especially frequent as a marker for "I'm teasing" or as an effort to appear unserious. If I'm communicating one sentence at a time, I often struggle not to mark each sentence with an emoticon of its own; they sort of feel like a grammar element to me.

  3. Kyle Gorman said,

    July 17, 2014 @ 9:59 pm

    Weird Al is a parodist—there's no way the character he is performing is his sincere self—who is no more ignorant of linguistics than society at large. (That said, there may still be something problematic about ignorantly propagating the status quo in parodic form.)

  4. Dan Hirschman said,

    July 17, 2014 @ 10:19 pm

    "There are certainly valuable linguistic lessons that can be taken from Word Crimes, but not without a teacher encouraging students to think beyond the video itself, to ask questions about the rules Weird Al wants us to abide by."

    Weird Al's songs are humorous parodies, and I'm not sure that we should read their content as endorsement or advocacy. That is, we don't listen to "Fat" and think that Weird Al is advocating obesity, nor do we listen to "Amish Paradise" and think that Weird Al is advocating a rejection of modernity. Somehow, though, "Word Crimes" has almost universally been interpreted as Weird Al's own opinion on proper usage (rather than, say, simultaneously being a critique of how much people fetishize proper spelling and a few class- and race-marked differences). Perhaps it doesn't matter – the song is, after all, being used as a rallying cry for a certain variety of prescriptivism (i.e. teachers who were enthusiastic about playing the song for their classes, etc.). But I just find it strange that the song is not being interpreted in the light of Weird Al's whole career of absurd parodies.

  5. phspaelti said,

    July 17, 2014 @ 10:42 pm

    I'm sorry to say, that I don't see how this video can be called a "parody". A parody of what exactly? Isn't a parody supposed to be funny?

  6. Jason Kurylo said,

    July 17, 2014 @ 10:51 pm

    I can't believe I'm about to compare Weird Al to Jonathan Swift, but… well, it can't be helped. You make some legitimate points about Word Crimes, but you do so in the same way that aristocrats in 1729 thought eating babies was an evil suggestion.

    Whether or not he personally owns the opinion that professionals and university graduates ought to know how to effectively communicate in their mother tongue is, frankly, irrelevant. Yankovic is a comedian who has written a catchy tune based upon extremely common language-based pet peeves. Many people, from closet grammarians and English teachers to crossword fanatics and ESL students, get pissed when native speakers make simple errors with spelling and structure.

    Al? He jest done writ a ditty about it.

    Oh, and I'll leave you with this link to Five Satirists Attacked by People Who Totally Missed the Point: http://www.cracked.com/blog/5-satirists-attacked-by-people-who-totally-missed-point/

  7. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 17, 2014 @ 11:04 pm

    Even accepting arguendo that it is not a fool's errand to go down the taking-a-parody-at-face-value rabbit hole, it doesn't seem to me (I can't be bothered to actually sit through the video or song, so I googled the lyrics . . .) that any of the deprecated (or mock-deprecated) usages are particularly racially marked or loaded. With the possible-to-probable exception of some of the spelling issues, I don't think many/most of them are even particularly marked for class. Less v. fewer, for example, is to the contrary the sort of issue that enables a "grammar nerd" to feel superior to (other?) affluent/privileged/educationally-credentialed white Americans who supposedly Get It Wrong, because consistently observing the distinction the way the peevers claim it ought to be observed is not typical of the usage (at least natural usage in an informal register) of native speakers of the standard/prestige variety of AmEng. So what we're talking about is a phenomenon related to nerd-dom in the classic high-school-sociology sense – people who are socially marginal and resent their marginality trying to find a metric by which they can convince themselves that they are in fact superior to the Popular Kids. That may not be morally edifying, but it's really not the same thing as the privileged stomping on the hapless Other.

  8. X said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 12:52 am

    Perhaps the author has a follow-up works analyzing the imperialist implications of "Canadian Idiot" and whether "I'll Sue Ya" represents cogent legal advice under consideration of 12.b.6 of the Rules of Civil Procedure?

  9. Vance Maverick said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 12:52 am

    In what sense is Weird Al's song a parody? In one sense, of "Blurred Lines," in that it reuses the tune for a farfetched alternative topic. Does it build on the original's teasingly not-quite-serious treatment of, well, rape? I don't think that quite makes sense — Thicke is pretending (?) not to take consent seriously, while Yankovic is pretending (?) to take "errors" very seriously indeed.

    Rather, I think Weird Al's shtick is parody only in the sense of "parody mass" and the like — the new text is intended to be funny on its own, while catching your ear with a tune you know. The original is untouched. And we're left to guess for ourselves whether the new text is a humorous exaggeration of something Yancovic means, or something he dislikes.

    Jason, why is it reasonable for people to get pissed about "errors"? Compare, say, bad driving, which puts people in actual danger.

  10. X said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 1:04 am

    As a physicist, I should also take this opportunity to vent my spleen that in Weird Al's dissertation on the gravitational force in "Pancreas", he erroneously indicates that the pancreas exerts on every other pancreas "a force proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the distance between them" rather than the square of the distance. Children using his text in their course on Newtonian mechanics beware!

  11. Ed said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 2:08 am

    7. I've been on the internet, and so exposed to Americans who use the form "I could care less", for over 15 years and I still have to consciously remind myself when I see it of the intended meaning.

    Non-standard forms, however widespread, are inevitably going to disadvantage other members of the language community, simply because they don't appear in the common corpus. This holds particularly for non-native speakers, who don't have the privilege of exposure to non-standard corpora.

    This could yet be rescued with the addition of another question: Who might not understand your intention? Teach students that their thoughts can and should be shared with a global audience, not restricted to their immediate community.

  12. Edith T said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 2:54 am

    J. W. Brewer: I think the point is not that individual peeves regarding 'rules' like the less/fewer distinction might be marked by class, but that the concept of 'proper English' itself is classist (and racist, if you think about how AAVE is sanctioned and discriminated against (and by extension, so are its speakers)).

  13. Michael Newman said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 2:58 am

    If you are going to use this in class to try to get students to understand prescriptivism as prescriptivism, it's not relevant whether Weird Al was parodying prescriptivism or accepted prescriptivist understandings to parody the song.

    If I use this. I would divide the class intro groups. Give each group 4 or 5o of Lauren Squires's questions and add one more. Do you think Weird Al is making fun of grammar nazis or is a grammar nazi? why?

  14. Michael Watts said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 3:34 am

    Actually, as to the (11)th question, I believe the standard answer is that a possessive is a syntactic inflection ("case") of a noun, while a contraction involves more than one word. But as far as I can see this theory is totally unable to account for sentences like "the man who is sitting down's cape is on fire", where "down" isn't even a noun. Are there other languages for which it's accepted that a phrase may have its own case independent of whatever words it contains?

  15. tpr said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 4:53 am

    Do you think Weird Al is making fun of grammar nazis or is a grammar nazi? why?

    I'm really surprised to see people cautioning against treating the peeves in the video as sincerely held views of Weird Al because it doesn't really make sense that he would be "inhabiting a prescriptivist persona" for satirical reasons if he never points the listener towards anything that might highlight the absurdity of these views. If he wanted to make fun of grammar nazis, he would have gone off script, but he doesn't. He repeats the standard catalogue of peeves.

    Also, Weird Al's schtick is changing the lyrics to songs in humorous ways, but I'm not sure it's always clearly satirizing the original when he does that.

  16. tpr said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 5:07 am

    @Michael Watts

    Are there other languages for which it's accepted that a phrase may have its own case independent of whatever words it contains?

    If you're just talking about whether case markers can attach to phrases instead of individual words, yes. It's called analytic case, and contrasted with the synthetic case of languages like Latin. Analytic case is basically what prepositions do in English.

    The 's in English is a bit different because it attaches to a whole phrase while being a bound morpheme rather than an independent word.

  17. Jadasc said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 5:42 am

    Although the video suggests otherwise, I think "unless you're seven" is a reference to the movie "SE7EN," rather than the age.

  18. Charles in Vancouver said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 6:01 am

    In general the character performing a Weird Al song tends to be a rather crazy version of himself irrationally fixated on something or other.

  19. amandachen said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 6:11 am

    "Weird Al" Yankovic: I'll generate ideas, and 99 percent of those ideas are horrible. I have no problem coming up with ideas, but good ideas are hard to come by. When I do find a good idea, then I'll start riffing on concepts based on that idea, and come up with pages and pages of notes based on that. When I came up with the idea for "Word Crimes" I thought, "That's great, because I'm pretty obsessed with grammar anyway." I'm always correcting peoples' grammar. In fact I've done some videos for YouTube where I'm correcting road signs and making the grammar better, on the highway and in the supermarket. "Twelve items or fewer," that kind of thing.

    Tamara Keith: That must make you popular at parties.

    "Weird Al" Yankovic: It makes me a hero among a small subset of the population.

    http://www.npr.org/2014/07/12/329873481/weird-al-yankovic-on-parody-in-the-age-of-youtube

  20. Tim Martin said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 7:00 am

    Great post, and thank you for writing it!

  21. Brett said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 8:30 am

    @Jadasc: Surely it's both.

  22. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 8:30 am

    Dick Margulis: In addition to what you said, linguists' complaints about non-linguists' use of "grammar" privilege the educated in ways that intersect with discrimination based on class, race, etc.

    Lauren Squires: I think it's great that you're trying to shift the discussion from right and wrong, intelligent and stupid, to matters of taste and of clarity for a given audience.

    "Studying language—really digging into it, uncovering its remarkably complex yet orderly structure, investigating what makes it different across speakers and communities—is SUPER FUN! Giving people a list of rules of things to do in order to not be criticized is NOT FUN!"

    I haven't taken a survey, but I feel sure that both of those activities are fun—for, as Weird Al says, small subsets of the population (and those subsets have a very small but non-empty intersection). For the great majority, neither of those activities has anything to do with fun.

    Before you or anyone use your questions in teaching, you should fix the trivial error in 23 ("the function… are").

  23. wally said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 9:58 am

    trivial error in 23 ("the function of emoji are").

    Of course, in the spirit of this posting and comment thread, it is not clear that this is an error, at least in the sense that I might well have said it the same way.

  24. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 10:04 am

    On the other hand, it's not clear that my "Before you or anyone use" is not an error.

  25. Eneri Rose said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 12:29 pm

    #19 – One purpose of diagramming a sentence would be to show that the proper number of the verb in the phrase "the function of emoji is" in the first sentence of #23 is the singular.

  26. Ellen K. said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 12:43 pm

    phspaelti, It's a parody of the song "Blurred Lines", which it takes the music of, and lyrically imitates to a certain degree.

  27. Robyn said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 12:51 pm

    Linguist here. My only comment to the author is "lighten up". It's a song. It's a parody. It wasn't written as a serious representation of linguistics, or as an educational video. It was written to get a few laughs. If we can't even appreciate a joke for what it is anymore, and instead have to heavily critique the cultural and sociological implications of said joke, what exactly are we all doing here? Get over yourself and have a laugh once in awhile.

  28. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 1:16 pm

    Is there a way to quantify the actual degree of "public enthusiasm" here? I have probably seen the Weird Al thing positively referred to in social media by <5% of my facebook friends. Lots of internet memes or links about some current event or faux-outrage have comparable or higher market penetration (in the admittedly perhaps unrepresentative sample of my own facebook friends) and are then totally forgotten within a few weeks.

  29. Rube said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 1:34 pm

    @J.W. Brewer: Similarly, I'd never have known this particular parody existed if it weren't for Language Log.

    What I have seen enthusiasm for on places like Facebook are Al's take-downs of "Fancy" and "Happy".

  30. Russinoff said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 1:43 pm

    Dick Margulis: The difference between the usages of "parameter" and "grammar" that are found objectionable by the mathematician and the linguist, respectively, is that the former is based on nothing more than a gross misunderstanding of the meaning of the word (perhaps a confusion with "perimeter"?), whereas the latter is well established standard English that has been articifically rejected by the contemporary linguistic community in favor of a more technical meaning, which has the stated advantage of being "SUPER FUN!" Of course, there is nothing unusual or wrong about appropriating a common English word as technical jargon, but to insist that the rest of the world abandon the older usage, and that our failure to comply can only mean that "everyone misunderstands the very substance and nature of their field of study", is absurd.

  31. Enrico Goscé said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 2:08 pm

    Edith T:

    The introduction of classism or elitism into language-grammar debates is simply a straw man argument.

    While it's true that speakers of oral dialects can fundamentally discuss politics, history, philosophy etc. in their own dialects, but in order to articulate an intelligent opinion they must first have to learn a standard language well enough to borrow its terminology.

    These arguments and attitudes on standard language versus dialects are politically charged, but the disservice is done to the people who can't get a job because they can not speak in a standard language.

  32. Nathan said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 2:29 pm

    Russinoff, do you have any evidence as to which is "the older usage" of grammar?

  33. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 2:52 pm

    Another oddity about this is that song lyrics (and/or the delivery of those lyrics in particular recordings) have long been both a genre in which non-standard and perhaps otherwise deprecated varieties of English have not been stigmatized but indeed have flourished. Many listeners may not only be exposed to varieties of English they do not otherwise encounter but end up thinking those varieties are intriguing and, even better, cool. E.g., I'm sure I was not the only American white suburban teenager of my cohort who was fascinated by the vocals on reggae records (which were quite distinctive in multiple dimensions: phonology and lexicon and syntax) despite having had close to zero real-world interaction with speakers of West Indian English, much less those who might code-switch among different points on the creole continuum and add the specialized lexicon used only by Rastas. And I grew up in a part of the U.S. where full-on white Southern accents and syntactic constructions were generally stigmatized as dumb-hick stuff, unless it came up in the context of e.g. a Lynyrd Skynyrd recording and then (if you were a teenager) it was totally ok and unstigmatized.

  34. aka said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 2:57 pm

    I find it a bit weird that anyone would take seriously anything that anyone would publish under the name Weird.

  35. Scott said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 3:21 pm

    "Second, a little rumination on Weird Al's violent reactions against "bad grammar" raises deep and longstanding questions of social equity regarding class, education, race, age, ethnicity, gender, and how these relate to languages, dialects, and social registers."

    Violent reactions? He's a comedian!!

    "Why do you/we trust some people, but not others, to decide what is "right"?"

    I trust people who bring well reasoned and thoughtful points to the table. I don't trust people who bring class and race into every single discussion regardless of merit.

    Hyperbole, thy name is …… ummm, whatever the author's name is. Who cares?

  36. Lazar said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 4:51 pm

    I think the issues of "grammar Nazism" and descriptivism vs. prescriptivism can be related to what Less Wrong identifies as metacontrarianism – an extension of the biological concept of countersignaling. In a given social context, those seeking to prove their status will make an effort to distinguish themselves from those with perceived low status (contrarianism), while those who feel confident in their status will make no such effort (metacontrarianism). Often the contrarian opinion takes the form of an "educated consensus", while the metacontrarian opinion is the sort of thing that gets prefaced by a "well, actually". This can be used to characterize a lot of continua (Less Wrong cites things like "I don't care about Africa" / "we should give aid to Africa" / "actually, we shouldn't"), with the caveat that this isn't making a judgment about whether the contrarian or metacontrarian opinion is more valid – it's just a matter of social positioning. Sometimes an opinion can move from one category to the other.

    When it comes to language, there seems to be a clear trichotomy between the unreconstructed masses who speak and write without a care in the world, the assiduous grammar Nazis who rage against them, and the linguistically informed people who think that maybe Strunk and White isn't the world's best writing guide. In my mind, endorsement of the prescriptivist consensus serves as a sort of middlebrow handshake – on the Internet you'll see threads full of people commiserating about typos and misusages, all trying very hard to prove to each other that they're intelligent and well-informed. Intelligence and informedness, here, are defined as being able to put about ten or fifteen common peeves to memory.

  37. Monoglot said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 5:09 pm

    @J. W. Brewer

    As far as I know, most (if not all) modern singers don't sing with r-colored vowels, and never pronounce -ing with [ŋ], always [n]. I'm pretty sure this isn't exclusive to English.

  38. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 5:30 pm

    Weird Al's publicity campaign has now moved on from "Word Crimes" (that's so three days ago), and is focused today on getting free social-media hype for "Sports Song," the lyrics to which (with an apparent transcription error due to misapplication of the affect/effect distinction . . .) can be found here: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/weirdalyankovic/sportssong.html. The humor of the song largely rests in using an inappropriately formal/stiff/fussy register for the context (with a sudden shift of register partway through further accentuating that), which might make it a good example for some sort of sociolinguistics class and suggests that the man knows what he's doing.

    I agree with the broad outlines of Lazar's helpful analysis, fwiw.

  39. Marian said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 6:19 pm

    14 reminds me of the "Swedish Made Simple" sketch. "R U B C?" "S V R B C"

  40. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 6:28 pm

    Note also that Lazar's analysis implies that over-reacting to prescriptivist peevery might not be the optimum strategy. Rather than fret about the agency-lacking masses who are purportedly being crushed by linguistic classism (is descriptivism-based classroom instruction really gonna liberate us girls from white male corporate oppression?), one might more profitably mock the peevers and help give the targets of their peeves the self-confidence to say "dude, your petit-bourgeois status anxieties just ain't my problem."

  41. goofy said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 8:17 pm

    Jason Kurylo: "Many people, from closet grammarians and English teachers to crossword fanatics and ESL students, get pissed when native speakers make simple errors with spelling and structure."

    But some of the complaints in the song (less/fewer, who/whom, could care less, literally) *aren't* errors.

  42. Matt said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 9:10 pm

    This article may seem strident, but given the number of folks promising to teach the video on my FB thread, it's not uncalled for. It doesn't matter if it is a joke if it gets passed of as a lesson plan. I feel like backlash to her argument in the comments here has something to do with guilt about having not really thought about it or, worse, having felt superior for getting the jokes in the video. I think one can find the video funny and even useful in a high school course while also finding this response interesting and these questions useful.

  43. Michael W. said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 9:33 pm

    Hey, at least linguists will always have Vampire Weekend's Oxford Comma. "Who gives a f### about an Oxford comma/ I've seen those English dramas too/ they're cruel/ so if there's any other way/ to spell the word/ it's okay with me with me"

  44. Michael W. said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 9:59 pm

    And looking back on it, that song was definitely a call against privilege in language. Too bad that by the time of their next album everyone was criticizing them for being privileged white kids despite the fact that they were addressing that privilege in their songs.

  45. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 11:23 pm

    wally: In the COCA academic corpus I find 175 hits on "[singular noun] of the [plural noun] are", and 68 of those obviously involve singular nouns that are everyone agrees can take plural verbs (bulk, fraction, half, lot, majority, number, proportion, quarter, remainder, rest). There are more false positives, such as "new results that can influence a least-squares adjustment of the constants are reported continually", but I didn't check most of the hits.

    For "[singular noun] of the [plural noun] is" I get 772, with few obvious false positives ("Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is").

    So I think it's reasonable to say, with the style manuals, that this is an error in academic English. Whether it's an error in less formal registers is a whole 'nother question.

    By the way, it could just as easily be a typo or editing error for "functions" as a case of "attraction". But I'm not going to speculate on it any more, since it would be too close to speculating on the psychology that leads people I don't even know to disagree with me, which is a tactic I strongly dislike.

  46. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 18, 2014 @ 11:26 pm

    Cancel what I said about "the functions are". I didn't see the correction in the post. Don't cancel the part in italics.

  47. ThomasH said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 12:16 am

    Horses for courses. A message directed at informing SOME people that they will be judged negatively for engaging in behavior X and motivating them to take that into account in deciding to engage in X or not will generally not be good for urging OTHER people not to judge people negatively for engaging in X. I take it Weird Al is doing the first and Mr Squires is annoyed that he did not do the second

  48. Goscé said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 2:03 am

    Lazar:
    “…unreconstructed masses who speak and write without a care in the world, the assiduous grammar Nazis who rage against them, and the linguistically informed people who think that maybe Strunk and White isn't the world's best writing guide.”

    I’m curious; do you write without a care in the world? I don’t think so.

    Perhaps Strunk and White isn’t the world’s best writing guide, but someone who reads and learns from the book, versus someone who can’t speak Standard English, is the one more likely to understand what you just wrote.

  49. Lazar said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 8:55 am

    @Goscé: That's a bit of a false dilemma. Peevers don't have a monopoly on literacy, and The Elements of Style (one of their favorite books) is full of badly conceived and contradictory advice, as you can read here or here. Someone who follows it is forced to apply rules – like the prohibition on "which" in restrictive clauses, or the requirement to use epicene "he" – which never had a basis in literary English and in some cases will make your writing sound worse. Is it better to have a deeply flawed understanding of a topic than to have none at all? Perhaps, but I suspect that the number of people who have a large vocabulary and a good writing style because they read that book – and not because they had good teachers or a keen interest in reading – is vanishingly small.

  50. Richard Hershberger said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 8:57 am

    @ Goscé:

    "Perhaps Strunk and White isn’t the world’s best writing guide, but someone who reads and learns from the book, versus someone who can’t speak Standard English, is the one more likely to understand what you just wrote."

    If the discussion is standard vs. non-standard English, not even long-haired hippie descriptive linguists deny the benefits of proficiency with Standard English. But this does not imply that proficiency with some non-standard form is undesirable. In other words, if you criticize some non-standard usage, why are you assuming this was a failed attempt at Standard English? There may be some good reason to believe this, but the existence or non-existence of such a reason has little correlation for criticisms.

    In any case, many of the specific examples from the Weird Al piece aren't matters of standard vs. non-standard. They are questions of what is and is not Standard English, with Weird Al in many cases being demonstrably wrong. The use of the Oxford comma, for example, is common not merely in Standard English, but in carefully edited highly educated written English. So is the absence of the Oxford comma.

  51. Cdwait said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 4:11 pm

    David: Evidence here. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=grammar&searchmode=none

    And here: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/grammar

    I'm sure the OED would back me up as well, but I can't afford a subscription.

  52. allaboutthesemicolons said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 4:14 pm

    And fitting, isn't it, that someone who writes FUN in all-caps four times in three sentences seems to have no idea what the word means? The correct attitude to this video is this: All in good FUN.

  53. ThomasH said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 10:55 pm

    The sub-tempest in a tea pot over Al's misuse of the word :grammar" strikes me as the equivalent of economists freaking out over confusion of an increase in "demand" with an increase in the "quantity demanded."

  54. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 19, 2014 @ 11:01 pm

    Cdwait: The first definition in the OED is

    "1. a. That department of the study of a language which deals with its inflexional forms or other means of indicating the relations of words in the sentence, and with the rules for employing these in accordance with established usage; usually including also the department which deals with the phonetic system of the language and the principles of its representation in writing. Often preceded by an adj. designating the language referred to, as in Latin, English, French grammar.

    "1362 Langland Piers Plowman A. xi. 131 Gramer for gurles, I gon furste to write."

    A later sense is

    "3. An individual's manner of using grammatical forms; speech or writing judged as good or bad according as it conforms to or violates grammatical rules; also speech or writing that is correct according to those rules.
    "a1586 Sir P. Sidney Arcadia (1593) iii. sig. Ii2, An answere farre out of all Grammer."

    For context, it remarks,

    "In early English use grammar meant only Latin grammar, as Latin was the only language that was taught grammatically. In the 16th c. there are some traces of a perception that the word might have an extended application to other languages (cf. quot. 1530 at sense 2 under GRAMMATICAL adj. 1); but it was not before the 17th c. that it became so completely a generic term that there was any need to speak explicitly of ‘Latin grammar’. Ben Jonson's book, written c1600, was app. the first to treat of ‘English grammar’ under that name."

  55. Goscé said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 12:43 am

    Lazar:

    I don’t think that your response directly challenged my comment.
    “Peevers don't have a monopoly on literacy, and The Elements of Style (one of their favorite books) is full of badly conceived and contradictory advice…”

    Not all prescriptivists(what you categorize as peevers) find that "The Elements of Style" is sine quo non for their grammar edification. There are many more usage guide books on the market with a more comprehensive and thorough compendium on English grammar. Furthermore, I was using Strunk and white's book–since you introduced it in your previous comment–in the general context of usage guides.

    “Someone who follows it is forced to apply rules – like the prohibition on "which" in restrictive clauses…”

    No one is forced to apply rules, and usage guides do not prohibit the use of “which” in restrictive clauses. Yours truly, The Elements of Style, prefers the use of “which” in nonrestrictive clauses, but acknowledges its use for “that” in written and spoken language.
    Their example: “The lawn mower that is broken is in the garage. (Tells which one)”
    “The lawn mower, which is broken, is in the garage. (adds a fact about the only mower in question)”

    I don’t see how this rule or any rule can make someone’s writing sound worse.

    What I will say, which I alluded to in my last post, is that if one wants to fully comprehend the classics and discuss history, philosophy etc. one would first have to learn a standard language to borrow its terminology.

  56. Goscé said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 1:12 am

    Hershberger:

    “If the discussion is standard vs. non-standard English, not even long-haired hippie descriptive linguists deny the benefits of proficiency with Standard English. But this does not imply that proficiency with some non-standard form is undesirable. In other words, if you criticize some non-standard usage, why are you assuming this was a failed attempt at Standard English?”

    I’m not implying that proficiency with some non-standard form is undesirable. On the contrary, any dialect is desirable and has almost as equal an importance as Standard English. I’ve already explained why this is in my previous post.

  57. chris said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 11:43 am

    it doesn't really make sense that he would be "inhabiting a prescriptivist persona" for satirical reasons if he never points the listener towards anything that might highlight the absurdity of these views.

    You mean, other than being Weird Al Yankovic and putting it on an album titled "Mandatory Fun" with other tracks such as "Tacky" and "First World Problems"?

    The majority of Weird Al's career consists of Weird Al taking things to the point of absurdity. Even if you hadn't ever heard of him before this video, it seems like it might be wise to research him a little before assuming that the lyrics represented his sincere viewpoint.

    P.S. He actually is white, and probably more than a bit nerdy, but still exaggerated those traits for comic effect too. Because it's what he does.

  58. Lazar said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 11:47 am

    @Goscé: Strunk and White write: "Careful writers, watchful for small conveniences, go which-hunting, remove the defining witches and by so doing improve their work." This is, and was, a baseless rule, and will not improve your work – numerous sentences by great authors will attest to that. They even acknowledge a case where which sounds better, and essentially admit that they've made the rule up (saying "it would be a convenience"), yet nonetheless they make the pronouncement and it becomes prescriptivist canon. And that's the problem with so many of these "usage guides": once they catch hold of the prescriptivist imagination, the arbitrary musings and preferences of their authors suddenly become ironclad rules, with penalties (in the form of chastisement) for violators. Geoffrey Pullum, on this blog, has remarked on the attitude of nervous cluelessness that such works can produce as they filter second- and third-hand through the population.

    What I will say, which I alluded to in my last post, is that if one wants to fully comprehend the classics and discuss history, philosophy etc. one would first have to learn a standard language to borrow its terminology.

    And your last post was a non sequitur. I posited a social trichotomy between non-standard usage, peevishness, and linguistically informed tolerance; the fact that a peever is (perhaps) more likely to be literate than a user of non-standard forms has no direct bearing on what I was saying, yet you posted it as if it were a counterargument.

  59. Ospero said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 4:06 pm

    The last line of "Word Crimes" is "Try your best to not drool". If this song was meant to be taken at face value (and given that it's Weird Al, that seems unlikely enough), having a split infinitive in there would kind of ruin the point he's seemingly trying to make.

    There's a song on the same album called "First World Problems" in which the lyrical I complains about such unbearable issues as getting called instead of texted, or not being able to order from the breakfast menu because he slept until two. There's another called "Lame Claim to Fame" which consists of precisely what the title suggests. No one would think that the lyrical I in either song is supposed to be Weird Al's real persona. Why do people think that way about "Word Crimes"? Because it's not quite as obviously absurd?

  60. Goscé said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 4:11 pm

    Lazar:

    "And your last post was a non sequitur. I posited a social trichotomy between non-standard usage, peevishness, and linguistically informed tolerance; the fact that a peever is (perhaps) more likely to be literate than a user of non-standard forms has no direct bearing on what I was saying, yet you posted it as if it were a counterargument."
    .
    We’re talking past each other, because you’re trying to proselytize your ideology based on what you consider to be archaic or baseless rules. I don’t think these rules debase our language or make someone’s writing seem worse. I think to the contrary, and “never the twain shall meet.”

    You seem to be obsessed with Strunk and White; I already submitted their viewpoint on “which” versus “that” and they understand the use of “which” for “that” is common in written and spoken language. They just encourage the use of which for nonrestrictive clauses, as others and I do.
    .
    “the fact that a peever is (perhaps) more likely to be literate than a user of non-standard forms has no direct bearing on what I was saying, yet you posted it as if it were a counterargument.”

    Yes, it does have a direct bearing, in a broad sense, on the totality of your argument. Regardless, there were other issues, which I brought up, but you ignored.

  61. Lazar said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 5:11 pm

    I've never claimed that all rules are archaic and baseless, or that rules have no place in writing. When expressing yourself in a certain register (like standard English), it's fine to follow rules which have a solid basis in the written and spoken forms of that register. What's not fine is to refuse to acknowledge the validity of other registers (i.e. chastising people for not writing and speaking in standard English at all times), or to advocate rules (like the "that/which" rule, the ban on singular "they", the ban on initial "however", the ban on split infinitives, and so many others) which were concocted at the whim of usage mavens and did not have any basis in the work of good English writers. When you write, "I don’t see how this rule or any rule can make someone’s writing sound worse" (emphasis mine), you seem to be implying that there's no burden of proof for rules – that anyone can put forth a rule (for example, "never start a sentence with the letters R or B"), and that it will necessarily improve your writing because it is a rule. If you admit that my R-B rule is baseless, then you have to consider that some of the other commonly cited prescriptions might be baseless. Not all, but some.

    You seem to be obsessed with Strunk and White;

    The reason why I've mentioned them (in my second and third comments) is that you made a point of defending them in your initial reply. As I indicated, if you mean to say that someone might be literate because they read Strunk and White or similar books, then I think you're grossly overestimating the effects of usage guides in promoting literacy. And again, my criticism of those books is not undermined by the (nearly tautological) fact that their advocates might be more informed than uninformed people. A Creationist might similarly have better-than-average knowledge of fossils, but that wouldn't lend any greater validity to their position.

  62. Tom said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 5:19 pm

    "Do you remember learning about grammar in preschool?" No, but I'm sure I was corrected quite a bit. Just today, I corrected my preschool daughter for saying "last morning" when she meant "this morning".

  63. Goscé said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 5:57 pm

    By the way, regarding Geoffrey Pullum, I shall submit a Steve Pinker-Mark Halpern exchange:

    Mark Halpern said: “What neither Mr. Nunberg nor Mr. Pinker has shown, nor can show, is how linguistic science can tell us how educated people of today should write; that is determined not by science, but by wide reading, tact, discrimination, good taste.

    Steve Pinker: “Well, no one ever said that linguistics can "settle" questions of usage; the issue is whether it can offer important insight, so that a prescriptivist is better off knowing linguistics than being ignorant of it.”

    Mr.Pullum’s viewpoint is obviously biased, for he is a descriptivist. Why would his opinion sway my viewpoint?

    He writes: “And I don’t know how anyone can seriously accept that we should write: “The culprit, it turned out, was he.”

    The sentence follows the rule that a pronoun following the verb “to be” must take the subject form. “ It was I that called”, “The person you want is he.” What I would like to ask Mr.Pullum is why this sounds stuffy or why is he opposed to the rule. Does he find that “The culprit, it turns out, was him” more attractive, or is it just because nobody adheres to the rule so let’s debunk it. I think that Mr. Pullum, and the majority of decriptivists, would also oppose the object form if it were the rule.

    Keep in mind, I can also submit hundreds of prominent authors who adhere to the rule, and many of those authors are the same writers Mr.Pullum submitted to substantiate his position.

  64. Terry Collmann said,

    July 20, 2014 @ 7:07 pm

    " What I would like to ask Mr.Pullum is why ['The culprit, it turned out, was he'] sounds stuffy …"

    Either English is not your native language or you have tin ears. It's not that “The culprit, it turns out, was him” is more attractive, it's that “The culprit, it turns out, was him” is what the overwhelming majority of native English speakers find natural, and would say. That's what makes “The culprit, it turned out, was him” grammatical, and if you don't understand that, you don't understand how grammar works

  65. Goscé said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 12:07 am

    Terry Collman:

    "Either English is not your native language or you have tin ears. It's not that “The culprit, it turns out, was him” is more attractive, it's that “The culprit, it turns out, was him” is what the overwhelming majority of native English speakers find natural, and would say. That's what makes “The culprit, it turned out, was him” grammatical, and if you don't understand that, you don't understand how grammar works"

    Why does it sound more natural? Try to understand the question before you send an acerbic comment.

    I already submitted the rule on pronoun usage, which apparently you either did not understand, or you’re just conforming to the majority.

    I completely understand that “The culprit, it turns out, was him “ is "not" grammatical, but it seems that you don’t. It also seems that you’re not familiar with the definition of “grammatical”.

    Merriam Webster: “conforming to the rules of grammar.” “ of or relating to grammar. “

    How can something be grammatical when it doesn’t conform to the rules of grammar?Furthermore there are many ungrammatical constructions that native English speakers find natural, but that doesn’t make them grammatical.

    I understand how grammar works; I just don’t agree with how you think it works.

  66. Tony said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 12:59 am

    It's a parody. It's comedy. In other words, not to be taken seriously.
    I got to this point of the article…
    "Second, a little rumination on Weird Al's violent reactions against "bad grammar" raises deep and longstanding questions of social equity regarding class, education, race, age, ethnicity, gender, and how these relate to languages, dialects, and social registers."
    … and decided this is pretentious crap and not worth reading further.

  67. James McDonald said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 5:06 am

    "What is the difference between "language," "English," and "literacy"?" That is of course only a question for monolingual anglophones in countries with a 99%+ literacy rate.

  68. Alan Palmer said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 5:34 am

    The song seems to be taken by most as a semi-serious collection of Weird Al's own pet peeves, rather than as a parody, as I feel it is. As such it seems to fall under an extension of Poe's Law, which states:

    Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won't mistake for the real thing.

    For 'Fundamentalism' substitute 'linguistic peeving', of course.

  69. Alan Palmer said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 5:34 am

    The song seems to be taken by most as a semi-serious collection of Weird Al's own pet peeves, rather than as a parody, as I feel it is. As such it seems to fall under an extension of Poe's Law, which states:

    Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won't mistake for the real thing.

    For 'Fundamentalism' substitute 'linguistic peeving', of course.

  70. Alan Palmer said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 5:35 am

    Apologies for double-posting.

  71. David B said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 6:24 am

    So this comment thread has turned into arguing over the propriety of getting people to adhere to notions of what constitutes standardized English, and has lost sight of the core of the original post, I fear.

    For what it's worth, I do agree that Lauren Squires may be guilty of taking what is clearly a parody (of "Blurred Lines") way too seriously, but she's certainly not alone in that-and the 25 questions she offers are really quite useful suggestions. So can we get back to talking about the substance of the post, and not the that/which distinction?

  72. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 10:32 am

    Most of Prof. Squires' list of questions certainly seem as to their substance like they would be useful ones to get students in an intro linguistics class (or some other class where similar points are relevant to the curriculum) to ponder. Whether using an internet novelty (which may well have faded from currency before the fall semester starts) as the "hook" for setting up those questions is a different issue. And, again, using "Weird Al" in the phrasing of the questions to refer to the persona of the song's first-person narrative voice as if that were indistinguishable from the author seems like a rookie mistake that someone down the hall in her university's English department might be able to explain the problematic nature of. (This is true even if the song-persona shares many attitudes and personality traits with the real Weird Al – Stephen Dedalus had quite a lot in common with the real James Joyce without being fully fungible with him.)

    On further reflection what perhaps makes the song interesting as a sociological illustration of peeving is that the narrator has strong feelings about a whole grab-bag of usage issues, with his position on some needing minimal qualification/nuance to be uncontroversially sensible and his position on others much controversial/dubious, but with all positions expressed with equal emotional intensity and unjustified arrogance.* The practical problem with peevers is not that they're *always* wrong; it's that they lack the capacity to evaluate the accuracy and utility (or lack thereof) of the "rules" they have latched onto, cannot distinguish wheat from chaff (or nutrition from crackpottery) in usage advice, and (often at least) lack self-awareness of this blind spot and thus the ability to develop better discernment.

    *Unjustified in the sense that part of the self-image seems to be that this stuff is really hard and that thus mastering and internalizing the shibboleths is some sort of accomplishment that ought to confer social status.

  73. Lauren S. said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 10:40 am

    I'm totally overwhelmed by how much readership this post has gotten–it's really unexpected, and I'm grateful for all the nice responses! I have just a few responses to some of the comments posted here.

    Several commenters have said something along the lines of, "You're taking it too seriously"; "it's just a parody"; "lighten up." In general, I don't believe that something being intended as humorous means that it is immune to analysis. Much of what is posted on Language Log is serious analysis of humorous stuff! Isn't often the underlying goal of humor indeed to spark serious thought about whatever is involved? (One could say of people critiquing Robin Thicke's original lyrics, "Well, it's just a song, meant to entertain – you're taking it too seriously!" Some people did say that, but what I'm finding in reactions to my piece are people simultaneously a) agreeing that the lyrics of "Blurred Lines" are offensive, but b) arguing that because it's meant to be funny, the lyrics of "Word Crimes" should not be subject to any serious scrutiny. This doesn't cohere to me.)

    People who think I've taken things too seriously – do you object to teachers using humorous material to open serious classroom discussion? Showing something funny and then talking seriously about what makes it funny (or maybe what makes it unfunny to some people) is a pretty common, and effective in my experience, teaching technique.

    Also, what I have done is try to respond to the idea offered by others that this video teaches people about English/language/grammar. I saw a bunch of posts on websites framing the video with terms like "English lesson," "teach you about grammar," and "great for English teachers." There were many comparisons to Schoolhouse Rocks. I also saw posts by many people indicating an intention to use the video in class as a means of teaching grammatical errors (http://bit.ly/1nNwrd9). So a bunch of people seemed to be looking at this meant-to-be-humorous video and thinking "serious grammar lesson"! I started thinking about if/how I would incorporate this into my own classroom, the extent to which it could be useful and it what ways, and I wrote these thoughts down.

    So yes, my post is a serious consideration of an intended-as-funny artifact. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. There is a set of things I take pretty seriously at root because it is part of my job to do so: language, attitudes about the English language, and education. "Word Crimes" and the responses to it are positioned at the intersection of these things, so I am positioned to think seriously about "Word Crimes." I would (literally) not be doing my job if I didn't spend some time thinking about this song.

    There is also some idea that I've mistaken the song as a representation of Weird Al's own ideas. It's true that in the post I say repeatedly, "Weird Al says…" I don't know who else to ascribe the content to, but if that bugs you, you can substitute "the narrator of the song says…" As others have posted, there is all evidence that Weird Al DOES subscribe to the attitudes the song represents, and no evidence (so far) that he does not. That said, for the purposes of teaching about the ideas conveyed by the song, I don't know that it matters. If it's an anthem of prescriptivism? Let's talk about issues with prescriptivism. If it's a parody of prescriptivism? Let's talk about why someone would parody prescriptivism, which requires talking about issues with prescriptivism. If Weird Al "believes" the things he sings? Or if Weird Al doesn't "believe" the things he sings? Let's talk about the things he sings in either case, and either include Weird Al himself in the discussion or leave him out of it. All the content is still there.

    I agree that the nature of the parody, the voice of the narrator v songwriter, etc., are all interesting questions, but I think they are tangential to my purposes here. (On what kind of parody exactly the song is, I defer to the comments above of @tpr and @Vance Maverick, as well as the post by Grammar Girl: http://bit.ly/Uj87sm)

    @Scott – "I trust people who bring well reasoned and thoughtful points to the table. I don't trust people who bring class and race into every single discussion regardless of merit." As I said, there is a long line of research into how prescriptivism/ideas about "Proper English" are wrapped up with race and class; the goal of this post was not to outline all of that research, but to summarize the gist. But if you don't buy that, it should at least be uncontested that as soon as one talks about "literacy" (which "Word Crimes" does), one brings up class (and then, in the US, race). Saying someone is "illiterate" is to immediately point to their education (perhaps among other elements). And that is to point to something about class.

    @ThomasH – For the sake of accuracy only, I note that I am "Ms./Dr." Squires.

    @allaboutthesemicolons – Believe it or not, it was fun for me to write the post, to sit through the song and see what ideas it triggered (maybe not all-caps FUN, but at least low-caps fun). It'll also be fun when I get to talk about the video in class!

  74. Lauren S. said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 11:04 am

    @J.W. Brewer – I'm sure you didn't mean it as such, but that comment was insulting ("rookie mistake" + going down the hall for help). I'm happy to learn from my colleagues, but this phrasing of the suggestion that I need to do so is problematic.

  75. Barry said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 1:58 pm

    "But please do not mistake the video itself for an educational video." Anybody who might confuse a song by Weird Al Yankovic for an educational video would probably not care about or even understand any of the concerns or issues expressed in this posting nor in the following comments.

  76. Goscé said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 4:12 pm

    J.W.Brewer:

    “The practical problem with peevers is not that they're *always* wrong; it's that they lack the capacity to evaluate the accuracy and utility (or lack thereof) of the "rules" they have latched onto, cannot distinguish wheat from chaff (or nutrition from crackpottery) in usage advice, and (often at least) lack self-awareness of this blind spot and thus the ability to develop better discernment."

    Therefore, you’re acknowledging that peevers can, sometimes, be right, but then you negate that statement by claiming they lack the capacity to evaluate the advantage or disadvantage of those rules.

    “*Unjustified in the sense that part of the self-image seems to be that this stuff is really hard and that thus mastering and internalizing the shibboleths is some sort of accomplishment that ought to confer social status.”

    It depends on how you define social status. If you define it as one who is educated and financially stable, then that would include a few peevers and there would be no need for them to confer social status.

  77. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 21, 2014 @ 4:26 pm

    Dr. Squires: I accept that that was poorly phrased and unnecessarily snarky. Please accept my apology for that. I also understand your clarification that from your perspective whether or not the opinions of the song's first-person narrator should be imputed to "Weird Al" himself is tangential. Maybe the most irenic way to respond to that is that I understand the impulse to find a current-events/pop-culture hook to introduce important/recurrent questions that students ought to be thinking about, but one of the hazards of pursuing that impulse is the risk that people will get distracted about the precise details of how the hook was used (and whether it reflected the best analysis of the particular current event and/or bit of pop culture). Such distractions will almost certainly be tangential to the substantive point intended to be made, but it is precisely the fact that people are interested in current-events/pop-culture for their own sakes (i.e. the original motive for using that as a hook) that increases the risk that people will get hung up on such tangents, thus perhaps undermining the pedagogical benefit of going down that route.

  78. Mar Rojo said,

    July 22, 2014 @ 4:03 am

    From the Grammarly blog:

    “Word Crimes” isn’t the first evidence of Weird Al’s love of correct grammar. Turns out, he’s been fighting poor grammar for years!

    http://www.grammarly.com/blog/2014/exclusive-interview-weird-al/

  79. Mar Rojo said,

    July 22, 2014 @ 4:06 am

    Note that in that interview, Al states he intended to make an educational video.

  80. RQ said,

    July 22, 2014 @ 6:44 am

    @J.W Brewer. What alternative (or remedy) would you propose to the risk you identify? I find the conversation about this post and the ways in which its author gets postitioned by many of the commenters as interesting and worthy of analysis as the original topic of the post (which I personally find depressing in its glee at denigrating people).

  81. Lauren S. said,

    July 22, 2014 @ 9:18 am

    @J.W. Brewer – I appreciate the apology. I think I understand the risk you point to, but I guess I'm not sure how big of a risk it really is, or that the benefits of using "fun" stuff in class wouldn't outweigh it. For me, using pop culture artifacts is a central way to not only get students interested IN class, but to get them interested in taking a more critical eye to what they experience OUTSIDE of class–they have seen that what we talk about in class can be relevant to thinking about, e.g., pop songs. I think this is especially important in a course that students are so predisposed to assume will be boring and esoteric, which students overwhelmingly report having assumed that a course on English grammar (for instance) would be. We can make space to talk about varying interpretations of the artifact, its intent, and things like its popularity, but I find that students are pretty good at focusing on the linguistic bits of interest (which it's of course my task to point them to). Maybe I'm not understanding the full range of your concern.

  82. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 22, 2014 @ 10:06 am

    Obviously how well a particular pedagogical approach will work may depend both on how natural a fit it is for the personality and style of the instructor and also on the temperament of the students (which of course will not be uniform throughout the class). I would not want to universalize my own perhaps idiosyncratic reactions from my own student days, but I e.g. have a very negative memory of some English teacher in junior high school (this would have been toward the end of the '70's) trying to illustrate some sort of unit about literary/poetic stuff using not boring/anthologized canonical poetry but lyrics from the then-current Billy Joel album. Perhaps other students found that fun, or engaging. I did not. I found it tin-eared and condescending, not least because it implied (to my perhaps oversensitive adolescent mind) patronizingly low expectations for students, who by implication would not take substantive course material seriously unless it was made "fun" or "accessible" or "relevant." On the one hand it may not have helped that I personally disliked Billy Joel (and this is an age when some students are prone to have Very Strong Opinions on the merits or flaws of particular recording artists), but on the other hand had she picked some rock songwriter who I thought (in an uncritical teenage way) was a genius it was likely that my Very Strong Opinions would have led me to focus on my rival exegesis of the lyrics perhaps at the expense of whatever point was being illustrated. Whereas if she'd just used some boringly-canonical dead poet (Frost, Dickinson – wouldn't have to be anyone edgy or obscure) the same difficulty would not have arisen.

    A loose parallel might be the tendency of some writers of linguistics text books to come up with self-consciously "zany" example sentences to illustrate various syntactic patterns and contrasts. The late Jim McCawley (a gifted scholar and by all accounts a very sweet man, although also one of those personality types who had never had a life outside the academy and, reading between the lines of some of the glowing tributes to him, might have found it difficult to function in "normal" non-academic social contexts) was prone to those, but there have been others. They always struck me as a well-meaning but clueless grown-up's idea of what will keep otherwise sullen/bored college sophomores engaged in class, and thus tended to irritate college sophomores of my particular personality and temperament (not that I'm claiming I might not have come off as sullen or bored) because of that patronizing/condescending vibe.

    I fully accept that not all students have my particular personality and temperament (and frankly I would probably be less prickly about that stuff now, just because I am many decades older), and pedagogy should not be centered around me. It may also depend to some extent on the nature of the class and what sort of students take it for what motives. The implicit attitude/assumption in most of my undergrad linguistics classes seemed to be that students had self-selected for interest in the subject so the right approach was to presuppose a certain seriousness rather than taking a more marketing-oriented approach, although in hindsight perhaps a more marketing-oriented approach could have led to more than approx 0.5% of my undergraduate class majoring in linguistics (or at least the development of a course that would provide useful insights into language for people who were not interested enough to be potential majors but wanted to be less ignorant of the subject than the median college grad is). Moreover, for an intro (or even non-intro) linguistics class it does seem that using little bits of text from movie dialogue / tv-show dialogue / song lyrics etc as memorable in-the-wild illustrations of particular phenomena might be effective. That's a bit different, in my mind, from using this particular song as a whole as if it were assigned reading.

  83. Lauren S. said,

    July 22, 2014 @ 10:28 am

    @J.W. Brewer – I see. Again, my post is responding specifically to the idea of using this video in the classroom, so it takes off from one step ahead of considering whether or not to use it in the classroom due to general questions about using/not using pop culture material in the classroom. (I wasn't thinking of treating it like a "reading," though – the idea for me was these questions are for talking about in class…nor would I tackle all of them in one sitting, or even one semester.) Pop culture is certainly part of my teaching style but I wouldn't say that it should be for everyone! For me it usually works, and it keeps both me and the students interested. Most respond positively (whether they genuinely like the particular artifacts or roll their eyes at them). Of course, I use other types of texts too. I do know that you can never reach every student with any one artifact or activity or course or teaching method.

  84. Francesca A said,

    July 22, 2014 @ 7:09 pm

    I beg to differ, Lauren Squires.

    When you reduce language to "largely trivial, largely arbitrary standards of linguistic correctness" I feel you are missing the point, and missing the purpose of language entirely, which is to communicate clearly, precisely, succinctly, unambiguously. Language is a tool designed for communication. Your post fails to consider many scenarios where the precise use of language is crucial.

    For example, when a Judge hands down a judgment his words are chosen carefully and with precision. When two parties seek to enter into a legally binding agreement the precise use of language plays a crucial role in this process. When a writer composes a novel, grammar and spelling are crucial in conveying the writer's intent, crucial in lifting the writing from mundane to engaging. When a doctor compiles a report regarding a patient's prognosis and future treatment, language plays a highly crucial role in conveying information accurately.

    Linguists perhaps live in an elitist, idealised, intellectual bubble that is separate and isolated from the rest of society. If classism is present perhaps it is among the intellectual community who have lost touch with the real world?

    I do not accept the assertion that as a society our reactions to how grammar is used raises questions regarding class, education, race, age, ethnicity, gender etc. Again you cite intellectual assessments to bolster your arguments.

    Lauren, I reject your assertion that those of us who choose to use grammar prescriptively are cruel classists who are waiting to pounce, humiliate and ridicule. This is a bold and unfounded assertion.

    To my mind the use of poor grammar is not a class issue. Many examples of poor use of language can be found among individuals who have been raised in affluent and privileged circumstances, who have achieved fame and high social status, who have risen to positions of political power.

    Rather than linking poor grammar and spelling to social class, race or ethnicity, in my view they can be linked to a lack of focus and effort on the part of the individual. Language is a learned skill. That learning is available to every individual equally, both in the public and private education system. Adults have the opportunity to develop these skilsl at TAFE and other institutions, as well as through personal effort.

    If children are completing secondary education with poor communication skills this poses a question as to where have educators and parents failed in this regard. Why do some students excel and others fail? Has the overuse of technology played a part in the failure of younger generations to develop a good grasp of language, grammar, spelling?

    It is particularly alarming that teachers seem to be leading the charge in arguing that there is little value in using grammar and spelling well, that grammar in everyday language should not be prescriptive, that a society that seeks to preserve standards of grammar and spelling is in actuality attempting to degrade and attack those who "don't do things the correct way", that using language in a manner that is universally accepted and understood by the majority is "trivial" and a form of "linguistic correctness". Perhaps this is part of the problem, teachers' failure to teach a life skill that is essential?

    Ah … rules. Yes, as a society we live in a system that is dominated by rules. While this may be a distasteful reality, it is the reality nonetheless. Rules are a part of life. Rules require discipline, and perhaps this is what is lacking among users of poor grammar and spelling?

    Is every activity in life FUN? Let's examine this realistically.

    Going to the dentist is a necessary part of life. For me this is certainly not FUN, however I do it regardless because I value good oral health. Giving birth to a baby is certainly not fun, however at the end of this often excruciating process a baby is born, and welcoming a new child into the world is indeed FUN.

    This need for immediate gratification, and immediate reimbursement for effort expended is perhaps a sign of immaturity in my view, and perhaps lies at the heart of the problem. Are we raising generations of young adults who demand that every experience in life be FUN? How does this equip these individuals for the vicissitudes of life that inevitably will come?

    The expectation that everything in life will be FUN, including learning how to master language, or mathematics or science for that matter, sets up an expectation that does not serve young people well and will inevitably lead to disappointment, apathy, perhaps even inertia once the reality that many things in life worth having require effort, sacrifice and discipline enters conscience awareness.

    Perhaps the initial effort expended in learning the rules of grammar and spelling will be challenging and not FUN, however having the ability to use language effectively will be gratifying, and perhaps this sense of gratification is worth the wait.

    'Word Crimes' is a humorous short clip designed to highlight how standards of grammar have slipped in mainstream society. Its message resonated for many and it went viral in days. I thought it was quite funny and reflected how I fee about this issue.

    For the record, I am from a working class background, was educated in a public school, raised in a single parent family in a lower socio-economic demographic. I believe in equality and egalitarianism, however I also appreciate using language effectively.

  85. DC67 said,

    July 23, 2014 @ 10:15 am

    In the debate over the appropriateness of Weird Al's song in a school situation, why hasn't anyone noticed the inappropriate use of sexual terms in the lyrics? "Weird Al has a big dictionary" (at the end of the video) and "You should hire a #cunninglinguist" make the video inappropriate for most classrooms.

  86. tpr said,

    July 24, 2014 @ 5:07 am

    @Francesca A

    When you reduce language to "largely trivial, largely arbitrary standards of linguistic correctness" I feel you are missing the point, and missing the purpose of language entirely, which is to communicate clearly, precisely, succinctly, unambiguously.

    None of the peeves in the Word Crimes video improve precision or reduce ambiguity with the possible exception of I could care less. They are "largely trivial, largely arbitrary standards of linguistic correctness". No one is saying that language as a whole is those things.

  87. Francesca A said,

    July 24, 2014 @ 8:03 am

    To tpr:

    I quote the first paragraph of Lauren Squires post:

    "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."

    So yes, this is precisely what the writer stated above.

  88. Old Gobbo said,

    July 24, 2014 @ 9:03 am

    @tpr:
    In general I think Dr Squires makes a lot of good points, particularly about language peevers (though which of us would not admit to at least one bête noire?), and, in this particular case, about “mistaken errors” in “Word Crimes”. However I also have some sympathy with Francesca A – not only because I spent several terrible TEFL years with French business school students, but also because of what I read everyday (e.g. * below).

    I regret, then, that you pick out “I could care less” as a major source of ambiguity, no matter how much it may grate. On the other hand, I would have thought that the following items in the song might indeed "improve precision or reduce ambiguity":

    - being able to conjugate correctly
    - knowing when it’s “less” or “fewer” (which is not the same as saying one can never use “less” for “fewer”)
    - using the right pronoun
    - not using “it’s” as a possessive
    - not worrying about leaving out the Oxford comma
    - avoiding the use of texting and comparable abbreviations in everyday connected prose
    - being aware of homophones, and that irony is not coincidence
    - and generally avoiding incoherence

    * e.g. “to consult on whether universal no notice or a different change to the no notice regime should be made” – should be e.g. “universal no notice will be the rule”, and I would prefer some hyphens – https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/oral-statement-by-nicky-morgan-on-the-trojan-horse-letter, &
    “[Education Secretary Morgan] said she hoped these bodies would be the places unhappy teachers could turn in the future”, Guardian 23/7/14, “Schools face new curbs on extremism”, p.2, col.5
    – whether spoken or misreported, this should read e.g. “turn to”, as the Secretary of State probably does not expect the teachers to go there and spin round.

  89. tpr said,

    July 24, 2014 @ 9:43 am

    @Francesca A:
    She is referring to the particular arbitrary standards that are given undue privilege – standards prescribed by self-appointed guardians of the language rather than ones that reflect the natural creative use of the language as discovered by careful analysis by linguists. If you follow discussions about prescriptivism and descriptivism, you'll recognize that many of the 'errors' listed in the video are either alternative conventions that are in widespread use (often by groups that have a low social status) or thoroughly standard conventions that appear in even classics of English literature (e.g., dangling participles), which some people decided were wrong because they thought English should be like Latin or something.

    It often helps to be aware of even the silliest of these conventions when applying for jobs because of the prestige associated with them, but arguments about improved precision and the like are nonsense.

  90. tpr said,

    July 24, 2014 @ 10:35 am

    @Old Gobbo
    TEFL students should be taught the truth about how English works along with some information about the social consequences of different linguistic choices. For example, you should explain to them that English speakers have almost universally abandoned whom in both speech and writing and that it can come across as stuffy and pretentious in many social contexts.

    I wouldn't say I could care less is "a major source of ambiguity". People usually understand what is meant by it because it's a common enough way of saying I couldn't care less.

    You seem to think it's self-evident that the conventions you list improve precision or reduce ambiguity, but I don't agree. Consider a couple of examples:

    less/fewer
    How can using less instead of fewer lead to ambiguity? The only cases that come close are where a noun can be used with either a countable or uncountable meaning, and where nothing distinguishes singular and plural use of the noun. For example, fewer fish might be about whole fish, but less fish might be about fish construed as a meaty substance. In context, this is almost never going to lead to any ambiguity. We know that the countable interpretation would be intended if someone said there are less fish in the tank for example, because of the plural agreement and general knowledge about what is a sensible thing to say.

    its/it's
    As a general rule, its and it's don't appear in the same positions in a sentence, so you can't change the meaning by substituting one with the other. This is fortunate given that they're not distinguished in speech at all. I once saw an example of a sentence (probably here), where replacing one with the other changed the meaning of the sentence while both remained grammatical, but I can't remember it. Point is, it's exceedingly rare.

  91. David B said,

    July 24, 2014 @ 10:52 am

    Old Gobbo: Interesting that you bring up "being able to conjugate correctly" as something leading to greater clarity—because it doesn't necessarily do that (assuming that by "correctly" you mean "according to social norms of standardized English").

    I grew up in an area where people could pretty freely alternate between the standard "They're going home" and the nonstandard "They's going home". These meant, at least in terms of the literal meaning, exactly the same thing, and nobody would be confused by either of them—so it's not like there was a loss of clarity from the existence of the "they's" form.

    However, there was a difference in terms of the meanings behind the literal meaning—to begin with, the "they's" form expressed locality and solidarity on the part of the "they" in ways that the "they're" form didn't. In this case, at least, then, I would argue that the ability to conjugate in a nonstandard way (or "incorrectly", as you'd presumably have it) actually allows for *more* clarity of expression.

  92. Bob McMaster said,

    July 24, 2014 @ 10:59 am

    Turns out humorless pedantry isn't limited to prescriptivists.

  93. Terry Collmann said,

    July 24, 2014 @ 6:36 pm

    Francesca A: "Standards of grammar have slipped in mainstream society" – no they haven't, and you don't have any evidence to stand that claim up. The hearking back to a mythical golden age is, alas, typical of prescriptivists, from Dryden onwards.

    "It is particularly alarming that teachers seem to be leading the charge in arguing that there is little value in using grammar and spelling well …" No, they're not. You seem to be suffering from the typical prescriptivist fear that because teachers don't find emphasising the alleged difference between "less" and "fewer" as important as you do, public education is going down the pan. But you won't find any teacher, or linquist, argue that learning how to speak Standard English is not important. What they will say, and what you can't grasp, is that Standard English is not the only English, and other Englishes are just as valid, with their own valid grammars, as Standard English.

    Indeed, there are areas where other Englishes are LESS ambiguous than Standard English: "Are youse going to the shops?" is both grammatical in the English spoken in parts of Northern Ireland and less ambiguous than Standard English "Are you going to the shops?" (One "you"? Two or more?)

  94. Anthony R. said,

    July 25, 2014 @ 10:23 am

    19. "Weird Al's system" of diagramming sentences is an incorrect attribution. The person who created the animation is clearly credited at the end of the video and it wasn't Weird Al. Weird Al is responsible for the lyrics and the musical performance, not how his lyrics were brought to visual life (beyond obvious creative control issues). Other questions share this error, but this is the most blatant one.

    Also, how would those questions read if the students were in J school or just learning how to edit the English language for publication? I think *that* is a much better context for this song (and the video) to be used as "education."

  95. Lisette said,

    July 25, 2014 @ 10:25 am

    Killjoy!

  96. Edward Pye said,

    July 25, 2014 @ 3:33 pm

    I don't think the parody has anything to do with EAL students and far more to do with the phenomenon of internet commentary and the bullying/abuse connected to it.

  97. Goscé said,

    July 26, 2014 @ 4:29 pm

    Terry Collmann
    “Francesca A: "Standards of grammar have slipped in mainstream society" – no they haven't, and you don't have any evidence to stand that claim up. The hearking back to a mythical golden age is, alas, typical of prescriptivists, from Dryden onwards.”

    And you don’t have evidence to substantiate your claim.

    Conversely there is far more evidence to support Francesca and prescriptivists’ claims.
    The practical advantages of a standard language are enormous. An advanced society conducting business, politics and education in mishmash of dialects would be unimaginable.

    Reading scores on the SAT for high school students have declined immeasurably. Test scores indicate that students are unable to read passages and answer questions on sentence structure, vocabulary and meaning on their college entrance exams. Language as George Orwell once wrote, “…becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”

    “…Standard English is not the only English, and other Englishes are just as valid, with their own valid grammars, as Standard English.”

    Your assertions are misguided and contradictory. How can “other Englishes” be just as valid when one cannot achieve the better results, scholastically and professionally, without recognizing a Standard English?

    Keep in mind, that as standards of grammar declined so did vocabulary (and there is data to prove this). Consequently, deficient vocabularies can’t comprehend words with complicated meanings and can’t express themselves with greater precision.

    If language has not deteriorated—an anathema to linguistic terminology—but has evolved, then that evolvement is in retrograde, because vocabulary has unquestionably infantilized in the last fifty-sixty years.

    There is nothing wrong with non-standard English dialects, but when they interfere and modify Standard English, then we have a problem.

  98. Phoenix Woman said,

    July 26, 2014 @ 6:22 pm

    tpr says that's OK to say "I could care less" when one really means the exact opposite because "people usually understand what is meant by it".

    Unless, of course, you are someone who isn't a native English speaker.

    The whole "people usually understand what is meant by" argument is an argument from laziness. It's an argument which has at its core the belief that any illogical and wrong use of language magically becomes OK if enough people indulge in it, especially over a substantial period of time.

    Can you imagine how American history would have turned out if those irritating prescriptivist Abolitionists had been too lazy to counter the common belief that slavery was just fine because it'd been around since time out of mind?

  99. tpr said,

    July 27, 2014 @ 6:16 pm

    @Phoenix Woman:
    I didn't make any kind of normative statement about this phrase. I said that it's probably alone among the examples Weird Al rejects in being something that could possibly lead to ambiguity, but that it's not a major source of ambiguity. I'm only talking about what is, and not what ought to be.

    The whole "people usually understand what is meant by" argument is an argument from laziness.

    No, it's a true statement that bears on the question of whether this phrase is really ambiguous in context.

    It's an argument which has at its core the belief that any illogical and wrong use of language magically becomes OK if enough people indulge in it, especially over a substantial period of time.

    If you think so-called 'proper' English is logical, I don't know what to say to you. And what on Earth could it mean to say that a widespread linguistic convention was wrong? Where do you think dictionary writers get definitions from? There simply is no other authority about what the conventions of the language are. The conventions may not always be logical or pretty, but they are what they are.

  100. Thomas said,

    July 28, 2014 @ 11:41 am

    to be free with language and proper at the same time,

    well. literacy's your mission just looked skewed to me,

    shouldn't it be, literacy is your mission? :)

    ~peace

    thomas :)

  101. JS said,

    July 28, 2014 @ 12:30 pm

    I don't think those complaining that constructions like "could care less" are "illogical" have spent much time thinking or learning about natural language. Excuse me! I think those complaining that constructions like "could care less" are "illogical" have not spent much time thinking or learning about natural language. Excuse me! I think those complaining that constructions like "could care less" are "illogical" have spent little time thinking or learning about natural language.

  102. Goscé said,

    July 28, 2014 @ 5:19 pm

    TPR:
    “For example, you should explain to them that English speakers have almost universally abandoned whom in both speech and writing and that it can come across as stuffy and pretentious in many social contexts.”

    The same question I asked in a previous post I’ll ask again. Why would it come across as stuffy to adhere to the grammar rules concerning the nominative and accusative case?

    Why is "whom" being abandoned? Undoubtedly, because the majority of people can not distinguish the two cases, let’s be honest.

    It’s interesting that descriptivists can disparage a usage by denouncing it as being stuffy or pretentious, even though that usage is following a long-standing rule. Nevertheless, they ardently defend a non-standard usage simply because it serves their purpose to debunk those rules and to admonish prescriptivism.
    If it sounds pretentious to say, “it is I” or “with whom do you wish to speak”, it’s because very few people say it, and for this reason it sounds affected. The irony is that linguists, who are largely descriptivists, countenance non-standard grammar based on their nonjudgmental approach to language that focuses on how it is actually spoken and written. Therefore, it stands to reason that if the majority spoke Standard English they would have to abide by that premise. Consequently, they would have no motivation to attack grammar rules, since their principle is based more on usage and not on rules.

    Linguists maintain a very tenuous and patently false position on grammar. They fully understand the advantages of prescriptive English; accordingly, they vigorously follow prescriptive rules in their speeches and writings. They understand that it’s “better” to employ Standard English, because that is what is practiced by the educated class and logically it’s better to be educated than not.

    Unfortunately their position only serves their purpose, which is to provide them with a certain amount of recognition to acclaim their profession, but sadly, it does a considerable disservice to the disadvantaged.

  103. David B said,

    July 28, 2014 @ 9:13 pm

    Goscé wrote:

    The same question I asked in a previous post I’ll ask again. Why would it come across as stuffy to adhere to the grammar rules concerning the nominative and accusative case?

    Why is "whom" being abandoned? Undoubtedly, because the majority of people can not distinguish the two cases, let’s be honest.

    Actually, no. Were people unable to distinguish between the nominative and objective cases, they would make no distinction between, e.g., they and them. The fact that the vast majority of English speakers do, however, regularly distinguish between those words but not between who and whom is evidence not that the nominative~objective distinction has been lost,* but rather that who can now quite simply be used for either nominative or objective case.

    Also, it's misleading for Goscé to say

    Linguists maintain a very tenuous and patently false position on grammar. They fully understand the advantages of prescriptive English; accordingly, they vigorously follow prescriptive rules in their speeches and writings. They understand that it’s “better” to employ Standard English, because that is what is practiced by the educated class and logically it’s better to be educated than not.

    You are very unlikely to ever find a linguist who will say that prescriptive norms are worthless, and for Goscé to make such a claim is simply attacking a strawman. What you will find among linguists, in actuality, is a claim that it is untrue that one specific norm is always somehow best—rather, it's all about register, and learning which forms are most suitable to which situations. In scholarly writing, prescriptive norms are usually the most suitable register for the situation; in most (but not all) other situations, prescriptive norms are not the most suitable register to use.

    * Not that this would be a terrible problem. I mean, Old English had five cases (nominative, accusative, dative, genitive, instrumental)—unless I'm missing one in pulling the list from off the top of my head—and I don't hear complaints from prescriptivists that that it's an issue that we don't have an accusative~dative distinction anymore. It really makes me wonder why who~whom is such a big deal to them when the absence of the Old English hit~his isn't a big deal.

  104. David B said,

    July 28, 2014 @ 9:15 pm

    (Sorry—a correction: In the very last sentence of my last post, replace hit~his with hit~him.)

  105. tpr said,

    July 29, 2014 @ 5:02 am

    @Goscé
    I think David B said almost everything that needed to be said, but I will add a few more points.

    Why would it come across as stuffy to adhere to the grammar rules concerning the nominative and accusative case?

    I don't know why whom comes across as stuffy in many contexts, but that's the reality. A competent speaker of English knows that language that goes down well in a job interview won't necessarily go down well at the pub and vice versa. If you want to be able to navigate successfully through different kinds of social environments, then you need to understand the norms of each, not just the one that carries the most prestige.

    Why is "whom" being abandoned? Undoubtedly, because the majority of people can not distinguish the two cases, let’s be honest.

    I don't know why it's being abandoned, but the distinction carries no advantage in terms of communication or the clarity of thought. When a linguistic convention lacks a useful function, it's free to vary over time much like a vestigial organ that is no longer being kept in check by natural selection.

    To imply that the distinction is being lost because the general population are just too stupid or lazy is simply untrue. That's not being 'honest', it's being cynical.

    It’s interesting that descriptivists can disparage a usage by denouncing it as being stuffy or pretentious, even though that usage is following a long-standing rule.

    Pointing out that a particular usage "can come across as stuffy and pretentious in many social contexts" is not the same as disparaging it. A person can like using whom and wish others would use it in the traditional way, and still acknowledge the reality that many people find it stuffy and pretentious.

    their principle is based more on usage and not on rules.

    For a descriptivist, rules are inferred by analysing usage. What other authority could there ever be for what the rules of a language are?

  106. Goscé said,

    July 29, 2014 @ 12:07 pm

    David B:

    “Actually, no. Were people unable to distinguish between the nominative and objective cases, they would make no distinction between, e.g., they and them. The fact that the vast majority of English speakers do, however, regularly distinguish between those words but not between who and whom is evidence not that the nominative~objective distinction has been lost,* but rather that who can now quite simply be used for either nominative or objective case.”

    Actually yes, because many people are unable to apply the proper nominative or objective case in the examples that I submitted in my previous post. This would also include “they” and “them”, e.g.,
    The problem students are “they”.
    Are you sure it was “they”?
    It is (was) they who…

    Very few people would recognize or use the grammatical constructions I submitted above and for this reason the rule concerning the subject case must follow the verb ‘to be’ is used primarily in formal usage.

    “It’s me” is now perfectly acceptable in informal usage, but rarely comes up in formal situations.

    Regardless, the theme of my post questioned why the prescriptive usage is categorized as being “stuffy and pretentious”. You conveniently ignored my question, but instead spewed out tangential linguistic jargon.

    “You are very unlikely to ever find a linguist who will say that prescriptive norms are worthless, and for Goscé to make such a claim is simply attacking a strawman.”

    I never made such a claim and I suggest that you read my post more attentively before you make such an inaccurate denunciation.
    Your post is another illustration of how descriptivists constantly employ a straw-man argument.

    You said, “…it is untrue that one specific norm is always somehow best—rather, it's all about register, and learning which forms are most suitable to which situations.”

    I said, “They understand that it’s “better” to employ Standard English, because that is what is practiced by the educated class and logically it’s better to be educated than not.”
    This counters your above statement. How can Standard English not be “best” by the mere fact that it’s indispensable in academia? For this reason it would seem better to be educated than not. Better or best might sound classist but it’s the reality, a reality that descriptivists deny by obfuscating the issue with linguistic jargon and false ideals.

  107. Derelict said,

    July 29, 2014 @ 1:12 pm

    As an addendum to question 1, you might ask, "What's the difference between spelling and orthography?"

  108. Goscé said,

    July 29, 2014 @ 6:22 pm

    Tpr:
    “If you want to be able to navigate successfully through different kinds of social environments, then you need to understand the norms of each, not just the one that carries the most prestige.”

    That statement is vague and not at all accurate. An educated speaker of English would understand idiomatic expressions and non-standard dialects, but a person who is only familiar with non-standard language might have more difficulty trying to understand complex sentences and challenging vocabularies. Furthermore, why would a competent speaker need to navigate into an environment where he would have no need to frequent? Since he is in the prestigious group, his group would be the group sought after.

    “To imply that the distinction is being lost because the general population are just too stupid or lazy is simply untrue. That's not being 'honest', it's being cynical.

    I never implied that the general population are too stupid or lazy, that’s a supposition based on your need to divert the debate (staw man) in order to stigmatize my character.
    What I said was that the majority of people can not distinguish the two cases, referring to the nominative/objective cases—who and whom were an example, so let’s not focus on just those two pronouns. My evidence is based on what I hear in the media, radio, television, newspapers and the many educated speakers I’ve spoken to. They might be familiar with the rule, but they’re confused on how to apply it.

    “Pointing out that a particular usage "can come across as stuffy and pretentious in many social contexts" is not the same as disparaging it.”
    Let’s not get into semantics or prevarication. In the context of this post words such as, racist, elitist, classist, stuffy and pretentious, are a veiled disparagement usually directed at prescriptivists.
    .
    “For a descriptivist, rules are inferred by analysing usage. What other authority could there ever be for what the rules of a language are?”
    . This is a misguided concept that might eventually direct language to a retrograde motion; because those rules that descriptivists deduce by analysing usage are based solely on usage rather than precise and intelligent language.

  109. tpr said,

    July 30, 2014 @ 10:23 am

    @Goscé

    why would a competent speaker need to navigate into an environment where he would have no need to frequent?

    You're right. If he didn't need to frequent it, he wouldn't need to frequent it. On the other hand, if he did need to frequent it, he would need to frequent it.

    I never implied that the general population are too stupid or lazy

    You said "the majority of people can not distinguish the two cases, let’s be honest". I can only understand that appeal to honesty as a call for us to admit to something – perhaps something you think social constraints are preventing us from saying openly so as not to appear elitist or whatever. Perhaps you think that the majority of English speakers would like to use whom, but find it too hard, so have given up on it. You know, they're either not bright enough, or lacking the motivation to do the work. You don't seem to think that they're blamelessly ignorant of these rules as we can expect them to be of Japanese grammar. It's that "Let's be honest" bit that tells us that. You wouldn't follow an observation about the majority of English speakers being unaware of a rule of Japanese with "Let's be honest". You clearly think a kind of deficiency prevents the majority of English speakers from applying the rule you believe they should follow. You didn't specify what that deficiency is, but stupidity and laziness are the only two possibilities I can think of.

    Pointing out that a particular usage "can come across as stuffy and pretentious in many social contexts" is not the same as disparaging it.

    Let's not get into semantics or prevarication. In the context of this post words such as, racist, elitist, classist, stuffy and pretentious, are a veiled disparagement usually directed at prescriptivists.

    What I said is just a descriptive fact about the world which a person can take into account when deciding how to express themselves. Knowing that whom is received negatively in many social contexts can motivate a preference for regularizing usage to who in both nominative and accusative positions. Note that a person might be perfectly capable of applying the rule you prefer, but choose not to because of these associations, thereby helping this particular linguistic change on its way (a change that is almost complete at this point). Note that the negative associations are arbitrary. There is nothing intrinsically snobby about using whom, but for whatever reason, this social sentiment has taken hold. That's not a problem though because there is no functional reason to prefer one convention over the other. They are both equally clear and expressive.

    For a descriptivist, rules are inferred by analysing usage. What other authority could there ever be for what the rules of a language are?

    This is a misguided concept that might eventually direct language to a retrograde motion; because those rules that descriptivists deduce by analysing usage are based solely on usage rather than precise and intelligent language.

    How does maintaining whom make language more precise or intelligent?

    Descriptivism is the position you take if you want to study language as a natural phenomenon, which is what the field of linguistics and Language Log is about. The fear that linguistic standards are decaying is one that has accompanied linguistic change for literally millennia. You can see this fear expressed in ancient literature. IT'S NOT TRUE. Language doesn't need guardians.

    But I'll repeat the question you didn't answer because it's crucial: What authority other than usage could there ever be for what the rules of a language are?

  110. Bill Elder said,

    July 30, 2014 @ 3:17 pm

    Ah, Professor,
    C'mon, do you really think Weird Al expects his Word Crimes to be considered instructional? Nah. It is a 2×4 across the forehead, to the butt, or ego, of anyone mangling communication by use of texting abbreviations instead of standard American English, or any other language mangling..
    And Professor, while all that "cultural," business may help you be employed, it will not help most students to continue wallowing in it when trying to obtain gainful employment. So would you like to do something helpful for the students? Tell them that English, standard American English, is the language of opportunity in this country. And it will still be when they go job hunting.

  111. ME said,

    July 30, 2014 @ 3:43 pm

    Game, set, match to Gosce.

  112. Goscé said,

    July 30, 2014 @ 5:08 pm

    TPR:

    “You said, "The majority of people can not distinguish the two cases, let’s be honest". I can only understand that appeal to honesty as a call for us to admit to something – perhaps something you think social constraints are preventing us from saying openly so as not to appear elitist or whatever.”

    Your interpretation to what I said is in itself biased. I was implying that the people who can not distinguish the two cases are either too lazy to try to construct the grammatical rule or are unfamiliar with the rule. My statement applies across the board, even to someone with a PhD in chemistry.

    By the way, I don’t really give it a nanosecond of thought that I might appear elitist. It’s a silly red herring tactic by descriptivists who constantly inject this unfair stereotype.

    “Knowing that whom is received negatively in many social contexts can motivate a preference for regularizing usage to who in both nominative and accusative positions. Note that a person might be perfectly capable of applying the rule you prefer, but choose not to because of these associations, thereby helping this particular linguistic change…”

    Are you serious? This is your opinion and the opinion of a certain mindset. I don’t know of any independent thinker who adheres to the nominative/accusative rule but who would modify his usage because a social group might construe it negatively.

    “(a change that is almost complete at this point).”

    Again, another misguided assertion, if it’s almost complete why do I observe the subject/object rule every day in newspapers, periodicals, and literature.

    “How does maintaining whom make language more precise or intelligent?”

    You’re cherry picking your arguments. I never stated that all rules are precise or intelligent; my statement was a generalization. Although, I could respond by saying: For the same reason that it evokes such contempt from your constituency.

    “What authority other than usage could there ever be for what the rules of a language are?”

    There are important differences between standard languages and dialects. A standard language has written literature and classical works, dictionaries and grammars, and systems of education.

    I had little problem understanding Huckleberry Finn, which was written in many distinct Southern dialects: Missouri “Negro” dialect, the backwoods Southwestern dialect, the Pike County dialect etc. It would, however, be far more difficult for a non-standard speaker to understand a translation of Dostoevsky, or even a novel by Charles Dickens. Dialects with intricate sentences are rare because they lack written models and books on grammar to encourage complexity. Furthermore, spoken dialects have relatively small vocabularies.

    Grammar rules are similar to traffic rules, some just seem unnecessary or confusing, but if we don’t abide by them we end up paying a severe price.

    Appropriately, we’re paying that price today with diminished literacy amongst students today, and the discontinuance of grammar in our schools has contributed enormously to this problem.
    .

  113. tpr said,

    July 30, 2014 @ 6:45 pm

    Compare this:

    Goscé (July 29, 2014 @ 6:22 pm):

    I never implied that the general population are too stupid or lazy

    With this:

    Goscé (July 30, 2014 @ 5:08 pm):

    I was implying that the people who can not distinguish the two cases are either too lazy to try to construct the grammatical rule or are unfamiliar with the rule.

    Whatever. In any case, it's not about laziness. Case appears to be present in some form in every single language in the world and children pick it up without explicit instruction, even the lazy and dim-witted ones, and ones with no access to schooling.

    Note that a person might be perfectly capable of applying the rule you prefer, but choose not to because of these associations, thereby helping this particular linguistic change…”

    Are you serious? This is your opinion and the opinion of a certain mindset. I don't know of any independent thinker who adheres to the nominative/accusative rule but who would modify his usage because a social group might construe it negatively.

    But you are aware that there are people who reject elitism, right?

    (a change that is almost complete at this point).

    if it’s almost complete why do I observe the subject/object rule every day in newspapers, periodicals, and literature.

    So you think nominative and accusative cases map to subject and object, do you? Interesting.

    Whom has almost completely vanished from speech and I'm sure you've noticed that who has also replaced it in much of what you read. If you keep looking at a printed version of the word whom in a particular work of literature though, I suppose it will exist for as long as the page does.

    I never stated that all rules are precise or intelligent; my statement was a generalization.

    Do you know what a generalization is? Never mind. At least you're acknowledging that the who/whom distinction lacks any functional advantage. The same is true for almost all of Weird Al's rules, though.

    There are different approaches to prescriptivism, some more practically motivated than others, but it looks like you're going to find yourself defending the variety that goes like this:
    My grammatical rules are the best rules. Oh I don't mean that they're the most consistent, or most logical, or that they encourage greater clarity or expressiveness, but they're the best.

  114. Goscé said,

    July 31, 2014 @ 12:08 pm

    TPR:
    A perfect example of how descriptivists— and it’s quite obvious you’re inclined in that direction—distort conversations to make their opponent appear contradictory and therefore discreditable. It’s another Red herring.

    What I actually initially said “Why is "whom" being abandoned? Undoubtedly, because the majority of people can not distinguish the two cases, let’s be honest.”

    You inferred that I implied that the general population are too stupid or lazy, which was an inaccurate interpretation.
    I refuted what you said by repeating it; I just neglected to omit the word lazy, which is certainly not as derogatory as stupid.
    Regardless, you’re cherry-picking my entire post and diverting attention from more important issues that you can’t seem to disprove.

    “Whatever. In any case, it's not about laziness.Case appears to be present in some form in every single language in the world and children pick it up without explicit instruction, even the lazy and dim-witted ones, and ones with no access to schooling.”

    You’re completely misinformed and you express your misinformation with astounding assertiveness. “In any case it’s not about laziness.” How would you know this to be a fact? Do you speak for everyone?
    I’ve committed many grammatical infractions out of laziness and so have many of my friends. Your statement is preposterous.

    “But you are aware that there are people who reject elitism, right?”
    I don’t reject it; I just wouldn’t use it capriciously to fight an argument.

    “So you think nominative and accusative cases map to subject and object, do you? Interesting.”
    I think you’re the one who is perhaps confused.

    “Whom has almost completely vanished from speech and I'm sure you've noticed that who has also replaced it in much of what you read. If you keep looking at a printed version of the word whom in a particular work of literature though, I suppose it will exist for as long as the page does.”
    You’re again misinformed and I’ve already edified you on this topic, please go to a previous post.

    “Do you know what a generalization is? Never mind.”
    I know what it “means”; a word communicates meaning it is not a separate entity as you’ve implied by your question.

    “At least you're acknowledging that the who/whom distinction lacks any functional advantage. The same is true for almost all of Weird Al's rules, though.”
    I’ve never acknowledged such a thing. You’re either confusing me with someone else or injecting your personal opinion as if I’m in agreement.
    .
    “There are different approaches to prescriptivism, some more practically motivated than others, but it looks like you're going to find yourself defending the variety that goes like this:
My grammatical rules are the best rules. Oh I don't mean that they're the most consistent, or most logical, or that they encourage greater clarity or expressiveness, but they're the best.”
    .
    Again you're wrong, another one of your presumptuous and imaginary theories based solely on trying to discredit my character, rather than cogently trying to dispute my position.

    Keep in mind; we’re just expressing opinions. If you want to counter my opinions, that’s fine, but don’t attack my character because you’re losing the debate.

  115. Old Gobbo said,

    July 31, 2014 @ 4:44 pm

    @tpr
    “TEFL students should be taught the truth about how English works along with some information about the social consequences of different linguistic choices. For example, you should explain to them that English speakers have almost universally abandoned whom in both speech and writing and that it can come across as stuffy and pretentious in many social contexts.”
    “the truth about how English works”: some people can learn to a very advanced level by immersion; but, lacking that opportunity and time, it seems to me necessary to give an idea of structure which can then be modified by usage and experience.

    “I wouldn't say I could care less is "a major source of ambiguity". People usually understand what is meant by it because it's a common enough way of saying I couldn't care less.”

    Nevertheless, it was the only instance you cited, and a non-native speaker might certainly be confused.

    "You seem to think it's self-evident that the conventions you list improve precision or reduce ambiguity, but I don't agree. Consider a couple of examples:
    less/fewer
    How can using less instead of fewer lead to ambiguity? The only cases that come close are where a noun can be used with either a countable or uncountable meaning, and where nothing distinguishes singular and plural use of the noun. For example, fewer fish might be about whole fish, but less fish might be about fish construed as a meaty substance. In context, this is almost never going to lead to any ambiguity. We know that the countable interpretation would be intended if someone said there are less fish in the tank for example, because of the plural agreement and general knowledge about what is a sensible thing to say.”

    less/fewer
    You object to the possibility of reducing ambiguity but leave aside my request for precision. Well, that’s one less thing – or one thing fewer – to worry about. Seriously, however, that both words can be used precisely, as in your admirable examples – that there is no need, for instance, to throw “fewer” away just yet – is surely something one would like people to be aware of. A native English speaker can usually get it right – within his own frame of reference of course (some people claim never to use “fewer”). But learners will probably do better having the general principle explained before trying to decide whether fewer is used less often than less or on fewer occasions. (& cf. http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2819 comment at 05.10 on 4dec10)

    “its/it's
    As a general rule, its and it's don't appear in the same positions in a sentence, so you can't change the meaning by substituting one with the other. This is fortunate given that they're not distinguished in speech at all. I once saw an example of a sentence (probably here), where replacing one with the other changed the meaning of the sentence while both remained grammatical, but I can't remember it. Point is, it's exceedingly rare.”

    I entirely agree about “its / it’s” being rarely interchangeable. In fact, it is not just rare to find an example but quite hard to invent one – for instance, I am not very happy with: “The scandalous blog, “The meaning of ‘its’ ”, has been an immense success all week, but now it’s time’s up/ but now its time’s up.” My point was, of course, not to argue that they were interchangeable, but that following conventional usage would make one’s writing easier to read.
    I don’t think we really disagree about teaching English, though I would cautiously alert my more capable learners to “whom” (some of their potential employers may be peevers – and some may think that “whom” is ridiculous; whereas I happily use it anywhere and expect my auditors to keep up, so far no-one has complained), just as I had to draw people’s attention to differences between U.S. and U.K. usage or differences in register, etc. But I do think that this song – which is clearly parodic in intent, if perhaps confusing or muddled in effect – raises some interesting points; so I applaud Dr Squires’ efforts to use the song, which has clearly attracted a lot of attention, to make people think about the meaning of what they write and say, and how, perhaps, to do it better.

  116. Old Gobbo said,

    July 31, 2014 @ 4:47 pm

    @ David B

    I am a bit puzzled by your example, since the usages you quote clearly convey different things, so being able to conjugate – in several ways – seems to be useful, no?

  117. Old Gobbo said,

    July 31, 2014 @ 4:48 pm

    @Terry Coleman
    Is “youse” the singular or the plural ? And would it not be possible for a speaker of Standard English to indicate whether they were asking the question of one or of many of their interlocutors, if that were an issue ? And what do you ask if you want to know if two out of the three are going … ? And why this obsessive interest in shopping ?

  118. John said,

    July 31, 2014 @ 5:32 pm

    I don't hold a degree in grammarr or linguistics but is it proper for the author of the article to end a sentence with a preposition, as she did in the third paragraph?

    [(myl) In a word, yes. You don't need a degree, just an open mind and a bit of common sense. For some discussion of this "Zombie Rule" and its history, see the link in "Prepositionssss...", 9/2/2011.

    Also found it hilarious the author alleging Weird Al's encouragement of racial attitudes and beliefs but she says absolutely nothing of the blatant misogyny of Robin Thicke's source video or past lyrical content.

    [(myl) The post also says absolutely nothing about the price of tea in China. This completely irrelevant comment brands you indelibly as a troll. If you weren't such a prime example of the genre, I'd send your comment to the spam trap. But please don't come back.]

  119. tpr said,

    July 31, 2014 @ 6:33 pm

    @Goscé:

    You’re completely misinformed and you express your misinformation with astounding assertiveness.

    No, I'm speaking as a linguist who is aware of the arguments about language universals and the nature of language acquisition, the insensitivity of language acquisition to explicit instruction and to factors like general intelligence. You can look these things up.

    “But you are aware that there are people who reject elitism, right?”

    I don’t reject it; I just wouldn’t use it capriciously to fight an argument.

    Your opinion on elitism isn't relevant. Can you concede that within the group of people who understand both conventions with respect to the who/whom issue that some of them might choose to use who in the accusative case because they reject the elitist associations of whom? I'm just trying to establish what I think is a fairly straightforward point that the shift away from whom could be explained by a broader range of explanations than the ones you have been willing to entertain in this discussion.

    So you think nominative and accusative cases map to subject and object, do you? Interesting.”

    I think you’re the one who is perhaps confused.

    The rules that children learn all by themselves are almost always far more complex than the rules prescriptivists believe they are too lazy to learn. Nominative and accusative cases are not always mapped to subject and object positions. Subjects aren't always marked with nominative case and accusative case isn't always associated with objects. One example where you can see this is with what's called 'exceptional case marking' in examples like this:
    I want him to smile
    The subject of the infinitival clause is him, which is clearly marked with accusative case. There are other examples, but you can research this yourself.

    At least you're acknowledging that the who/whom distinction lacks any functional advantage. The same is true for almost all of Weird Al's rules, though.

    I’ve never acknowledged such a thing. You’re either confusing me with someone else or injecting your personal opinion as if I’m in agreement.

    Do you think it carries a functional advantage? If so, what do you think it is?

    If you want to counter my opinions, that’s fine, but don’t attack my character

    I haven't attacked your character at any point. I've ridiculed the imprecision in your language but you've kind of set yourself up for that because of the position you've taken. It probably comes across that I don't consider you very well informed, so that might be what you interpret as an attack on your character. You on the other hand are constantly imputing sinister motives to others, which makes it pretty unpleasant to discuss things with you.

  120. Goscé said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 1:52 am

    “No, I'm speaking as a linguist who is aware of the arguments about language universals and the nature of language acquisition, the insensitivity of language acquisition to explicit instruction and to factors like general intelligence. You can look these things up.”

    Yes, and I'm speaking as a grammarian and linguists do not have the final say on usage. You might be aware of the arguments but you’re also spewing out linguistic jargon.

    “Your opinion on elitism isn't relevant. Can you concede that within the group of people who understand both conventions with respect to the who/whom issue that some of them might choose to use who in the accusative case because they reject the elitist associations of whom?”

    If my opinion isn’t relevant then why did you ask for it? I don’t associate certain grammar constructions, which might seem stuffy, with an elitist group. Do you also attribute people with challenging vocabularies as elitists? Should they simplify their words to avoid such a label?

    “The rules that children learn all by themselves are almost always far more complex than the rules prescriptivists believe they are too lazy to learn. Nominative and accusative cases are not always mapped to subject and object positions.”

    In response to your first sentence, I don’t agree, it’s your opinion. It’s your standardized conception of what you think prescriptivists believe. Children’s rules might be complex, but they might not be as precise and comprehensible as the codified grammars.
    I appreciate your edification on nominative/accusative cases but it’s irrelevant to our debate. I initially brought up a point concerning the nominative (or subjective) and accusative (or objective) cases. I used the pronouns “who” and “whom” as examples on how these cases are confused. You’re introducing ancillary information on these cases as if the people who are confused or don’t know the difference between the two cases are going to understand “exceptional case marking”.

    In regard to who/whom:
    “Do you think it carries a functional advantage? If so, what do you think it is?”

    Do you think it carries a functional disadvantage? I’m just following the rule, you would rather not, and that is your prerogative, as it is mine. I’m also rather fond of “whom” it adds a little style to our language.
    .
    “I haven't attacked your character at any point. I've ridiculed the imprecision in your language but you've kind of set yourself up for that because of the position you've taken. It probably comes across that I don't consider you very well informed, so that might be what you interpret as an attack on your character. You on the other hand are constantly imputing sinister motives to others, which makes it pretty unpleasant to discuss things with you.”
    .
    The position I’ve taken is in accordance with many other’s who adamantly disagree with yours. Your descriptive approach to language just doesn’t agree with my prescriptive approach. Where is it written in stone that yours is better? You’ve accused me of imputing sinister motives to others, which is untrue, but it’s the tactic that you’ve used throughout this thread. You distort and intentionally misinterpret everything I’ve said, and you do it with a condescending presumptuousness, which is a façade to hide your insecurity and defensive attitude.

    It seems that a poster in a previous comment agrees with me, for he thinks I’ve prevailed. I don’t expect you to wave a white flag, because your stance is firmly cemented in your ideology—and never the twain shall meet.

  121. Old Gobbo said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 7:00 am

    @ Goscé

    Dear Goscé,

    Can I suggest that, if you indeed think you have no hope of winning over your interlocutor, then this has gone on long enough ? ~Time to retire and find better arguments, perhaps ?
    With best wishes

  122. Goscé said,

    August 1, 2014 @ 11:06 am

    Old Gobbo said:

    "Dear Goscé,

    Can I suggest that, if you indeed think you have no hope of winning over your interlocutor, then this has gone on long enough ? ~Time to retire and find better arguments, perhaps ?
    With best wishes"

    I agree and I shall desist.

    However, I had no hope or desire to win over my interlocutor; I was just defending my position. It's very difficult to desist when one's every comment is being countered or misinterpreted, but I shall leave it to others to evaluate the entire discourse and make their own judgment call.

    Many more arguments ahead, thanks though, G

  123. LCaution said,

    August 3, 2014 @ 1:05 pm

    Linguists seem, to me, to insist that since languages always change, rules are irrelevant, that "anything goes" is fine.

    I'm not a linguist and believe that the rules, however arbitrary, have value.

    First, they provide a "lingua franca" within a language which permits and encourages mutual understanding. The differences among spoken English in the U.S. (Boston, Bronx, New Orleans) can be extreme to the point of incomprehensibility. The more uniform the written language, the better for mutual comprehension.

    Second, they slow down language change. It's a lot easier to read a 19th century novel than Shakespeare who is easier to read than Chaucer. The slower that formal language changes the more of one's history is open to all rather than to a small set of experts.

    Third, do we know of any literate society ever that has not had an "approved" grammar, that has not distinguished "good grammar" from "bad grammar"? Are there any non-literate societies in which the members have no rules about the "right" way to speak?

    Lastly, societies establish lots of distinctions between the good and the bad in every field, trivial and non-trivial. Why should how one uses the language be exempt?

  124. Caleb Powell said,

    August 4, 2014 @ 9:24 am

    Alright, Lauren, you have to be kidding. Sorry, Lauren, but Tag, You're Racist!

  125. David B said,

    August 4, 2014 @ 1:18 pm

    LCaution said,

    Linguists seem, to me, to insist that since languages always change, rules are irrelevant, that "anything goes" is fine.

    Um, no—but thanks for providing us with such an excellent example of a strawman!

  126. Goscé said,

    August 4, 2014 @ 4:31 pm

    David B:

    Linguists seem, to me, to insist that since languages always change, rules are irrelevant, that "anything goes" is fine.

    "Um, no—but thanks for providing us with such an excellent example of a strawman!"

    I don’t think you understand the true meaning of a “straw-man” argument, or you’re just throwing the word around and hoping it sticks.

    LCaution’s assertion is quite on the mark. Language evolves and a misusage today is standard tomorrow, regardless of its value.

    The modus operandi of Linguists (descriptivists) is that they love to debunk the rules just because they’re rules, but not because they have no value.

    Be honest, if “I could care less” were the standard you would be vigorously arguing that, “I couldn’t care …” would be the more sensible expression (which it is). I don’t expect an admission; your straw-man arguments are admission enough.

  127. tpr said,

    August 5, 2014 @ 7:48 am

    @LCaution

    Linguists seem, to me, to insist that since languages always change, rules are irrelevant, that "anything goes" is fine.

    That's a common misunderstanding. To a descriptivist, the rules of a language are to be discovered by examining the conventions that exist in the linguistic community. There may be several parallel conventions that exist in different speech communities and at different levels of formality, but there is still such a thing as a mistake. A mistake is any usage that fails to conform to relevant conventions. If you think the people around you understand the word dog to mean cat, it would be a mistake to use it with that meaning. It's not an alternative convention in use by a separate linguistic community or whatever. It's a mistake.

    Secondly, linguistics is a descriptive science, so it's not within its remit to tell people how they should speak or otherwise engage in social engineering. If you want to tell people to apply the rules Weird Al advocates or indeed tell them to avoid them, you're engaging in prescriptivism, but as soon as prescriptivists make claims about the nature of language and/or properties of particular rules, they are engaging in descriptivism.

  128. Goscé said,

    August 6, 2014 @ 2:37 am

    Tpr:

    @LCaution
    Linguists seem, to me, to insist that since languages always change, rules are irrelevant, that "anything goes" is fine.

    “That's a common misunderstanding. To a descriptivist, the rules of a language are to be discovered by examining the conventions that exist in the linguistic community.”

    No, it’s not a misunderstanding. Linguists might not make a direct assertion that rules are irrelevant, or anything goes, but that message is very much implied, and those are the descriptive unwritten rules.

    “A mistake is any usage that fails to conform to relevant conventions. If you think the people around you understand the word dog to mean cat, it would be a mistake to use it with that meaning. It's not an alternative convention in use by a separate linguistic community or whatever. It's a mistake.”

    If I understand this correctly, if someone who speaks exclusively Standard English were in a community where “bad” means “good” he/she would be making the mistake by using the Standard English meaning. Conversely, this would seem to imply that people who violate traditional grammar rules would be making the same mistake, since their usage fails to conform to “relevant conventions” in the community of Standard English.

    “Secondly, linguistics is a descriptive science, so it's not within its remit to tell people how they should speak or otherwise engage in social engineering.”

    This is a fallacious statement, for linguists constantly debunk prescriptive grammar rules, but countenance non-standard dialect. They might not tell people how they should speak, but just the fact that they discredit prescriptive rules and clearly encourage non-standard usage is de facto circuitously advising how they should speak.

  129. tpr said,

    August 6, 2014 @ 5:36 am

    @Goscé

    Linguists might not make a direct assertion that rules are irrelevant, or anything goes, but that message is very much implied, and those are the descriptive unwritten rules.

    The implied message and the unwritten rules you elude to are in your own mind, I'm afraid.

    If I understand this correctly,

    Yes, if.

    if someone who speaks exclusively Standard English were in a community where “bad” means “good” he/she would be making the mistake by using the Standard English meaning.

    No, it would only be a mistake if he intended to conform to the conventions of that community and failed, as in the example I used. Deliberate non-conformity and mistakes are not the same thing.

    Secondly, linguistics is a descriptive science, so it's not within its remit to tell people how they should speak or otherwise engage in social engineering.

    This is a fallacious statement, for linguists constantly debunk prescriptive grammar rules, but countenance non-standard dialect. They might not tell people how they should speak, but just the fact that they discredit prescriptive rules and clearly encourage non-standard usage is de facto circuitously advising how they should speak.

    I think you're confusing prescriptive grammar rules with standard English, and the debunking of claims about what constitutes standard English with countenancing non-standard usage, among other things.

  130. Old Gobbo said,

    August 6, 2014 @ 6:49 am

    @ Goscé

    “linguists constantly debunk prescriptive grammar rules but countenance non-standard dialect … circuitously advising people how they should speak” Goscé, 6aug14@ 02.37am

    I earlier suggested that you withdraw from this debate since you found it unsatisfactory. You have chosen, against your own agreement, to resume.

    The reason behind my suggestion is that you are ill-equipped to maintain your position, and this provides a good illustration.
    1. Linguisticians (a description I prefer, to distinguish them from “mere” linguists, though one they seem curiously reluctant to accept) come in many shapes and sizes, but I cannot from my limited acquaintance recall any of them suggesting that consistently demotic usage is to be preferred – in fact they mostly write rather carefully and dully in fairly proper English.

    2. You can check this for yourself by consulting any intelligent modern grammar: I am tempted to suggest “The Cambridge Grammar of the English language” by two notable linguisticians, Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey Pullum (sometimes of this parish): but that is rather heavy going and besides I disagree with some of it. However since I disagree with almost everybody – even my nearest and dearest often find me intolerable – let me at least suggest an easier read: Rodney Huddleston’s “Introduction to the grammar of English” (Cambridge UP, 1984 and frequently reprinted). You will find there that Linguisticians are in fact concerned to delineate in great detail the rules by which people agree what can be said in a language; and, curiously perhaps, it does not argue for abandoning careful choice of words and sentence structures. You might even, in section 2.2, find some explanation of the problem of identifying subject with nominative.

  131. Goscé said,

    August 6, 2014 @ 5:46 pm

    Old Gobbo:

    “I earlier suggested that you withdraw from this debate since you found it unsatisfactory. You have chosen, against your own agreement, to resume.”

    Yes, and I agreed with your suggestion; therefore, I discontinued that specific thread with Tpr. Keep in mind, I’m not commenting to initiate an extensive debate, I’m commenting to counter an opinion that I find to be inaccurate; it is my prerogative. You could have also offered the same suggestion to Tpr, which you did not; I have to assume that your position allies with his.

    “The reason behind my suggestion is that you are ill-equipped to maintain your position,”

    That’s not only a presumptuous statement, but it’s also quite misguided, for many “well-equipped” professionals hold my position.

    “…and this provides a good illustration… I cannot from my limited acquaintance recall any of them suggesting that consistently demotic usage is to be preferred”

    I never said that linguists suggested that “demotic usage” is to be preferred. You’re taking what I said out of context. What I said was, “Linguists might not make a direct assertion that rules are irrelevant, or anything goes, but that message is very much implied…” They suggest that “whom” is no longer relevant because they favor development and change in language rather than conserving what they see as old-fashioned. This in itself is a prescriptive approach.

    In “The War Against Grammar” by Stanford Ph.D. professor David Mulroy, Mulroy says, “My problem with Pinker’s[referring to linguist Steven Pinker] influential presentation is one of emphasis, not principle. He resolves every issue in favor of spontaneous usage, thus giving the impression that all conscious efforts to speak or write “correctly” are vain and pretentious. Students who let themselves be guided by him are likely to infer that they can become excellent writers without the aid of dictionaries and grammars with all their silly rules. In fact, writing well involves the conscious mastery of countless prescriptions, as Pinker’s own text constantly demonstrates.”

    Moreover he writes: “ An example is Steven Pinker’s chapter on “The Language Mavens,” in the “Language Instinct”. Pinker is generally unimpressed by the phenomenon of standardized languages. He explicitly endorses a remark attributed to linguist Max Weinrich that a standard language is a dialect with an army and a navy. In fact, there are important differences between standard languages and dialects. A standard language has a written literature with classical works, dictionaries and grammars, and systems of education. From 31 B.C. to A.D. 376 Greek was the standard language of the eastern Mediterranean even though the Armies and Navies were controlled by Latin speakers in Rome….According to Pinker, the phenomenon of the language maven began in the eighteenth century. In saying this, he is referring to the popularity of books like Lowth’s, but he does not cite specific authors or passages. His tactic is to disparage the whole effort to standardize English grammar by selecting a couple of anonymous examples that serve his purpose.”

    “in fact they mostly write rather carefully and dully in fairly proper English.”

    Yes, and this has been brought up in many debates on descriptivism versus prescriptivism: linguists don’t practice what they preach.

    I appreciate and thank you for your book suggestions.

  132. Goscé said,

    August 7, 2014 @ 1:18 am

    Tpr:

    “The implied message and the unwritten rules you elude to are in your own mind, I'm afraid.”

    This fraction of your sentence, “…are in your OWN mind…” is an example of pleonasm, what would have been more concise “are only in your mind” this would have avoided the redundancy.

    Regardless, your assertion is again mistaken, for as you’re fully aware, many support my position.

    “I think you're confusing prescriptive grammar rules with standard English, and the debunking of claims about what constitutes standard English with countenancing non-standard usage, among other things.”

    No, I think you’re confused to what I said.

  133. Alicia said,

    August 7, 2014 @ 4:40 pm

    Why did no one point out to this Goscé creature that "It is I" sounds wrong because it IS wrong?

    I can't remember the proper terminology for it, but John McWhorter's Word on the Street has a lovely chapter on pronouns. He explains that in English (and various other languages) the pronouns don't split according to nominative/ accusative but by some other system with a fancy linguistic term whereby many technically "nominative" positions properly and normally take the "accusative" form. Billy and me went to the store, it was me, etc. This is one of those "the rules that children work out intuitively are way more complex than the rules the peevers would have you believe they are too stupid and lazy to learn." [sorry about the misquote - I couldn't find it above. I hope I got the spirit right.]

    People do this in English because This. Is. How. English. Works. The alternative usage "Billy and I went to the store" and "It was I" are Johnny-come-lately atrocities promulgated by various "Language should be logical" peevers. This does not make those forms correct.

    The French are damn-near jingoist about the "perfection" of their language and evidently see nothing wrong or illogical about "It's me" and "Billy and me went to the store."

    This language myth needs to go into the same black hole that the split infinitive and ending sentences with a preposition proscriptions are at long last falling in to. Then everyone can go back to speaking English with rules indigenous to its history and development, not dreamt up by Victorian (or whenever) grammaticists with too much time on their hands.

    Oh. And my rule on whom is that it is correct only when both A) it is in the accusative case and B) you want to sound like a stuffed shirt. Sometimes you do and it's great to have such an over the top way to do it, but otherwise it is incorrect.

    I find it rather amusing that the peevers try to be super correct by using what sounds like the German dative (wem) as an accusative (German accusative wen). But I'm not a history-of-English scholar, so that may be my ignorance giggling.

  134. Goscé said,

    August 8, 2014 @ 1:45 am

    Alicia:

    "Why did no one point out to this Goscé creature that "It is I" sounds wrong because it IS wrong?"
    You’ve immediately weakened your argument with the ad hominem.

    It’s seems quite obvious that you lean quite strongly toward a descriptive viewpoint, but your argument completely defies descriptivism’s stance on language.

    Linguistics is descriptive and as a science its function is to observe language, without the prejudice of inflexible opinions about how it ought to be.

    Your above assertion, “…It is I, sounds wrong because it is wrong?” is not only opinionated and misguided, but you’re giving advice on language use and “prescribing” what you think is correct and denouncing what “you” think is “wrong”.

    You can argue the grammatical incongruities of the nominative/accusative grammar rules, but you can not say the actual usage is wrong. You’re opposing the principles of descriptivism.

    “ We believe, as do most linguists, that native speakers DO NOT MAKE MISTAKES.” ( Peter Trudgill & Lars-Gunnar Andersson, 1990)

    “When we consider variation in language, we must give up the idea of errors.” (Donna Jo Napoli, 2003)

    If you want to get into the linguistic game then I suggest you follow the rules.

    "Billy and me went to the store, it was me, etc.”

    The above examples you submitted I would define as ungrammatical and uneducated language. Obviously, my opinion is based on a prescriptive perspective; therefore, I can make that judgment call, whereas you can not, for you must follow the conventions of descriptivism, which are, anything goes.

    As for pronouns “I” versus “me” you’re simply disagreeing with many well informed speakers, writers and intellectuals who adhere to the rule of pronouns that follow the verb “to be” must take the subjective case.

    “…not dreamt up by Victorian (or whenever) grammaticists with too much time on their hands.”

    William Lily and Robert Lowth are just two of the grammarians that you think had too much time on their hands. Intellectually you would have learned much from them and academically their accomplishments are quite impressive and far extend the reach of your ignorance.

  135. Old Gobbo said,

    August 8, 2014 @ 4:10 am

    @Goscé 6aug14, 1746 & 7aug14, 0118

    You claim to be defending a particular position, but you have adopted so many that I have no idea which particular one you have in mind. Moreover, several of your contributions to this post have been off the point, confused, unenlightening and frequently verging on the rude.

    1. You entered this post on the 18th of July, questioning Edith T’s post: “The introduction of classism or elitism into language-grammar debates is simply a straw man argument.” Yet you went on to say “the disservice is done to the people who can't get a job because they can not speak in a standard language.” Here you are saying precisely that an underclass suffers from access to standard language. So your objection to Edith T is unfounded.

    2. @Goscé 19jul14, 0203

    “Lazar:
    " '…unreconstructed masses who speak and write without a care in the world, the assiduous grammar Nazis who rage against them, and the linguistically informed people who think that maybe Strunk and White isn't the world's best writing guide.'
    "I’m curious; do you write without a care in the world? I don’t think so. “
    You are here bracketing Lazar with the unreconstructed masses, whereas by implication he had aligned himself with the linguistically informed, so your barb is misplaced.

    3. @Goscé 20jul14, 1757

    “While it's true that speakers of oral dialects can fundamentally discuss politics, history, philosophy etc. in their own dialects, but in order to articulate an intelligent opinion they must first have to learn a standard language well enough to borrow its terminology.” 18jul14
    - “While … but” is an example of incoherent co-ordination. A “While…” clause would normally be followed by a clause beginning e,g, “it is nevertheless the case that …” While” is a parenthetical conjunction, and hence more copulative than disjunctive, unlike ‘but’

    “any dialect is desirable and has almost as equal an importance as Standard English” 20jul14

    a) You complain – quite unnecessarily, indeed wrongly – about pleonasm, while in your terms suffering from it yourself (your “are in your OWN mind” has the same number of words as tpr’s, and, if your argument is to hold at all, your “OWN” is unnecessary); yet contrive the barbarous “has almost as equal an importance with”; when you might more happily have said: “is almost equally important as” or better, “is nearly as important as”.
    b) In any case the comparison is vitiated by your judging it in terms of “importance” without saying “important to what”. [You declare “I’ve already explained why this is in my previous post” but neither in your response to Lazar at 0043 on 20jul14, the immediately preceding post, nor in that of 19jul14 at 0203, do you say anything about the value of non-standard dialects, your concern being solely to approve standard English.]

    4. @Goscé – 6aug14, 1746

    For what it is worth, your extensive quotation from Professor Mulroy merely instances that (at least one of the) classicists see the usefulness of grammar – as indeed do linguisticians, indeed it is a large part of their work: Pinker’s views on how language works or ought to work, indeed on how it originates, while stimulating are highly contentious and cannot be used to damn all linguists – or, for that matter, linguisticians.

    That you are ill-equipped to maintain your arguments here comes both from the fact that you seem ill-informed about what linguisticians actually do and from the unfortunate fact that you write rather badly, judged by the standards of correctness for which you are arguing.

  136. Old Gobbo said,

    August 8, 2014 @ 4:22 am

    @Alicia 7aug14, 1640

    a) “It is I” is not “wrong”, it is a common English usage since at least the 14C. Nowadays it is less common, and many would not accept using it themselves – and negatived it becomes very strange to modern ears: “It wasn’t I” would normally be changed to “It wasn’t me” by most speakers; though in writing “It was not I” still would stand as acceptable.
    b) Your argument from French is misplaced in two ways:
    - there is no reason why a characteristic of one language should have authority in another;
    - French does not say ‘me’ in the same way as English in the examples you cite: they would use the “forme disjointe”: ‘moi’ for the circumstances you describe, not the accusative ‘me’.

  137. Goscé said,

    August 9, 2014 @ 5:25 pm

    Old Gobbo:

    Said like a true prescriptivist; Although, I’m quite flattered that you peruse my comments with such assiduousness.
    I don’t think I’ve been rude, perhaps a little too acerbic, but only in retaliation to ad hominem attacks.

    1. “The introduction of classism or elitism into language-grammar debates is simply a straw man argument.” Yet you went on to say “the disservice is done to the people who can't get a job because they can not speak in a standard language.” Here you are saying precisely that an underclass suffers from access to standard language. So your objection to Edith T is unfounded."

    Not at all, first you truncated the full context of what I said and you’re submitting your misinterpretation of what I actually implied. What I said was:

    . While it's true that speakers of oral dialects can fundamentally discuss politics, history, philosophy etc. in their own dialects, but in order to articulate an intelligent opinion they must first have to learn a standard language well enough to borrow its terminology. 
These arguments and attitudes on standard language versus dialects are politically charged, but the disservice is done to the people who can't get a job because they can not speak in a standard language.
    How is what I said construed as “precisely that an underclass suffers from access to standard language”? My argument concerns the endorsement of non-standard dialect by descriptivists who essentially approve the usage, and there’s where you have the disservice.

    Lazar:
“…unreconstructed masses who speak and write without a care in the world, the assiduous grammar Nazis who rage against them, and the linguistically informed people who think that maybe Strunk and White isn't the world's best writing guide.”

    I said:
    I’m curious; do you write without a care in the world? I don’t think so.

    “You are here bracketing Lazar with the unreconstructed masses, whereas by implication he had aligned himself with the linguistically informed, so your barb is misplaced.”

    Again, you’re misconstruing what I was trying to imply. First, I must address your unfamiliarity with the word “unreconstructed” and Lazar’s misuse of the word as defined by Merriam Webster: Unreconstructed —"used to describe someone who has strongly held opinions and beliefs that have not changed even though they have been criticized or have become unpopular
    —used to describe someone who has strongly held opinions and beliefs that have not changed even though they have been criticized or have become unpopular misapplied"

    Masses who speak and write without a care in the world would not be identified as “unreconstructed” as defined by dictionaries.

    Regardless, my question was rhetorical and mildly sarcastic; it’s obvious that Lazar doesn’t write or speak without a care in the world. It is also obvious that you’re unfamiliar with the word.

    “While … but” is an example of incoherent co-ordination. A “While…” clause would normally be followed by a clause beginning e,g, “it is nevertheless the case that …” While” is a parenthetical conjunction, and hence more copulative than disjunctive, unlike ‘but’ “

    You’re grasping for straws and revealing your fragile ego. Furthermore, you’re posturing yourself as a proficient grammarian, but then you fail to properly punctuate “e.g.”, which raises a doubt as to your accreditation. (A full stop must be used after each letter and followed with a comma)
    “While” is a strong or subordinating conjunction and is also used in the sense of “although”. My non-temporal usage was proper and certainly not incoherent.

    “a) You complain – quite unnecessarily, indeed wrongly – about pleonasm, while in your terms suffering from it yourself (your “are in your OWN mind” has the same number of words as tpr’s, and, if your argument is to hold at all, your “OWN” is unnecessary)”

    I’m a little confused as to what you’re trying to say. I never said “are in your own mind” I was repeating what Tpr said. I’m amused that you have nothing better to do than to proofread all my comments, albeit with rather failed attempts. I’m vacillating on whether to be flattered or tickled.

    “yet contrive the barbarous “has almost as equal an importance with”; when you might more happily have said: “is almost equally important as” or better, “is nearly as important as”.

    Again, I think you’re confused as to the true meaning of “pleonasm”. Tpr’s “own” is redundant and superfluous, whereas my statement is wordy and perhaps convoluted, but not redundant. Your “barbarous” label is just mordant hyperbole.

    “That you are ill-equipped to maintain your arguments here comes both from the fact that you seem ill-informed about what linguisticians actually do and from the unfortunate fact that you write rather badly, judged by the standards of correctness for which you are arguing”

    This is your misguided opinion based on your predilections, but not on the issues I’ve raised. As I’ve articulated in previous comments many whose qualifications and accomplishments outdistance yours by miles support my stance.
    I could peruse all your comments and come across all sorts of venial grammatical infractions, but I don’t have the time or the inclination.
    I don’t think you have the ability to recognize the fallibility of your statements. I might be ill-equipped to comprehend the various complexities of linguistics, but I pretty much understand their philosophy on language. In my comments to Alicia I submitted a few of their quoted principles, and those are the arguments I’m exclusively contesting. The rest is just puerile tit for tat.

  138. Old Gobbo said,

    August 9, 2014 @ 9:10 pm

    "Look, Angus, everybody's out of step but oor Wullie"

  139. Goscé said,

    August 9, 2014 @ 11:59 pm

    What I meant to say was, "grasping at straws". I thought I'd save Old Gobbo the trouble, for he's too busy proofreading everything else.

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