With this post I reach my thousandth Language Log contribution. I wrote 676 posts for the old series, before the original server died in agony in April 2008. Those were written from Santa Cruz, California (between 2003 and 2005 and in 2006-2007), from the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard (2005-2006), and from Edinburgh, Scotland (2007-2008) The old series posts are preserved in read-only mode here, with all their typos and the occasional broken link or missing image; they can be custom Google-searched here. A complete list of links to all of my posts in the old series can be found here.
Since April 2008 I've written another 323 posts in the current series, mostly from Edinburgh (a few from other places while travelling); they are all listed here. This one brings me to the round number of a thousand. It's a convenient point at which to stop and think about whether to write any more.
In the spring of 2003, when Mark Liberman suggested the idea of Language Log, I hadn't even heard of group science blogs. I had heard about blogs; but the earliest ones were, I knew, just individuals' online diaries, intended for family and friends, rather like postcards home. I had never explored any of them. But it took only a short time for groups of scientists to start realizing that blogging software could be redeployed to make instant small magazines that would be (i) free, (ii) incredibly cheap to run, and yet (iii) simultaneously distributed to (in principle) everyone on earth. Mark was one of the earlier scientists to see that, and to guess at the power of the idea. Certainly he was one of the very first professional linguists to do so. When he suggested that I try blogging on linguistic topics I soon got the hang of it; but I never would have thought I would end up blogging a thousand times over.
The years following the launch of Language Log saw the birth of some entirely new terminology for linguistic phenomena: eggcorns, snowclones, and crash blossoms, for example. And in 2006 I invented the much-misunderstood term linguification for another phenomenon that appeared to have no name (though my critics wrongly think it has lots of names, hyperbole being one of them). To some modest extent there has been real investigative work on such topics. There are certain kinds of idiom that we understand a bit better now than we did a decade ago.
But original research has not really been a priority for Language Log. Its primary success has been in putting linguistic topics, discussed with at least an occasional flicker of seriousness by real professional practitioners of linguistics, before a wider public than our discipline ever reached before. In 2009 the Linguistic Society of America awarded us its Language, Linguistics and the Public Award for service to the linguistic profession, and we are very proud of that.
Some say they have detected occasional signs of ill-temper in a few of my posts. I suppose they may be right. The whole Stupid Series might be thought to betoken a certain choleric or at least disdainful attitude. So might some of my posts on linguistic aspects of technology, and my scornful remarks about credulous animal-communication stories. And I may occasionally have made a few outspokenly critical references to the gentlemen who wrote that much-loved little book The Elements of Style — the shameless, pontificating, ignorant, hypocritical, incompetent, authoritarian pair of old weasels Messrs. Strunk and White.
But I wrote lots of sunny and charming and polite and constructive posts too. Really I did. You could look them up. Plus occasional very serious pieces on gay marriage and free speech and racism and Ray Charles and other things that I care about.
But now what, after a thousand posts on hundreds of different linguistic (or at least vaguely language-connected) topics? Mark and I could easily produce a book, you might suggest; but we did that already. The only reason you didn't know that is that it's not a best-seller yet. It's a bit of a sleeper. In fact it's been sleeping very soundly despite being still in print. So it's been there, seen it, done that. We have our book. We are waiting for the call about the movie rights.
The main question for me, the lure of round numbers being what it is, has to be whether to go on and write post number 1001. It's a judgment call. The pay is no good, and the hours are long, I can tell you that. But hey, I didn't get into blogging for the money.
Nor, of course, did I get into it out of any great love for the feeling of being nibbled to death by ducks in the comments area. True, some commenters are intelligent and interesting and kind, and have generously taught me many things I didn't know, and tactfully helped me fix my many errors. But there are also sour old trolls gnawing on bones of bitterness under bridges; and look-at-me show-offs promoting themselves like flashers opening their raincoats in the park; and holier-than-thou morality nitpickers ("I was so offended that you had the bad taste to mention lunatics / sick people / some ethnic group / my gender / Nebraska / underwear / pornography / werewolves / moistness . . ."); and more generally, commenters who know nothing of either the Language Log comments policy or the elementary rule of human behavior Don't Be A Jerk. One tires, one really does.
Why, then, does one blog? Or (let me snap out of the 3rd person indefinite before you start thinking that I have turned into a member of the British royal family), why do I blog? I honestly don't know. Not because I have any hope of equalling Mark's astounding achievement of publishing six or seven thousand posts in these pages (I'm not sure even he knows how many he's done); if this were a competition I would have been left in the dust.
Occasionally, when I have been asked by someone why I wrote such-and-such a post, I have perverted the standard Everest climber's riposte, and simply said: "Because it wasn't there." It's just a witty saying, not a real answer. Though there are indeed so many posts that aren't there yet but could be.
Some day I might talk about the astonishing case in this article in The Guardian (thanks to James Martin for spotting it) where the genitive ending ’s was misplaced (by a word processing error, I think) so it fell after a supplementary relative clause flanked by commas: "Sarah, whose case was widely reported in the Guardian, 's conviction came despite judges' belief that her claim of long-term abuse, intimidation and rape at the hands of her husband was true."
Alternatively, I might return to the case of my bad, and discuss Chris Hopson's recent suggestion that the phrase is a corruption of sorry, my bag among people playing the card game Spades. "A side which (over several deals) accumulates ten or more bags has 100 points deducted from its score," say the rules, so a bag really is something to apologize for.
Or I could discuss Nora Ephron's weird remark during an interview with Lawrence O'Donnell (hat tip to Gregory Wilde for this one): "I am trying very hard not to know the difference among the Kardashians" — see this video between 5:20 and 5:25. (Could it have been an attempt to comply with the old prescription about between never being correct when used to speak of more than two objects? The prescriptive rule is absurdly off-target, of course: nobody talks of having sand among your toes, even though most people have more than two; but perhaps Nora Ephron doesn't know that?)
There are any number of interesting turns of phrase to reflect on and linguistic puzzles to ponder. I might tackle a few hundred of them . . .
Or I might just rest here at number 1000. Stop blogging forever, and launch into a long, happy, and healthy ex-blogger phase of my life. Get outdoors. Take up hang-gliding maybe.
It's my call. And right now I really don't know which way I will go. You know the quotation that comes to mind here, don't you, science fiction fans?
Now he was master of the world, and he was not quite sure what to do next. But he would think of something. (Arthur C. Clarke; last words of 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968.)