Peever politics

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In a comment on yesterday's post on "Momentarily", Alan asked

Is there any difference between the language peeves of left-wing authoritarian moralists and right-wing authoritarian moralists? Do they tend to peeve about different kinds of usage?

I don't have a large enough sample to make confident generalizations, but my impression is that peevers across the political spectrum have similar "crotchets and irks" (to use right-wing peever James Kilpatrick's felicitous phrase). The only things I've seen that seem likely to be systematic differences lie in the area of blame.

In particular, right-wing peevers sometimes blame the alleged moral laxness or philosophical relativism of liberals:

…[Postmodern] spokesmen try to convince us not merely that no one has such absolute knowledge, or can have such knowledge, but even that there is no such knowledge to be had. They apparently believe that if we give up our absolute beliefs and our belief in the absolute, what will remain is sweet reason. [They] … think that if we give up our belief in objective reality, we will become liberals or progressives or whatever Utopian socialists are called these days. -Mark Halpern, Language and Human Nature, 2009

You might think that conservatives would more commonly position themselves as defenders of tradition, but in fact arguments from tradition (usually false, of course) can be found across the political spectrum.

And you might think that liberals would be more likely to make arguments based on the (allegedly) rational consideration of effective usage, and a collective political effort to settle on explicit rules to maximize communicative efficacy. Indeed left-wingers like George Orwell do make such arguments:

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language — so the argument runs — must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes. [...]

Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration [...] -George Orwell, Politics and the English Language.

(Presumably, those who persist in their bad habits of writing and thinking may need to be sent to "political regeneration camps", though it seems ironic or even paradoxical to see this as the logical conclusion of Orwell's position.)

But right-wingers also sometimes argue for the linguistic equivalent of a planned economy, in which linguistic rules are to be invented by experts like them, on the basis of rational considerations of optimal communication, and imposed on the rest of us, for our own good:

[Descriptivist linguists] have not absorbed Edmund Burke's dictum: Art is Man's Nature. The nature under investigation by linguistic science is man's nature, of which a desire to construct standards, and use them to correct practice, is an essential element, not an aberration. -Mark Halpern, “The War that Never Ends”, The Atlantic 1997

For more on this general issue, see "Authoritarian rationalism is not conservatism", 12/11/2007; "James Kilpatrick, Linguistic Socialist", 3/28/2008. And for a really extreme right-wing position, which equates the Hayekian idea of language as a "grown order" with Nietzsche's "slave morality", see "Querkopf von Klubstick returns", 6/10/2008.

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34 Comments »

  1. figleaf said,

    November 20, 2011 @ 6:31 pm

    Has there been much research into why certain language use by speakers peeves some people?

    For instance is it centered in the same part of the mind that recoils at (unfamiliar) dissonances or off-key notes in music? Is it a product of language "parsing tables" branching into unclaimed (or maybe just rejected) slots?

    If the former then peevers could try to argue that their language centers are just higher tuned. If the latter then their critics might claim they're exhibiting mental weakness or vulnerability.

    It has to have been researched already. Which is why I'm asking here.

    figleaf

  2. dw said,

    November 20, 2011 @ 6:39 pm

    Perhaps a speaker's mental grammar, like belief in prosyletizing religions, is a "meme" that tries to propagate copies of itself to other minds — and prescriptivism is the means by which this is accomplished!

  3. Jonathon said,

    November 20, 2011 @ 6:46 pm

    Figleaf: I've seen some papers on which uses bother people, and I think they've concluded that the most bothersome usages are those that are confusing or exhibit some kind of sloppiness. But I don't know if anyone has really looked into it the way you're asking about.

  4. GeorgeW said,

    November 20, 2011 @ 8:13 pm

    I suspect the motivation on the right, as suggested in the OP, is related to an ordered moral universe, including language where, on the left, it is more of intellectual elitism.

  5. Mark F. said,

    November 20, 2011 @ 8:36 pm

    I have read that beavers can't bear the sound of running water, so much so that they will cover speakers playing that sound with mud, sticks, and rocks until they can't hear them any more; and that this is what induces them to build dams. I think we have a similar instinct with language (albeit an instinct that is in conflict with other desires). Language wouldn't work if people didn't try to conform to the local standard. If that's an innate desire (it works as well if it's a learned desire, I guess), then it follows that you would want there to be a standard. Since we are notoriously good at finding patterns even where none exist, it's wholly natural that people would jump on perceived regularities, infer that they are rules of language, and get annoyed when others failed to conform.

    The same thing would apply if you learned a wrong rule from a teacher. You would feel a sense of accomplishment for having internalized it, and wouldn't want the effort you put in to be wasted because the rule you learned was no longer a rule at all (or never was in the first place).

    I think some peeves are at particular places where there is a natural tension about what choice to make, and people feel relieved to learn what they think is a settled answer. From the perspective, people who don't follow the rule are ruining it for everyone by muddying the waters.

    I think objections to "singular they" are an example of all this. It has been in use for a long time, but I'm pretty sure it's also been avoided for a long time. Much made is of how much Jane Austen used it, but if you can pick out an author who used it a lot, then that suggests at least some other authors actively avoided it. So it's still in an unsettled state in written contexts, and yet people want there to be a rule. So they pick one and peeve when others don't follow it.

  6. Ray Girvan said,

    November 20, 2011 @ 8:56 pm

    Another pertinent reference here is GKP's paper Ideology, Power, and Linguistic Theory (PDF). While not specifically about language peeves, it does make an interesting argument for a correlation between prescriptivism and social/political conservatism.

  7. A.M. said,

    November 20, 2011 @ 8:58 pm

    My opinion is, in most cases, this "purism" is NOT about language, but rather about rhetoric. When the writer rants about the wrong choice of words, for example, it's almost invariably not about the words, but against the notions that the words represent, and the principal objective of the criticism is to prove the other side's inferiority. It is especially obvious if you look into the crusades against the English borrowings in the Russian language. In the 1990s they almost invariably came from people who ultimatly objected against the intriduction of capitalism and free elections. In the 2000s, the banner was picked up by the neo-imperialists. In both cases, the linguistic side of the argument is often ridiculous, with claims like "why use the borrowed 'sponsor' when we have a good pure Russian 'mecenat'?", or that "some English roots are inherently bad". Language issues are evidently the last thing that bothers the people who write that. So, for most politicians it is whatever suits the needs of winning the next election. People who made language purism their trade will be more consistant, of course.

  8. Ray Girvan said,

    November 20, 2011 @ 9:03 pm

    @ Mark F. The same thing would apply if you learned a wrong rule from a teacher. You would feel a sense of accomplishment for having internalized it, and wouldn't want the effort you put in to be wasted …

    Or to put that another way, it's about cognitive dissonance. People internalise these shibboleths as part of their sense of self-worth: the grammatical/vocabulary features that (in their minds) distinguish them from the undeducated, the lower classes, or whatever ethnic or social group they've been taught to fear being like. That's hard to let go of.

  9. dw said,

    November 20, 2011 @ 9:18 pm

    @Ray Girvan:
    People internalise these shibboleths as part of their sense of self-worth: the grammatical/vocabulary features that (in their minds) distinguish them from the undeducated, the lower classes, or whatever ethnic or social group they've been taught to fear being like. That's hard to let go of.

    In this respect, language seems to resemble other human customs, such as dress or social etiquette.

  10. Rod Johnson said,

    November 20, 2011 @ 10:10 pm

    I think a lot of statements about prescriptivists are–like Ray's about (and I don't mean to imply that Ray thinks that's the whole story)–somewhat true but somewhat simplistic. People have multiple reasons for wanting language to be a particular way beyond self-esteem and cultural prestige; there are also economic, social and political factors. Consider the historical importance in France of distinguishing between the educated speech of Paris and the patois of the provinces, which was closely bound up in the necessity, in the French economy, of suppressing social mobility and maintaining the stock of agricultural labor (keeping 'em down on the farm). I'm sure we could all think of similar things in British and American culture.

    That's just one example. For a look at the cultural politics of prescription in English, I recommend Deborah Cameron's Verbal Hygeine very highly.

  11. Ray Girvan said,

    November 20, 2011 @ 10:50 pm

    @Rod Johnson: I don't mean to imply that Ray thinks that's the whole story

    Certainly: point taken. I was being parochial and largely thinking about English prescriptivism, whose roots were largely in the period of the rise of the middle class (a time when people were ready to believe any authoritative garbage on English if they thought it would help them up the class ladder), and which operated in an atmosphere of continuing class-consciousness.

  12. J. Goard said,

    November 20, 2011 @ 11:10 pm

    You might think that conservatives would more commonly position themselves as defenders of tradition, but in fact arguments from tradition (usually false, of course) can be found across the political spectrum.

    Aaaaaaaarrrrruuurrrrrgggggh.

    The "social science 'but' ", bane of evolutionary psychologists and statistically literate people everywhere!

    "You might think that older people are more likely to break their hips than younger people, but in fact hip fractures can be found across the age spectrum." = absurd reasoning in medical science.

    "You might think that men are more likely to worry about sexual infidelity and women about emotional infidelity, but in fact both men and women worry about both sexual and emotional infidelity." = standard reasoning in top-tier social science.

    Aaaaaaaarrrrruuurrrrrgggggh.

    Now that that's out of the way, do we have any reason to doubt "that conservatives would more commonly position themselves as defenders of tradition"?

    [(myl) As I said, I don't really have enough evidence to generalize confidently, and I'm not sure that any else does either. But in fact I have never read a language peever of the past century or so who didn't explicitly complain about (what they perceive as) the decline of usage standards and the loss of (what they perceive as) a superior earlier pattern of usage. So let's rephrase it: "You might think that conservatives would more commonly position themselves as defenders of tradition, but in fact I have never seen a language peever from the past century or so, anywhere on the political spectrum, who DIDN'T explicitly complain about the alleged decline of usage standards and the alleged loss of a superior (clearer, or more expressive, or more beautiful) earlier pattern of usage."

    This is not a trivial observation, since it's logically possible to justify linguistic peeving on the grounds that stick-in-the-muds are resisting the transition to a newer, clearer, more logical pattern of usage. But even those who seek positive linguistic change through rational choice (like Orwell's talk about getting rid of "bad habits") generally express these ideas in the context of stuff about how (to quote Orwell) "Our civilization is decadent and our language [...] must inevitably share in the general collapse". ]

  13. Kylopod said,

    November 20, 2011 @ 11:35 pm

    I think any connection there may have been between political conservatism and language conservatism (and between political liberalism and linguistic permissiveness) has long since past. The categories have gotten particularly muddled because of figures like George W. Bush and Sarah Palin, whose informal and ungrammatical diction has come to be mocked by liberals and defended by conservatives.

    For example, take one guess at the general political distribution of complaints and defenses of Bush's use of "nucular." I'm sure the linguists here, regardless of their political persuasion, would be on the side of the defenders, but outside of linguistics it's been my experience that an awful lot of liberals are willing to accept the traditional schoolroom lore and interpret Bush's use of "nucular" as reflecting something fundamentally wrong with his thinking.

    This tendency probably predates Bush. Clinton exhibited some lapses from traditional grammar, but they didn't much figure into most right-wing attacks on him. This may be because the cultural right respects the casual linguistic habits stereotypically associated with white Southerners. If anything, right-wing Clinton haters tended more to picture him as some kind of a cultural traitor for being a white Southerner who embraced "left-wing" values.

    Then there's the whole business of counting Obama's I's and me's. There, it's not about traditional grammar or anything like that, but about easy ways of psychoanalyzing the president (a common activity on Fox News these days), finding hidden explanations in mundane facts that confirm whatever the conservatives want to believe about the liberals. It's all part of their obsession with simple avenues of knowledge not requiring any academic level of sophistication to acquire, and with that kind of mindset, you likely haven't got much use for bemoaning split infinitives and the like.

  14. Tim said,

    November 21, 2011 @ 1:40 am

    Am I the only one who interpreted Alan's original question as just a slightly snarky way of asking "Why did you call that Dick Cavett quote 'left-wing'?"?

  15. Dan Lufkin said,

    November 21, 2011 @ 9:08 am

    The hypothesis that reality usually has a liberal bias will explain much of what we observe in life, including linguistic peevism.

  16. languagehat said,

    November 21, 2011 @ 10:04 am

    I think they've concluded that the most bothersome usages are those that are confusing or exhibit some kind of sloppiness.

    Surely what you mean is that they've concluded that the most bothersome usages are those that are said to be confusing or to exhibit some kind of sloppiness. The idea that there is some objective measure of confusingness or (for heaven's sake) "sloppiness" is as manifestly absurd as most of the peevers' arguments and claims. Peevers will use whatever stick comes readily to hand, just as politically involved people will do in arguing politics. On another forum, I'm dealing with someone who's claiming that "is washed" is bad English because "is" is present tense and "washed" is past. This is the level of discourse we're dealing with.

  17. bianca steele said,

    November 21, 2011 @ 10:15 am

    This is a fascinating topic, but maybe needs some more teasing out. To begin with, the terms objectivity, tradition, efficacy, collective agreement, consensus are neither the same as one another nor divide things up neatly among them (similarly with idea, word, thing), and in most cases I don't think I'd want to guess what background, political or otherwise, was most likely to go with a preference for any one of them, as I've been surprised more than once.

  18. bianca steele said,

    November 21, 2011 @ 10:38 am

    I have never seen a language peever from the past century or so, anywhere on the political spectrum, who DIDN'T explicitly complain about the alleged decline of usage standards and the alleged loss of a superior (clearer, or more expressive, or more beautiful) earlier pattern of usage.

    Is this really the case when, for example, students are told that "are" is not an appropriate pronunciation of the word spelled "our"? I can see it being assumed, say on the basis of a general idea that everything is in decline. But it seems like two parallel traditions of similar age to me.

    [(myl) Defense of tradition is not used as the justification for every peeve. But I can't recall ever encountering a peever (at least one from whom I had more than a few words in a comments area) who didn't use some variant of this justification at least some of the time.]

  19. Richard Hershberger said,

    November 21, 2011 @ 11:34 am

    "Has there been much research into why certain language use by speakers peeves some people?"

    I haven't got anything formal, but I have the eccentric hobby of collecting old usage manuals. When I look at one from the 19th century by, say, Richard Grant White I see what appears to be a random selection of familiar and unfamiliar complaints. (Anyone want to take a stab at why he denounced "reliable" as not being a real word? It's cheating if you have actually read him.) I have never been able to detect a pattern of which complaints fade away and which enter the collective peeving consciousness.

    I think there are some patterns of which writers have the prestige to impose new complaints, and in a very few instances enough prestige to oppose old complaints. Fowler's contribution to the collective good was to defend split infinitives and sentence-terminal prepositions. Such is his prestige that no serious usage writer since dares to flat out condemn these usages, though many will try to find reasons why plebes like you and I ought not use them. At the other end, consider The Penguin Dictionary of American English Usage and Style by Paul Lovinger. Lovinger is an enthusiastic inventor of new peeves. His sole redeeming quality is that he lacks the prestige to popularize them, making him irrelevant. None of this is really predictable, however. Fowler has lots of advice that has quietly disappeared from the literature.

    So in short, it all looks pretty random to me. Some peeves just happen to stick, while others disappear.

  20. LDavidH said,

    November 21, 2011 @ 12:51 pm

    FWIW: a) I have discussed singular "they" etc with an American lady who apparently thought it was somehow morally wrong; clearly a belief in some kind of linguistic absolutes: what's wrong is wrong even if everybody says it that way, just as lying etc is wrong in itself. b) In Albania, I frequently came across a negative attitude to Turkish loan words. Albanian is full of them, and most of them are indispensible parts of everyday language (e.g. hajde, "come! Come on!"), but because of negative attitudes to Turkey (Albania was ruled by Turkey for some 500 years), people kept telling me not to use them. In that case, politico-historical realities caused a collective peeve, although virtually everybody still used those words themselves…

  21. hector said,

    November 21, 2011 @ 2:03 pm

    One shouldn't conflate "prescriptivists" and "peevers." I, being a human being, am prone to becoming irritated at things that bug me. But having self-awareness and a certain kind of restraint, I realize that these are personal opinions and that the opinions of others may differ. In plain language, I get peeved at things, like a grumpy old man. And like a grumpy old man, I complain about my peeves to other people, and the story ends there.

    Prescriptivists, on the other hand, are people who believe that their personal peeves should be imposed upon all other human beings, and that anyone who disagrees with said peeves is an enemy of civilization. And some are so convinced of their own rightitude (hey, it's in the Urban Dictionary), and have so many, many peeves, that they develop a system of peeviness, and write books about it.

    A prescriptivist imagines himself a heroic defender of civilization; a humble peever recognizes himself, in his more reflective moments, as a typical, flawed human being.

  22. Mark Liberman said,

    November 21, 2011 @ 2:17 pm

    Richard Hershberger: … it all looks pretty random to me.

    To me too. Richard Grant White's lists of ""words that are not words, … a cause of great discomfort to all right thinking, straightforward people" also include telegraph, donate, jeopardize and gubernatorial. He characterized the use of executed to mean "killed" (as by a firing squad) as "a perversion"; he felt that persuade (rather than "convince") was "vulgar"; he saw jewelry rather than "jewels" as being "of very low caste"; and he thought that the word caption was "laughable and absurd".

  23. Brett said,

    November 21, 2011 @ 4:32 pm

    @Richard Hershberger: Was Grant's objection to "reliable" that it ought to mean "capable of relying" (which is practically an absurdity), rather than "worthy of relying upon"?

  24. J. W. Brewer said,

    November 21, 2011 @ 5:42 pm

    The left/right valence of self-conscious devotion to rationality has shifted in all sorts of ways over time in American political discourse, and is not particularly coherent even today. There are left-wing and right-wing ways of setting oneself against naive Enlightenment rationalism and its blinkered/crabbed scientism, and left-wing and right-wing ways of portraying oneself as the only living heir to those sensible Enlightenment guys in wigs who founded the U.S. Going back 200 years, Noah Webster was a pretty high Federalist in politics (if he didn't actually believe that Jefferson was an atheist pervert who was shilling for the Bavarian Illuminati he certainly consorted with other conservative New Englanders who did), but also an advocate for rather kooky rationalistic spelling reforms. Indeed, before WW2 one major proponent of kooky rationalistic spelling reforms was Col. McCormick's Chicago Tribune which was at the same time a bulwark of heartland conservative disdain for the Bolshevism of the New Deal.

    Two observations I have probably made in prior threads that might usefully be repeated in this context: First, prescriptivism as an actual social problem (i.e. sufficient clustering of people with stupid prescriptivist ideas and the practical ability to make your life difficult if you don't adapt your prose to their stupid shibboleths such that you ignore them at your own risk) tends, I believe, to at present be concentrated in particular segments of the American economy that are at present typically more left-wing than right-wing: e.g., schoolteachers, academics, journalists, publishing-industry types, and lawyers. If I'm right about this, this is more significant than the left/right balance of the fairly trivial number of pundits with bow ties and newspaper columns on usage issues who don't know what they're talking about. This could, of course, be the somewhat random result of any number of contingent historical factors (the left-right valence of populist/elitist tensions, which is probably related, has itself varied over time) and not reveal anything particularly meaningful about the essences of conservatism, liberalism, or prescriptivism.

    Second, if you have not read the late Robert Nozick's speculative rant "Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?" ( http://www.cato.org/pubs/policy_report/cpr-20n1-1.html is a somewhat abridged version), do so and see if you agree with me that it implies a plausible diagnosis (in a nasty, ad hominem, kind of way) of the sort of personality type that ends up deriving subjective psychological benefit from criticizing the language usage of others in classically prescriptivist ways.

  25. Jonathon said,

    November 22, 2011 @ 1:45 am

    Surely what you mean is that they've concluded that the most bothersome usages are those that are said to be confusing or to exhibit some kind of sloppiness. The idea that there is some objective measure of confusingness or (for heaven's sake) "sloppiness" is as manifestly absurd as most of the peevers' arguments and claims.

    Who said anything about an objective measure? I'm talking about studies like Hairston 1981 or Beason 2001, which surveyed people on a variety of errors to see which ones bothered people the most. People are more bothered by syntactic and spelling errors when they impede understanding. People are also bothered by misspellings that demonstrate a hastiness or carelessness. Whether you think it's justified or not, this is how most people judge others' language.

    Peevers will use whatever stick comes readily to hand, just as politically involved people will do in arguing politics. On another forum, I'm dealing with someone who's claiming that "is washed" is bad English because "is" is present tense and "washed" is past. This is the level of discourse we're dealing with.

    I'm not sure what this has to do with what I said.

  26. languagehat said,

    November 22, 2011 @ 11:25 am

    People are more bothered by syntactic and spelling errors when they impede understanding. People are also bothered by misspellings that demonstrate a hastiness or carelessness.

    Once again, the way you put this implies that such "errors" actually do "impede understanding" or "demonstrate a hastiness or carelessness." I am still not sure whether you are endorsing these peeves or not.

    I'm not sure what this has to do with what I said.

    If you are in fact endorsing those claims of impedance and carelessness, it is directly relevant. If not, you need to make yourself clearer; you are continuing to talk as if the "errors" were real errors and the perceptions of carelessness etc. were something more than mirages.

  27. J. W. Brewer said,

    November 22, 2011 @ 12:27 pm

    Hat: I believe http://faculty.winthrop.edu/kosterj/WRIT465/samples/Beason.pdf may be the Beason 2001 referred to above. At a quick read, the "errors" to which the test subjects were exposed are I think actual errors (for the standard prestige variety of AmEng) rather than mere prescriptivist peeves, but I wouldn't necessarily call any of them :"syntactic". Saying in the context of a written text that X is a "run-on" sentence" or Y is a "sentence fragment" is IMHO often a criticism of punctuation usage, not necessarily of syntax. The sample texts in question generally seemed like they would be syntactically well-formed in context if read aloud with the right intonation; they just didn't observe the standard punctuation conventions that correspond to their syntactic form. Beason's overall take seems actually quite productive: he seems to be trying to figure out the extent to which real-world consumers of written texts (say, potential future employers of college graduates) do or don't care about the sorts of mechanical issues freshman comp teachers traditionally harp on, with the perhaps radical idea that freshman comp students ought to be taught to be able to write in a way that will be be found satisfactory by the sorts of people they will deal with in their post-college lives rather than (if it's not the same thing) just in a way that is thought satisfactory by academy-internal standards. Such a sensible-sounding approach to teaching writing is, I fear, off-topic for this thread . . .

  28. ERorie said,

    November 22, 2011 @ 3:29 pm

    @ Mark F.: I know this a language blog, not an animal behavior blog, but I have to say this. I don't think beavers make dams because they hate the sound of running water. I would suggest that they build dams to create the still water their lives depend on, and the sound represents something that needs to be corrected.

  29. Matt McIrvin said,

    November 23, 2011 @ 7:37 am

    (Anyone want to take a stab at why he denounced "reliable" as not being a real word? It's cheating if you have actually read him.)

    Here's a guess. Was his complaint that one relies on X, rather than relying X (as would be the pattern for "lovable", "usable", etc.)?

  30. languagehat said,

    November 23, 2011 @ 10:48 am

    J. W. Brewer: Thanks, that makes sense.

    Matt McIrvin: Bingo!

  31. Keith M Ellis said,

    November 24, 2011 @ 3:58 pm

    Language prescriptivism and peeving has a great deal to do with Bourdieu's cultural capital and the attempt to accumulate it and protect it. Language usage is the most evident display of accumulated cultural capital-more so than artistic taste and possibly more so than clothing and related fashion.

    Prescriptivists don't peeve because they actually want everyone to follow their usage rules; rather, they peeve to ostentatiously demonstrate their cultural capital. If everyone were to conform to their supposed expectations, the value of their capital would be vastly diminished. That's why the peeving, the outrage, is the thing and not, for example, "education". Conversely, if they fail to defend their usage entirely, then their capital also loses value because its worth depends upon its social visibility. Therefore the optimum state for a peeving prescriptivist-and, indeed, for all holders of cultural capital-is when their preferred usage is perceived to be both normative and a moderately threatened minority usage. Thus, the whole "debasement" thing…appealing to tradition provides a normative quality while asserting that things are going to hell in a handbasket provides the threat which creates value from perceived scarcity.

    Insofar as conventional left/right politics are involved with this, it will reflect the ways in which conventional left/right politics interact with cultural capital in general. It's more contingent upon whatever cultural phenomena happens to be associated with a sociopolitical subculture than it does some inherent left/right quality of those cultural artifacts.

  32. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    November 28, 2011 @ 8:53 pm

    @Richard Hershberger: Do you also collect textbooks, in addition to usage manuals? I wonder if some rules get picked up by textbooks and others don't, and thus some changes persist while others (ignored by textbooks in primary and secondary education) do not.

  33. Kevin S. said,

    December 10, 2011 @ 7:55 pm

    "And for a really extreme right-wing position, which equates the Hayekian idea of language as a "grown order" with Nietzsche's "slave morality", see "Querkopf von Klubstick returns", 6/10/2008."

    As the originator of that perhaps unfortunate comparison, I should add that I never intended that analogy in a political way, at all.

    Neither was my comparison intended to refer to "Haykean ideas". The comparison was to linguists' embodiment of the idea of resentment, in the Nietzschean sense of the term. Rightly or wrongly, the tone of many descriptivists' attacks upon "language mavens" and the like strongly suggests to me that they still feel the sting of Mrs. Grundy's ruler across their knuckles, and they haven't quite gotten over it, yet.That's really all there is to it.

    By the way, my views have changed considerably since I last jousted with Professor Liberman and others on this subject. Both prescriptivism and descriptivism seem to me empty categories, and arguments over language usage are just another game of the blind men and the elephant. Fay ce que voudras, because within a century none of this will matter.

  34. Stan said,

    February 17, 2013 @ 1:08 pm

    Ursula K. Le Guin, discussing singular they in Mythmakers and Lawbreakers (AK Press, 2009; edited by Margaret Killjoy), says the following:

    It is funny how the people who object most furiously to "incorrectness" like that almost always turn out to be far right politically and/or socially insecure.

    Anecdotal, obviously, but I thought it worth sharing here.

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