I know that many of you will be wondering whether Language Log has been keeping up with the spread of linguification. We have, of course. Teams of interns are combing the periodicals and amassing huge quantities of data that we do not really know what to do with (the data may all be eventually turned over to Melvyn Quince in the Surveys department). But just to assure you that we are keeping up with developments, let me show you the beginning of an article that recently appeared in an important UK magazine (and I should note that the article was actually written by a senior lecturer in creative writing — whom I will not embarrass by naming):
Among the dirty words in arts and humanities departments these days, "progress" is one of the dirtiest. No one would dream of using it without irony or the qualifying phrase "myth of" as a prefix.
To check this, our in-house textual scientists did a Google search on progress and myth of progress limited to UK academic sites (.ac.uk), and these were the results:
|myth of progress||103|
Any questions about that?
I won't confuse you with heavy statistical tests and p values here. No calculus will be presupposed. But in brief, the data show the hypothesis advanced in the quoted claim to be not just false but so overwhelmingly false that hypotheses as false as this hardly ever turn up in empirical science. Academic web pages containing myth of progress make up 0.0037% of those containing the word progress. That leaves an awful lot of occurrences to be explained away as ironic.
It is possible that the linguified claim might do better if more specific searches were done on sites focusing on arts and humanities subjects, getting rid of the scientists and administrators; we have several interns working on that right now. I rather think it is just busywork, and they would be better employed washing coffee mugs in the Senior Writers' Lounge here at Language Log Plaza.
As always, I am not objecting to this strange figure of speech — this replacing of a possibly true claim about progress (something like "humanities academics tend to take a dim view of the notion of progress") by a wildly false one about words (that the word progress is never employed in its literal sense without the phrase myth of immediately preceding it). And I am not saying I cannot understand what the author meant. I simply cannot see what desirable effect this rhetorical device could possibly be thought to achieve, or why the author should have chosen to make his point in such a strangely inept way, by transmuting it into what is (almost certainly) a staggeringly false claim about word token distributions.