Archive for Usage

Military slang

On a large discussion list, I said something that involved a lot of close, careful reasoning and marshalling of evidence to come to a precise conclusion, and another member of the list approved what I wrote with a hearty "Shack!"

I was dumbfounded.

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Kirsten Gillibrand's Mandarin

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X of Y ↔ Y(ed) X

Robert Ayers sent in this cartoon:
And asked "Was the 'colored person' fall from grace strictly a one off due to history? I see no movement from, eg, 'Asian person' to 'person of Asia'. Or 'Irishman' to 'man of Ireland'."

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Calling out sick

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"We need wall"

Josh Marshall, "We need wall", TPM 12/20/2018:

For reasons that are not entirely clear to me the word has apparently come down from the White House that the wall, as in the wall to be built along the southern border, must now be called “wall”. In other words, no definite article, no “the”.

Here's DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen testifying in congress today:

From congress I would ask for wall. We need wall.

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"Biomarkers": Language as a substance?

For the past few years, I've been involved in some research on clinical applications of linguistic analysis. And as a result, I've done a lot of reading in the associated inter-, trans-, or meta-disciplinary literature (see e.g. the reading list for a seminar I taught last spring).  This involves assimilating some inter-, trans-, or meta-disciplinary terminology, of which one interesting example is the word biomarker.

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Annals of singular "they"

"Pilot misses destination by 29 miles after dozing off", Sky News 11/27/2018:

A pilot in Australia is being investigated after they fell asleep in the cockpit and missed their destination by 29 miles.

The pilot, who was the only person on board at the time, overshot the remote Tasmanian island where they were due to land after dozing off.

The Piper PA-31 was travelling from Devonport to King Island on a routine flight by Vortex Air, a high-end private jet tourism operator.

A statement from the company said the flight was the pilot's first after a period of leave.

They had declared themselves fit to fly, were deemed adequately experienced, and had "previously flown the route a number of times without incident", the operator said.

Use of they for a specific singular human referent of unspecified gender is becoming routine.

[h/t Tim Frost]

 

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Poster childs

A reader sent in a link to this article, with the note "I know LL sometimes publishes examples of unusual usages of language; I came across this in an article on climate change. It’s a regularization I’ve never seen before" — Joshua Bowling, "Study: Climate change could transform Arizona's forests, deserts, worsening drought and fire", Arizona Republic 9/1/2018:

Ecosystems across the world will dramatically transform as climate change's effects increase, a new study warns. Arizona's forests could retreat with rising temperatures and its deserts could turn hotter and more volatile in the coming century.[…]

Those trees are slow growers, so experts at the time predicted it would be years before there were woodlands in the area again. And when something does grow, it's something better suited for the changing climate.

"That was really one of the first poster childs of the forest dieback that we're seeing in the Southwest and around the world," Overpeck said. "Where it's occurred in Arizona, it's essentially grown new vegetation that is in equilibrium with the warming climate."

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Pronouns: identification by paradigm?

A graduate student in classics expresses appreciation for the new norm of academic staff announcing their pronoun preferences, but wonders why everyone gives their preferences as three-element paradigm: she/her/hers, he/him/his, they/them/their. It's not like anyone is going to mix and match, she/him/their or whatever.

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"Misunderstand that …", "pessimistic that …"

In late June Lila Gleitman noticed a case of "A is pessimistic that S" meaning that A considers it likely that S will happen/turn out to be the case, and A considers S to be an unwanted outcome. Her example was "I am more pessimistic than I was two weeks ago about the trade war spinning out of control."

We agreed that we would both find it impossible to say "I’m pessimistic that the trade war will spin out of control", but differed on "pessimistic about": in my dialect, but not Lila’s, "A is pessimistic about a Republican victory in the fall" is OK, meaning that A fears that the outcome will be the one she doesn’t want — that there will be or that there won’t be, depending on her point of view.

Lila, by the way, said she could use “pessimistic that” in the case of losing hope in a good outcome: “I am more  pessimistic than I was two weeks ago that the prices of stocks will rise.” But I don't think I could use "pessimistic that" there either. (So the original speaker and Lila and I seem to have three different patterns of judgments about "pessimistic that".)

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"Loaded to bear"?

Vicki Needham and Niv Ellis, "Trump to face lion’s den at G-7 summit", The Hill 6/6/2018:

President Trump will walk into a lion’s den of angry allied leaders at this week’s Group of Seven summit, where he is expected to face a firestorm of criticism over his decision to hit them with steep tariffs on steel and aluminum. […]

Bill Reinsch, a trade expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Trump is likely to get an earful from the U.S. allies. […]

Reinsch said he expects the summit to be one of the most tense in recent history and said the other six countries are “loaded to bear.”

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Stoop to no lengths

Alex Isenstadt, "Trump warns supporters about 'really angry' Democrats", Politico 6/4/2018:

President Donald Trump on Monday afternoon marked 500 days in office by grimly warning supporters that Democrats are motivated to turn out for the midterm elections — and that they’re “really, really angry.”

During a national conference call with grassroots supporters to commemorate the 500-day milestone, Trump implored his backers not to become complacent ahead of the November elections because Democrats were determined to roll back his first-term accomplishments.

“It’s very important that they come out now for the midterms. Historically, they tend not to. They get a little complacent, I guess. Something happens and they tend not to. But it’s going to be very important because they are angry, the other side is really, really angry. And they stoop to no lengths. It’s an incredible thing we’re witnessing,” the president said on the 15-minute call, which was organized by the White House Office of Political Affairs.

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Smart should check the OED

A couple of days ago, I wondered why modern English is reluctant to turn adjectives into verbs ("This towel kinds to your skin", 5/12/2018, and Laura Morland commented that "Universal verbing privileges would indeed be the kinder option." We were lamenting the loss of certain kinds of category-bending freedom, but Christopher Beanland wants us to have even less of it ("Smart knows that’s not English – how adland took a mallet to the language", The Guardian 5/14/2018):

It’s taken a millennium and a half for English to develop into a language as rich and complex as a character from your favourite multi-part Netflix drama series – and just a few years for the advertising industry to batter it into submission like a stained piñata at a child’s party.

Baffling slogans have become the new norm in adland. Perhaps Apple laid the foundations in 1997 with its famous Think Different campaign, but things have since gone up a notch: in 2010, Diesel blurted out perplexing offerings such as “Smart had one good idea and that idea was stupid”. Then came Zoopla with its “Smart knows” campaign. Now we’re informed by Ireland’s flag carrier that “Smart flies Aer Lingus”. Who are these people called Smart and how can we avoid sitting next to them on our next flight?

Today’s language-mangling ad campaigns run the greasy gamut from the somewhat confusing “Live your unexpected Luxembourg” to the head-scratching “Start your impossible”.

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