Archive for Usage

Japanese "totally" (not)

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a daily column that runs on Page 1 of The Asahi Shimbun.  Today's column is titled "Different use of ‘zenzen’ fails to annoy Japanese language police" (9/29/29).

I still remember the shock of hearing the phrase "zenzen daijobu" for the first time about 20 years ago.

"Zenzen" is an adverb that modifies negative verbs and various other types of negative words and phrases, as in "zenzen shiranai," which means "don't know at all."

But "daijobu," which stands for OK, or fine, is an affirmative word, not negative. Now, if this isn't the ultimate example of the misuse of language, what is?

However, once I became accustomed to this phrase, I had to admit this was rather interesting.

"Zenzen daijobu" is fully accepted today, and its usage is apparently not entirely wrong.

According to "Nihonjin mo Nayamu Nihongo" (The Japanese language that puzzles even the Japanese people) by linguist Shigehiro Kato, the usage of zenzen with an affirmative word was already in evidence during the Edo Period (1603-1867), and was not rare during the ensuing Meiji Era (1868-1912), either.

In his novel "Botchan," Soseki Natsume (1867-1916) used zenzen with the affirmative phrase "warui desu" (it is bad).

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (10)

Vicious smears

Headline in Global Times today (9/10/20):

"People's Daily has right to reject US article containing vicious smears against China: FM"
 
"FM" means "Foreign Minister", Wang Yi 王毅.

Since the colorful, eye-catching term "vicious smears" has been popping up elsewhere in PRC English language media these days, colleagues have been wondering where it comes from in PRC Chinese language media.  Tracking down the Chinese original of this Global times article, it seems that "full of errors, inconsistent with the facts, and full of vicious smears against China" in this article is translated from "cuòlòu bǎichū, yǔ shìshí yánzhòng bùfú, chōngchìzhe duì Zhōngfāng de èdú gōngjí mǒhēi 错漏百出,与事实严重不符,充斥着对中方的恶毒攻击抹黑", and thus the Chinese word they use for "smears" in this article is "gōngjí 攻击 ("attack") mǒhēi 抹黑 ("discredit / [bring] shame [on] / defame / blacken OR tarnish [someone's reputation]")"; and "èdú gōngjí mǒhēi 恶毒攻击抹黑" for "vicious smears". Without the reference to the original Chinese sentence, I would probably translate "vicious smears" as "èdú de huǐbàng 恶毒的毁谤" ("vicious slander") given this specific context.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (9)

Further v. Farther

Apparently, further and farther come from the same source, namely the verb that we retain as further meaning "to promote". The different spellings were originally due to the general diversity of English orthography in earlier times. And the spelling was apparently not regularized because the word(s) took over as the comparative form of far, which used to be farrer. But because of the similarity of meanings, both forms seem always to have been used in the full range of adjectival and adverbial meanings, though with some probabilistic influence of far's spatial sense on the vowel.

From the 1895 OED entry for farther (not revised since then):

Middle English ferþer (whence by normal phonetic development farther ) is in origin a mere variant of further n., due probably to the analogy of the verb ferþren < Old English fyrðrian to further v. The primary sense of further, farther is ‘more forward, more onward’; but this sense is practically coincident with that of the comparative of far, where the latter word refers to real or attributed motion in some particular direction. Hence further, farther came to be used as the comparative of far; first in the special application just mentioned, and ultimately in all senses, displacing the regular comparative farrer. In standard English the form farther is usually preferred where the word is intended to be the comparative of far, while further is used where the notion of far is altogether absent; there is a large intermediate class of instances in which the choice between the two forms is arbitrary.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (51)

People of X

In the discussion of Boris Johnson's misperceived phrase ("Was it 'people of colour' or 'people of talent'?", 12/6/2019), several people expressed the opinion that "people of talent" is an unexpected way to refer to the group that he wants to welcome. Thus Rose Eneri:

My question is why does Mr. Johnson use such as odd phrase. Why does he not say, "talented people" or "people with skills we need?" I don't know of any other use of the phrase, "people of…" This fracas demonstrates the perils of using one.

Actually there are quite a few other possible values for X in "people of X", where the phrase means something like "people who have X": faith, goodwill, conscience, influence,  integrity, character, means, authority, importance, intelligence, vision, quality, . . .

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (13)

They were a prophet

Ben Zimmer, "How Maguire Accidentally Made the Case for Singular ‘They'", The Atlantic 9/27/2019 (subhead: "The national intelligence director’s recent testimony inadvertently supported the argument against grammar purists"):

When the committee chairman, Adam Schiff, asked Maguire if he thought that the whistle-blower was “a political hack” as Trump had suggested, Maguire responded, “I don’t know who the whistle-blower is, Mr. Chairman, to be honest with you. I’ve done my utmost to protect his anonymity.” But if Maguire was seeking to protect the whistle-blower’s anonymity, why use the pronoun he to identify the person’s gender?

Schiff, in his questioning, was more circumspect, avoiding gendered references by relying on a time-honored strategy: deploying they as a singular pronoun. When Maguire said he thought the whistle-blower was “operating in good faith,” Schiff said, “Then they couldn’t be in good faith if they were acting as a political hack, could they? … You don’t have any reason to accuse them of disloyalty to our country or suggest they’re beholden to some other country, do you?”

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (17)

Non-binary "singular they" endorsed by Merriam-Webster

"Singular 'they': Though singular 'they' is old, 'they' as a nonbinary proonoun is new — and useful", Merriam-Webster Words We're Watching:

Much has been written on they, and we aren’t going to attempt to cover it here. We will note that they has been in consistent use as a singular pronoun since the late 1300s; that the development of singular they mirrors the development of the singular you from the plural you, yet we don’t complain that singular you is ungrammatical; and that regardless of what detractors say, nearly everyone uses the singular they in casual conversation and often in formal writing.

They is taking on a new use, however: as a pronoun of choice for someone who doesn’t identify as either male or female. This is a different use than the traditional singular they, which is used to refer to a person whose gender isn’t known or isn’t important in the context, as in the example above. The new use of they is direct, and it is for a person whose gender is known, but who does not identify as male or female. If I were introducing a friend who preferred to use the pronoun they, I would say, “This is my friend, Jay. I met them at work.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (50)

To boldly split

Past LLOG coverage

[h/t Daniel Deutsch]

Comments (15)

"Come, comrades, over there!"

There's a huge controversy over whether the police commander uses the Mandarin word "tóngzhìmen 同志们" ("comrades") at around 2:15 in this video:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (6)

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (34)

Kirsten Gillibrand's Mandarin

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (13)

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'."

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (53)

Calling out sick

Comments (53)

"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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (30)