Archive for Usage

English vocative pronouns

On my to-blog list since last month:


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Girlie men in the PRC, part 2

Why words matter.

Just talking about this strange locution, "niángpào 娘炮" (slang for "sissy; effeminate man"), let us hear what a necessarily anonymous PRC citizen has to say about it:

I think the CCP is widening its dictatorship under the veil of / through its social morality cultivation in various aspects these days, and that it bans "娘炮" from the entertainment industry (“boycotting being overly entertaining”) functions as one of its schemes to instill the antecedent atmosphere.

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Little friend

From the Twitter account of @JiayangFan:

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The pragmatics of nyms, hyper- and hypo-

When I saw this sign in a local state park yesterday, it reminded me of the recent discussions about "Pregnant people" and "People with erectile dysfunction".

In the background of the sociocultural issues about inclusive or exclusive language, there's a general problem about choosing terminological levels in taxonomic hierarchies. Having just spent a couple of hours swatting at mosquitoes and gnats, I wondered whether this sign's assertion that "It is unlawful to chase or disturb wild birds or animals" might put me at risk of legal penalties.

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Ask Language Log: "rained out"?

A question from V.R.:

I was just having a conversation with a friend, and mentioned that it had "rained out last night." Do you happen to know if that use of "rained out" (as opposed to a baseball game being rained out) a Midwesternism?

I don't know — but maybe LLOG commenters will.

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"People with erectile dysfunction"

Following up on yesterday's "Pregnant People" post, I thought I'd look at terminological developments for a condition associated with male as opposed to female birth sex and anatomy.

The first thing to note is that current discussions of erectile dysfunction use both "men" and "people", sometimes in the same article — thus Richard Fogoros, "Is Viagra (Sildenafil) Safe for Men With Heart Disease?", verywell health 12/10/2020:

Viagra (sildenafil) has been life-changing for many people with erectile dysfunction (ED), making it possible to have a robust and satisfying sex life. However, this drug and others belonging to a class of medications called phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors (PDE5 inhibitors), may not be safe for people with certain types of heart disease.

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"Pregnant people"

"New CDC Data: COVID-19 Vaccination Safe for Pregnant People", CDC Media Statement 8/11/2021:

CDC has released new data on the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant people and is recommending all people 12 years of age and older get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“CDC encourages all pregnant people or people who are thinking about becoming pregnant and those breastfeeding to get vaccinated to protect themselves from COVID-19,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. “The vaccines are safe and effective, and it has never been more urgent to increase vaccinations as we face the highly transmissible Delta variant and see severe outcomes from COVID-19 among unvaccinated pregnant people.”

Michael Foust, "CDC Director Criticized for Replacing 'Women' with 'Pregnant People': It's 'Dehumanizing' to Women", Christian Headlines 8/13/2021:

The CDC director is receiving pushback from conservatives for repeatedly referring to pregnant women as "pregnant people" in a brief speech Thursday about COVID-19 vaccines. […]

The phrase "pregnant people" is used by some in the LGBT community to include biological women who identify as men. It also can include women who identify as non-binary.

"People don't get pregnant – women do," R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said on his podcast The Briefing.

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Clumsy classicism

In his addresses to the Liǎnghuì 兩會 (Two Sessions), annual plenary meetings of the national People's Congress and the national committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference that have just concluded in Beijing (March 4-11), Xi Jinping repeatedly stressed “guó zhī dà zhě 国之大者”.  The grammar is clearly literary, with the first character a monosyllabic version of vernacular "guójiā 国家" ("country"), the second character a classical attributive particle, and the fourth character a classical nominalizing particle. Thus the phrase stands out like a sore thumb midst the matrix of vernacular in which it is mixed.  What's worse, even fluent readers of Mandarin generally misinterpret what it means.  Most educated persons to whom I've shown the phrase think that it means "big / large / powerful / great country", "that which (can be called) a big / large / powerful / great country"), etc., when in fact Xi intends for it to mean "something that is important for the country", "that which is important for the country" "things that are important for the country", etc.

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Versus

A recent email from the Modern Language Association directed me to a piece of usage advice from Barney Latimer: "Versus or Against?":

When The New York Times ran with the front-page headline “Trump Urges Unity versus Racism,” many readers questioned the accuracy of this assertion, but none pointed to its glaring grammatical error—its misuse of versus. The fact that this mistake went unremarked may testify to its increasing prevalence.

Or it might testify to the fact that the headline involved no "glaring grammatical error" at all?

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"As best as we could have hoped for"

Scott Bixby & Asawin Suebsaeng, "The Biden and Trump Shows: It’s Mr. Rogers Vs. ‘Someone’s Crazy Uncle’", The Daily Beast 10/15/2020:

“He didn’t spend the whole time yelling, he didn’t piss himself… so this was as best as we could have hoped for,” said one Trump campaign adviser.

Someone asked me about the "as best as" construction, and I was able to refer them to a 15-year-old post, "Asbestos she can", 12/29/2005.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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