Archive for Peeving

The Passivator reborn

I've been resisting topics like "words for coup" and "the meaning of insurrection" — we'll see how long that resolve lasts — but this morning's distraction is the rebirth of something I wrote about many years ago, namely an online service for identifying instances of passive-voice verbs.

In my review of 'The Passivator" (4/6/2004), I noted that "though The Passivator is billed as a 'passive verb and adverb flagger', it just flags certain strings of characters — final "-ly" for alleged adverbs, forms of 'to be' for alleged passives". Never mind that to be is used for lots of other things, and there are plenty of adverbs that don't end in -ly, and not everything that ends in -ly is an adverb.

The "Passive Voice Detector" at datalyze.com uses a slightly less silly version of the same dumb algorithm — it flags forms of to be immediately followed by words ending in -ed. This leads to absurd false positives, e.g. when a form of to be is followed by a noun ending in -ed:

…and predictable false negatives, e.g. when an adverb intervenes between the auxiliary and the participle:

Update — other false negatives includes contracted forms of to be (e.g. "They're defeated") and irregular participles (e.g. "They were overcome.").

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This week's display of ignorant peeving

David Ulin, "I Can’t Stand These Words Anymore", The Atlantic 12/30/2020:

Recently, I noticed a headline in The New York Times that featured the word tasked. This is among my least favorite rhetorical strategies—the verbing of the noun. Contemporary American English is rife with such constructions: to journal, to parent, to impact, to effect. I wince a little every time I come across one.

Jonathan Lundell, who sent in the link, notes that

The gripe is that task got verbed, particularly delicious in that the earliest OED citations for verbed notice, feature and task (in the modern senses) are 1660, 1888, and 1530 respectively.

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Everything's curated now

Cartoon by K. L. Ricks:

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Apostropocalypse again

"'Laziness has won': apostrophe society admits its defeat", The Guardian 12/1/2019:

John Richards, who worked in journalism for much of his career, started the Apostrophe Protection Society in 2001 after he retired.

Now 96, Richards is calling time on the society, which lists the three simple rules for correct use of the punctuation mark.

Writing on the society’s website, he said: “Fewer organisations and individuals are now caring about the correct use of the apostrophe in the English language.

“We, and our many supporters worldwide, have done our best but the ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won!”

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Anxieties of word-order influence

Sir Michael Edwards, "La Française République", bloc-notes de l'Académie Française 5/2/2019:

La grande majorité des importateurs d’anglicismes sont des gens honnêtes ; les agents publicitaires en particulier ne cachent pas leur jeu. Air France est in the air, les voitures Citroën sont inspired by you, Opel, qui nous disait autrefois, fièrement et avec l’accent à l’appui : Wir leben Autos, nous offrent maintenant de bonnes occasions pendant les German days. […]

Il en est autrement dans le monde universitaire.On dirait qu’il a été charmé par l’ingéniosité de ce que j’ai appelé (à propos d’autres usages impropres) les anglicismes furtifs, qui s’insinuent dans la langue sans se faire remarquer. […] [D]ans Aix-Marseille Université, par exemple, tous les termes sont français ; de quoi pourrait-on se plaindre ? De l’ordre des mots, hélas, qui est anglais, comme dans Cambridge University.

The great majority of anglicism importers are honest: advertisers in particular don't hide what they're up to. Air France is "in the air", Citroën cars are "inspired by you", Opel, who once told us proudly, backed up with a German accent, "Wir leben cars", now offers us bargains during "German days". […]

It's otherwise in academia, which has perhaps been seduced by the ingenuity of what I've called "furtive anglicisms", which sneak into the language without being noticed. […] In "Aix-Marseille Université", for example,  all the terms are French; what can we complain about? The order of the words, alas, which is English, as in "Cambridge University".

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Alex on the evolution of linguistic culture

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Polyamory

Wrong ethically? Practically? Legally?

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Their inability not to comprehend that they are incapable

Jonathan Bouquet, "May I have a word… about toolkits, real and metaphorical", The Observer 10/14/2018 [emphasis added]:

No one, least of all my family and close friends, would deny that I am somewhat hidebound, stuck up to my nethers in mud. I mean, don’t get me started on the subject of mobile phones and the inability of so many of their owners not to comprehend that they are incapable of walking and using these devices at the same time.

Thus, when I see the word toolkit, it conjures up images of the contents of a red cantilevered box, containing hammers, various screwdrivers, bradawl, spanners (again various), sundry nails, screws and broken electric saw blades (no, I don’t know why either), and assorted oddly shaped pieces of plastic that probably came from a long-discarded Black & Decker Workmate.

Alas, no longer. A recent report, on parents who won’t let their sons wear a skirt to school possibly being referred to social services, talked of “Brighton and Hove city council’s ‘trans inclusion schools toolkit’”.

Now, without wishing to get involved in the tangled issue of gender identity, I would just like to stick my crusty old arm over the parapet and stand up for toolkit’s proper meaning. Brighton and Hove council could just as easily have used the word advice and it would have had exactly the same meaning.

Or, to put it another way, ain't no toolkit without no hammers.

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An explosion of curation

From June Teufel Dreyer:

Have you noticed that suddenly “curated,” previously almost exclusively used to refer to museum exhibitions, is turning up everywhere? A talking head recently said she was “curating [her] thoughts,” the floral arrangements for a society wedding were described as “curated” by a local florist… and so on.

I have a feeling I’m going to soon dislike the word as much as I do “the perfect storm.”

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Your English is not bad

Thought-provoking observations by a native speaker:

"Racism in Hong Kong: why ‘your English is very good’ is not a compliment, it’s actually very insulting:  An Australian of Chinese descent reveals why she is offended every time she is praised for her excellent English-language skills", by Charmaine Chan, SCMP Magazine (5/19/18)

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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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Able to read and write, yet illiterate

In the course of doing research for a series of posts I plan on doing, I was listening to an interview from a few years ago with Bryan Garner, and something he said bothered me. Well, actually, I was bothered by more than one thing that he said, but this post is only about one of them: Garner’s use of the word literate. And truth be told, that’s something that’s bothered me for a while.

Garner doesn’t usually use literate to mean ‘able to read and write’. Rather, he uses it as a term of praise for the kind of people and publications that use the expressions he approves of and avoid those he condemns. Thus, his usage guides tell us that the double comparative is uncommon “among literate speakers and writers,” that irrelevant is sometimes misspelled irrevelant in “otherwise literate publications,” that singular they “sets many literate Americans’ teeth on edge.” In contrast, pronouncing the –p– in comptroller “has traditionally been viewed as semiliterate,” as is the word irregardless and writing would of instead of would have. Saying where’s it at is “a badge of illiteracy.”

Garner would say that he’s using literate to mean ‘educated’ or ‘cultured.’ Although there’s no entry for the word in his usage guides, there is one for illiterate, which obviously illuminates Garner’s understanding of literate:

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Peeving and changes in relative frequency

What follows is a guest post by Bob Ladd.


When I lived in Germany in the early 1980s, I bought a few style guides in the hope of improving my written German. One of them turned out to consist primarily of what I would now (as a long-time Language Log reader) recognize as ‘peeving’ – short essays about clichés, neologisms, and trendy new expressions that drove the author crazy. Among many other supposed novelties, the guy hated the expression ich gehe davon aus, which (as I had noticed myself) is used to mean ‘I assume’. Literally, ich gehe von X aus just means ‘I go from X out’, i.e. ‘I start from X’, but the grammar of German is such that X can be a clause. The ‘assume’ meaning comes from ‘I start from [the assumption that] CLAUSE’.

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