Archive for Peeving

Peevable words and phrases: journey

They mostly start out clever, cute, and catchy:  e.g., "curated".  The problem is that they soon go viral, and then just never go away, even after they have become banal and overused, as with "perfect storm":

I'm campaigning to have "perfect storm" added to peeve polls in the future. As in "at the end of the day it was a perfect storm." It's not unheard of for a book title to turn into a catch[22]phrase, and maybe perfect storm will become a permanent part of the language, but it smacks of fad to me. I feel like I hear it at least three times a week in NPR interviews.

[Comment by Dick Margulis to "'Annoying word' poll results: Whatever!" (10/9/09)]

That was 2009, but "perfect storm" is still with us, and so is "curated", which begins to appear with increasing frequency in the early 70s and really takes off in the 80s.

Now we're facing a veritable onslaught from "journey":

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Intergenerational cycles of peeving?

In a recent article in Psychology Today, Nick Morgan proposes a new theory about the psychodynamics of prescriptivist peeving ("Why Bad Grammar Activates Our Fight-or-Flight Response", 12/14/2023):

Does grammar matter? And did you have a teacher in your youth who insisted on drumming the rules of good grammar into you—and was that teacher on the stern and grumpy side of the instructional continuum?

My anecdotal research into these questions over the years has gradually built a composite picture of a somewhat terrifying authority figure, either male or female, who insisted on good grammar as the essential basis of a sound education. They managed to impart enough of it to you so that you cringe when someone uses "among" and "between" interchangeably—or flubs the distinction between 'that" and "which" because of a fatal lack of understanding of the difference between an independent and dependent clause.

Now, a study reveals that your response to those solecisms (and your bad-tempered teacher's response) is indeed physiological: The grammar of language affects us viscerally.

When we hear bad grammar, our pupils dilate, and our heart rate increases, indicating a fight-or-flight response.

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Where have all the peevers gone?

Back in the fall of 2022, I asked "What happened to all the, like, prescriptivists?". I still don't have any actual counts, but I continue to find fewer instances of prescriptivist peeving in my various media feeds and foraging.

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Self-owning peeve of the week: Compersion

Email from Florent Moncomble [links added]:

A few months ago, the distinguished member of the Académie française Alain Finkielkraut was featured in a video where he deplored the loss of “a word which used to exist in the [French] language and disappeared from it”, ie. “compersion”. Apparently, little does he know that “compersion” was actually coined in the 1970s by the Kerista Community of San Francisco, in the context of polyamory, to describe the joy felt in knowing that your better half finds pleasure and happiness with other sexual partners! So that, far from being the old French word that he thinks it is, it is actually an English borrowing from the late 20th century… in other terms, the very nemesis of the Académie — not to mention the moral overtones of the term, quite the antithesis of the conservatism of that institution…

Laelia Veron, a colleague from the Université d’Orléans, Christophe Benzitoun from the Université de Lorraine and I worked together on debunking Finkielkraut’s claim for an academically informed yet humorous biweekly spot that Laelia has on French public radio France Inter.

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More "Bad Things"…

[Following up on the previous post…] David Owen wrote the following as empirical support for his claim that sentence-initial appositives ("Bad Things") are a recent innovation:

I reread most of Samuel Johnson’s “Lives of the Poets,” and skimmed as much as a modern reader can stand of “The Rambler,” and penetrated as far as it’s humanly possible to penetrate into “Rasselas,” and found no examples.

So I downloaded Volume 1 of Lives of the Poets, sentencized it, ran the simple search for sentence-initial participles, removed the non-appositives, and found 36 remaining examples of this "Bad Things" subset:

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Bad Things?

David Owen, "The Objectively Objectionable Grammatical Pet Peeve", The New Yorker 1/12/2023:

Usage preferences are preferences, not laws, and I sometimes switch sides. […]

But some common practices are objectively objectionable, in my opinion. Here’s an example of a sentence type that I think no writer should ever use:

A former resident of Brooklyn, Mrs. Jones is survived by three daughters and five grandchildren.

The first phrase is an appositive—typically a noun or noun phrase that modifies another noun or noun phrase, which appears next to it in the sentence. (“A former resident of Brooklyn” and “Mrs. Jones” refer to the same person, so they are said to be “in apposition.”) Appositives almost always follow the noun they modify, and are set off by commas; the kind I don’t like come first. I also don’t like sentences that, to me, seem closely related to my “Mrs. Jones” example, but are syntactically different, as in this paragraph from National Geographic:

Known affectionately as “the girls,” Ruth and Emily have a lot of fun for two Asian elephants. Ages 54 and 48, they spend their days tinkering with an array of special toys at the Buttonwood Park Zoo in Massachusetts. No mere plastic playthings, these toys have been engineered to appeal to the pachyderms’ social nature, psychology, and intelligence.

My problem with all such sentences is that they seem to have been turned inside out: they start in one direction, then swerve in another.  […] Grammatical terms are hard to keep straight, even for grammarians. For the sake of simplicity, therefore, I will refer to all such front-loaded, somersaulting sentences as Bad Things.

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"Sins against the language"

Jonathan Bouquet, "May I have a word about… the sins of Twitter, Meta and Amazon", The Guardian 11/20/2022:

[As if making thousands of people redundant were not bad enough, they compound it with their use of language]

It won’t have escaped your notice that the internet giants are going though turbulent times, with huge job losses announced at Twitter, Meta and Amazon. In the case of the last, it has been reported that the company is to start cutting 10,000 jobs within days to make its “fulfilment centres” more streamlined. In my day, a place where goods are stored, packed and sent to customers who have ordered them used to be known as a warehouse. […]

And thank you to Roy Perry for the following: “An offering from the November magazine of Weardale Railway Trust (of which I am a member): ‘Train operations have continued throughout the summer and ridership has been very encouraging.’”

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Linguistic aversion therapy?

Rick Rubenstein commented on yesterday's post ("What happened to all the, like, prescriptivists?"):

Are there any proven therapies available for folks like me who, despite seeing the light decades ago, can't keep from wincing at "violations" of prescriptivist rules ingrained (mostly self-ingrained) during childhood? I want to be totally unfazed by "The team with the bigger amount of people has an advantage," but man, it's hard. (Not actually serious, but it's certainly true. Unlearning is tough.)

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What happened to all the, like, prescriptivists?

A tweet by Julia Ioffe from 10/4/2022 (image below because twitter embedding seems to be broken…):

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Reading the comments on Sunday's post about verb agreement with data ("Scientist spotting",5/22/2022), I was reminded of a long-ago tussle about a different aspect of Latin morphology in English borrowings. What's the plural of spectrum? Is is "spectra" or "spectrums"?

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I feel like "I feel like"

[This is a guest post by Pamela Kyle Crossley]

Just read the blog post on this. I feel like "I feel like" is one of those passive-aggressive tics that came in in the 1980/1990s, related to that thing where people turned statements into questions by raising their pitch at the end of a sentence (which I think was originally a California-ism). That fake question stuff was passive-aggressive, and students used it addictively, particularly in discussion. "I'm asking, right? Not stating? So nobody can criticize me, right? I'm just asking a question? If I'm wrong, don't be harsh on me, right? I'm just asking?"  Very destructive. Students need to be able to make statements.

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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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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 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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