Archive for Peeving

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?

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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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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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