Archive for Peeving

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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Il congiuntivo: Peeving and breeding, Italian style

As a counterpoint to "Peeving and breeding", 3/4/2018, here's Lorenzo Baglioni's "Il Congiuntivo":

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Don't skunk me, bro!

At Arrant Pedantry, Jonathon Owen continues the conversation about begs the question (Skunked Terms and Scorched Earth). Citing my previous post Begging the question of whether to use "begging the question", Jonathon describes me as writing that "the term should be avoided, either because it's likely to be misunderstood or because it will incur the wrath of sticklers." I wouldn't put it that way; I did quote Mark Liberman's statement to that effect, and I did note that I had, in an instance I was discussing, decided to follow that advice, but I don't think I went so far as to offer advice to others.

As it happens, I'm meeting Jonathon for lunch (and for the first time) later today. I'm in Utah, where the law-and-corpus-linguistics conference put on by the Brigham Young law school was held yesterday, near where Jonathon lives. So I will have it out with him over the aspersion he has cast on my descriptivist honor.

Despite my peeve about Jonathon's post, it's worth reading. He discusses the practice of declaring a word or phrase "skunked".  As far as I know, that is a practice engaged in mainly by Bryan Garner, who offers this description of the phenomenon of skunking: "When a word undergoes a marked change from one use to another . . . it's likely to be the subject of dispute. . . . A word is most hotly disputed in the middle part of this process: any use of it is likely to distract some readers. . . . The word has become 'skunked.'"

Jonathan writes, "Many people find this a useful idea, but it has always rubbed me the wrong way." He explains:

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[. ] or [. ]?

You may have thought that idea of rhinoceroses peeving about semicolons (when they're not snorting and snuffing) was silly. But the comments on Mark's post Peeving and breeding have devolved to a level of even greater silliness: the pressing question of whether to type one space after a period or two.

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Begging the question of whether to use "begging the question"

The tweets above have extra salience for me, because I used begs the question in the traditional way ('assumes the answer to the question in dispute') in my most recent post on LAWnLinguistics. I did so with some trepidation—not because I was worried that someone would think I was using the phrase wrong, but because I was worried that someone would think I was using it in the 'raise the question' sense and wonder what the question was that I thought was being begged.

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