Archive for October, 2008

Sarah Palin's Favorite Meal

John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate has not been without controversy, but I think that we can all agree that one way in which it has been a good thing is that it has increased the visibility of the important topic of moose, which in burger form is reportedly her favorite meal. For those of you who are alcestically challenged, this is a bull moose:

A bull moose

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More dudism

Another cartoon (Zits) on conveying various things via dude (this time in combination with facial expressions). We posted quite a bit on the topic a while back; see discussion of an older Zits cartoon here and of another all-dude conversation here.

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Going and heading

In a recent comment, Amy asked:

If […] "go mad" is a modern formation that is perfectly grammatical, why would Mr Pullum label "head dagenham" as "…a little beyond the syntactic fringe"? What's the difference?

The Dagenham business is in Geoff Pullum's post "Beyond Barking", 6/24/2008; and the assertion about "go mad" is here. And I'm afraid that Amy's question doesn't have a very impressive answer, because this isn't, as far as I can tell, something that can (or should) be deduced from the fundamental axioms of grammar and logic. Essentially, it's just a fact about the verbs go and head.

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Going rogue

According to Ben Smith ("Palin allies report rising campaign tension", Politico, 10/25/2008):

Four Republicans close to Palin said she has decided increasingly to disregard the advice of the former Bush aides tasked to handle her, creating occasionally tense situations as she travels the country with them. Those Palin supporters, inside the campaign and out, said Palin blames her handlers for a botched rollout and a tarnished public image — even as others in McCain's camp blame the pick of the relatively inexperienced Alaska governor, and her public performance, for McCain's decline.

"She's lost confidence in most of the people on the plane," said a senior Republican who speaks to Palin, referring to her campaign jet. He said Palin had begun to "go rogue" in some of her public pronouncements and decisions.

"I think she'd like to go more rogue," he said.

I haven't had the time or motivation to read all 637 comments on Smith's post, but a quick scan suggests that no one has yet complained that "go rogue" and "go more rogue" are ungrammatical. I doubt that this is because prescriptivists don't read Politico — perhaps they're temporarily distracted by partisan enthusiasm. It's certainly not likely that the would-be defenders of our linguistic civilization have accepted this construction, despite its use over the years by English writers and speakers of all kinds.

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A brief history of hubristic drape-measuring

In Thursday's Washington Post, Richard Leiby digs into the background of a political cliche: "measuring (for) drapes." In his stump speech, John McCain says that "Senator Obama is measuring the drapes," meaning that he is already presumptuously planning how to decorate the White House. President Bush used the line about Congressional Democrats before the 2006 midterm elections, and Bush the elder applied it to Bill Clinton in the 1992 campaign. Leiby took the drape expression back to a 1980 reference in the New York Times on John Anderson ("Obviously, it's much too soon for Mr. Anderson to start measuring for drapes at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue"), but its roots actually go back for several decades before that, as befits such a sturdy cliche.

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The development of language

… with profanity as its pinnacle:

Well, maybe we could treat profanity as a sub-area of pragmatics.

(Hat tip to Christine Wilcox.)

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Archaic English verb endings and the Book of Mormon

Arnold's discussion of the use and misuse of the archaic English verbal endings -est and -eth calls to mind an earlier and perhaps more significant case, namely the misuse of these endings in the original text of the Book of Mormon, the fundamental sacred text of the Church of Latter Day Saints.

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A not so ambiguous sign

James Fallows has posted this subway ad, at the Dongsishitiao station of Beijing's Line 2, on the Atlantic website and raises a lot of interesting questions about it:

An advertisement at the Dongsishitiao subway station

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Bad language

I recently objected to Louis Menand's assertion that "[P]rofessional linguists almost universally, do not believe that any naturally occurring changes in the language can be bad" ("Menand on linguistic morality", 10/22/2008).  And I was quickly taken to task in the comments by Steve Dodson, who is the erudite and broad-minded author of the Language Hat blog. Hat (as he's called in the blogosphere) asserted that

I personally am happy to sign on to the Descriptivist position as "caricatured" and state that there is no such thing as bad language change. […] To say any form of language change is "bad" is to be ipso facto unscientific.

He also suggested that my acquaintances and I belong to "a small sample of linguists who have … weirdly quasi-prescriptivist views about language".

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Mixed cardboard only: a subtle case of nerdview

On a recycling dumpster outside an office building in Edinburgh: MIXED CARDBOARD ONLY. That, although it's subtle, is a case of the phenomenon for which I have been using the (not exactly ideal) term nerdview. It is an example of a linguistically misleading communication in which the failure is not of grammar or meaning but of failing to keep in mind the viewpoint of the reader rather than the specialist (possibly nerdy) view of the writer. Do you see why?

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Boy, was I wrong

No, not about whether "professional linguists, almost universally, do not believe that any naturally occurring changes in the language can be bad". More on that later. Nor was I wrong about James Wood's sneer at Sarah Palin's "verbage". No more on that is needed.

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Congress plans bailout for grammar epidemic

It is only natural that just months before the current administration packs up to leave the White House, various branches of government would be scurrying to set their favorite programs in concrete for the incoming president and his staff to have to address as best they can. The Department of Education is no different from the others. Since numerous self-inflicted setbacks have left the No Child Left Behind effort with a less than positive heritage, today the Secretary released a report that includes dire warnings of impending doom.

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That ol' de-/pre- thing

In response to this morning's discussion of 'scriptivism, John Lawler wrote to remind me of a 2001 sci.lang posting by Arnold Zwicky, which John describes as "the best and most judiciously parsed short statement of the problem that I know of".

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