Know your linguistic philosophies

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Today's SMBC:

Click on the image (or go to the SMBC site) to see the Descriptivist and the Pragmatist…


  1. richardelguru said,

    June 9, 2015 @ 5:45 am

    So what do you think of the 'popup'? :-D

    [(myl) You mean the "after-comic"? Depends on who "you" is. And whether we're talking about language or gymnastics..]

  2. Jacob said,

    June 9, 2015 @ 7:58 am

    Cf. SCTV's "realism/idealism" sketch (1:40-2:25 here:

  3. GH said,

    June 9, 2015 @ 8:03 am

    Sorry for going off-topic, but have you recently instituted pre-moderation of posts or something like that? For a lot of posts, fewer comments are visible than indicated on the main page, and a comment I submitted on another post a little while ago hasn't appeared.

    [(myl) Nothing has changed. Or least we haven't changed anything…]

  4. GH said,

    June 9, 2015 @ 8:03 am

    (In the comment above, the first "posts" should read "comments".)

  5. Theophylact said,

    June 9, 2015 @ 8:31 am

    But who is this "descrpriptivist"? Someone for whom spelling is a free-for-all?

  6. Theophylact said,

    June 9, 2015 @ 8:32 am

    (Oops. Muphry's Law strikes again… .)

  7. bks said,

    June 9, 2015 @ 9:01 am

    DESCPRIPTIVIST? (second panel header) –bks

  8. Eric P Smith said,

    June 9, 2015 @ 2:53 pm

    Language is like gymnastics. It's an art form, and those who aim to use it well should pay attention to the best practitioners.

  9. David Morris said,

    June 9, 2015 @ 5:45 pm

    Omit needless twirls.

  10. William Berry said,

    June 9, 2015 @ 5:55 pm

    Somewhat off-topic comment, perhaps tangentially related to the prescriptivist/ descriptivist issue:

    I just spotted an egg-corn I hadn't seen before in a "Dear Prudie" column on Slate: "inner office memorandum".

    Is that a classic (I confess, I don't keep up), or a new one?

  11. cameron said,

    June 9, 2015 @ 6:32 pm

    I've noticed the discrepancy between the number of comments indicated on the main page and the actual list of comments when you drill down. There must be a server over there that's chaching web pages.

  12. Alan Palmer said,

    June 10, 2015 @ 4:50 am

    I've recently noticed similar problems. Yesterday, for instance, I read this post and although it said there was one comment, nothing was visible, even though I refreshed the page a couple of times. Now it's showing 11 comments, which appears to be right.

    Maybe it's related to the fact that my name and email address are no longer pre-filled on returning to the site, which has already been mentioned as an issue in comments on other posts.

  13. Neil Dolinger said,

    June 10, 2015 @ 6:10 pm

    Another comparison between language and gymnastics (and ice skating for that matter). Prestige is gained as much through past successes (if not more) as it is from current success.

  14. a George said,

    June 10, 2015 @ 6:25 pm

    @Alan Palmer: you are dead right, and I comment so rarely that I have difficulties remembering my avatar name. But I suppose it really means that this website is cookie-free. Hooray!

  15. Marek said,

    June 12, 2015 @ 12:30 pm

    @Eric P Smith:

    But if one thing can be established from past Language Log breakfast experiments, it's that 'best practitioners' are usually completely oblivious as to what makes their own writing good.

    See e.g. Orwell advising writers to avoid passive voice despite using passive voice more often than an average person, or Strunk & White advising people to avoid adverbs and adjectives in paragraphs loaded with sentences containing adverbs and adjectives.

  16. Nydia Serrano said,

    June 14, 2015 @ 3:43 pm

    I totally agree. A language (whatever) should be respected in all its structure. The Spanish language is one of the most "violated" in its rules, but also is flexible in some cases.

  17. Eric P Smith said,

    June 14, 2015 @ 4:33 pm

    @Marek: I agree. I meant they should pay attention to what the best practitioners do, not what the best practitioners say.

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