More evidence that peeving is popular

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There's a weblog associated with Jerry Coyne's book Why Evolution is True. A couple of days ago, Jerry (or whoever writes on the blog under the name "whyevolutionistrue") posted a couple of familiar eggcorns, described as "two solecisms [that] have recently appeared on this site", and invited readers to "Feel free to contribute those mistakes that most irk you, making sure that—for our mutual edification—you give the correct usage as well."

The result, so far, is an outpouring of 251 comments. This is towards the upper end of the distribution for that weblog — the previous half-dozen posts posts are "Gnu atheism" (31 comments), "New York Times to readers: of course you have free will" (174 comments), "Frogmouths!" (14 comments), 'The free will experiment" (94 comments), "Vacation reading from Nature" (31 comments), "Interview with Hitchens" (12 comments), "Space pix" (13 comments) — confirming again that people love to share and discuss their linguistic crotchets and irks.


  1. John Cowan said,

    July 30, 2010 @ 10:01 am

    It irks me when you write crochet for crotchet.

    [(myl) For proofreading, I depend on the kindness of commenters.]

  2. jason said,

    July 30, 2010 @ 11:33 am

    I've really been enjoying your recent blogging on eggcorns. I really enjoy it. Today I just realized that the eggcorn phenomena is remarkably similar in many ways to cockney slang and, indirectly, australian slang. I would love to see a blog post from you guys discussing the differences/ similarities. I can only speculate, but you guys are the experts. (by the way, this is pretty interesting. )

  3. Bill said,

    July 30, 2010 @ 12:21 pm

    Here's a fascinating peeve that popped up in Reason magazine's Hit&Run blog. Language Log even gets name-checked. Start here, with one commenter complaining:

    Cavanaugh, FYI: the name+' form of the possessive is reserved for important historical figures (e.g., Moses' commandments; Jesus' words; Cassius' betrayal of Brutus; etc.).

    I'm pretty sure that Thomas' (sic.) life and achievements (read: lack thereof) don't warrant such treatment.

  4. Kylopod said,

    July 30, 2010 @ 2:43 pm

    I have essentially one pet peeve when it comes to language. It is the practice of ending sentences in a period when there should be a question mark. Why do people do that. I can't tell you how much this practice greats on me, its' like nails on a chockboard.

    Part of the reason is that I hear sentences as I'm reading them, and a question mark makes me hear a rising tone, whereas a period makes me hear a falling tone. The effect of these question-periods is that the writer sounds indifferent to me, as if shrugging his or her shoulders.

    Nothing else in grammar or spelling or punctuation bothers me like this. Mixing up "your" and "you're"? Bah. Failing to distinguish "less" and "fewer"? Puh-leeze. I'm not really a grammar cop, but the weird thing is, I could be if I wanted to. I have the instincts. I have a very sharp eye for any deviations from the schoolroom view of "proper" English, to the extent that I routinely spot them in my own writing even as I'm writing. But I also have a sense of when to ignore those instincts, which is a lot of the time. You could say I have a descriptivist mind with a prescriptivist heart.

  5. fs said,

    July 30, 2010 @ 2:47 pm

    Bill: Yeah, that's actually in ye olde Elements of Style, abominably enough. I think they wanted to say something sensible (only replace 's with ' when the terminal s is a plural s) but dared not oppose the English of the KJV.

    For interest's sake (I hope), a list of occurrences of persons' names ending with s being given the unwritten 's treatment:Moses' (multiple occurrences)Phinehas' (1 Samuel 4:19)Ahasuerus' (Esther 8:10)Herodias' (Matthew 14:3, Mark 6:17)Jesus' (multiple occurrences)Mars' (Acts 17:21)Felix' (Acts 24:27)Festus' (Acts 25:23)Augustus' (Acts 27:1)Aristobulus' (Romans 16:10)

    "Felix'" really weirds me out, but hey…

    This leads me to wonder – do people actually pronounce the possessive clitic after names ending with "s"? For example, I'd pronounce "Jesus's" or "Jesus'" as /ˈdʒiːzəsɨz/ or thereabouts.

  6. fs said,

    July 30, 2010 @ 2:49 pm

    WordPress being the heap of garbage that it is, what was supposed to be an orderly bulleted list got mashed together into an unreadable paragraph. My apologies.

  7. MJ said,

    July 30, 2010 @ 3:20 pm

    @fs and Bill — Per Chicago Manual of Style 15, 7.20, "The possessive is formed without an additional s for a name of two or more syllables that ends in an eez sound," e.g., "Euripides' tragedies," the reasoning here being that we don't pronounce the possessive s. Other exceptions to omitting the s are lited in 7.22: "For . . . sake expressions traditionally omit the s when the noun ends in an s or an s sound," e.g., "for Jesus' sake" but "Jesus's" otherwise, as in "Jesus's contempories."

    However, the 16th edition, just out, calls for Euripedes's, which has led to much gnashing of teeth among copy editors.

  8. George Amis said,

    July 30, 2010 @ 3:45 pm

    Kylopod– what's a "chockboard"? Or was that deliberate?

  9. Xmun said,

    July 30, 2010 @ 3:52 pm

    I much prefer no apostrophe at all, as in Dryden's translation of Homer:

    The Wrath of Peleus son, O Muse, resound;

  10. Sili said,

    July 30, 2010 @ 3:53 pm

    Not only does he peeve, he doesn't like his commenters to say nasty things to him, when he does so.

    I tried linking to your last post on eggcorns, but my choice of words were disagreeable. Then I tried more reasonably to point out that the examples given had nothing to do with grammar, and that he and (some of) his commenters were doing disservice to the real science of linguistics in much the same way as creationists do to biology. That was not popular either.

    At least Blake Stacey and David Marjanović are doing their best to inject some sense into the peevefest in a less disagreeable manner. (My apologies to any other sensible descriptivists whose contributions I've missed.)

    Thank you for calling out Coyne. DJ Grothe says that everyone's entitled to be nuts on one subject (though he has to say that since he's nuts on one subject), but I have yet to discover yours and Pullum's.

  11. Dan Scherlis said,

    July 30, 2010 @ 4:25 pm

    For anyone else intrigued by Mark's mention of Coyne's "Gnu atheism" post: you'll not find an open-source/anti-faith mashup there. This particular gnu is "free as in range".

    @George Amis: I think @Kylopod made grate sense.

    @myl, FYI: That post is now up to 335 comments, with several links to Language Log (which I guess is how you found it). Most of those links were posted by LL regular Tim Martin.

    @Sili: Are you sure your posts are "not popular", and that you're not experiencing moderator-lag?

  12. Sili said,

    July 30, 2010 @ 6:32 pm

    @Sili: Are you sure your posts are "not popular", and that you're not experiencing moderator-lag?

    I experienced moderator lag in that my rude comments were up before they were down.

    Oh, and the WEIT blog is most certainly maintained by prof Coyne (and it is a great blog otherwise) unless he has one of his guestposters holding the helm, but they're always clearly marked as such.

  13. Arturj J. said,

    July 30, 2010 @ 7:02 pm

    Posts posts?

  14. George Amis said,

    July 30, 2010 @ 9:20 pm

    It turns out that there really are chockboards, although they're more often called bunks or bunk boards. They're boards, sometimes carpet covered, attached to boat trailers to support the boat properly. They seem to be used in conjunction with chock brackets. Still, I think Kylopod, accidentally or deliberately, has made a fine eggcorn. (Other examples of chockboard for chalkboard can be found on google.)

  15. Adrian Bailey said,

    July 31, 2010 @ 1:21 am

    Skitt's Law in action:
    jason: the phenomena is
    Kylopod: its'
    Kylopod: chockboard
    Sili: my choice were

    As far as the possessive of sibilants is concerned, I have some sympathy with Xmun's apostropheless version, and no sympathy at all with the bare apostrophe when an s is pronounced: if you say Jesus's, write Jesus's.

  16. Faith said,

    July 31, 2010 @ 1:07 pm

    @Sili: Mark's nuts subject is thinking that Bush (W) speaks with a normal amount of disfluency, a position he stuck to through some mighty challenges. Pullum's is he goes off about political correctness-speak before checking whether the specific situation merits some political correctness. I forgive both of them these foibles.

  17. Sili said,

    July 31, 2010 @ 1:26 pm

    Thanks Adrian, I hadn't noticed I'd adopted … what's the word? … concord to the nearest. Awesome.

  18. dirk alan said,

    July 31, 2010 @ 9:33 pm

    when i come across words that arent spelled correctly i check to see if the error is caused by hitting adjacent keys at the same time.

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