Juvenile Peevery

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…has been featured in the last three Big Nate strips, starting with this one:


And today:

This may go on all week.

Some past LL commentary on the specific issues involved:

"Dictionary Daftness, Dan Brown Style", 8/10/2010 (Comment on irregardless)
"X-ward(s)",  2/21/2011
"Lie or Lay: Some Disasterously Unhelpful Guidance", 4/10/2004
"Caring less with stress", 7/8/2004
"Negation by association", 7/13/2004
"The care less train has left the station", 6/20/2005
"Half a century of (not) caring less", 11/1/2010
"Be appalled; Be very appalled",  8/8/2011 (More on lie/lay)
"How to defend yourself from bad advice about writing", 11/1/2006 (A discussion of anti-prescriptivist violence)

But when it comes to anticlimatic, I'm afraid we've got nothing but a bad pun, whose link I'll spare you.

Update — Thursday's strip indeed continues the thread:

(For the origin and progress of literally, see "They almost non-metaphorically never complain about this!", 3/6/2011.)

And then May 3, with a treatment of peever porn:

And May 4:

[Tip of the hat to E. Gilman]


  1. Philip Lawton said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 10:55 am

    No need to spare anyone. In 1989, Dilbert certainly didn't: http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/1989-11-03/

  2. Lazar said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 10:59 am

    The peeve seems a bit misguided in the second strip – "towards" is the standard British form, and I've never heard anyone claim that it's disallowed over here.

    [(myl) Indeed — see "X-ward(s)" for some details. But the reaction to "towards" in that strip is instructive, since it illustrates the common tendency for peevers (even professional language-maven peevers) to transform their own random preferences into Foundations of Civilization. See "At Risk" for one example (of many that we've discussed over the years).]

  3. Faldone said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 11:40 am

    Gabe Doyle has some interesting things to say about towards in his Motivated Grammar blog. As for irregardless, I have taken to arguing that the ir- prefix is not the negating in- prefix but rather the intensive in- prefix. It's no more incorrect than inflammable, which doesn't mean 'not flammable'. Alternatively, it could just be a portmanteau word formed from regardless and irrespective, and who doesn't love a portmanteau word? The latter argument should be used only if your peever drags out the old "It's 'regardless' or 'irrespective'" argument.

  4. Robert Coren said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 12:02 pm

    While it probably will go on all week, the comics biz being what it is, I think Nate has pretty well settled the matter with today's response.

  5. Ben Zimmer said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 12:10 pm

    Check out Jonathon Owen's recent column for the Visual Thesaurus, "Towards a Fuller Understanding of Usage." He makes a compelling case that the American antipathy toward towards is in large part due to continued intervention by copy editors.

  6. Rubrick said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 12:58 pm

    The third comic has the distinction of actually being pretty funny.

  7. Rube said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 1:04 pm

    And thanks to Language Log, I know that Big Nate has a comic strip. My kid is a huge fan of the books, but I don't think he know's there's a strip on the Web.

  8. Boris said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 1:20 pm

    Is there really such a thing as intensive in-? I always thought inflammable derives from inflame (which itself is not used literally very often these days, but whatever). At any rate, it does not any more intense than flammable which is commonly described as a synonym.

    [(myl) The OED has in- prefix2

    repr. Latin in- adv. and prep., used in combination with verbs or their derivatives, less commonly with other parts of speech, with the senses ‘into, in, within; on, upon; towards, against’, sometimes expressing onward motion or continuance, sometimes intensive, sometimes transitive, and in other cases with little appreciable force.

    So, sort of.]

    Irregardless has been a peeve of mine that I just can't force myself to live with. Not so much the other stuff in the comic.

  9. Faldone said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 1:43 pm

    Well, if you don't like intensive in- I'm OK with "little appreciable force,"

  10. Boris said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 2:03 pm

    But the ir- form only exists for the negating in-

  11. Faldone said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 2:22 pm

    The ir- form is due to assimilation with the re in the root (itself a prefix) and is there irregardless of its intrinsic meaning.

  12. Sili said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 2:35 pm

    My peeve is the misspelling. It's supposed to be "irregar'less".

  13. Nic Subtirelu said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 2:43 pm

    Thanks for compiling these. I'm actually kind of fascinated by what message the cartoonist is trying to portray here. Are we being invited to side with the kid with glasses? I mean after all he IS wearing glasses, so he must be smart. On the other hand, he could also be a satirical portrayal of intellectuals. I find that the first two comics seem to end with the continued display of "incompetence" of the kid with no glasses, suggesting we should think that he's the character that we should address our scorn toward. In the third though I think we're invited to think that the kid with glasses deserves the book to the head he receives.

  14. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 3:10 pm

    If the kid with glasses is to be seen as wrong throughout, that would imply that 'anticlimatic' is a peeve, which seems implausible to me. I think he gets the book to the head, not because the content of his criticisms is wrong (the other boy does say 'Yeah, I get it'), but because of his annoying way of making his point.

  15. Nic Subtirelu said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 3:17 pm

    I've been trying to figure out what's going on with 'anticlimatic' [sp] also. I mean it seems that the rising intensity of the "No's" in kid-with-glasses' speech bubble could be seen as an iconic pun on climax here… but that seems really obtuse. I was assuming it was a peeve that I just wasn't familiar with.

    Your explanation of the distinction between the kid-with-glasses' correctness vs. his annoying mannerisms seems plausible.

  16. Rube said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 3:23 pm

    I think the kid with glasses gets hit because it's middle-school, and what else do you do with somebody like that?

  17. un malpaso said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 4:13 pm

    Lately, I have taken to saying "equaldistant" just to see if anyone complains (and because I like to play with the language and I like the sound of it, even if it does make me sound like a Texan president) but, sadly, nobody I know has cared or known enough to protest.

    I wonder how much obstinate playfulness is still in use out there in the defense against peevishness. It may have a bigger impact than we realize.

  18. Eric P Smith said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 4:30 pm

    @Nic Subtirelu

    Are we being invited to side with the kid with glasses?

    It's curious. I might reasonably be described as a peever (though I try not to be one); and yet I side with the guy with the black hair.

  19. Robert Coren said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 4:36 pm

    The character committing the "errors" is Big Nate himself, so at some level we're supposed to identify with him; on the other hand, he is generally portrayed as both hapless and none too bright. I think the basic message here is that the kid with glasses is "right" but that he's being damn annoying about it.

  20. Chris C. said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 4:59 pm

    Lately, I have taken to saying "equaldistant" just to see if anyone complains (and because I like to play with the language and I like the sound of it, even if it does make me sound like a Texan president) but, sadly, nobody I know has cared or known enough to protest.

    Or maybe they're just too polite to say anything. Correcting the speech of others is a big no-no.

  21. Steve said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 4:59 pm

    I have to admit that I missed the fact that "anti-clima[c]tic" was misspelled, and spent a fair amount of time trying to guess what was imagined to be wrong with the usage. My best guess (and, admittedly, it was a rather silly one) was that the idea was that one cannot properly describe something as anti-climactic unless a contrast, as between expectations and reality, or beginnings and endings, or the like, is at play. So, the ending of a movie can be anti-climactic (as compared to its beginning and middle) or the experience of watching it can be anti-climactic (as opposed to your expectations of what it would be), but the movie itself cannot be said to be anti-climactic, or, at least, it cannot be said to be so unless a comparison or contrast is supplied.

  22. Jimbino said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 6:05 pm

    Descriptivists have ruined lots of good words, like 'decimate', 'peruse', and 'nonplussed', to the extent that we prescriptivists have to warn our students to avoid all those words unless they are trying to communicate with confused descriptivists.

  23. Alex Blaze said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 6:30 pm

    "I'm gonna head towards home"? Who says that? Like, does he think he probably won't make it home, but he'll go in that direction anyway?

  24. Andy Averill said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 6:38 pm

    Agatha Christie's Towards Zero was published simultaneously in the US and UK in 1944, with the same title.

  25. Andy Averill said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 6:42 pm

    @Jimbino, blaming descriptivists for changes in the meaning of words is like blaming Matthew Brady for the Civil War.

  26. Chris C. said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 7:17 pm

    On "anticlimatic": This is a common mispronunciation, which one may ascribe to a frequently-encountered confusion between the adjectives "climatic", pertaining to climate, and "climactic", pertaining to the climax of a drama.

  27. Theophylact said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 7:23 pm

    Cf. "Artic Circle".

  28. Theophylact said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 7:32 pm

    I think people have problems with arcticulation…

  29. Theophylact said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 7:34 pm

    But why is "hectic" not problematical?

  30. David Morris said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 8:22 pm

    Maybe ESL teachers have to be more didactic and end up being grumpier than professional linguists or university professors. I'm teaching at pre-int and intermediate level and (ir)regardless never comes up, but if it did, I would say something like –
    'Regardless' is shorter, better formed (it has one negative morpheme) and perfectly clear, and no-one will sneer at you for using it.
    'Irregardless' is longer, less well formed (it has two negative morphemes) and open to misunderstanding, and some people will sneer at you for using it.
    Use 'regardless'. Every time.

    Re 'towards home'. I've got no problem with toward(s) in general (but 'shorter and simpler' would prefer 'toward'), but in this context, why not say 'I'm heading home' or 'I'm heading for home'?

  31. Chris C. said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 8:35 pm

    Re 'towards home'. I've got no problem with toward(s) in general (but 'shorter and simpler' would prefer 'toward'), but in this context, why not say 'I'm heading home' or 'I'm heading for home'?

    Because then the cartoonist wouldn't have had an excuse for Francis to freak out over "towards".

  32. Lazar said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 8:36 pm

    @Theophylact: Well, "(anti-)climactic" has the close phonetic analogy of "climatic", and "arctic" has the fact that /rkt/ is a pretty rare sequence; "hectic" has neither of those things, so it doesn't experience any change.

  33. qwerty said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 9:31 pm

    As a non-native English speaker/learner, what really bothers me is a negation where the adjacent word is emphasized (and the negation itself is not): "there IS no such word". Well, I guess it matches the speech pattern that's actually used, but it's still confusing and illogical to me.

  34. Ellen K. said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 11:25 pm

    Regarding anti-climactic, there's also the fact that climax -> climactic is not an obvious transformation. It's not really any more sensible (at least for those of us who don't know Latin) than climax -> climatic.

  35. Ellen K. said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 11:29 pm

    An added thought (came to mind just after posting that). There's also the length of anti-clima(c)tic, along with it being more common than without the anti. That made lead to (or contribute to) simplifying the pronunciation.

  36. chh said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 11:56 pm

    I'm not sure what the reasoning is behind saying [in-] #2 doesn't have the [ir-] allomorph. There's 'irradiate', 'irrigate', and probably some others. I don't think there are any cases where you get forms like 'inradiate' instead. As far as I understand, both [in-]s participate in the exact same set of alternations.

    I'm not sure I like the implied bracketing [[ir+regard]+less] in the apparent absence of 'irregard', but that doesn't rule it out.

  37. pjharvey said,

    May 2, 2013 @ 2:05 am

    Oh man, 'anticlimatic'. Working as an environmental engineer, with climatic chambers, and writing a blog that has nothing to do with environmental engineering or climatic chambers, has me stumbling over and having to correct 'anticlimatic' in my writing a little too often, particularly as 'anticlimactic' perhaps isn't that common anyway.

    In my case, the 'error' is probably just muscle-memory typing 'climatic'. But it still takes effort to separate the two words and realise which one I want to use whenever it crops up.

    I like to think I manage to catch the occasional error. And I think I do, despite a quick search to verify my claim showing quite a few 'anticlimatic's, as those results are all older posts from at least a couple of years back. I'll correct them later, when I am able.

    [(myl) If you search LL for "anticlimatic", you'll find a couple of cases where literate commentators use it to mean anticlimactic. The "muscle memory" explanation probably applies here.]

  38. Faldone said,

    May 2, 2013 @ 6:24 am

    I don't normally explain myself this way so pay attention and take notes*. My defenses of various words or phrases that many consider solecisms have varying degrees of seriousness behind them. My defense of irregardless is almost entirely facetious; my defense of supposably is almost entirely serious. My defense of the common use of lay where some would demand lie is based on a fairly large sample.

    *I am, after all, a free-lance fool.

  39. richardelguru said,

    May 2, 2013 @ 6:26 am

    @Philip Lawton
    The top comment for the Dilbert anti-climatic joke was:
    "Fun fact – it's anti-climactic, not anti-climatic. But who really cares right?"
    Tell you something (though I know not what) about peevers.

  40. Barbara Partee said,

    May 2, 2013 @ 6:54 am

    @Qwerty, re your comment about "negation where the adjacent word is emphasized (and the negation itself is not): "there IS no such word".
    I remember discussions of similar cases when I was a grad student in the 60's; we were learning about the interesting rules concerning English auxiliaries, Subject-Aux inversion, the placement of the sentential negative 'not', and related issues.
    I think your example involves the intersection of two or three interesting details. (1) The copula "is" behaves just like auxiliary "is", so the question formed from "He is here" is "Is he here?", not "Does he be here" (cf what happens with "He lives here.") (2) When we want to give contrastive emphasis to the "polarity" of a sentence as positive or negative, things get interesting: the 'monotony' arguments of little kids that may go something like "He hit me!" "I did NOT hit you!" "You did TOO hit me" "Did NOT" "Did TOO" …. . The affirmative rebuttal can also be "You DID hit me", where no visible morpheme provokes the "do-support", but we might posit a phonologically empty "AFFirmative" morpheme to carry the contrastive stress; it could trigger DO-support and then the DO itself gets the stress – at least that's the way I remember us thinking about it in the 60s. And in sentences with "is" as copula or auxiliary we can see "He WASn't going! "He WAS going", with that stressed WAS showing the emphatic affirmative. (3) And with sentential negation we often have free alternation between "isn't any" and "is no": the NEG morpheme can stay with the Aux or copula, or can combine with 'any' to produce 'no'. So free variation between "There's no such word" and "There isn't any such word."
    And although I don't pretend to understand the details (have to figure out the rules and the rule ordering, and I'm not a morphologist and haven't worked on this myself — probably somebody knows), when you have all those factors together, including emphasis on affirmative vs negative, I think the choices are only:
    (a) There ISN'T any such word! and
    (b) There IS no such word!
    If there were a full lexical verb, there would be different choices, it seems:
    (c) I DIDn't tell anyone! [as a denial of accusation 'you told someone']
    (d) I did NOT tell anyone!
    (e) *I DID tell noone!

    I suspect that for Qwerty, the good (b) sounds just like the bad (e), so I empathize. Qwery's negative reaction to (b) might also be influenced by another use of stressed auxiliaries whose motivation I myself don't understand, and which I have a negative reaction to: the ones that sometimes show up in flight attendants' announcements, in sentences like "We WILL be landing soon, so we ask you to …." — it's as if someone had suggested that we wouldn't be landing soon, though I know that for them it's some other stylistic thing.

    So in short, that stress pattern in "There IS no such word", when used argumentatively, is fully normal via interaction of several different principles which I haven't tried to sort out in full detail, but I can fully understand that being non-obvious to a non-native English speaker. (I experienced similar puzzlement in why stress falls on the copula is some short Dutch sentences which I've now forgotten. Something like a contrast between "We're THERE!" and "Er ZIJN we!" (said when you've finally arrived at your destination) – that's probably wrong, someone can help. But it Dutch it was easier to understand because the "there" word was unstressable, I think.)

  41. Robert said,

    May 2, 2013 @ 7:00 am


  42. Theophylact said,

    May 2, 2013 @ 9:09 am

    Yeah, but the examples are probably simple typos.

    More to the point raised by Ellen K. is the almost universal preference for "dyslexic" and "anorexic" over the "-ectic" forms.

  43. Dan Lufkin said,

    May 2, 2013 @ 9:37 am

    Is it alright to say, "Senator Inhofe is anticlimatic"?

  44. Michael Watts said,

    May 2, 2013 @ 10:45 am

    What I find fascinating about the peever / antipeever phenomenon is that the Peever Nightmare Scenario — bizarre new forms take over the language entirely, forming a near-insurmountable barrier to communication between the Old and the New — has not only happened many times in the past, but we are certain, on both sides, that it will continue to happen. In some sense, the descriptivist argument to the prescriptivists amounts to "Everything you fear is real. It will all happen exactly the way you think. Stop shouting."

  45. marie-lucie said,

    May 2, 2013 @ 11:30 am

    Barbara P: flight attendants' announcements, in sentences like "We WILL be landing soon, so we ask you to …." — it's as if someone had suggested that we wouldn't be landing soon

    In normal speech, one would say or hear "We'll be landing soon", but such announcements are a form of public speaking, which is usually somewhat artificial and tends to be closer to the written medium. Flight attendants, like radio announcers, are often reading from written forms (or their memory of such forms) where only the relevant words change from one instance to the next, so they do not "translate" the sequence "We will" into the usual spoken "We'll" but pronounce each word separately, which causes them to stress "will" (or even if they don't particularly stress the word, the passengers may still perceive it as stressed, since they are not used to hearing the full form spoken).

  46. Nic Subtirelu said,

    May 2, 2013 @ 3:02 pm

    @Michael Watts: I'm not really sure what you're talking about when you refer to occurrences of how "bizarre new forms take over the language entirely, forming a near-insurmountable barrier to communication between the Old and the New". Perhaps you're referring to the type of language change that is observable over centuries and millennia. However, that's hardly a reason for concern given that it doesn't really cause miscommunication between contemporaries (you might find reading old documents difficult I suppose). In fact, the things that prescriptivists get up in arms about have nothing to do with miscommunication. They understand what the person is saying perfectly well. For example, "irregardless" and "towards" do not cause miscommunication. Prescriptivists are simply looking for cultural capital. If prescriptivists were truly concerned about the way language was changing and how this might affect communication, they'd put the bulk of their effort into railing about on-going vowel shifts. Of course, by the time anyone notices language change in progress, it's probably too late to stop it even if we wanted to.

  47. dainichi said,

    May 3, 2013 @ 12:34 am


    I don't know about Dutch, but in Danish, the stress would also fall as "Vi ER der" (lit. we ARE there), since "der" is unstressed in the more or less fixed expression "være der", (be there, e.g. have arrived). "Vi er DER" would mean "THAT'S where we are" but would often be rephrased as "Det er DER vi er" (lit. it is THERE we are).

  48. the other Mark P said,

    May 3, 2013 @ 1:15 am

    However, that's hardly a reason for concern given that it doesn't really cause miscommunication between contemporaries

    Oh yeah? I presume that you've not listened to many teenagers talking among themselves recently then. And that's supposedly in your native dialect.

    Even in modern English the barriers to communication are huge. I'm a Kiwi and I can assure you that when I speak at my usual pace to a fellow Kiwi that many native English speakers cannot follow me.

    They can more or less follow me when I (1) slow down, (2) try to reduce my accent a bit, and (3) deliberately use words that they understand (e.g. lift in Britain, but elevator in the US). Even then I cannot say some words sufficiently correctly (e.g. I tend to put a diphthong in words like "lake").

    Meanwhile I really struggle to follow many Liverpudlians or Glaswegians speaking English.

    The peevers don't seem to realise that language is always like that. That people can code switch to the official form in an instant. They seem to think that any deviation from officially sanctioned form will be lasting, even as they speak local variants themselves in less guarded moments (or, if they speak "official" all the time, they sound like the prigs they are).

  49. Nic Subtirelu said,

    May 3, 2013 @ 2:48 pm

    Perhaps I should have been more clear. Language change doesn't cause communication difficulties among contemporaries from the same speech community. Hence, the difficulties you out point to, those experienced by a NZ English speaker with speakers of other Englishes, are entirely possible, likely in fact (a large part of this problem can be attributed to the vowel shifts I mentioned).

    However, I'm not sure what you're talking about with teenagers. If the teenagers are talking to each other and specifically not talking to me, then any understanding or lack of understanding I might have of their speech is rather irrelevant to a question of communication difficulties since they don't intend to communicate with me. Nonetheless, I do not experience difficulties understanding teenagers interacting with each other in my native region other than when I don't recognize an isolated slang term or when I don't really have the necessary background knowledge (but I experience the same issue listening to computer scientists talk to each other). However, neither of these things are "insurmountable barriers to communication" (as the original poster put it), since if I'm being a cooperative participant I can simply ask the speaker what s/he means by slang term x or ask to be informed about topic y.

    I do agree though that people are often quite a bit more capable of switching between registers than peevers give them credit for. This is particularly evident when they attribute "the decline in writing abilities" to things like texting.

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