Linguistic aversion therapy?

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Rick Rubenstein commented on yesterday's post ("What happened to all the, like, prescriptivists?"):

Are there any proven therapies available for folks like me who, despite seeing the light decades ago, can't keep from wincing at "violations" of prescriptivist rules ingrained (mostly self-ingrained) during childhood? I want to be totally unfazed by "The team with the bigger amount of people has an advantage," but man, it's hard. (Not actually serious, but it's certainly true. Unlearning is tough.)

The short answer is "I don't know". But see below for some obvious ideas, which amount to "analyze the situation" and "get used to it".

Reactions like Rick's are common. When I was six or so, one of my friends habitually used real as an adverbial intensifier, as in "a real big fish" or "real hot today". And "wincing" is a good description of how I reacted. I never said anything, because he was my friend, and eventually I got used to it, to the point of saying such things myself in casual conversation. (And I remember being puzzled that this usage bothered me so much, when I had no such reaction to the much more different speech patterns of one of our other friends, whose native language was Spanish.)

This seems somewhat similar to the situation of would-be EMTs and other medical personnel, who need to overcome their natural reactions to blood, vomit, etc., as discussed in this Q&A:

I had to smile as I read your post because it reminded me of my own entry into healthcare and that of my classmates. Every one of us had “a thing”. “A thing” is that something (or several somethings) that made us squeamish. Each one of us had one, or even two or three. And, each one of us made it through school and into our profession.

Don’t let this stop you from following your passion. We all have been there, and we all made it. You can too.

Here is something that helped me. I don't know if you will find it useful, but it might be worth a try:

When you see “that thing” that is hard for you to handle, try not to back off. Instead, lean in, look at it, analyze it, study it, objectify it. Let yourself feel whatever it is you feel, but intellectualize your experience. Think about what it is, what it means, what your instructors and senior partners teach you about it. Notice your breathing: adjust your breathing to be slow and deep. Inhale, pause. Exhale, pause, and so on. This is a kind of home-brewed aversion conditioning and, counterintuitive as it seems, the more you do it, the less emotional impact you will experience.

Of course there are differences — there's nothing intrinsically aversive about "wrong" usages or pronunciations, and sociolinguistic wincing is physiologically different from the reactions whose most extreme forms are fainting or vomiting.

I've been assigning a relevant exercise in ling001 for many years. Here's part of the description:

Write a short essay on some "rule of grammar" that you feel strongly about.You can choose a case where you've been taught that the way you naturally speak or write is wrong, but you don't believe there is a problem, or even find that the allegedly correct form is strange or artificial. For example, some people feel this way about saying "it is I" rather than "it's me"

If you prefer, you can take the prescriptive side: specify a grammatical principle that you (believe that) you follow in your own speech and writing, and whose violation sounds wrong to you in the speech or writing of others. Some people feel this way about the conflation of imply and infer, or the use of real as an adverb ("that's a real bad idea"). Some people even feel this way about the use of can in this and the previous paragraph, to indicate permission rather than ability.

Whichever side you take, try to be precise both about the linguistic structures involved, about the facts of the case (historical and current patterns of usage), and about your feelings. In other words, be sure that your essay answers these three questions:

1. What exactly is the linguistic principle at issue?

2. How have writers and speakers historically behaved with respect to this issue? How do they behave now? Don't just give your impressions — try to find out the facts.

3. If a usage annoys you — whether it is prescriptively correct or incorrect — is it genuinely mistaken, incoherent or degraded, or is it just different from what you expect, or perhaps associated with people that you don't like? On the other hand, if you prefer a usage that you have been told is wrong, do you feel guilty about it, like indulging in a bad habit? Or do you feel that you are justified in resisting an unreasonable rule?

Aspects of this situation are also similar to the issues identified and treated by implicit association tests and unconscious bias training, though again there are fundamental differences. And there are overlaps with OCD contamination fears.

Finally, it's worth noting that we have more-or-less aversive reactions to language that seems contextually inappropriate for many reasons. It might be a word that (we think) is misused or overused, a pronunciation or morphosyntactic form that (we think) is wrong, an accent that (we think) is associated with people we dislike, a stylistic choice that (we think) is inappropriate in the context, and so on.

These reactions are natural and unavoidable.  Over the decades, linguists have tried to convince people that such reactions are sometimes based on false ideas about actual patterns of usage, and are sometimes associated with class, ethnic, gender, or age prejudices — and therefore should always be  analyzed rather than indulged.

But as Rick noted, mere analytic understanding doesn't always cancel the wince. Are there effective anti-wince therapies? I don't think that linguists have added anything to what the psychologists have developed for dealing with reactions that are irrational, exaggerated, or otherwise problematic.



  1. Stan Carey said,

    October 7, 2022 @ 8:08 am

    One antidote I've found occasionally useful is to try out a disliked usage, sincerely and appropriately, and multiple times if possible. Best-case scenario is that you'll find it useful and adopt it; at the very least it may seem a bit less objectionable next time it's encountered. It obviously helps if you already recognise that your problem with it is irrational. It's less likely to work if the aversion is well-founded.

    For anyone with time available, I like the suggestion made by Grant Barrett in an opinion piece for the BBC in 2011. Referring to people who call his radio show "A Way with Words" to complain about language, he writes:

    They're afflicted, but there's a remedy – it uses gut feelings about language as a point of enquiry rather than as an end. "I hate this word" is not productive but "Why do I hate this word?" is extraordinarily so. Elite complainers should be asking "Why?" and then explaining what they discover.

    Why does it seem like someone's language is wrong? Why does the other person think it is right? Why does it seem it's being used more? What do the real linguists and lexicographers say about it? What do the aggregate data show?

    In other words, they should be explaining what is happening in language rather than complaining about it. On the radio show, we encourage this tactic in our listeners. Some now do what amounts to basic fieldwork when they are annoyed by language.

    They ask themselves, can I find more data about this? Are there patterns? Can I draw conclusions about the data and patterns? Some even keep a journal of their linguistic enquiries, much like one might keep a word list when reading.

    Instead of peeving about supposed incorrect usage, they find themselves using better dictionaries, consulting better usage guides, and looking at cost-free high-quality online materials – such as language corpora – to figure it out.

  2. Y said,

    October 7, 2022 @ 8:30 am

    It looks like this is muddling the distinction between peeving and stylistic choices. One is saying "'ain't' is not a word and must not be used", the other is "I don't like hearing 'ain't' and avoid using it myself." I think having individual tastes in language use shows attention to it and should be encouraged, unlike self-righteous grammar policing.

  3. Stephen Goranson said,

    October 7, 2022 @ 9:08 am

    Me, live and let live in conversation. Mostly. But in a recent job interview with a group audience on zoom, a qualified candidate used "you know" so often that I didn't wish to hear more.
    When I read someone writing "your" in place of "you're," I regard such poorly.

    [(myl) Indeed. See "Prescriptivist Science", "A test kitchen for stylistic recipes", "Scientific prescriptivism: Garner Pullumizes?", etc. ]

  4. JJM said,

    October 7, 2022 @ 9:51 am

    "Are there effective anti-wince therapies?"

    Probably not.

  5. Bloix said,

    October 7, 2022 @ 11:28 am

    Stephen Goranson – To paraphrase Marianne Moore, I too, dislike "you know." After four or five you knows, I have to bite my tongue in order not to say, if I knew, why would you be telling me? IMHO, anyone who needs to communicate to an impatient and potentially hostile listener – a client, a judge, a boss – should learn to keep it to a minimum.

    And what I really dislike is the short form "g'naw," which is so ugly and slovenly that literal hatred rises in my gorge.

    Stephen Goranson (2) – but what I find really interesting in your comment is your use of "such" as a pronoun, with the referent "your in place of you're." Outside of legal writing, I'd thought pronoun such had disappeared entirely, and even there it's an endangered species. It does survive in "as such," but most writers aren't aware of the pronoun meaning and use the phrase as an idiom meaning therefore. Your usage sends me the message that you're an elderly person – not that there's anything wrong with that – whose usage patterns were established many decades ago, and haven't evolved much.

    Y – of course ain't is a word. But it's a stigmatized word in conventionally well-educated circles. There's no logic to it, but that's the rule. A person who uses it unironically in daily speech is certainly a native speaker of a low-prestige regional or social version of English who hasn't been educated out of it. If a physician I'd been referred to used ain't, I would be disconcerted. If a plumber did, I wouldn't mind a bit. This has nothing to do with what "I don't like," any more than a lawyer's decision to wear a suit and tie to court, and not a hoodie and sweats, is a matter of personal preference.

  6. Kate Bunting said,

    October 7, 2022 @ 11:49 am

    Still worse is 'Know what I mean?' (repeatedly, following the simplest statements). Of course I know what you mean, I'm not stupid.

  7. Vulcan with a Mullet said,

    October 7, 2022 @ 12:43 pm

    As for myself, I wish there were an anti-wince therapy for me to use when I encounter prescriptivists. Alas, life is full of winces.

  8. Nicole Holliday said,

    October 7, 2022 @ 12:51 pm

    I would encourage the commenter to think carefully about the associations he makes between the types of people who say things like “bigger amount” and other social categories. If we imagine that people are simply “stupid” or “uneducated” when they say things like that, then of course we’ll have a negative reaction. But logically, using these forms doesn’t actual tell us anything about a speaker’s intelligence. Maybe it could say something about formal education or class status, but do we really want to be the types of people who are systematically annoyed by people who we assume are less privileged than us?

  9. Uly said,

    October 7, 2022 @ 1:21 pm

    I think having individual tastes in language use shows attention to it and should be encouraged, unlike self-righteous grammar policing.

    And if these individual preferences were formed in a vacuum, there'd be something to that argument. Alas, they're not, and so often what people prefer is what they were so often told is "correct" – with the strong implication that all those other, incorrect speakers are ignorant or stupid or criminal or what-have-you.

  10. Chris Button said,

    October 7, 2022 @ 1:23 pm

    “Thanks, Chris” (as an opener rather than a sign off)

    That vocative comma drives me nuts. It’s definitely more American than British (the two varieties of English I know best), but surely we can just all agree to leave it out? Otherwise, we may as well go with a comma in “Hi, Chris” as well.

  11. Paul Garrett said,

    October 7, 2022 @ 1:41 pm

    Chris B., in fact, for some reason, I myself do feel a need for the comma in "Hi, Chris" as well as in "Thanks, Chris". Don't know why. I don't imagine myself a prescriptivist, but I do have interest in having written language mirror spoken, when convenient. So, pauses = commas? Dunno. :)

  12. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 7, 2022 @ 1:48 pm

    I find Rick Rubinstein's example itself a bit weird because I can't recall right now ever noticing (which doesn't mean it hasn't happened) an actual L1 Anglophone saying "bigger amount" rather than "larger amount" or "greater amount," or hearing/reading someone tut-tutting about the alleged wrongness of the usage. A brief skim of google books results mostly turned up scholarly publications by people likely not to be native speakers rather than e.g. dialogue in novels by characters who are supposed to be uneducated. Does this actually occur with enough frequency in native-speaker usage to be worth peeving about as opposed to simply being an unidiomatic ESLism?

  13. Levantine said,

    October 7, 2022 @ 2:10 pm

    Chris Button, I (a Brit) view those commas as standard, though when addressing someone informally in an email, I write a commaless “Hello X” or “Hi X” (by analogy with “Dear X”).

  14. Bloix said,

    October 7, 2022 @ 2:10 pm

    "Individual taste in language use" is like individual taste in food and dress. There's a time and place for hoodies and sweats and burgers and fries and a time and place for suits and dresses and bluefin tuna tataki with lemongrass braised beets. There are people who like burgers and fries seven nights a week and other people who think that it's sensible and enjoyable to have a wide range of different experiences.

  15. Y said,

    October 7, 2022 @ 2:25 pm

    Bloix: same thing. My point is that preferences in language use, whether individual or social, are an existing thing, which is to be acknowledged and even described (as, e.g., sociolinguists do), and which is different from setting any of them as an absolute good or bad (as prescriptivists do).

  16. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 7, 2022 @ 2:30 pm

    I probably should have checked this before making my prior post, but my copy of MWDEU ((c) 1989, not sure if there's a more recent edition), has nothing in between "bid" and "billion," suggesting that disputed/deprecated usages of "big(ger)" have not historically been a major peevery/usage issue requiring debunking and/or guidance.

  17. Rick Rubenstein said,

    October 7, 2022 @ 4:18 pm

    Wow, I didn't expect my comment to spawn a whole new post! To be honest, I think anyone who's reached the "I know it's irrational but this thing still bothers me in spite of myself" stage is doing fine. Most people never get past (or even attempt to get past) "This thing bothers me, and since I'm right and good, the person doing the thing must be wrong and bad."

  18. AntC said,

    October 7, 2022 @ 7:55 pm

    A peeve I just can't shake off — although I know the battle is long lost.

    'Oxymoron' in the sense "A figure of speech in which two words or phrases with opposing meanings are used together intentionally for effect." [wiktionary]

    was discovered by the chattering classes a couple of decades or so ago, and sounds high-fallutin' and Greek an' all. But of course that meaning was far too subtle. So it now is synonymous with 'contradiction'.

    My peeve: its original meaning was useful. How can I express that sense without a long detour from the flow of what I'm saying?

  19. Steve Morrison said,

    October 7, 2022 @ 8:11 pm

    I want to be totally unfazed

    Well, there’s your problem! Instead, you should want to be totally “unphased” by such phrases. When you can stand to be “unphased” by something, you’ll have left your prescriptivism behind.

  20. AntC said,

    October 7, 2022 @ 8:31 pm

    But! But! without targets like Strunk & White, how would we get Geoff Pullum's splenetic takedowns?!

    S&W never got much air in the UK education system. But when I started working for an 'International' (U.S.) firm, suddenly I was faced with a style guide full of bizarre rules.

  21. Julian said,

    October 7, 2022 @ 9:19 pm

    I'm old enough to wince a little, privately, when I see 'impact' used as a verb. But I have better things to do than try to fight it.
    I comfort myself with the thought that language change has been going on since Alfred the Great was a lad, and the world has not gone to hell in a handbasket as a result.
    Take the long view: when everyone reading this thread is dead, probably no-one else will care.

  22. Kristian said,

    October 8, 2022 @ 12:15 am

    Over the decades, linguists have tried to convince people that such reactions are sometimes based on false ideas about actual patterns of usage, and are sometimes associated with class, ethnic, gender, or age prejudices — and therefore should always be analyzed rather than indulged.

    Linguists seem to jump from "language change/variation is natural" to "people shouldn't have opinions about it" (or "they should only have the right kinds of opinion"), which is just another kind of prescriptivism and another kind of peevishness. Maybe people having opinions about it is also a natural phenomenon?

    I agree that many people are taught a lot of nonsensical rules about how to write in school.

  23. Philip Anderson said,

    October 8, 2022 @ 3:23 am

    @Paul Garrett, Levantine
    To me (also British), those commas before a name look wrong and sound wrong. I wouldn’t say “hi Chris”, unless I was struggling to remember the name. I can’t recall seeing them used either.

    I tend not to comment on other people’s usages now, although I sometimes check if it might not just be an Americanism.

  24. Philip said,

    October 8, 2022 @ 4:14 am

    That should have said “hi (pause) Chris”, but the angle brackets were removed.

  25. Stephen L said,

    October 8, 2022 @ 6:21 am

    For me it's a case of how do I preserve my idiolect, that I liked, in the face of broader language changes that I dislike. I can kind of mostly deal with other people saying things I find unaesthetic (or, to whatever extent I can't that's on me), but there's a certain distaste I feel when I find myself picking them up as well. And balancing the social use in speaking in the same dialect as others (which is desirable) with feeling personally disgusted with how I speak is interesting. Or do I have the same obligation to tolerate speech in myself I find unaesthetic that I do to the speech of others? That feels like giving up all linguistic agency, though.

  26. GH said,

    October 8, 2022 @ 6:29 am

    @Philip Anderson

    What about if for "Hi" we substitute "Welcome"? "Welcome Chris" or "Welcome, Chris"? If the latter, what makes "Hi" different?

  27. bks said,

    October 8, 2022 @ 8:05 am

    Rick Rubenstein was complaining about "bigger amount"? I thought he was complaining about "has".

  28. Bloix said,

    October 8, 2022 @ 9:24 am

    AntC- yes, an oxymoron must be a contradiction in terms but not every contradiction in terms is an oxymoron.
    A similar error is the common use of ostensibly to mean apparently.

  29. Levantine said,

    October 8, 2022 @ 11:18 am

    Philip Anderson, I don’t equate commas with pauses. Consider these examples:

    “I love her mum.” (About someone else’s mother.)

    “I love her, mum.” (To one’s own mother about someone else.)

    The difference in meaning is expressed by intonation, not by the insertion of a pause. The vocative comma is a conventional (and, in my view, standard) way of conveying that difference.

  30. Philip Taylor said,

    October 8, 2022 @ 12:04 pm

    For me, even if it very brief, there is a definite pause in my delivery of "I love her, Mum" which is completely missing from "I love her mum".

  31. Levantine said,

    October 8, 2022 @ 12:20 pm

    Philip Taylor, here’s another pair:

    “Have you seen her mum?”

    “Have you seen her, mum?”

    I cannot say the latter naturally with a pause; the difference in meaning relies entirely on my intonation. I’m not saying that this holds true for everyone, but the notion that a comma has to, or should, equate with a pause strikes me as out of keeping with how many commas (including in lists) are used.

  32. Levantine said,

    October 8, 2022 @ 12:28 pm

    These may make my point more clearly:

    “I love her, Ian.”

    “Have you seen her, Ian?”

    I am a non-rhotic speaker (a Londoner) who uses linking and intrusive R. In both of the examples above, I sound the R in “her", because there is (for me) no pause before “Ian".

  33. Rodger C said,

    October 8, 2022 @ 12:30 pm

    I'm often annoyed at TV dialogue where there seems to be an inappropriate pause at a comma–something that in smooth speech might be indicated by a pitch change or the like. A signal example is pauses before a vocative–where, by the way, I was taught, over six decades ago, to always use a comma.

  34. Rodger C said,

    October 8, 2022 @ 12:34 pm

    AntC, American corporate style guides are written (by non-linguists) for the products of fifty unconnected school systems and more than that many different regional and ethnic backgrounds.

  35. Philip Taylor said,

    October 8, 2022 @ 1:27 pm

    Levantine, I can certainly appreciate the point that you are making in your two "Ian" examples, but of course they both demonstrate the same underlying construct. The best I can manage by way of a minimal pair which also incorporates your linking-r is as follows :
    "I hate to hear her eating."
    "I hate to hear her, I-Ting."
    For me, a pause before "I-Ting" which is not there before "eating".

  36. Levantine said,

    October 8, 2022 @ 1:43 pm

    Philip Taylor, my Ian examples were supposed to illustrate that a vocative comma doesn’t have to translate into a spoken pause. Are you a non-rhotic speaker and, if so, do you sound the R in the two examples I gave?

  37. Levantine said,

    October 8, 2022 @ 1:56 pm

    Back to the question of whether a comma is standard in the "Thanks[,] X" construction, one example that just came to mind is this line from Doctor Faustus, which we performed in secondary school: "Thanks, Mephistophilis; yet fain would I have a book wherein I might behold all spells and incantations, that I might raise up spirits when I please." As far as I can determine, it's been written with a comma after "thanks" since at least 1604 (the earliest edition I could find online).

    The line has stuck with me all these years because, as a teenager, I found "Thanks, Mephistophilis" to be curiously modern and slangy.

  38. Philip Taylor said,

    October 8, 2022 @ 2:08 pm

    To the best of my belief (and of course, few if any of us are aware of how we actually speak, as opposed to how we believe we speak), I most definitely have a linking-r in "I love her Ian" (/ai lʌv hɜː‿ˈriː ən/), but not in "I love her, Ian" (/ai lʌv hɜː ˈiː ən/). I am what I would term "mildly rhotic", becoming more intentionally rhotic when speaking to an audience that when speaking to a friend, so to an audience /ai lʌv hɜːr ˈtiːz ɪŋ/ but to a friend /ai lʌv hə ˈtiːz ɪŋ/.

  39. Philip Taylor said,

    October 8, 2022 @ 2:45 pm

    Well, elsewhere in the 1631 edition of that text he says "Thankes Mephostophilis for this sweet booke: this I will keepe as sharp as my life" and "Thanks Mephostophilis, now Fryers take heed, lest Faustus make your Shaven crownes to bleed", so he (or his editors/printers/w-h-y) doesn't/don't always use the vocative comma … But I have to confess I could not identify the passage that you quoted, so I cannot say for sure whether or not it has the vocative comma in the 1631 edition.

  40. Levantine said,

    October 8, 2022 @ 3:16 pm

    My apologies, Philip Taylor. As I should have been able to tell instantly from the very modern-looking print, the version I found on Google Books is a later edition (published in the early twentieth century, I would guess–I can't see any publication details) that simply reuses the title page of the 1604 edition:

    Google Books also has the 1631 edition:

    Like you, I cannot find the line I quoted, I believe because it's not there to begin with (if I'm not mistaken, different versions of the play circulated). But you are right that the vocative comma isn't used in other parallel constructions.

    I've muddied my point by referring back to the seventeenth century, so if I may be allowed to try again: As far as I can determine, that line has (like others with the construction under discussion) been consistently written with a comma after "thanks" in editions from the nineteenth century onwards, in British as well as American printings. Not everyone may use such commas, but they seem to me entirely standard on both sides of the Atlantic.

  41. Philip Anderson said,

    October 8, 2022 @ 5:15 pm

    I think my pronunciation matches Philip Taylor’s:
    “I saw her, Ian” has a pause and no rhotic glide.
    “I saw her Ian” (her son) has a rhotic glide but no pause.

    A comma doesn’t always mean a pause, e.g. in lists, but it’s still a good guide. I would put one before a vocative where that has been tagged onto a sentence, but not if the sentence is addressing the person or people, as I feel it is after “hi” or “welcome”. Before Sir or Madam seems to be an exception, perhaps because that always feels tagged on. YMMV.

  42. Philip Taylor said,

    October 9, 2022 @ 5:07 am

    After reading Philip Anderson's comment (above), I received an e-mail from an American friend, and then went off to shower. While showering, I was mentally composing my reply to said friend, and the following two contructs passed through my mind as possible opening salutations.
    "Hallo, Barbara — "
    "Hallo Barbara, and many thanks for your message."
    Read aloud, there is a clear and intentional pause in "Hallo, Barbara", but no pause in "Hallo Barbara, and …" until the opening two-word phrase is complete.

  43. LW said,

    October 9, 2022 @ 4:09 pm

    Bloix: '"Individual taste in language use" is like individual taste in food and dress. There's a time and place for hoodies and sweats and burgers and fries and a time and place for suits and dresses and bluefin tuna tataki with lemongrass braised beets.'

    this is something deserving more consideration. it's certainly true that as things stand today, there are situations where one is expected to alter their linguistic register to suit the context, in the same way we change clothes depending on the social context we're in, and people naturally learn to do this as part of their childhood development. but i think this is too often accepted at face value without any further consideration.

    i grew up in the south east region of England, and although my natural spoken dialect has a few rural-influenced aspects, in general, i can speak naturally and be perceived as speaking 'standard English'. but if i had grown up speaking – say – a Yorks or Scottish dialect of English, or an American dialect like AAVE, then i would be expected to alter my natural speech to achieve the much-vaunted 'Standard English'.

    it's acceptable from a scientific (i.e., linguistic) point of view to simply describe this behaviour without judgement, but as we're here talking about real-life reactions to English, i think it's fair to ask why one person should be expected to change their register to participate in a particular social situation while other people are not. or to put it another way: isn't the entire idea of 'Standard English' discriminatory by its very existence?

    at the risk of wandering off-topic (but also relating this to the quote above), this also applies equally well to clothes. the idea of having to 'dress up' to join a particular social gathering necessarily discriminates against people who don't have the means, or knowledge, to meet some arbitrary sartorial requirements.

    so if we're using this thread to air our own language-related peeves, i'll submit 'standard English' as mine.

  44. Chas Belov said,

    October 9, 2022 @ 10:50 pm

    It's funny, but for someone who is as informal with languages, I have my share of peeves/cringes, which I, mercifully, tend to keep to myself unless I'm talking back to a radio or TV commercial. The hypercorrection of "less than" to "fewer than" for time or distance drives me up the wall. I'm not fond of the unnecessary correction for numbers of items at a market express lane, either.

    -o is a productive ending shortener for me: typo, writo, speako, resto (for restaurant), but somehow sando (for sandwich) makes me wince.

  45. Philip Taylor said,

    October 10, 2022 @ 5:42 am

    I believe that you are not Australian, Chas, so your adoption of the -o suffix surprises me — I had previously thought that only Australians had adopted that as a near-universal suffix. That apart, I do not know how to translate "writo" or "speako" back into standard English, unless, of course, they are derivatives of "typo", in which case I think I understand what they mean.

    But I am sure that it will not surprise to learn that the incorrect use of "less", where "fewer" is required, is as painful to me as the hypercorrective use of "fewer" is to you, although I don't think I've encountered the latter in real life.

  46. Rose Eneri said,

    October 10, 2022 @ 4:22 pm

    I'm late to this discussion due to Hurricane Ian power outage. My pet peeves are usually about unsupportable "correct" pronunciations. Although I will write "quixotic", I refuse to pronounce it the "correct" way, which is beyond comprehensible. If we understand the meaning of the word, then we know it refers to Don Quixote.

    I always wondered about the differences between the spelling and pronouncing of words. One of the best examples is "been." But, we are living through a pronunciation change right now, the palatization of s. It is growing. It is invading. Kids entering school now will be wondering why words are spelled with an s, when they think they should be spelled with an sh.

    And, I cannot support placing stress on a "non-sense" syllable. The stress within words should aid understanding. When we add a hydrogen atom to a molecule, it is ˈhaɪ drə dʒəˌneɪted, not haɪˈ drɒdʒe neɪted. "Drɒdʒe" has no meaning.

  47. Chas Belov said,

    October 11, 2022 @ 2:53 am

    @Philip Taylor: Confirmed I am not Australian. Life-long occupant in the US. Yes, "writo" and "speako" are derivatives of "typo", while "resto" is a shortening.

    And yes, no surprise re "less" vs. "fewer". I have in fact encountered the hypercorrection.

  48. Chas Belov said,

    October 11, 2022 @ 2:58 am

    And I'll note that "[n] items or fewer" pains me and strikes me as unnecessarily formal for a market, given that "[n] items or less" has long existed as a set phrase. I see that in the battle of "items or fewer" vs. "items or less", "less" beats out "fewer" by about 2 to 1. While "less" might, and I emphasize "might", be incorrect prescriptively, it's definitely valid descriptively.

  49. Philip Taylor said,

    October 11, 2022 @ 3:30 am

    Rose — can you help me (and perhaps others) to understand why "One of the best examples [of the differences between the spelling and the pronunciation of words]" is "been" ?

    Incidentally, /ˈhaɪ drdɒ dʒə neɪt/ feels/sounds fine to me, tho' I do insist on hyphenating helicopter as helico-pter …

    To Chas — yes, a market is an informal venue, but even informal settings can be used to inculcate good practice, can they not ? They are, after all, the same place that the majority of readers here would call out the greengrocer for apostrophising his tomato's …

  50. Philip Anderson said,

    October 11, 2022 @ 6:39 am

    While the -o in typo is original, isn’t it just a suffix in your other examples, modelled on typo I guess? Although blotto is old.

    How do you pronounce the numerous words ending in -ology and -ography, where the stress (for me) is on the linking -o-? It’s normal in English, and other languages, for the stress to change as extra syllables are added.

  51. Speedwell said,

    October 11, 2022 @ 8:13 am

    Hello my brothers in The Words (haha),

    I just came back from a therapy appointment in which my counselor, a Dublin woman of approximately 11 INT and 15 WIS (in D&D terms) chose to focus, instead of on what was bothering me, on why I was such an insufferable antinomian snob when I was 10. (The answer is a combination of autism, childish inexperience, a ferocious appetite for books, and a higher IQ than the Bigs should have told me about, along with a strong dose of not knowing when to keep my goddamned mouth shut, but I digress.)

    She asked me, "What were you afraid of being wrong about when you were that age", and I must have had this post in mind when I answered, "Spelling. I never, ever, EVER got less than 100 percent on a spelling test. I was a spelling bee champion in America. I can't even remember the last time I misspelled a standard dictionary word out of not knowing the correct spelling. I've always been the one they picked to correct other people's spelling". She challenged me, "All right then. What would have happened if YOU had been wrong about the spelling of a word?"

    Folks, the sky went black and an abyss opened at my feet and I saw Satan laughing with delight. I stammered, "I'd have been… have been… w-wrong". Wrong! I felt like an engineer asked to falsify metallurgical test data.

    The good counselor loosened my death grip on my self-esteem by reminding me, dryly, that here in Ireland they usually say "spelt". While I was off-balance from that, she suggested gently that factual errors are not really the same as moral wrongs. She's right, of course.

  52. Robot Therapist said,

    October 11, 2022 @ 8:42 am

    "In other words, they should be explaining what is happening … rather than complaining about it."

    Good relationship advice too. People have peeves about dishwashers as well as about usage.

  53. Levantine said,

    October 11, 2022 @ 9:33 am

    Philip Taylor, why the apostrophe in “though”? It can’t reflect a difference in pronunciation.

  54. Philip Taylor said,

    October 11, 2022 @ 11:26 am

    Levantine, there was no apostrophe in « though »; there was in apostrophe in « tho' », which is how I frequently (tho' not invariably) abbreviate « though » in informal writing, just as I abbreviate « omnibus » to 'bus and « telephone » to « 'phone ».

  55. Levantine said,

    October 11, 2022 @ 12:22 pm

    That's what I was referring to, Philip Taylor: your use of an apostrophe when writing the word that most others would write "though". Your answer still doesn't really address my question, because the other examples you provided are pronounced differently from their full versions, whereas "tho'" and "though" are identical in how they sound.

  56. Philip Taylor said,

    October 11, 2022 @ 1:54 pm

    Yes, I agree, the apostrophe does not indicate a change in pronunciation but is there simply to indicate the omission of the final (three) letters. Exactly the same situation obtains in the common (British) abbreviation of « Borough » to « Boro' », as in « Boro' Market », « Boro' Laboratories », « The Boro' », etc. Whether spelled in full or abbreviated as « Boro' », the word is pronounced /ˈbʌ rə/, a fact of which I was blissfully unaware when, as a schoolboy, I used to cycle past Boro' Laboratories in Catford (south-east London), thinking that it was called /ˈbɒ rəʊ læ ˈbɒ rə trɪz/.

  57. LW said,

    October 11, 2022 @ 2:35 pm

    "But I am sure that it will not surprise to learn that the incorrect use of "less", where "fewer" is required, is as painful to me as the hypercorrective use of "fewer" is to you, although I don't think I've encountered the latter in real life."

    i personally am grateful to Philp Taylor for providing such moments of levity in these trying times. comedy can sometimes be so (over)stated so obviously (and repetitively) that the joke is lost in the desire to explain the joke, so seeing people make fun of beliefs like this in a more subtle way makes me smile.

  58. Levantine said,

    October 11, 2022 @ 2:44 pm

    But what are you trying to indicate by removing those final three letters? Put differently, why not just use the standard spelling?

  59. Philip Taylor said,

    October 11, 2022 @ 3:34 pm

    I'm not trying to indicate anything; I am simply using a shorter form that I find convenient, in exactly the same way as those who write Boro' rather then Borough. Or, for that matter, those who write etc. rather than et cetera — both are pronounced identically, as are Boro' and Borough, tho' and though.

  60. Philip Taylor said,

    October 12, 2022 @ 12:10 pm

    It may be worth adding that I am by no means the first to abbreviate "though" in this way — all of the following examples can be found in the OED, tho' I note that the practice appears to have fallen into near-desuetude after the mid-19th century :

    1703 N. Rowe Fair Penitent ii. ii No Place, tho' e'er so holy, shou'd protect him.
    1711 in 10th Rep. Royal Comm. Hist. MSS (1885) App. v. 160 It appears to be a mock-siege; tho' that Ginckle gained the town in earnest.
    1711 Ld. Shaftesbury Characteristicks II. iv. 48 Favourable to a Few, tho for slight causes.
    1715 J. Addison Spectator No. 557. ¶2 He would not accept of one [Witness], tho' it were Cato himself.
    1740 S. Richardson Pamela I. xxv. 70 Is there no Constable nor Headborough, tho', to take me out of his House?
    1748 T. Smollett Roderick Random I. vi. 34 The French, .. are very civil, tho' I don't understand their lingo.
    1842 Ld. Tennyson Poems II. 91 Tho' much is taken, much abides.
    1849 G. Gray Let. 22 June in M. Lutyens Ruskins & Grays (1972) xxiii. 217 I have now taken the opportunity..tho' without alluding to your Letter, of asking her how it was.

  61. Chas Belov said,

    October 12, 2022 @ 2:16 pm

    @Philip Taylor: I dispute that "10 items or less" is an incorrect usage, and that therefore a market which posts "10 items or fewer" may be engaged in hypercorrection. Or perhaps not, as "fewer" is not incorrect either. But definitely going against common practice. That said, my perception is that I never used to see "fewer" at markets here in the US; it's become more common in the last 10-20 years, unless I am falling victim to the recency illusion.

    @All in the -o discussion: I only use tho (no apostrophe) and thru if I'm just over the Twitter character limit and am doing triage on my tweet. I used to use thru a lot more, but have done so less in recent years.

    Yes, the -o in typo, writo (¿writeo?), or speako is very different from the -o in resto or sando; or the o in tho.

  62. Levantine said,

    October 12, 2022 @ 2:39 pm

    Philip Taylor, I’m well aware of the abbreviated spelling’s longer history (you find it in quite a few eighteenth-century texts), but, as you yourself note, it hasn’t been part of standard written English for quite some time now. That’s why I was struck by, and asked about, your use of it.

  63. Philip Taylor said,

    October 12, 2022 @ 2:52 pm

    Fair enough, Levantine. For most of my life I have spelled "shown" as "shewn" simply because this was the spelling that I encountered every day as I passed through Eltham Well Hall railway station ("All tickets must be shewn at the barrier"). Where I first encountered « tho' » I have no idea, but I latched onto it in exactly the same way as I latched onto "shewn", and, like "shewn", continue to use it to this day. In general I am probably far keener to retain old spellings, pronunciations (e.g., /ˈkʌnd ɪt / for "conduit", /gɒf/ for "golf"), proscriptive rules of grammar, etc., than I am to adopt new ones.

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