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Impact Effect

I recently saw a list of revisions suggested by the editor of a scientific journal, which combined technical issues with a number of points of English usage, including these two: Please try to avoid the word ‘impact,’ unless it is part of a proper name.  It is now over-used (its ‘impact’ is diminished), and doesn’t communicate […]

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Will "Arrival" bring linguistics into the popular consciousness? A guest post by Luke Lindemann

The movie "Arrival" has been in theaters for three weeks now, and it has already grossed $100 million worldwide. That's an impressive box-office draw, and it can't all be due to linguists and their friends attending. Clearly this contemplative film, with a field linguist as the heroic protagonist, is resonating with audiences. But what does that mean […]

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The "split verb rule": a fortiori nonsense

John McIntyre has identified the "split verb rule" as "The Dumbest Rule in the AP Stylebook" (You Don't Say, 4/9/2016): [A]s you look through Garner, Fowler, MWDEU, and language authorities whom you reckon by the dozens on the subject of the split infinitive, you will not find them treating what the AP Stylebook imagines is […]

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Linguistic reaction at The New Yorker

Mary Norris, "Comma Queen: The Singular 'Their'", The New Yorker 3/4/2016: Last year, at the convention of the American Copy Editors Society (ACES), in Pittsburgh, everyone was talking about “the singular ‘their.’ ” It is the people’s choice for the gender-neutral third-person-singular pronoun that the English language sadly lacks.   Many ACES stalwarts—copy editors, journalists, […]

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William Hazlitt on grammar

On a brief trip to London recently, I stayed in a small hotel named Hazlitt's, after William Hazlitt, who in 1830, the last year of his life, rented a small apartment in one of the buildings that the hotel now occupies. A copy of his 1802 self-portrait hangs by the registration desk, and there are various Hazlitt […]

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It's not just puns that are being banned in China

Even non-linguists and those who are not China watchers could hardly escape the momentous announcement of the Chinese government last week that casual punning was being outlawed: "Punning banned in China" (11/29/14) "No laughing matter: China's media regulators ban puns" (12/3/14) "Chinese Government Moves To Crack Down On Puns" (12/5/14) "Nowhere to Pun Amid China Crackdown" (11/28/14) […]

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The Latinometer

From David Frauenfelder: Here’s an item from the land of language: the "Latinometer". Have you seen it? You enter text into the query box, it analyzes how Latinate your English vocabulary is, and then tells you whether you sound “concrete,” educated, pretentious, or mendacious. The more Latin-derived terms in your text, the more likely you […]

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A decline in which-hunting?

Email from reader J.M.: As I was perusing LL this afternoon, the title of a post you wrote caught my attention: "Metaphors which you are used to seeing in print". I know that the that/which distinction is becoming less and less distinct, but I still thought it was generally practiced in academia (I am not […]

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Metaphors which you are used to seeing in print

Prospero, "The World's Worst Sentence", The Economist 7/17/2013: FINANCIAL books are not renowned for their literary merits. Neverthless, the reader is still entitled to expect something better than the following (from Philip Mirowski's new book "Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste"): Yet the nightmare cast its shroud in the guise of a contagion […]

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Relatively unchartered territory

Smitha Mundasad, "Babies' brains to be mapped in the womb and after birth", BBC News 4/9/2013: By the time a baby takes its first breath many of the key pathways between nerves have already been made. And some of these will help determine how a baby thinks or sees the world, and may have a […]

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Depopularization in the limit

George Orwell, in his hugely overrated essay "Politics and the English language", famously insists you should "Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print." He thinks modern writing "consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone […]

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The readers are worse than the writers

… at least judging by the readers' comments on Stephanie Banchero, "Students Fall Flat in Vocabulary Test", Wall Street Journal 12/6/2012.  Banchero's article seriously misunderstands and misrepresents an already-misleading account of American schoolchildrens' knowledge of vocabulary — see "Journalist Falls Flat in Comprehension Test", 12/8/2012, for details. But the 127 readers' comments suggest that the paper […]

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Death of the Queen's English Society

The Queen's English Society (QES), mentioned only a couple of times here on Language Log over the past few years, is no more. It has ceased to be. On the last day of this month they will ring down the curtain and it will join the choir invisible. It will be an ex-society. Said Rhea […]

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