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The Conditional Entente

John McIntyre's "Grammarnoir 7: 'The Corpus Had a Familiar Face'" is available at The Baltimore Sun. At the start of the story, a thug with "fists the size of Westphalian hams and the cold, dead eyes of a community press content coach" strong-arms John's narrator into a big room "with a glass wall overlooking a formal garden. Around […]

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Moar Verbs

A couple of days ago, Geoff Pullum noted that William Zinsser's On Writing Well echoes the Strunkish advice that "Most adverbs are unnecessary" and "Most adjectives are also unnecessary" ("Awful book, so I bought it", 3/21/2015). I share Geoff's skepticism about this anti-modifier animus, and indeed about all writing advice based on parts of speech. But it […]

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Bad advice on being a good writer

Part 2 of the Wikihow listicle "Be a Good Writer" is about learning vital skills, and item 3 of part 2 says you should "Learn the rules of grammar". Where should you turn to find out what they are? The article (as accessed on March 2, 2015) says: If you have a question about grammar, […]

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Reflections on "Inherent Vice"

Last night I went out to see Inherent Vice, the only film so far made of a Thomas Pynchon novel. Two and a half hours of bafflement later, the credits rolled. I was with two distinguished computational linguists, Mark Steedman and Bonnie Webber. "It was more coherent than the book," said Mark, who liked the […]

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Officer-involved passives

Radley Balko's Washington Post article "The curious grammar of police shootings" begins by reminding us about "mistakes were made" (an utterance so famous that it has its own Wikipedia page), and proceeds to quote a description of a shooting that is not by a policeman ("The suspect produced a semi-automatic handgun and fired numerous times […]

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Five years ago in LLOG

Following up on a suggestion to bring back classic (or at least old) posts, here's one I'd completely forgotten: "Was Strunk imitating Quintilian?", 3/28/2009. Bill Walderman asked whether the "rule" prohibiting clause-initial position for however might have been an imitation of Latin and Greek second-position elements, and especially the treatment of autem. After a two-cup-of-coffee […]

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Can it be true?

John McIntyre ("You have not seen it all yet", You Don't Say 1/17/2014) relays a correspondent's claim to have gotten this note from her college professor: Look up Strunk and White (1918) for good rules on writing.  Also, I recommend you do not use prepositions at the beginning or end of sentences their use does […]

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Reddit blewit

Reddit, for those few who might not know, is a popular bulletin-board site for posting and discussing links and texts. A voting system determines the order and position of entries. The site is divided into "subreddits" devoted to paticular topics, of which there are now tens of thousands. One of these countless subreddits is /r/grammar. Here "grammar", as […]

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Helen Sword: E.B. White's writing is "Flabby"

A post by Joe Fruehwald ("To take "Zombie Nouns" seriously, you must've had your brains eaten", Val Systems 11/27/2012) motivated me to take a second look at Helen Sword's ideas about style, which I discussed earlier in "The Redemption of Zombie Nouns", 7/26/2012. In particular, I decided to take her "Writer's Diet Test" out for […]

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Sometimes there's no unitary rule

Some Language Log readers may feel that the two rules I discuss in my latest post on Lingua Franca, "One Rule to Ring Them All," are stated too loosely for their consequences to be clear. Let me explain here just a little more carefully. The topic under discussion is whether who should be in the […]

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BBC: Geoff Nunberg snaps and quivers

According to Cordelia Hebblethwaite, "Britishisms and the Britishisation of American English", BBC News 9/26/2012: There is little that irks British defenders of the English language more than Americanisms, which they see creeping insidiously into newspaper columns and everyday conversation. But bit by bit British English is invading America too. "Spot on – it's just ludicrous!" […]

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When I split an infinitive, God damn it […] it will stay split

In the spirit of Geoff Pullum's lyrical prescriptive poppycock offering, I can offer some Raymond Chandler in verse and letter. And this being Language Log, I will follow it with a light dessert of cheap science. Here's a small sample of Chandler's 1947 poem Lines to a Lady With an Unsplit Infinitive for your edification: There […]

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One more misidentified passive (can you bear it?)

You know, people keep telling me that I shouldn't blame Strunk & White for the way so many Americans are clueless about identifying passive clauses. Others tell me I'm being prescriptive: I should let people use the word 'passive' however they want. (And you can, of course; you can use it to mean "box containing […]

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