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Prescriptivist statutory interpretation?

The title of this post combines two topics that are popular with the Language Log audience, and that are not usually discussed together. It is also the title of a LAWnLinguistics post from 2012, shortly after the publication of Reading Law, a book about legal interpretation that was co-authored by Justice Scalia and Bryan Garner. […]

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Little green prescriptivists

Today's SMBC starts with this panel:

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Maybe the prescriptivists are right

… at least about the use of  "summative that" in certain contexts. Thus one of Paul Brians' Common Errors in English Usage is "Vague Reference": Vague reference is a common problem in sentences where "this," "it," "which" or other such words don't refer back to any one specific word or phrase, but a whole situation. […]

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George Fox, Prescriptivist

Jen wrote to inform me that today, being William Penn's birthday, is International Talk Like a Quaker Day. Jen explains that I like to combine it with my pirate talk from International Talk Like a Pirate Day.  "Arrr, thee must give us all thy money to donate to the Friends Service Committee, or we will […]

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Prescriptivist pain

9 Chickweed Lane, for June 15, illustrates something about prescriptivist pain:

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Prescriptivist Science

Is there any "prescriptivist science"? Could there be any? The reaction of some linguists will be that "prescriptivist science" is as much as a contradiction in terms as "creation science" is. But I disagree.

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Moist! Chuckle! Slacks! Dollop!

Below is a guest post from Kavita Pillay, co-host of the new Subtitle podcast. Do you hate a seemingly normal word for reasons that you can't quite pinpoint? Or, are there words that you love to say out loud? If so, the Subtitle podcast (more on us below) wants to hear from you! On Nov. […]

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Non-binary "singular they" endorsed by Merriam-Webster

"Singular 'they': Though singular 'they' is old, 'they' as a nonbinary proonoun is new — and useful", Merriam-Webster Words We're Watching: Much has been written on they, and we aren't going to attempt to cover it here. We will note that they has been in consistent use as a singular pronoun since the late 1300s; that the development of […]

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They triumphs?

Farhad Manjoo, "Call Me 'They'", NYT 7/10/2019: The singular "they" is inclusive and flexible, and it breaks the stifling prison of gender expectations. Let's all use it. I am your stereotypical, cisgender, middle-aged suburban dad. I dabble in woodworking, I take out the garbage, and I covet my neighbor's Porsche. Though I do think men […]

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Language as a self-regulating system

Thought-provoking article by Lane Greene, the language columnist and an editor at The Economist: "Who decides what words mean:  Bound by rules, yet constantly changing, language might be the ultimate self-regulating system, with nobody in charge", Aeon (12/6/18). Greene starts with a wallop: Decades before the rise of social media, polarisation plagued discussions about language. […]

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Draconian dictionaries?

Rachel Paige King ("The Draconian Dictionary Is Back", The Atlantic 8/5/2018) suggests that lexicographers might be (re)turning to prescriptivism: Since the 1960s, the reference book has cataloged how people actually use language, not how they should. That might be changing. […] The standard way of describing these two approaches in lexicography is to call them […]

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Webster's Second and Webster's Third: Editors going against stereotype

One of the most well-known pieces of lexicographic history is the controversy that greeted the publication of Webster's Third New International Dictionary. Whereas the predecessor of W3, Webster's Second New etc., had been regarded as authoritatively prescriptive, W3 was condemned in the popular media for its descriptive approach, the widespread perception of which can be […]

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Courtesy and personal pronoun choice

My most recent post started out as a very minor note of approval about the continuing spread of singular they in journalism. Then the person who sent me the quote realized that Phillip Garcia, named in the cited newspaper story, had a preference for being referred to with the pronoun they, which nullified the point. […]

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