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From Jenny Chu, on November 9: I am a long-time follower of Language Log but usually comment on the Chinese and Vietnamese related topics by Prof. Mair. Yet I thought you might be amused by the attached conversation. It shows some nice examples of the playfulness and creativity of the human language faculty, as well […]

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Entitled: Zombie chain shift

Where do zombies come from? As Wikipedia tells us, it all started with evil Haitian sorcerers using necromancy to create undead slaves. But then, Hollywood invented contagious zombification, originally attributed to radioactive contamination from Venus, but more recently understood to be due to human zombism virus (HZV). As for zombie rules, all that we really know, in most […]

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In this day of slack style…

In 1917, The Nation's book reviewer objected to "the inexcusable irregularity of the style" in Helen Marie Bennett's Women and work: the economic value of college training, listing a number of specific "blunders" as evidence. One of these "blunders" can be found in the following passage: College girls may not realize why it is that many […]

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To be anticipated

Noam Chomsky in the Guardian uses 'anticipate' to mean 'expect'. I thought language was his thing. — Daniel Hannan (@DanHannanMEP) May 1, 2012 Daniel Hannan is both a writer for The Telegraph and also Conservative MEP for South East England; and what he's complaining about is this passage (from "What next for Occupy?", The Guardian […]

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Eugene Volokh has suggested a new piece of socio-grammatical terminology ('Descriptivism, Prescriptivism and Assertionism", 10/4/2011): Our readers likely know that I have many disagreements with prescriptivists when it comes to English usage. But while I have philosophical disagreements with prescriptivists in general, my main practical disagreements are with people who might best be labeled “assertionists” […]

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Sure, I'll take a stab at it

In a comment on Ben Zimmer's

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The Glamour of Grammar

[This is a guest post by Roy Peter Clark.  He was indirectly quoted in "Flacks and hacks and brainscans" (11/23/2007), but the "analysis and criticism" that he mentions can be found in "Slippery glamour" (7/4/2008), "Don't tell Sister Catherine William" (7/5/2008), and "Funky a" (7/7/2008). I admire him for being such a good sport about […]

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The origin and progress of linguistic norms

Last Monday's post "Progress and its enemies" resulted in a vigorous exchange of views in the comments section. Reading over the comments, it seems to me that people were to some extent talking past one another. Such misunderstanding seems especially common in discussions of linguistic norms. So in a few paragraphs below, I've tried to […]

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Menand on linguistic morality

Louis Menand ("Thumbspeak", The New Yorker, 10/20/2008) aims a gibe at my profession: [P]rofessional linguists, almost universally, do not believe that any naturally occurring changes in the language can be bad. As a representative of the species, I can testify that this is false. Rather, we believe that moral and aesthetic judgments about language should […]

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Trackback it

This just hit me in a blog my son Morriss just sent me a link to: "I was going to post this as a comment there, but it’s rather long so I’ll just trackback it. " My first reaction: no, it has to be "I'll just track it back".

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Advice from numbers

This morning, Arnold Zwicky took a look at the general question of whether language mavens' advice to "Avoid Potential Ambiguity" is actually helpful in avoiding ambiguity. He focused on the particular case of sentence-adverbial hopefully, and part of his argument was that if you're fluent in English, you have to know that lots of people […]

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Angry linguistic mobs with torches

A couple of days ago, Andrew Mueller at the Guardian tossed some bleeding gobbets into the crowd of ravening peevologists ("Linguistic pedants of the world unite", 4/14/2008). His point of departure: For centuries, travellers have crossed America to explore it, conquer it, settle it, exploit it and study it. Now, a small but righteous crew […]

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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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