In putting together material on one and only earlier today, I stumbled on another well-known target of peevers, one of the only. One and only is accused of being evilly pleonastic, one of the only of being “illogical”, indeed incomprehensible; its purported offense involves an instance of the Etymological Fallacy — only historically derives from one, so it cannot be used in reference to groups (as in one of the only people to object) — compounded by a willful refusal to recognize idiomaticity (while idioms, not being fully compositional semantically, are, essentially by definition, not fully “logical”).
Archive for the ‘Peeving’ Category
Three more cartoons from the May issue of Funny Times, cartoons that are in some way “political”: from Ted Rall, Tom Tomorrow, and Ruben Bolling:
Four varied cartoons in this morning’s crop: a Zits on address terms; a Scenes From a Multiverse on ; a Rhymes With Orange on case-marking of pronouns with than; and a Zippy reviving Doggie Diner.
One by one …
As the dreadful story of the Ebola virus in Africa unfolds, and with it the parallel story of the panicked response to Ebola in the U.S., the word quarantine is much in the news. The stories explain that the quarantine for Ebola is 21 days. But now look at NOAD2 on the word:
quarantine noun a state, period, or place of isolation in which people or animals that have arrived from elsewhere or been exposed to infectious or contagious disease are placed: many animals die in quarantine.
verb [with obj.] impose such isolation on (a person, animal, or place); put in quarantine.
ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: from Italian quarantina ‘forty days,’ from quaranta ‘forty.’
and note the origin, involving the Italian word for ‘forty’. We have here a straightforward case in which morphological material from the etymological source is still visible in the word, yet its current use no longer respects the semantics of the source. I’ll call such words decimators, after one famous English example that has led peevers to seethe in word rage at an offense to etymology.
If you take etymology dead seriously, then referring to a 21-day isolation period as a quarantine is just wrong.
On the Baltimore Sun blog on the 4th, a piece by John McIntyre on last and past, “Not, unfortunately, the last word”, beginning:
No sooner do I put up a post about copy editors’ preoccupation with dog-whistle distinctions than someone turns up commenting on a post from 2011 on the newspaper last/past crotchet
What’s at issue is the ambiguity of last.
A Carla Ventresca cartoon that came to me via Mar Rojo on Facebook:
It turns out that Mark Liberman posted this one on Language Log back on 3/18/07, with a nice discussion of the teacher’s incorrection (of fast to quickly) in the last panel. There’s another incorrection in the first panel, of shrimps to shrimp; as Mark noted, both forms are standard plurals for shrimp. (The remaining three corrections concern spelling and punctuation and are appropriate.)
Searching for this posting of Mark’s led me to more cartoons with English teachers in them.
From Chris Ambidge on Facebook, an ad for the Literary Gift Company offering grammar mugs:
The full set of all six Grammar Grumbles mugs. An original design by The Literary Gift Company, this series is inspired by the 2013 publication A Mug’s Guide to Grammar.
Well, four spelling mugs and two on word use. Garmmra.
The title of a letter in the October Harper’s Magazine from Howard Passell (of the Earth Systems Analysis Department, Sandia National Laboratories , Albuquerque NM):
Harper’s Magazine is one of the most progressive periodicals being published, yet it lingers in the dark ages when it comes to referring to the planet on which we live. In “Emptying the World’s Aquarium” [Letter from the Sea of Cortez, August], Erik Vance writes that “there is no better place on earth to look at the future of global fishing” than the Gulf of California. This is a story about what’s in the water, not in the soil, so the word “earth” is obviously incorrect. Referring to Earth as “earth” is a vestige of the Judeo-Christian legacy. You can’t have dominion over our planet or pillage it quite so easily if linguistically you put it on the same level as all the sacred words we capitalize. Please change your style. This is an egregious philosophical error in an otherwise excellent story on the decline of our Earth.
Yes, it’s a rant about capitalization. And it presumes that earth (so spelled) can have only one meaning (‘land’, as opposed to sea and sky) — this despite the fact that every dictionary and style sheet I’ve looked at treats the word as ambiguous between this ‘land’ sense and reference to our planet.
I’ll start with a three-strip series from One Big Happy:
The two features at issue here — the discourse particle like and “uptalk” (a high rising intonation at the end of declaratives) — have been much discussed in the linguistic literature. The popular, but inaccurate, perception is that both are characteristic of young people, especially teenagers, especially girls, and both features are the object of much popular complaint.