Archive for the ‘Usage advice’ Category

Not ending with a preposition

September 13, 2014

Today’s Mother Goose and Grimm:

Not ending a sentence with a preposition is one of those grammar myths debunked by virtually every usage authority. Here it surfaces in the supremely silly version that you should never end a sentence with “a preposition”. Note that the proscription violates itself.


Three diverse

May 21, 2014

This morning: a classic Doonesbury on foul language; a Rhymes With Orange citing the spurious “rule” that an English clause must not end in a preposition; and a Zippy looking back at an ad icon of the 1940s and 50s (“drink more flavored liqueurs”, says Judge Arrow).


Less captions

February 28, 2014

Recently from mild-mannered editor John McIntyre (as he describes himself on the net), this captioned page (which he got from Chris Green on Facebook), entitled “Pedants’ Revolt” — a play on “Peasants’ Revolt” —  from an illuminated manuscript, captioned with usage advice:

There is a considerable literature, in the handbooks, on Language Log, and this blog, on the choice between less and fewer. The usual story is that less is to be used for mass nouns (less shrubbery) and fewer for count nouns (fewer shrubs) — for the opposite concept, more is used in both situations — but there is variation, even for educated and careful writers, and some circumstances where less is clearly impinging on fewer; I myself see no point in objecting to the grocery store usage ten items or less. The case above is not so clear.

(I don’t know the source of the manuscript page, or the identity of the captioner.)

More Recency Illusion

February 24, 2014

From Tom Grano, a CBS News report from yesterday, from Bill Flanagan, representing the “grammar police”:

Time now for a public service announcement from our contributor and first-person-singular-pronoun policeman Bill Flanagan of VH1:

I know it sounds snobby to point this out, but in the last 10 or 15 years, millions of intelligent English-speaking people have become flummoxed by when to use “I,” and when to use “me.” You hear it all the time:

Are you coming to the movie with Madonna and I?
Won’t you join Oprah and I for dinner?
The Trumps are throwing a party for Barack and I.

It’s embarrassing!

At least people who mess up the other way — “Goober and me are going to town” — sound folksy, colloquial, down-to-Earth. But people who say “I” when they should say “me” sound like they are trying to be sophisticated and they’re getting it wrong.

There’s a lot to criticize here. But I’ll start with the phenomenon, known in the syntax business as the Nominative Conjoined Object (NomConjObj for short) and the claim that it’s arisen only recently.



December 31, 2013

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.


Not dead, but…

June 10, 2013

A postcard from Chris Ambidge, with a lovely quotation from a May 31, 1811 letter of Jane Austen’s:

Letting her correspondent down gently: rather than asserting baldly that the mulberry trees are not alive (or even more baldy, that they are dead), Austen merely appears to be reporting her mental state about the matter, her fears. Nevertheless, afraid with a complement clause is often used to convey the content of the complement clause; the hedging with afraid in such cases is a matter of politeness, rather than truth value. Which understanding is intended is something you have to work out from the context.


Spouse vocabulary

February 21, 2013

The AP Stylebook, which I often mock for its attention to entirely inconsequential details and its belief that it could legislate these details for writers all over the US, sometimes takes on somewhat weightier matters. Today, a revision:

husband, wife: Regardless of sexual orientation, husband or wife is acceptable in all references to individuals in any legally recognized marriage. Spouse or partner may be used if requested.

This is nicely nuanced in one way: it says that husband and wife are acceptable, but doesn’t require those usages, offering alternatives. On the other hand, it assumes (without mentioning it) that husband and wife will be used with appropriate sex reference (husband for a man, wife for a woman), rather than by role reference (husband for the more dominant partner, wife for the more submissive partner, leaving a lot of room for deciding on what constitutes dominance/submission).


Phony rules

February 20, 2013

In the February issue of Smithsonian Magazine, a brief piece by Patricia T. O’Conner & Stewart Kellerman on phony rules of grammar:

Most of What You Think You Know About Grammar is Wrong

And ending sentences with a preposition is nothing worth worrying about

Think of the piece as a maximally condensed version of their 2009 book Origins of  the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language.


The scandal of English grammar

February 12, 2013

The main title of a talk that Geoff Pullum gave tonight (in competition with the State of the Union address), at the University of Washington (in Seattle). Subtitle: “Ignorance of grammar, damage to writing skills, and what we can do about it.”

It’s a topic that Geoff and Mark Liberman and I and others have railed about for years and years.


Another invented “rule”

January 30, 2013

From a correspondent in Germany, an e-mail query about there vs. over there in English. My correspondent reports that when he was in vocational college (in Germany) he had a teacher from Great Britain who explained to the class that the difference between the two expressions was that there was used for relatively short distances, over there for significantly longer distances.

She said you can ask someone over the phone, who lives in China “How’s the weather over there?”. But asking “How’s the weather there?” is, according to her, grammatically incorrect.

Oh lord, another invented “rule”, of a sort that linguabloggers (notably on Language Log) have been wrestling with for years. Teachers and amateur usageists are especially prone to come up with misguided advice — for reasons that are pretty clear.



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