Archive for the ‘Usage’ Category

Action Item, Professional Superhero

October 2, 2014

From Martin Kaminer to ADS-L on the 28th, a link to this wonderful 2000 comic strip by Neil McAllister (apparently the only extant episode of Adventures of Action Item):


Mostly about jargon, but it also raises questions about discourse organization, in this case about how business meetings are organized.


Ling wars in Dingburg

September 30, 2014

Today’s Zippy has Dingburgers, drawn into camps on issues of linguistic variation and usage, slinging lots of technical terminology:

Most of these features — the glottal stop, NG coalescence, like, awesome, uptalk, whatever, vocal fry (creak, creaky voice) — have been discussed on Language Log or here, because they are associated with a collection of geographic or social dialect characteristics (region, age, sex, class, etc.) or particular styles and registers; they are socioculturally significant, usually in quite complex ways. The remaining three — strident voice, slack voice, and falsetto — are phonation types that have, I think, escaped attention on these blogs


Respecting each other

July 20, 2013

The short version of an ad for a gay dating/cruising app:

MISTER is an online community for men who value themselves and other men. Unlike other gay social networking apps, MISTER encourages users to show their faces, show respect, spend less time searching and more time meeting men in the real world. The users of our app are proud to say, “I am MISTER.”

(There will eventually be a linguistic point.)


How ’bout them Cubbies?

May 12, 2013

Today’s Zippy:

So the strip is “about” hair(s), but it’s also “about” How ’bout them Cubbies?

(On a personal hair and holiday note: I’m watching Hairspray for Mothers Day.)


on many’s the Saturday night

March 11, 2013

From John Patrick Shanley’s “The Darkness of an Irish Morning”, NYT op-ed piece on the 10th:

I am not Irish. I am Irish-American. Some say I have the gift [of gab] as well. If I do, it is because I listened to my father and my uncles and some of my aunts as they gave as good as they got in my living room in the Bronx. On many’s the Saturday night, they would drink rye and ginger ale, and smoke and talk and sing and dance, and I would sing, too, and dance with my aunts, and listen through the blue air.

The linguistic point is on many’s the Saturday night, with many’s, which has the (apparent) inflectional affix -s not motivated by the structure.There’s a connection to Irish English.


Correction of the Week

September 26, 2012

Corrections in publications usually focus on matters of content (someone’s age, the correct title of a publication, the date of an event), on typos, or on unintended ambiguities, but occasionally usage crops up, as in this Correction of the Week from the New Yorker of September 24th (p. 95):

From the San Jose Mercury News.

An item in the July 12 News of the World column about police confronting beachgoers incorrecty reported what the beachgoers were doing. They were not flouting their breasts, they were flaunting them.



April 5, 2012

It’s one of those topics in English usage that just will not die. It erupted on ADS-L yesterday, with this query from Dan Nussbaum:

In the sentence, “Hopefully, the sun will rise tomorrow” the word hopefully is being used incorrectly. What word should be used?

And then we were off on a familiar path. Larry Horn got in first, noting that there was nothing incorrect about the example; Lisa Galvin reported that she had a professor long ago who said that the proper usage should be I hope rather than hopefully, since as it stands the sentence says “that the sun itself is full of hope that it will rise tomorrow”; and Larry replied:

“Hopefully” is a sentence adverb in such contexts and has been used as such for decades — while also being a manner adverb in “The dog is sitting hopefully by her food dish”.  (Not arguing with Lisa here, but with her long-ago professor and my fellow [AHD] Usage Panelists who vote with the majority to condemn this perfectly ordinary and proper usage.)

Pretty much everyone who writes about English usage has taken on hopefully, and the informed consensus is solidly with Larry, but a bizarre irrational prejudice continues against sentence adverbial hopefully.


Smart kid

November 7, 2011

Reported by Ellen Seebacher on Google+ today:

My thirteen-year-old, during a discussion of prescriptive vs. descriptive grammar and constructions on their way out in English:

“So ‘shall’ isn’t exactly packing its bags and walking out the door like ‘whom’, but it’s winding down the conversation and looking at the clock?”

He’s pretty much got it down. Shall and whom will probably be around for a long time, but only in very restricted contexts (“Shall we dance?”, “someone of whom I’ve heard a lot”). So they’ve packed their bags and are sitting in a little corner by the door.

(I was startled to re-read a paper of mine from 1968 a few days ago and was startled to see academese like “We shall show”, where I’d now write “I will show” or “I’ll show”.)


July 4, 2011

Over on Language Log, Mark Liberman looks at a recent Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal cartoon (also passed on to me by Paul Armstrong), in which a high school teacher, faced by thesaurisizing students, puckishly creates a fake thesaurus, only to have the students pick up her fancy-sounding inventions.

And a while back, Bruce Webster passed on to me a query about a recent book, The Well-Spoken Thesaurus, full of (generally bad) “Don’t say that, Instead say this” advice.


The siren song of whom

April 25, 2011

Hilton Als, or one of his editors at the New Yorker, has opted for prescriptively correct (but now very formal and even archaic-sounding) whom in a context where I think who would be stylistically much more natural (discussion of some other cases of “Object whom” here):

Jackie [a man] wants to make love, but Veronica has something on her mind. She’s been seeing someone else, but won’t say whom. Is it their downstairs neighbor, the motherfucker with a hat? (Hilton Als, “War Games” [review of “The Motherfucker with the Hat”], New Yorker 4/25/11, p. 86)



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