NomConjObj in the New Yorker

The steamroller of language change chugs on, even through the famously factchecked and copyedited precincts of the New Yorker. From the keyboard of the magazine’s ideas editor, Joshua Rothman, in the 1/21/19 issue, in the article “The art of decision-making: Your life choices aren’t just about what you want to do; they’re about who you want to be”, in a section where Rothman and his wife face decisions about becoming parents (p. 31 in the print edition; relevant passage boldfaced, crucial phrase underlined):

Before we had our son, I began exploring the “near face” of being a parent. I noticed how cute babies and children could be and pictured our spare room as a nursery; I envisaged my wife and I taking our child to the beach near our house (my version of “entering the warm light of a concert hall on a snowy evening”). I knew that these imaginings weren’t the real facts about having children — clearly, there was more to having kids than cuteness. All the same, I had no way of grasping the “distant face” of fatherhood. It was something I aspired to know.

This is the first NomConjObj — nominative personal pronoun form in a conjoined object — that I’ve noticed in plain (not quoted) text in the New Yorker; there are in fact no New Yorker examples in my database of NomConjObj examples. Meanwhile, I believe the editors of the magazine have deprecated the construction as a vulgar error, so it’s notable. It’s not at all surprising to me that Rothman wrote that sentence, but it’s telling that it wasn’t changed in editing. I will explain.

Background on this blog, cataloguing a shift over time from NomConjObjs in informal speech to their use in formal speech (and informal writing) to their use in formal writing, specifically for younger speakers at each time period:

on 5/23/12 in “Pronoun case double-header”, an NPR interview with NomConjObj, from the commenter “the ridger”:

NomConjObj strikes me as colloquial rather than nonstandard.

on 8/30/12 in “NomConjObj on the campaign trail”, from a speech by Mitt Romney (with other Romney uses):

 I’d imagine that the structure is entirely natural for Romney (and for his speechwriters as well).

on 2/4/15 in “Sunday NomConjObj”, in an interview in the NYT Sunday Review:

 From a 2/24/14 posting:

I have gradually come to be conclusion that NomConjObjs should be seen as an alternative standard usage (largely in coexistence with the prescriptive standard of AccConjObj). The question is then who uses which version, in which contexts, for which purposes. The tentative answer to this question looks complex: I know from interviewing speakers informally that some think that NomConjObjs are formal and “serious” (this is not the same thing as saying that users of the variant are “trying to be sophisticated”, as [CBS News reporter Bill] Flanagan suggests; usage critics are often quick to attribute motives to speakers, rather than just reporting their beliefs), while others simply think that [NomConjObjs] are the way the language works.

For older speakers, NomConjObjs tend to be used in informal contexts, especially in speech (as in the Nischan interview above), but sometimes in informal writing as well (note that the interviewer preserves Nischan’s NomConjObj, rather than “correcting” it in print). But for many younger speakers (like my Stanford students), NomConjObjs are the default.

on 1/17/19 in “Startling NomConjObj” on the editorial page: an example in the lead editorial of the NYT, print edition – later edited to Acc on-line

On Joshua Rothman. Rothman’s age now becomes relevant. In the section on contributors on the New Yorker‘s site:

Joshua Rothman, the ideas editor of newyorker.com, has been a writer and an editor at the magazine since 2012.

From his Facebook page, we learn that he grew up in Washington DC; graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy; got his bachelor’s degree from Princeton in 2002; did graduate work in English and American Lit at Harvard; and was formerly a columnist at the Boston Globe. Getting his undergrad degree in 2002 puts him in his late 30s, fully 30 years younger Louis Menand, the Harvard professor and New Yorker staff writer who seems to function as the magazine’s dragon on English usage (and makes Rothman nearly two generations younger than me).

It would then be totally unsurprising for Rothman to use a NomConjObj in his writing for the magazine. By now, the copyeditors will also be on the young side and would find nothing notable about the usage; in fact, it’s quite likely that they would balk at an AccConjObj (as my Stanford undergraduates already did 10-15 years ago), as sounding unserious, too informal for academic writing, even a vulgar error — no matter how much Menand might fume that only AccConjObjs are acceptable.

 

 

3 Responses to “NomConjObj in the New Yorker”

  1. Michael Newman Says:

    In the small clause subject position, wouldn’t the prescriptivists be trying get a genitive? “My wife and MY taking…”

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Absolutely. Though they’d probably insist on “my wife’s and my” (requiring distribution of the possessive over the conjuncts, rather than using only end-marking).

  2. [BLOG] Some Wednesday links | A Bit More Detail Says:

    […] Zwicky reports on the latest signs of language change, this time in the New […]

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