Archive for the ‘Usage advice’ Category

secret cabal

January 13, 2021

(Hanging in my posting queue for some considerable time, but just as relevant now as then.

From John McIntyre on Facebook on 9/6/18:

Guardian writer refers to a “secret cabal” in the Trump administration. What other kind does he think there is?

The crucial point is the definition of cabal. From NOAD:

noun cabal: a secret political clique or faction: a cabal of dissidents.

That is, cabals are by definition secret, and secret cabal is pleonastic, so is to be avoided (in favor of plain cabal). The general principle is the Strunk / White Avoid Needless Words dictum. (Yes, we can dispute the applicability of the dictum in particular cases. More below.)

In my mental filing cabinet, the relevant drawer is labeled pilotless drone, after a specific example I discussed at some length back in 2007. Then, of course, the question will be whether my treatment of pilotless drones carries over to secret cabals

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Lay, goosie, lay

December 30, 2020

Liz Climo’s cartoon for today, 12/30, the 6th day of Christmas (“Six geese a-laying” — that is, laying eggs):

(#1)

Prescriptively incorrect, but extraordinarily widespread, lay down (in an imperative to the geese to lie down).

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The voice of authority

June 3, 2020

Yesterday on FB a query from my friend P (exchanges edited to remove personal chitchat):

A company is creating an outgoing voice message and they have come to blows over sentence structure. My suggestion to them is to fight bigger battles — but, alas, here we are.

They are going to the mat on “how can I” vs “how I can.”

Given your expertise, which is better?

“Thanks for calling COMPANY. Please tell me, in detail, how CAN I help you?
OR
“Thanks for calling COMPANY. Please tell me, in detail, how I CAN help you.”

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Title bout

May 17, 2020

“Title bout”: Wayno’s title for yesterday’s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro:


(#1) Irresolvable stylistic choices? You could just punt, and avoid having to make any choice (if you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 4 in this strip — see this Page.)

Actually, it’s worse that this; between panels 2 and 3, there should be 2.5:

Based off true events

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Comedic NomConjObj

November 12, 2019

Tell it to Kim. Tell it to me. Tell it to Kim and I.

The new paradigm for case-marking of pronouns, including the nominative conjoined object (NomConjObj) in to Kim and I — now judged to be the correct form by a large population of young, educated American speakers, as against the judgments of older speakers, who use instead accusative conjoined objects (AccConjObj), as in to Kim and me.

Entertainingly, the new paradigm is evidenced in tv comedies in which grammatically fastidious characters freely use NomConjObj and even admonish those who use AccConjObj.

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individuals, people, persons

February 13, 2019

From a mail pointer to a 1/30/19 article in the journal Psychological Science, “Similarity Grouping as Feature-Based Selection” by Dian Yu, Xiao Xiao, Douglas K. Bemis, & Steven L. Franconeri:

Individuals perceive objects with similar features (i.e., color, orientation, shape) as a group even when those objects are not grouped in space.

Point at issue: individuals rather than people, a mark of a consciously formal, “scientific” way of writing, appropriate (some believe) for reporting on research in psychology.

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The crusty old editor speaks

February 2, 2019

The author of the little — 67-page — guidebook The Old Editor Says: Maxims for Writing and Editing (first published in 2013), the old-school newspaper editor John E. McIntyre, writing as a curmudgeonly, sometimes imperious, character of the same name, as seen on the book’s front cover:


(#1) The name of this image file is McIntyreOldEdtor.jpg; that fact will eventually become significant

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A vernacular construction?

December 10, 2018

Ben Yagoda on the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Lingua Franca blog on 12/5/18, “Why Do I Really, Really Want to Say ‘Had Went’?”

… You see what [actor and director Jonah] Hill and [director Bryan] Fogel were doing, grammatically. They were using the preterite (ran, went) instead of the past participle (run, gone). This is by no means a new thing. Writing in 1781, John Witherspoon decried the “vulgarisms” had fell, had rose, had broke, had threw, and had drew.

Such constructions have long flourished in the American vernacular.

Standard English uses the PSP (past participle) form of a verb in the perfect construction and the passive construction (among other places). Ben says that some speakers and writers have different (syntactic) constructions here, using the PST (past, aka preterite — nothing hinges on the name) form instead of the PSP.

I maintain that Ben has seriously misunderstood the phenomenon here, and that Vern, the vernacular variety, doesn’t differ syntactically from Stan, the standard variety, with respect to the forms used in the perfect and the passive; it’s the PSP for both. It’s just that for some verbs, Vern pronounces the PSP differently from Stan; for Vern, the PSP form for these verbs is pronounced the same as their PST.

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Books of the year

December 9, 2018

… in the Economist‘s 12/1 issue,”Books of the year: The big read”, (p. 76), in the Culture category: 6 books selected, including:

The Prodigal Tongue. By Lynne Murphy. Penguin Books; 368 pages; $17. Oneworld, £16.99.

The first and perhaps only book on the merits of American and British English that is dominated by facts and analysis rather than nationalistic prejudice. For all its scholarship, this is also a funny and rollicking read.

And in “The Economist’s journalists unbound: A short hstory of moonlighting: Here are the books our writers published in 2008” (p. 77):

Talk on the Wild Side: The Untameable Nature of Language. By Lane Greene. Economist Books/Hachette; 240 pages; $26. Profile Books: £14.99.

Our Johnson columnist argues that English is a living organism; language rules are often preferences in disguise. “He is open-minded and discerning,” the Spectator said; “no zealot and no snob.”

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Grammarian Magazine

August 18, 2018

A 2012 playful creation of self-styled “Grammar Girl” Mignon Fogarty, reposted back on the 8th on the Our Bastard Language Facebook page:

(#1)

Yes, of course, it’s garmmra, not grammar, not about the grammar of English at all, but mostly about word choice, and then a lot of spelling and punctuation. (On garmmra, see my 2/22/12 posting “It’s All Grammar” and its successors.) Things like  the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language  and named frameworks of formal grammar(Transformational-Generative Grammar, Lexical Functional Grammar, Categorial Grammar, Construction Gramar, Generalized Phrase Structure Grammar, etc.) live in another world entirely.

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