Archive for the ‘Usage advice’ Category

But that’s not I nor you

January 6, 2018

My most recent adventure in pronoun case — the posting “Usage note: NomPred”, about nominative predicative pronouns — ended with a screen capture with the bit of dialogue

No, that’s more you. That’s not me.

which I converted to a piss-elegant pronoun version with That’s not I.

I haven’t found recent examples of this pronoun usage, not That’s not I, That’s not she/he, That’s not they, or (worse) That’s not we — NomPred we is extraordinarily unnatural — but I did find an example from the late 19th century, in a bit of didactic verse for schoolchildren:

Some folks long to die
But that’s not I nor you.

(where it’s repeated as the fourth line of morally instructive quatrains; this is the end of the first verse) — here conveying ‘but that’s not the way you and I are, but you and I aren’t like that’, and so indirectly conveying both ‘but that’s not the way I am, but I’m not like that’ and also ‘nor should that be the way you are, nor should you be like that’.



December 20, 2017

A SPAR message from reader Josh Bischof, with this bulletin from the internet:

From Ragan’s PR Daily “Ultimate grammar cheat sheet” by Brendan Brown on 12/6/17:  “6 grammar errors that can affect your story telling”

At issue is the interpretation of the PP = after + NP here, after a long day at school; the grammar tip presupposes that this PP is, in my terms, a SPAR, a subjectless predicative adjunct requiring a referent for the missing subject — I’ll refer to this as the Referent (for the SPAR) for short —  in which case general principles predict that the missing subject is the dog, which is both the nearest NP to the SPAR (the Nearest Rule) and the subject of the main clause the SPAR is adjunct to (the Subject Rule).

But PPs with the temporal P after don’t generally count as SPARs; only certain ones do — those with an NP object denoting a time span (as above) — and then those SPARs are subject to the complexities of interpretation that attend all SPARs, according to which factors of syntax and discourse context come into play (making the Subject Rule only a default and not a hard constraint).


??That is aliens for you.

November 21, 2017

From Mike Pope on Facebook a few days ago, this excerpt from Ian Frazier’s “New York’s Majestic Passage in the Sky: Revamping the Bayonne Bridge to make space for megaships” in the 11/13/17 New Yorker:


Mike wrote:

I can’t decide here whether this is weird. In the New Yorker, a sentence where I think I’d expect a contraction (“That’s xxx for you!”). Is this an editor bending the idiom to house style, or is this a not untypical variant?

Two things: the acceptability of the example (at best, it merits the stigma ?? of great dubiousness); and the circumstances that might have given rise to ??That is aliens for you (not at all clear, but advice on style and usage might be part of the story).


The Jargon Matrix

April 12, 2017

Yesterday’s Dilbert takes us into a dark world of language, the Jargon Matrix:


The Matrix, but with jargon from the world of technology businesses.


It was correction killed the desire

March 19, 2017

Yesterday’s Bizarro:

(If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 2 in this strip — see this Page.)

First, the adverb bad in I want you so bad. Then some notes on correction as a social practice, especially in one-on-one interactions.


Risible (faux-)commercial name

March 13, 2017

From a posting by Randy Murray to the Facebook page‎ “THE ERRORIST MOVEMENT – Correct grammar, with humour”, where he comments, “apostrophes mean so much”:


At first glance, this ad would seem to fall into four big topic areas on this blog: dubious commercial names; It’s All Grammar; vulgar slang; and phallic play (in particular, word play). To which I add: the conventions on the form of hashtags, e-mail addresses, and web addresses (URLs). But first, I have to tell you that this particular Dick’s Pizza is a fabrication.


The power of the Subject Rule

March 4, 2017

Over on ADS-L yesterday, Wilson Gray reported the following example from his reading:

(X) A nine-year-old boy is being hailed a hero for saving his mother’s life after being struck by lightning.

Merriment ensued on the mailing list over the boy’s impressve act, his toughness, and the like — all these responses indicating that readers interpreted (X) as asserting that the boy performed his heroic act after he had been struck by lightning.

The phrase after being struck by lightning is a SPAR (a Subjectless Predicative Adjunct Requiring a referent for the missing subject), and virtually everyone reading the phrase in the context above will take the required referent to be the referent of the subject in the main clause (a nine-year-old boy), rather than the referent of an NP closer to the SPAR: his mother’s life, an unlikely candidate, since that referent isn’t even a concrete object that could be struck by lightning; or, better, his mother, surely the NP the writer of (X) had in mind as supplying the required referent.

If the writer had absorbed the lessons of their school grammar, they would in fact have expected that the boy’s mother would be supplied as the required referent — because that school grammar tells you, very firmly, that a SPAR will (indeed must) pick up its referent from the NP nearest to it (the Nearest Rule). (That’s not the way school grammars, and books of usage advice, talk about these things — they speak of nouns and dangling modifiers — but here I’ve cleaned up the deep conceptual confusions in the traditional way of talking about these things.) Unfortunately, the empirically more adequate general principle isn’t a Nearest Rule, but a Subject Rule (and even that’s just a default, not an inviolable law of grammar).


International Day of Persons with Disabilities

December 4, 2016

That was yesterday, December 3rd, using the rather awkward name recommended by the UN. And the Comics Kingdom (King Features) blog offered a set of comics for the occasion, most of which I didn’t find particularly funny, though I liked this Bizarro:

(If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 3 in this strip — see this Page.)

V cripple, Adj crippled, N cripple. The cartoon has the V cripple, which seems not to have (yet) picked up the opprobium piled on the Adj crippled, and (worse) the N cripple (and its slang short form crip).


Iatrogenic grammar sickness

August 28, 2016

From 8/26 on Lithub, “How a Self-Published Writer of Gay Erotica Beat Sci-Fi’s Sad Puppies at their Own Game”, by M. Sophia Newman:

When I was a little kid, my mother would come into the bedroom I shared with two of my sisters each night and read us a book before we slept. Inevitably, a minor fight would erupt over whose bed beside which Mom would sit

Another WTF moment, to go along with the moment of failed anaphoric reference in my posting of the 26th. In this case, it’s hard to believe that the boldfaced relative clause comes from a native speaker of English, but it was, by a professional writer, in fact — and that’s surely the source of the problem. (In contrast, the source of the problem in the anaphoric reference example is almost surely that its writer was unpracticed at the task.)

In brief, Newman would never have committed the bizarre strangulated relative clause above — let’s call it Hern — if she hadn’t been subjected to rotten advice about how to write and taken it to heart: she was told that stranded P (“ending with a preposition”) is a grammatical disorder, which can, fortunately, be treated by a simple procedure, fronting the P. That is, the putatively malformed relative clauses

which/that/∅ Mom would sit beside

(in the Strand family) should be remedied by relocating the P beside (to the front of the relative clause) and using the (prosthetic) relative pronoun which to support it. The result of this procedure  is the appalling Hern, actually a bit of sick grammar caused by ill-advised therapy: iatrogenic grammar sickness.


A sad editing moment at the New York Times

September 12, 2015

In last Sunday’s NYT Magazine, I was saddened, and not a little outraged, to read, in Dan Kois’s piece “The Misanthropic Genius of Joy Williams”, the following bit of garbled English:

In the end the essay is a call to arms for a new kind of literature, one Williams sounds doubtful that anyone, including she, can write.

(After nearly a week, the sentence is still on the paper’s site. Apparently nobody thought there was anything wrong with it.)

Now, I’m familiar with examples like this, and have posted about them, but not from professional writers or editors who are presumably native speakers of English; instead, they come from amateurs who are so unwilling to trust their instincts about how their language works that they cast about for guidance from (poorly remembered) advice on how to write their language that they’ve been taught. They have some excuse. But Kois and whatever editors worked on this piece do not.