Archive for the ‘Usage attitudes’ Category

Three bulletins

September 6, 2018

From the annals of naming, a probably inevitable name for a wine blend. From the cartoon files, a recent SMBC with a classic grammar peeve that is newly relevant. And from the news for penises, the image of a bicycle turned into a penis.


Fantasy originalism

August 25, 2018

A SMBC “Gif” from sometime in August 2017:

Yes, a stupid discussion, on several fronts.


In Syntax Country

August 13, 2018

In a vivid linguistics dream in the am hours of the 10th, a page of linguistic data gold that (in the dream) I carefully saved to my computer — my dream computer, of course — so I could post about it triumphantly later in the day. Alas, later in the day my dream computer was off-line, so to speak, and all I had from that marvelous page of data when I woke briefly was this not entirely certain recollection:

We never stop(ped) rolling  over them / them over  in Syntax Country.

Two possible contributors to this dream message.


Death by verbing

July 23, 2018

From Facebook friends, this distressing recent Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, featuring a malevolently uberpeeving personification of the English language:


He meant to say “supine”

February 11, 2018

Wilson Gray on ADS-L on the 6th:

“She was lying on her back, when she was stabbed, in the prone position.”

He meant to say, “in the supine position,” of course.

There’s no “of course” here. No, that is almost surely not what the speaker meant to say; I’d wager he intended to say exactly what he did say. It’s just not what Wilson thinks the speaker should have said. (Or he’s mocking people who talk this way, though I failed to detect any raised eyebrows in what he wrote so briefly and dismissively.)

We have here a widespread vulgar confusion, a failure to distinguish

between inadvertent errors, things that are “wrong” for the person who produces them, and advertent errors, things that are ok so far as the producer is concerned but “wrong” from the point of view of at least some other people. (Faced with [the first], you call in the psycholinguist; faced with [the second], you call in the sociolinguist.) (Language Log link)

On top of that, Wilson has the sociolinguistic facts wrong, through a confusion between ordinary language and technical language: supine is a technical term for a bodily postion (lying flat on one’s back), used in certain specific domains (anatomy, sport, and shooting, in particular); in those domains, its counterpart (referring to lying flat on one’s belly) is prone, but in ordinary language, outside these specific domains, prone can refer to lying flat in general, and supine isn’t used at all.

The mistake here lies in assuming that technical, domain-specific (medical, botanical, technologcal, etc.) vocabulary is the true, correct, uniquely valid scheme for naming. From my 7/27/15 posting “Misleadingly named animals”, on zoological names:

The terminology “true fly” and “true bug” (etc.) here arises from the attitude that the naming practices of biologists are the only valid (true) naming schemes — what I’ll call technicalism. In the case of fly and bug, technicalism is remarkable from the historical point of view, since the specialized use of these nouns represents a decision to use perfectly ordinary vocabulary as technical terminology by drastically restricting its reference.


Grammar police on the highway

November 4, 2017

A PartiallyClips from 2014, which somehow slipped my notice:

The officer in the cartoon — I’ll call him Andy, after E.B. White — objects to (1) broke as the PSP of break and to (2) What did you do that for? as (incorrectly) ending a sentence with a preposition, and he’s about to object to the driver’s use of (3) hyperbolic or intensive literally. Meanwhile, Andy’s partner Bill Strunk (note: the Strunk of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style was called Will) is busy doing usage-retributive damage to the car. Not, I think, the world’s greatest usage assholes, but arguably in the asshole pantheon.


Another gendered moment in the comics

October 28, 2017

On the 25th it was a Calvin and Hobbes on art by girls vs. boys. Then came this recent One Big Happy, featuring Joe, his dad, and gendered words:

Three beliefs contribute to Joe’s reluctance to deal with sweet and purse as spelling words:


Repetitive phrase disorder

October 3, 2017

A phenomenon that Bill Griffith returns to from time to time, under a series of names. Today it’s repetitive phrase disorder, manifested in the tetrametrical mantra turtle-headed sea snakes:

Savor its power: say it three times!



June 29, 2017

A Dilbert from 9/7/91 (passed on by Tom Limoncelli):

Betty balks at the title fellow — because she thinks of only one of the three lexical items fellow, informal ‘man, boy’. But there are two others, and the one she’s thinking of is the most recent.


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.