Archive for the ‘Peeving’ Category

to shallow

September 16, 2014

From the 9/6 New Scientist, in a letter from Bruce Denness (p. 28):

The tank shallowed towards one corner so that deep-water waves … began to break as they approached the shallow corner.

That’s the inchoative verb to shallow ‘to become, get shallow(er)’ — a direct verbing (or zero conversion) of the adjective shallow. I’m not agin verbings (unlike a number of peevers, who are driven into rages by them), and this one serves a real purpose, but it was new to me. It’s also venerable, and has even made it into NOAD2.


Three diverse

May 21, 2014

This morning: a classic Doonesbury on foul language; a Rhymes With Orange citing the spurious “rule” that an English clause must not end in a preposition; and a Zippy looking back at an ad icon of the 1940s and 50s (“drink more flavored liqueurs”, says Judge Arrow).



July 31, 2013

In the NYT on the 29th, an op-ed piece “A Crescendo of Errors” by Miles Hoffman (the violist of the American Chamber Players and a music commentator for Morning Edition on NPR), which begins with a cry of pain over a usage:

Fitzgerald did it. Can you believe that? And in “Gatsby,” no less. It sent me reeling. The historian James M. McPherson did it in “Battle Cry of Freedom.” Twice. George F. Will, William Safire and countless other prominent journalists have done it, as have Southern writers, Northern writers, writers of science and of science fiction, novices and old pros.

All these people, and so many others — oh my goodness, so very many others — have “reached,” or have described events or emotions “reaching,” crescendos.

… But here’s the thing: as God — along with Bach, Beethoven and Mozart — is my witness, you cannot “reach” a crescendo.

… The one thing crescendo does not mean, … and never has meant, is “climax.”

Barbara Partee has responded to Hoffman’s piece on Language Log, in a piece entitled “Reaching a crescendo?”.  Here I’ll be repeating some of Barbara’s points and some of the discussion in comments on it, trying to bring out several points that tie to themes in my postings.


Convention event?

December 12, 2012


Yesterday on ADS-L, Charlie Doyle passed on a piece from the Monday Huffington Post on, omigod, the hated word moist; the HuffPo writer professed to be nauseated by the word (title: “Hate Moist? You’re Not Alone”) and went on to consider alternative expressions that would avoid the offensive moist. The ADS-Lers went over this years ago, starting with reactions much like Jon Lighter’s yesterday:

Truly incredible. Rationally inexplicable.
It “nauseates” them, even when applied to cakes!
Makes me want to use it more. And eat more cake.

I got back on the bandwagon:

Yes, it makes me want to stand up in a crowded theater and shout, “MOIST MOIST MOIST”.

And then Amy West took things in a new direction:

Me three. If you guys are coming to Boston for LSA/ADS in Jan. we can do this. While holding cake.

Ah, a convention event! I could totally get into that.



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.


Cannibal shrimp

December 3, 2011

(Warning: This posting will wander some.)

It started with a story in New Scientist (online 11/17/11, in print 11/19/11): Chelsea Whyte’s:

Cannibal shrimp shows its romantic side

In order: (1) the interpretation and accenting of cannibal shrimp; (2) the tale of the cannibal shrimp (no linguistics to speak of here); (3) cleaner shrimp; (4) CRSs and their potential for cannibalism; (5) CRS shrimp and other instances of RAS syndrome; (6) orphan initialisms.


Inflection rage

March 6, 2011

Letter in the March 2011 Instinct magazine expressing inflection rage:


As a retired professor of English, I must call attention to the grammatical error in the latest issue: The past tense of the verb sink is sank, not sunk (that’s the past participle, as in, “The Nazis had sunk many war vessels” [“Editor’s Letter,” Dec. 2010/Jan. 2011]. In the future, I would be happy to copy-edit any editorials, since whoever does your copy editing has obviously fallen down on the job. A concerned but very avid reader…

Ben A. in Los Angeles, CA

A snappy, jokey reply from the editors accepts the criticism, but attributes the error to the editor Mike Wood, rather than the proofreaders:

Mike’s just rambling on and on in those “Editor’s Letters” moments before we have to pry the copy from his clammy hands to deliver the magazine to the presses!

All the parties in this exchange seem to believe that there is One Right Way to form the past tense of a verb, and for SINK this way is sank.

Both beliefs are flawed, the second dramatically so, though I have a speculation about the source of the professor’s rage.



February 25, 2011

Jeremy in Zits is literally surrounded by intensives:

Intensive literally is high on the list of language peeves, eliciting venom from all sides, on the grounds that it makes literally ambiguous — ambiguous in a way that results in confusion. Not that Jeremy was actually confused about what his friends were saying; he was just, in the manner of word ragers, pig-headedly refusing to accept the evidence (all around him) of how people are using the word (and flagrantly indulging in the Etymological Fallacy).