Archive for the ‘Usage’ Category

Another ship reaches port

December 2, 2017

In e-mail yesterday and today, an exchange involving Betty Birner, Larry Horn, David Denison, and me about “reversed SUBSTITUTE”, starting with Betty’s observation:

This struck me while I was watching an episode of The Great British Baking Show on Netflix:

“Andrew is substituting the barmbrack’s customary raisins for milk chocolate chips.”  [voiceover]

Needless to say, he was leaving OUT the raisins and ADDING chocolate chips.  Also needless to say, this is British English.

This is reversed SUBSTITUTE: substitute OLD for NEW (in this case, substitute customary raisins for milk chocolate chipscustomary lets us know that the raisins are OLD), rather than traditional SUBSTITUTE: substitute NEW for OLD (what would be, in this case, substitute milk chocolate chips for customary raisins).

The end of our discussion was David’s noting that the shift from traditional to reversed SUBSTITUTE seems to be virtually complete for many British speakers (including educated ones), and Larry’s suggesting that this was true for some younger American speakers as well. Another ship of linguistic change that has reached its port for many speakers.

Two other such ships I’ve written about: NomCoordObjs (nominative coordinate objects, as in They gave it to Kim and I, rather than to Kim and me; and +of EDM (exceptional degree marking with of, as in that big of a dog, rather than that big a dog).

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A tartan for my ilk

August 29, 2017

Alerted recently by Beth Linker to an announcement on August 25th from the Scottish Register of Tartans (a UK government agency) that the Pride of LGBT tartan (category: Fashion) has been registered: reference #11871, recorded 7/31/17:

(#1) Pride of LGBT tartan

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Annals of NomConjObj: Miss Adelaide

August 24, 2017

Yesterday from Ben Zimmer, e-mail saying that he’d recently seen a performance of the musical “Guys and Dolls” and thought I’d appreciate an exchange in the song “Marry the Man Today” (one of the songs that was cut for the movie adaptation), a duet for the characters Adelaide (Miss Adelaide of the Hot Box girls) and Sarah (Sister Sarah Brown in a Salvation Army band):

Adelaide: At Wanamaker’s and Saks and Klein’s
A lesson I’ve been taught
You can’t get alterations on a dress you haven’t bought.
Sarah: At any vegetable market from Borneo to Nome
You mustn’t squeeze a melon till you get the melon home.
Adelaide: You’ve simply got to gamble.
Sarah: You get no guarantee.
Adelaide: Now doesn’t that kind of apply to you and I?
Sarah: You and me.

(referring to Adelaide and Nathan Detroit, who runs a crap game; and Sarah and Sky Masterson, a high-rolling gambler)

You can listen to the song, in the original cast album, here.

A NomConjObj (nominative conjoined object) from Adelaide, corrected by Sarah. The first instance of NomConjObj in my life that I actually noticed — surely not the first that came past me, but the first I was conscious of, and tried to locate in its social world (working-class NYC low-lifes, in the show) — also part of my first experience of a live performance of a musical, in the original Broadway production, which opened in 1950. I was 10, and it was stunning.

(#1) Playbill from the original production

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Verbal magic in the workplace

June 2, 2017

Today’s Dilbert:

Your people are distressed about the cell-like connotations of cubicle? Easy solution: change the term, to something that sounds more substantial. Yes, they’ll still be working in cell-like spaces, but they might feel better about it. Apparently, the magic of euphemistic, elevating jargon can sometimes work even if the audience knows that it’s jargonistic invention.

The Jargon Matrix

April 12, 2017

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

(#1)

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

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Name play in Basingstoke

June 12, 2016

From my English correspondent RJP, this tradeperson’s van, photographed on the street:

(#1)

Flat Boy Skim is a bit of complex name play on Fatboy Slim. Well, you have to know who Fatboy Slim is, something many people do not. And then: what might Flat Boy Skim have to do with plastering? For that, you have to know something about the technical jargon of plastering (which I did not, until I looked it up; well, I correctly noted that a good plastering job should be flat — smooth — and I assumed that boy was just there for the name play, but skim was a mystery).

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Two Dilberts

December 21, 2015

From the 8th, featuring Alice:

  (#1)

and from the 20th, featuring Wally and the pointy-haired boss:

  (#2)

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Confessions of a Comma Queen

May 11, 2015

Back on April 4th, I posted about two language-related pieces in the New Yorker, the first a reminiscence by Mary Norris about jobs she had held, tracing her route to the copydesk at that magazine and her career as a “comma queen”. About that time the expansion of this essay into a book appeared: Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen (W. W. Norton). And now some reviews, including one by Patricia O’Conner in the NYT Book Review on April 19th, beginning:

Copy editors are a peculiar species (I’ve been one myself, and at the very publication you are now reading). But those at The New Yorker are something else entirely, a species nova that mutated into existence in 1925 and would hurl itself off a cliff rather than forsake the dieresis in “coöperate.”

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literally literally

March 28, 2015

Today’s Zits:

Instances of literal literally are surely outnumbered these days by intensive literally, but there’s still a place for it.

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Tech talk

February 21, 2015

Today’s Dilbert, in which the pointy-headed boss asks for investment advice:

The boss is fine with colorful figurative jargon in the investment world, but balks at the term diversification because of the spelling challenges it presents.