Ruminations on grammar, philology, standardized testing, and anything else that strikes my fancy

Too true

But I thought The Onion was supposed to be satire:
In a surprising refutation of the conventional wisdom on opinion entitlement, a study conducted by the University of Chicago's School for Behavioral Science concluded that more than one-third of the U.S. population is neither entitled nor qualified to have opinions.

What's wrong with etymology?

Personally, I find etymology very interesting. I am, after all, a quondam medievalist whose interests lay particularly in historical linguistics. As I intimated in my previous post, though, I also find the way it is generally served up for public consumption to be a bit irritating.

Hot for Chronological Accuracy

I have mixed feelings about Hotforwords. On the plus side, she's talking about language, she generally does some research, and she seems to have a clue about linguistic matters. (Oh, yeah, and she really is hot.) On the other hand, she confines herself to a fairly trivial form of etymology: stories about word origins shorn of historical linguistics. It also appears that her research is confined to looking things up in a few of the standard references (like the OED), and, more questionably, Wikipedia.

Sesame Street Linguistics

This morning my son was watching Sesame Street and I heard Grover ask rhetorically, "Anyone know what 'agglutination' means?" I immediately had Aran practice saying the word, but he's a little young to lecture on morphological structure, so I left it at that.

Diagramming Word Salad

Friday, I wrote about Kittey Burns Florey's attempts to diagram a few of Sarah Palin's utterances. Today, I'm going to continue with the second of her attempts, which is decidedly more challenging because the utterance has serious grammatical issues no matter how you slice up the sentence.

Palin's Diagram

Slate has a piece by Kitty Burns Florey, the author of Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog, in which she attempts to diagram a few of the more egregiously strange comments that Sarah Palin has made during her interviews.

As she notes, diagramming a sentence tells you nothing about the sentence's meaning:


I don't blame Elmo

At Language Log, Arnold Zwicky has a post on illeism, which I found personally relevant, as my son Aran is 3, and I find myself frequently using appa (the Tamil word for father) to refer to myself ("Appa will get you juice," etc.). He rightly dismisses the complaints of parents who blame Elmo from Sesame Street.

Tasty Relief

While driving in to work this morning, I head the reporter on NPR talking about a sense of "palatable relief" on Wall Street due to the bail out of AIG. After I finished snickering, for which elitism I will soon, doubtlessly, be punished by the law of prescriptive retaliation, I googled the phrase. It's not very common (only 100 g-hits as opposed to 8080 for 'palpable relief'), and a few are just accidental collocations crossing phrase boundaries, but clearly this is not unattested.


Contain your righteous indignation for a moment and consider the much-maligned word irregardless. There are two arguments typically advanced against it, usually together: first, that it is "not a word," and second, that it is a kind of double negative. The first claim is simply stupid. By any reasonable definition of what a word is, of course it's a word. Just because a word irritates you does not demote the utterance from wordhood.

Those pesky pronouns

Your high school English teacher always warned you about those ambiguous pronouns, but many of the examples she gave you probably weren't really ambiguous in a practical context. Here's one that is demonstrably ambiguous, but not, I think, for the reasons usually offered in high school textbooks. Language Hat grouses about an explanation offered by Dear Abby about the distinction between "burn down" and "burn up."
DEAR ABBY: Does a house "burn up" or "burn down"?


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