4 Jan 2009

Crank prescriptivism

Submitted by Karl Hagen
Yeah, I know that some of you probably think the title to this post is redundant, but some attempts to prescribe (or proscribe) language are stranger than others. On Language Log, Arnold Zwicky writes about a whimsical proscription from Ambrose Bierce, along with someone who apparently believes that that as a complementizer can never be omitted. According to this person, "I know he is a good man" should really be "I know that he is a good man."
26 Aug 2008


Submitted by Karl Hagen
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.
11 Nov 2007

Oh Frabjous Day!

Submitted by Karl Hagen
While poking around in Google Books, I have just discovered that the wonderful Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage is available in full text mode. As far as I'm concerned, this is one of the few really worthwhile usage guides. Unlike most of the bozos who opine about how you should or should not write, the Merriam-Webster's folks actually look to see how reputable writers actually use language instead of just spouting off based on their personal whims, and they show a deep knowledge about the variety of opinion on various points of usage.
8 Nov 2007
In high school my favorite English teacher was Mrs. Stephens. She was strict, demanded quality writing, and rarely gave A's. And I still remember many of the little usage rules that she insisted on. In my maturity, however, I realize that she taught us many arbitrary rules that have little foundation in reality.
8 Apr 2007
When I taught linguistics-for-teachers courses, I spent a significant portion of my class time trying to get students to question their assumptions about language, assumptions that, whether they learned them in school or by general osmosis, are based on premises that linguists know to be incorrect. It always distressed me, therefore, when certain students would make it to the end of the course and drop some comment that made it clear they had internalized little of what I was trying to communicate.
29 Mar 2007
I'm contemplating changing polysyllabic's tag-line to "commentary by a licensed grammarian." Oh, wait! I don't have a license. There's no license required to set yourself up as a grammarian. And it shows in the quality of material that supposedly will teach you grammar. I'm not actually a fan of requiring paper credentials for every field, but the complete lack of quality control in writing about grammar irritates me so much that I fear I'm in danger of becoming just as cranky as Goold Brown:


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