In the NYT Sunday Review of 3/31, a nice piece by Henry Hitchings on nouning (“Those Irritating Verbs-as-Nouns”). The illustration:
Widely reported back in January, for instance in this Los Angeles Times story, “Texas talk is losing its twang: Fewer Texans are speaking in the traditional dialect, as urbanization, pop culture and an influx of newcomers have conspired to displace the local language” (by Molly Hennessy-Fiske, 1/27/13). My interest here is the use of twang.
I recently bought a new hairbrush, which came labeled
A wonderful compound, bristling with /b/s and growling with /r/s. I might be a linguist, but like everybody, I have my moments of sheer word appreciation, and I savor boar bristle.
From a correspondent in Germany, an e-mail query about there vs. over there in English. My correspondent reports that when he was in vocational college (in Germany) he had a teacher from Great Britain who explained to the class that the difference between the two expressions was that there was used for relatively short distances, over there for significantly longer distances.
She said you can ask someone over the phone, who lives in China “How’s the weather over there?”. But asking “How’s the weather there?” is, according to her, grammatically incorrect.
Oh lord, another invented “rule”, of a sort that linguabloggers (notably on Language Log) have been wrestling with for years. Teachers and amateur usageists are especially prone to come up with misguided advice — for reasons that are pretty clear.
Two pieces of mail to AZBlog, both telling me that I’d said some expression E was an X but that it was really a Y instead. I stand by my original claims, while adding that E is in fact both an X and a Y, though in two different senses:
conjunctive: E is an X and E is a Y, and those two claims are not incompatible;
disjunctive: what we’re calling E is in fact two different expressions, E1 and E2 (that is, E = E1 ∨ E2), which happen to be phonologically identical; E is “sometimes an X and sometimes a Y”, in that E1 is an X and E2 is a Y
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.
It’s been a while since I posted about the absolutist (vs. the contextualist) position on subjectless predicational adjuncts requiring a referent for the missing subject (SPARs, for short), namely that they must obey the Subject Rule (that the missing subject of the adjunct must be supplied by subject of the clause it’s adjoined to); if a SPAR doesn’t obey the Subject Rule, it’s labeled a “dangler” and is judged, by absolutists, to be always ungrammatical, regardless of context, discourse organization, or real-life plausibility. So examples like
After writing a book, it seems that Harry is at loose ends.
are rejected as irredeemably ungrammatical by some writers. For them, the Subject Rule is a matter of God’s Truth, not a preference in referent-finding.
What I said on the matter last year:
How do people get to the absolutist [vs. the contextualist] position? The full journey is twisted and complicated, but the crucial midpoint is where the Subject Rule comes to be seen not as a rule of thumb but as a rule of grammar (for standard English). Once you buy that, then there’s no point in looking at context; context can’t ameliorate ungrammaticality. Kisses pleases me (with kisses understood as the plural of the common noun kiss ‘act of kissing’) is not standard English, and no amount of preceding or following linguistic context or scene-setting story-telling can change that …
So almost everyone writing about “danglers” cites examples isolated from context of any kind and bereft of background knowledge about the substance of the text. The internal content of the examples is almost entirely irrelevant, in this view …
Now two recent instances of absolutist criticism.
Passed on by Jeff Wechter in e-mail, a link to Ted McCagg’s drawings on his site Questionable Skills, including a long series of Best Word Ever drawings, in which competitions in word attractiveness are presented as bracketed sports tournaments. Yesterday’s open competition:
And then a completed tournament, in a series that runs through the letters of the alphabet (of course, I’d choose Z):
McCagg draws more traditional cartoons as well as these diagrams, which lie off on the edges of the comics/cartoons world (along with Venn diagrams and some webcomics I’ve posted about).