I shouldn't be surprised that John McIntyre's response to my post on disenfranchised is largely interested in extending the spirit of goodwill.
Mr McIntyre has well-reasoned views of where prescriptions serve a purpose and when they should guide decisions about language. And by well-reasoned I of course mean that I largely agree with them. I read his blog daily and I see that he has more to teach than I do. This has been a refreshingly affable exchange. Cheers sir.
My views on language are often responsible for more discord than my views on politics or religion. Anytime I'm called a dangerous and irresponsible libertine I assume it's because of my radically tolerant views on language. Descriptivism is an oddly disintuited view: shattered by rulers on knuckles and stern red pens.
Just last week I mentioned to someone that I believe a common sense approach to language should lead to the argument that as negative concord is rarely confusing it's hardly an unclear, ineffective or structurally inferior form. It's the "additive" constructions that often get confusing, leading to
'So,' I said, 'there's no reason to think, just based on non-standard forms, that a speaker is dumber or less adept at language.'
'Right. Sure,' he responded in honest agreement. Then he added 'But that's usually the reason they talk that way, right?'
Training and learning are so regularly linked with ideas about intelligence that the popular view of language as a taught system has replaced the linguistic view of language acquisition. This is one of the important factors in the view that language must adhere to a prescribed standard rather than a naturally acquired one.
Of course I'm convinced that if the linguistic view was understood accurately, few would disagree with it. But then isn't that why everyone holds all opinions dearly?
Monday, December 29, 2008
I shouldn't be surprised that John McIntyre's response to my post on disenfranchised is largely interested in extending the spirit of goodwill.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Some perfect timing while on the drive to Minnesota: The route from Indiana of course takes us through Wisconsin. And playing on the iPod during that stretch of road were the 6 amusing and informative episodes of the Wisconsin Englishes Podcast with Tom Purnell and Joe Salmons. Very accessible. Worth listening to at least once. I hope they put up a new one soon.
On Christmas day in St. Cloud Minnesota I was able to inform a roomful of Minnesotans that golden birthdays are not observed nationwide. Buffy has never believed me on that one for some reason.
The golden birthday is the birthday when you turn the same age as the day of the month on which you were born.
That's as odd to me as duck, duck, grey duck.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
I nominate the following as Best Replacement for Dogs Barking Jingle Bells
Andrew Sullivan defines hathos as
the attraction to something you really can't stand; it's the compulsion of revulsion.
The Word Spy definition:
Feelings of pleasure derived from hating someone or something. (First Use credit given to Alex Heard, "Beyond Hate: The Giddy Thrill of Hathos," The Washington Post, May 17, 1987.)
Sullivan has gone on to provide several seasonal examples on his blog: a series of Christmas Hathos Nominees.
A painful sampling (including the two above):
Sunday, December 21, 2008
From The Onion:
SACRAMENTO, CA—Activists on both sides of the gay marriage debate were shocked this November, when a typographical error in California's Proposition 8 changed the state constitution to restrict marriage to a union between "one man and one wolfman," instantly nullifying every marriage except those comprised of an adult male and his lycanthrope partner.
Laughed out loud reading this to Buffy.
In a recent post John McIntyre writes
I came across a sentence in James McPherson’s Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief that referred to disfranchised African-Americans. To enfranchise is to give someone the franchise, the vote. To deny someone the vote is to disfranchise. The more common term in use is disenfranchise — which would suggest taking the vote away after it had been given. I’m not going to grow red in the face and pound my fist on the desk over this one — it’s not worth it. But it gladdens the heart to see a writer use a word in a precise sense.
Oh that he could move just a little farther away from his lightest of censures. I disagree with this good-natured judgment regarding these forms on several grounds.
I disagree with his judgment of precision. Praising the
preciseuse implicates the use of disenfranchise as less precise. It is of course not so. The precision lies within the nuanced intention of the writer/speaker and the understanding of the reader/listener. A change in meaning dulls not the edge of meaning.
But the morphological premise of his argument is shaky anyway. To franchise is just as much to grant rights as is to enfranchise. So disenfranchise no more means to take away a previously held right than does disfranchise. And if we want to look at the history of the words (which is relevant by the agreed terms of a discussion of language change) disfranchise has meant, and still often means, to deprive of rights held prior.
The prefix en- doesn't give enfranchise any further derived meaning. It's probably from the Old French enfranchiss- and not simply formed from the addition of en- to the English verb franchise. Enfranchise means the same thing as franchise and has historically meant the same thing.
What Mr McIntyre seems to want is a morphology that compositionally derives a sense of deprivation or keeping from. Something that could be accomplished by a prefix like un- which would indicated the state of not having been affected in the way indicated by the verb. Unfranchised and Unenfranchised are both attested by the OED with only a few citations.
The prefix dis- on either word could be considered equally problematic if we read the derived meanings as an undoing of a previous state. The 6th definition given in the OED is
having the sense of undoing or reversing the action or effect of the simple verb.In these words the state would be having certain officially recognized rights. And as Mr McIntyre says, this
would suggest taking the vote away after it had been given.
But I suggest that those un- forms are not only superfluous, they are incorrect. The dis- prefix is not merely acceptable despite it's compositional meaning, it is in fact more accurate. The sense of reversing is important in the use of the the terms. As I hear and try to use the words, they indicate that certain inalienable and inherent rights and freedoms have been taken away by institutions that don't respect all people equally.
To put it most simply: disfranchisement and disenfranchisement is precisely what happened to the slaves who used to have freedom and rights. These were taken away from them. If we believe the words of our founding documents then we also believe in
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Friday, December 19, 2008
Man, I've haven't been called an ignorant foreigner since I left North Dakota. It's frustrating.
It's almost like a grammaticality judgment. Ironic humor relies on a similar sense of "obviously wrong" so that a false statement is more clearly intentional. You need to know the system well enough to get it. To readers of this blog a word like interweb would most likely look intentional. And if I describe the internets as a big truck you all know that I realize it's really like a series of tubes.
I used to bother my sister by referring to things with a related but completely wrong word. I would ask, for instance, what she thought of that new song by Otter. 'You know, Kissed by a Rose.'
And mispronunciations can work the same way. Since I'm a big fan of Three's Company I sometimes refer to the soup of the day as soup doojer. But never at a nice restaurant. The garkons at those places hate jokes. Even at a Taco Bell when I asked for a kwessadilla I was corrected by the kid at the counter. It's pronounced 'kaysa-deeya' he told me. Suuure it is, I said and winked.
If I'm going to risk having my intelligence misunderestimated I should at least try better jokes. So far these are all as bad as the tired line about putting the emPHAsis on the wrong syLLAble. As annoying as playing air-drums and saying
Last April Grant Barrett posted a column he wrote for the Malaysia Star on intentional mispronunciations: "Saying it wrong on purpose." He could have called it 'Saying in wrong on porpoise.' It's probably a good thing that he didn't.
One of his commenters writes:
My wife and I have a habit of saying the name of the actress from Pirates of the Caribbean as Keira
Kuh-Nightley—just for fun. And the Actress from Batman Returns as Michelle Puh-Feiffer.
Keira Kuh-Nightly is so common in our household that we once said it in front of a friend, who explained that her name was pronounced “Nightly.” Oops.
"Oops"? Nonono. Your friend is the one who should be embarrassed for missing the little joke. It seems to me that the non-silent 'K' is one of those mispronunciations you should assume is a joke. Right?
There was a scene on Friends in which Chandler, trying to embarrass Joey, asks him where the Dutch are from, and Joey of course has no idea. Chandler teases him about it saying that it's
somewhere near the Netherlandsand Joey smartly responds that the Netherlands are a made up land
where Peter Pan and Tinkerbell come from.
I'm sure a good chunk of the audience laughed then thought Wait. where DO they come from? That's just short of where humor fails. If Joey had said Dutchland the laugh would probably have been cut in half. Especially if he took the stress off '-land' like in England or Poland. Because Dutchland almost sounds real. Especially to half the audience of Friends.
And if you live just south of a country that no-one can name, and you're constantly running into people who think that because you speak Dutch you must live in Deutschland, then you see something a lot like that on a blog post about swaffelen you're probably going to assume the silly writer is making that same mistake. Because it can be tough for Belgiumites for a Netherlandians to know that round here, "Dutchland" is so wrong as to be ridiculous (even if not funny). And so way over there in Belgium our friend, Loveoranges, is getting the wrong idea about us.
In her own profile she laments "ookal heb ik zelf geen humor." But in this case, I don't know that it would have helped any.
You're driving home and you see a giant monkey statue in the playground that you never noticed before. It has obviously always been there. It's old looking.
You walk into the grocery store and realize that there's a little coffee shop to the left of the customer service desk. You've been shopping there for years and you were just there yesterday but you never saw it.
You visit your in-laws (for the 15th time) and you notice a shed sitting next to the garage. You ask your wife about it and she tells you that she used to play in the shed when she was young. It's not new.
Is there a word for this? Other than being clueless or absentminded?
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
If you're getting bored with all the US's Words of the Yearses, just take a gander at the skanky Nether regions of Dutchland where swaffelen won 57% of an online vote.
What does it mean? The press release explains that
it means 'to swing one's penis, making it bump against something, in order to stimulate either oneself or someone else.' Regarding the word's trajectory:
The word gained notoriety through a video posted on YouTube, in which a Dutch student got arrested for "swaffling" against the Taj Mahal in India.
Grant Barrett has included swaffle over at his Double-Tongued Dictionary. You can also find it at the Urban Dictionary where the entry for swaffelen adds a note on the uh … history:
And then in the early middle ages, the noble art of swaffeling was lost. Many feared that the swaffel phenomenon had been taken away forever from mankind, however, on a booze-holiday in Blanes a group of youngsters rediscovered swaffeling, and even perfected it!
Practice, man. Practice.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Two memes today
Elizabeth tagged me for an open-ended meme. It's especially difficult because I'm a narcissist and I've already told every fact and story about me that I think is worth telling—somewhere. Even here.
This forces me to think back. It's tough to make a list about me interesting. So my standard shall simply be things about my childhood that might be just a tiny bit embarrassing, but that were mostly just typical of a childish mind.
- For about 3 years in elementary school I told my friends that I was 10% blind in one eye from being hit with a bat. For no reason.
- When I was 10 I joined a softball league. I didn't really care about playing. At all. I just wanted a chance to win a trophy because all three of my sisters had: 2 of them for a fire-prevention-poster contest and one for a good-citizenship award. My team won the championship. yay.
- The chimney sweep Step in Time dance in Mary Poppins scared me. Those hooligans were getting out of control. And it was bad enough that it came right after that freaky Chim Chim Cheree song. But when Mary Poppins did that spinning thing and they focused on her head she looked like pure evil. And I hadn't even seen The Exorcist yet.
- When I was 9 the Halloween episode of "CHiPs" Rock Devil Rock gave me nightmares. Even tho it was a breakout performance for Donny Most. The three messages stick with me still: Moloch must die! then Moloch will die! and finally Moloch is dead with his fiery breath! I think this grammatically escalating threat sent me into linguistics as therapy.
- I had a sticker collection.
- When I was 7 years old I heard this song and I couldn't wait to grow up so I could fall in love for the first time. Anne made it sound so wonderful.
- When I was about 4 years old my father shaved his beard. My older sister asked what I thought and I spat out He looks stupid! My sister was shocked that I could be so brazen. But I didn't care. I knew I was speaking the truth. I was upset because I assumed it would never grow back. After all, the hair on his head never did.
The Ridger has posted a nice overview of the year in Greenbelt posts.
It's a nice exercise because looking back at my posts shows me how prosaic and uninformative my first lines are:
Every year someone up at Lake Superior State University releases a list of banished words and phrases.
Several months ago I put up a poll and some discussion about the midwest.
March: Bill Cunningham is "a bit of an historian".
I'm still here and I'm OK.
See I was alway told that baldness is inherited from the mother.
I had to go dark.
My fingertips need to dance on the frets instead of the keyboard for now.
Blogger thinks I'm suspicious.
The old brain-bender about 'how do we know that blue looks the same to everyone' is pointless.
We can categorize the uses of and references to expletives and slang into several strategies and effects.
On the way to Chicago Midway Buffy announced that we needed to make a pit stop.
I just started listening to a podcast from last week of the Diane Rehm Show.
Friday, December 12, 2008
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Casey has asked an interesting question in a comment to the previous post. He's afraid to used the word forte because he learned that it's pronounced just like fort. (Unless you're speaking of volume in music, that is. The opposite of piano is indeed pronounced 'fortay'.)
So what do you do when you know Group.1 thinks that pronunciation A is ignorant and Group.2 thinks that pronunciation B is ignorant and Group.3 knows the debate but thinks that you're only choosing pronunciation B because you're pretentious?
Bryan Garner in his Dictionary of Modern American Usage identifies this paradox as a skunked term: a linguistic
lose-lose situation as Casey calls it.
In this article at his former roost, Ben Zimmer mentions a few other terms that have been skunked to varying degrees of rankness. Enormity is torn between enormousness and horribleness. Fulsome has one foot in the abundant camp and the other in the grotesquely abundant camp. Some people will shy away from hopefully in any use (both as it is hoped and in a hopeful manner) because they know there are some who jump on the word indiscriminately. There are those who believe nauseous should only be used as a synonym for noxious while others say it's fine to use it like nauseated or feeling sick.
Step forward confidently and use your word brazenly. Because there are plenty of people in Group.4: those who know the debates and are willing to assume to that no matter which pronunciation you've chosen it's in good faith.
I'll stop my list and let you contribute any answers to Casey's question. Are there others?
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
You're not going to buy me a gift, I know. But if you were I'd ask for either a pair of strange socks or a book. If you chose to go with the latter, I'd direct you to Jan Freeman's column where she has put up a nice list of books that I don't yet own. She didn't know that of course.
offered up by Wishydig at 20:14
This is an interesting form of print/online parallel publishing. It provides free access to the January issue of The Psychologist.
(click on page image to open new window)
You can zoom in and out and flip or scroll through the pages or browse thru a plate overview of all pages. It's a decent interface.
Via BPS Research Digest Blog
offered up by Wishydig at 14:23
Monday, December 08, 2008
Written-out and everything.**
While watching I noticed that 'jizzed' was left out of the subtitles. Two dashes instead. So it read "I -- in my pants" while the audio obviously allowed multiple jizzes. They were jizzing all over the place.
You can jizz out loud as long as no one sees it? They have no problem with premature articulation. So as long as you don't put it on paper, jizz can come out of your mouth?
Sunday, December 07, 2008
You might recognize Daphne Maxwell Reid from her role (replacing Janet Hubert) as Aunt Viv on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Now she's making appearances as a producer and co-founder of New Millennium Studios.
She recently took part in a panel discussion, Politics 2009, What Now?, that first aired on C-SPAN in late November. She's introduced about 23 minutes into the program.
Despite her fine contributions to political discourse and analysis I was most interested in her productive derivational morphology.
I am the one on the panel who's totally non-professional political person. Totally non-professional. They don't ask me to be on TV to pundite.†
There are some verbs that are formed with the -ite suffix. expedite, incite, requite, recite. These aren't easy to think of. And none of these has a related form of the performer ending with -it. One who expedites is not an expedit. One who requites is not a requit. The analogy at work here is tough to see.
That's what makes the neologism so interesting. Why did she go with such an uncommon verb morphology? She skipped right over pundize punditize punditate pundificate even pundate.
And it's an infant. Not one hit on Google™ for "to pundite" even tho "punditing" gets 3,320 hits. But punditing is probably inflection after anthimeria (for you rhetoricians) or functional shift (for you linguists) rather than inflection after derivation. So
The more productive forms with
But you know what? I like it as a verb. To pundite. It works.
† The lack of determiner on
non-professionallooks like the result of a switch in mid-use from non-professional as a predicate adjective which doesn't need a determiner (I am [non-professional]) to an attributive adjective in a predicate nominative noun phrase which does need a determiner I am [a non-professional political person] but once she decides to turn it into a NP it's too late to shimmy that determiner in there.
She probably changed in mid-sentence because at first she was willing to call herself simply "non-professional" but then she realized that she is professional, just not as a political analyst.
Anyway it's not a typo on my part and I hate including in-text sic notations but I love footnotes.
Saturday, December 06, 2008
From an AP story about Sean Avery's NHL suspension
“I’m really happy to be back in Calgary; I love Canada,” he said. “I just want to comment on how it’s become like a common thing in the NHL for guys to fall in love with my (former girlfriends). I don’t know what that’s about, but enjoy the game tonight.” He then walked out.
Legend: (former girlfriends) =
What's wrong with the line? Too picturesque? Too evocative? Or is it the dismissiveness of referring to a person in such an objectifying manner?
When I first heard Avery make the comment about
sloppy secondsI thought he was talking about all the goals that other players make from picking up rebounds of his shots on goal. Seriously.
In a recent post languagehat reminded readers that there is no accent diacritic in the spelling of Remy de Gourmont. He found that the Wikipedia page used one in the title and in the URL.
His reader Trey Jones rushed right over and fixed it.
So no now there are two pages on Wikipedia.
One URI with an accent:
where readers are redirected from here.
One URI without:
Identical pages. Both with a note early in the entry, explaining that the spelling with the accent
is incorrect, although very common and used by Ezra Pound in translations of his work. Ezra was so damn pretentious.
But wait. You can use diacritics in URIs? Has that always been true? I know that you have to use Roman characters, but diacritics are allowed to float around? If you know the answer maybe you'll also be able to explain to me the Ven diagram of Uniform Resource Identifiers/Locators/Names.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
A fellow lover of Old Timey English sent me a link to a downloadable version of Bosworth & Toller's Anglo Saxon Dictionary.
A version for Mac users is also available.
It's a very simple interface on the Mac application.
This streamlining has apparently gobbled up some of the features for the Mac. I'm having trouble working with special characters. I can cut/copy and paste them in but there's no dropdown menu as the PC version apparently has. Nor can I get HTML to work in the search (e.g. æ = æ) which supposedly works with PC full text searches.
But it's fun to play with the searches anyhow.
Also available for download are images of the complete print dictionary. You'll need 653 MB for the 2069 jpg files.
Our friend Mxrk has started a comic for the transitional period. A series of conversations between Bush and Obama. He calls it The Red Phone. He's put up three already so we can almost predict the trajectory. One more and we've got him pegged. Show him some love.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
One topic on Talk of the Nation today was David Crystal's study of texting and its effect(?) on language. Not surprisingly Crystal isn't too concerned. Rational study tends to give you that comfort.
A friend let me know about the show just in time for me to listen.
His text message was telling.
Talk of the Nation on NPR now debating about whether texting corrupts the language with a linguist. Is that an ambiguous construction? Im driving.
See how texting licensed the deletion of a copula verb in that first sentence? And as if that's not bad enough he then leaves out an apostrophe in
Im driving! This is what texting is doing to us, people. This guy's a professor and he can't even write complete Standard English sentences with pristine punctuation. And while he takes the time to wonder if his construction is ambiguous he doesn't bother to go back and disambiguate his meaning with a careful rewrite. Oh how our standards have fallen.
Webster's New World Dictionary word of the year: overshare.
overshare (verb): to divulge excessive personal information, as in a blog or broadcast interview, prompting reactions ranging from alarmed discomfort to approval.
Read Ben Zimmer's post at Word Routes.
I usually hear the noun as in 'That was an overshare.' The concept has been around since the invention of taboos and etiquette. I remember little Rob Schneider's bit about oversharing from his stand-up act in the 80s. Specifically his set on the 13th annual Young Comedians Special on HBO. Schneider didn't use the word overshare, but he told a joke about admitting way too much. Something about admitting having killed someone. It was too obvious a line. Not worth quoting now.
I've always thought Fred Stoller had the most memorable set.† Especially his bit about not finishing college.
You know what my mother bothers me about the most? Um—few years ago I quit college. She's always going When are you gonna go back, get your degree?
I go What for? What's it gonna do for me?
This is her reason: she goes You'll be able to say you're a college graduate.
Like I'm not able to say it now? What? Like I try, I go I'm a kaa gegagaweh! I'm a college gegagawah! Damn. Four credits short. I almost had it.
Since then college gegagawah has been an active part of my vocabulary.
† Stoller later had an appearance on Seinfeld as Fred Yerkes, the guy that didn't recognize Elaine, but who easily remembered other details of their meeting: 'The bathroom door. I remember someone had played tic-tac-toe on it, and the Xs won; they went diagonally from the top left to the bottom right.' He also played Cousin Gerard on Everybody Loves Raymond.
Monday, December 01, 2008
My direction has been swerving heavily towards issues of prescriptivism and all it's strange forms. I'm not just looking at the structures they (the peevologists and prescriptivists) pre-/pro-scribe but also the arguments they use. Their assumptions about language. Their assumptions about linguistics. Their assumptions about descriptivism. What they ignore. What they don't notice. What they don't know. (Yes Casey. Some of this is knowledge.)
I have subscribed to several peevological blog feeds and I thought I would be running into the same ol' arguments that we've heard and discarded. But I'm so delighted to find such varied confusion out there. From big names who are considered experts. On language.
We already knew they were out there, but I'm just so happy to see that categorizing the mistakes and misapprehensions will be fruitful. If you know of any good 'highly regarded' prescriptivist sites or sources please send them my way. They need their due attention.
I just started listening to a podcast from last week of the Diane Rehm Show. I could have sworn that I heard her refer to first intellect Obama. I agree that he's a smarty-pants but I didn't quite understand why she would call him that. By the time she finished the sentence I reassembled the pieces and decided that she had almost certainly said President-elect Obama.
I've gone back to listen to the line several times and now I see why I misheard. Instead of a clear three syllable pronunciation of president Rehm utters two syllables. Not only that: instead of a clear [ɛ] nucleus on the first syllable it sounds like she's very close to a syllabic "r" [ɹ̩]. So president elect becomes purse-dent elect. And the nucleus of -dent is neutralized to a [ə] or [ɪ] unstressed vowel. With a slightly stressed final syllable of president we have a phrase, purse-dint elect that sounds a lot like first intellect.
Rehm's speech is affected by spasmodic dysphonia which gives her voice a quavering or halting quality. This can make judgment of the voicing very difficult. In this word it could have caused a very quick devoicing of the /z/ making it [s] and perhaps even devoicing the following /ɪ/ which could give the impression of elision or syncope. Voiceless vowel? Yes. They exist. Even in English. It's not clear, however, that this is what's happening here.
So we listen on to see of this was an error or if it is in fact her regular pronunciation. About two minutes into the program she says it again: [pɹ̩s.dənt].
Mixed in here is her pronunciation of constitutional. Around ninety seconds in she says it with what almost sounds like a syllabic [s]. And a few minutes later she pronounces it with a similar quasi elision of the unstressed syllable. Maybe even both unstressed syllables: It's something like [kants̩tuʃnɫ̩] or [kan(t)s(ə̥)tuʃn̩ɫ̩] or some blend of the two. She could be producing three syllables or four or even five. Four tokens is not enough to figure out the representation.
The main reason I wonder about the syllabification and about those vowels being voiceless, is for the sake of patterning. Would her pronunciation of them be the same if the vowels weren't between two voiceless segments? I wonder too about spasmodic dysphonia as a factor. If this were my dissertation and if I knew enough about the voice disorder I'd take the time to gather the data and figure something out. But for now it'll have to remain an interesting question.