Tens of thousands of years have elapsed since we shed our tails, but we are still communicating with a medium developed to meet the needs of arboreal man. . . We may smile at the linguistic illusions of primitive man, but may we forget that the verbal machinery on which we so readily rely, and which our metaphysicians still profess to probe the Nature of Existence, was set up by him, and may be responsible for other illusions hardly less gross and not more easily eradicable?
Category: grammar and usage
This is a category dedicated to a range of issues: language variation and change, social dialects, speech registers, language judgments, perceived (in)correctness, among others. “Correct grammar” is an elusive concept that depends on several variables. Articles in this category explore the concepts of “grammar” and “correctness” in the context of everyday language usage.
(Sign on restaurant in Jaffrey, NH)
Former copy editor John Richards has decided to surrender in his 20-year quest to promote correct (i.e., prescribed/codified) apostrophe usage.
Richards and like-minded crusaders are enraged by (i) use of the apostrophe in plurals and (ii) in possessive it’s (which I’ve seen many times on signs and websites and in print) and (iii) omission in other possessives where it does belong (Barclays).
The attitudes and prejudices of speakers towards various languages and dialects is important “peri-linguistic” data. They may influence the development and differentiation of language itself. Or they may not — just voices in the wind.
Gripes of a pseudo-expert
Thus, when a major, even venerable magazine, Harper’s, publishes an essay “Semantic Drift” by Lionel Shriver, it deserves critical attention. I have seen many such pieces before — a pseudo-expert bitching about linguistic developments he doesn’t like.
Is sloppiness in speech caused by ignorance or apathy? I don’t know and I don’t care.
I admire John McWhorter so much for the breadth of his accomplishments, his accessibility to the media, his eloquent lectures.
I recently saw a video clip in which he pegged Trump’s speech as characteristic of primitive humans just getting their “language chops” together.
Amazon just informed me of a book, by Sharon Eliza Nichols, entitled I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar: A Collection of Egregious Errors, Disconcerting Bloopers, and Other Linguistic Slip-Ups (Paperback – September 29, 2009).
In fact, there’s a whole series of books around the “More Badder Grammar” rubric. Of course, I’ll order the book and review it more extensively (if such extensiveness is merited; it may not be).
But I already have an idea of what it’s about. Here’s the blurb on the site https://www.amazon.com/…/0312533012/ref=pe_375410_246941470…
A PS to the previous post:
We judge people by the way they speak, by which I mean we apply to them the generalizations we have gleaned from past associations with people who speak that way. I caution against being too hasty with these snap judgments. There are very good reasons why a non-stupid person would not be able to keep the homonyms straight. Maybe the writer is a bright, well-educated foreigner who is still learning English. Maybe there’s some kind of language disorder in an otherwise intelligent person. You can think of others – and you should, in order to avoid pre-judging people.
My sweet wife is peeved. She wrote a Facebook post and started a thread. Apparently others are peeved too. As a linguist, I don’t get peeved. Well, sometimes I do. But I try to observe and learn.
One thing I understand about New Hampshire, after ten years here, is that the state’s bold and famous motto, “live free or die,” refers mainly to the second half of the 2nd Amendment. (NH is the last state in New England to legalize cannabis.)
Analysis of 2nd Amendment
But when we try to read it as a whole, it makes the right to bear arms problematic and equivocal.
The text reads:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to bear arms, shall not be infringed.