A shout-out from over the water

The Baltimore Sun

Last week I received an endorsement from Barrie England, who writes the excellent British language blog Caxton, and who described You Don't Say as offering "well-informed comment about language in the popular press." He quoted at some length from the post "The Law of Conservation of Peevery."

I was particularly interested in the first post of a series in which Mr. England writes about "the negative canon," the set of crotchets favored by people who "complain about current developments in the language, oblivious to the fact that such developments are sometimes far from new, and that English contains features that have come about through the type of changes in the past that they condemn in the present. We are asked to accept what they say because that’s their opinion or what they’ve always been taught."

Wordvilleans will not be astonished at the categories Mr. England takes from a post by Bessel Dekker to identify the principles on which peevers construct the negative canon:

(a) the intelligibility criterion: objections against it should be easy to understand.
(b) the beaten path criterion: it should have been discussed before, the more frequently the better.
(c) the authority criterion: it should have been rejected or challenged by such writers as Lowth, Murray, Fowler, or Strunk.

(d) the criterion from logic: it should be vulnerable to the argument that it flies in the face of ‘logic’.
(e) the criterion from semantics, including etymology: it should be demonstrably subject to meaning shift (the ‘etymological fallacy’).
(f) the criterion from syntax: it should be demonstrably at variance with syntactic behaviour elsewhere.

Mr. Dekker also distinguishes between the negative canon, the scorned usages, and the "negative pool," the set of comparable usages to which the peevers do not object. He points out, for example, that the objections to hopefully as a sentence adverb are never extended to sadly or other sentence adverbs of human emotion.

The secondary categories are particularly useful in identifying the peever's bray.

Caxton is well worth your attention.


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