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You Don't Say
John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.
News You Don't Say

Down from the ladder

After an intense period of domestic activity (including painting the garage doors, climbing on a ladder to paint outside for the first time in thirty-five years) has distracted me from blogging, I have some things to bring to your attention.

Several of you have asked what I think of "Weird Al" Yankovic's Word Crimes video, but I have nothing to say that has not been said better by Stan Carey at Sentence first. Mr. Carey has an even-handed appreciation of the parody's appeal, and he is aware of how much people have enjoyed it, but he has misgivings: 

" I’d love to tell you I enjoyed it, but mostly I winced. The wordplay is ingenious, and the production is slick, but the message – and there is a message, parody or not – spoils it: it’s a hotchpotch of ill-informed prescriptivism, a mean-spirited rant about trivial linguistic errors, non-errors, and non-standard usages traditionally decried by hobbyist peevers."

It is, he says, of a piece with language police peeving: "There is a popular ideology that upholds standard English as a superior form of the language. This view comes from unacknowledged privilege, it is historically and linguistically naive, and it can be socially toxic."

Before you dismiss him as a killjoy, I suggest you read, and give due consideration to, his entire post. 

Lauren Squires has an interesting post at Language Log on how to adapt Word Crimes as a teaching tool. 

Meanwhile, at Lingua Franca, Geoffrey Pullum, a staunch defender of the legitimacy of singular they, examines the contexts in which you will need to be careful to avoid ambiguity in its use. (It is worth reading for the example in which a notorious peever is caught using it.)

In fine form, Professor Pullum at a previous Language Log post had at the curious English of police reports and the inability of journalists going on about the passive voice to accurately identify passive constructions. 

Not having any immediate plans to climb on a ladder again, I should be back soon with posts of my own. But at the moment I have to prepare myself for another shift at the paragraph factory, and the Orioles are playing another bloody West Coast game tonight. Thinking that thing I say about baseball. 




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