John McIntyre

Gang a-gley

The plan was simple: Kathleen and I would drive to Canuga, the Episcopal summer camp in western North Carolina, where for a week she would conduct workshops on  Godly Play storytelling and I would listen to people talk theology and liturgy or read through a stack of books.

A domestic crisis, details of which need not be disclosed, canceled the trip. Then on Sunday I bit down on a nut and fractured a bicuspid, which necessitated a trip to the dentist, which required a further trip to an oral surgeon for an extraction, which in turn resulted in an afternoon of reading and quietly bleeding into small pieces of gauze.


Not a complete waste of vacation. We did some day trips, made heroic starts on clearing crap from the garage and discarding old files littering my desk. We're just back from the Waverly farmers' market (Did you know there's a seven o'clock in the morning, too? Weird). I'm four books through the stack and don't have to be back in the newsroom until Tuesday.

There was time for a couple of posts as well. And here are a few things that you may not have seen.


At Against the Grain, Sandy Schaefer has an interesting take on the prescriptivist/descriptivist divide:

"The debate over prescriptivism and descriptivism reminds me of the debate between Jefferson and Adams on who should be entrusted with the power of the vote in their newly formed union. Adams believed that an aristocracy, more educated and sensible than common people, should be given the power to determine our nation's leaders because they would make better and more thoughtful decisions. Jefferson, on the other hand, thought that because each man (!) was affected by the policies of the government, each should have a vote and that majority of the masses was the most equitable way of making decisions.

"Well, we all know how that ended and while most of us can see the sensibility of what Adams wanted, I think we all agree that Jefferson was right about the importance of the character of this new nation."

This touches on the class and status issues that are never far from the surface in these discussions.

At Language Log, Geoffrey Pullum takes The Economist to task for its cowardice in preserving the split-infinitive zombie rule in its style guide.

At Macmillan Dictionary Blog, Stan Carey has a look at one of the classic zombie rules, the completely arbitrary and artificial rule that for two objects to collide, both must be in motion. It appears to be a rule invented by and mainly observed by American newspapers. It is, as you might expect, among the rubbish that ought to have been cleared out of the Associated Press Stylebook long ago.

And at Visual Thesaurus,* Jonathon Owen explores why the that/which distinction beloved of the Fowlers is more commonly observed in American English than British. He suspects that copy editors have had a hand in mechanically applying it in the edited prose that makes up so much of the corpus files. (Who knew we had power?) And he says:

"The change over the last century is an impressive piece of language engineering, and it's an excellent example of language standardization as the elimination of optional variation. But the question remains whether it's worth it. Readers outside the United States get by fine without the that/which rule and are often flummoxed by our insistence on it. We don't insist on a parallel restrictive/nonrestrictive distinction with other relative pronouns and adverbs such as who, where, or when, and it's impossible to make one in some constructions. Even the Fowlers didn't insist on it, and E. B. White admitted in The Elements of Style that occasionally which seems preferable to that.' "


Now back to that stack of books.

*It's a subscriber site. One worth considering subscribing to.