Yesterday, Benji Smith became the main character on Writer Twitter. It turns out that Mr. Smith has created a database of novels that he obtained through probably illegal means. Smith used this database in his Prosecraft project, which published statistics about each novel, such as its word count, the number of adverbs in each, and something called the “vividness” of the writing style (I’m not really sure what that means and Smith doesn’t provide a good definition). He was also using this database to promote his word processor program Shaxpir 4, which is why he’s almost certainly breaking the law.
But one of the other things that he claims to analyze is how many passive verbs are in the novels. And Smith has a very interesting (aka “bad”) definition of “passive voice”.
Content warning: This post is about harmful language and it contains words that are used to dehumanize people. Please take caution.
In April 2023, the Atlantic published a 2,500-word opinion piece complaining about language equity style guides. The attack on these guides is misleading, wrong, and harmful. It continually misrepresents the style guides. It shows a misunderstanding of the content and the point of them. It refuses to accept others and expresses contempt for anything that doesn’t fit the author’s narrow and outdated idea of language. And it gives fuel to the fascists in their culture war.
Is this dude about to mansplain mansplaining? Hoo boy. Here we go.
This is going to be a long post. I’ll go through each part of the article with my usual irreverence, but don’t be fooled. Thomas’s ideas about language are a real danger to women. So I’ll comment seriously on that as well. Let’s get to it.
tl;dr – Andrew Thomas is incredibly wrong about mansplaining. He cites no sources to back up his claim that men and women have different communication styles, except for one limited study from 40 years ago. Modern linguistic research disproves Thomas’s ideas, and in fact his ideas are about 50 years out of date. Mansplaining is one part of systematic discrimination that women face. Thomas tries to water down the meaning of mansplaining. Thomas’s ideas are dangerous because they will be used to silence and exclude women in society.
A New York Times article from 1977 article rolled across my screen recently (courtesy of Mark Harris). It concerns language change and boy is it a doozy. The article asked members of the American Heritage Dictionary’s Usage Panel to give their comments on some recent developments in English. Let’s take a look.
(Or something more Star Wars-y. Sorry, I’m a different kind of nerd.)
You have to be careful out there with posts on the interwebs about grammar. Case in point: this Medium post that showed up when we were doing a search in class. It ties in to some of my recent posts. The post is called “Yes, Yoda’s Grammar is Technically Correct” and overall it’s correct. Yoda’s grammar is fine (if a bit stilted). The grammar in this post though… not so much.
Ok, the title of this post is a bit misleading. Google doesn’t “know” anything. It just grabs some text from a website and puts it up top to give people an answer to their question. The problem here is that the answer they give you is wrong. Because the website that Google uses is wrong. But there’s more than that. The answer that Google gives has been called a “massive overgeneralization” by Huddleston and Pullum. And if that’s not bad enough, all of the results in the Google search give you the exact same incorrect answer. What the what?
Have You Eaten Grandma? is another entry in the list of books that claim to be about grammar, but are mostly about punctuation and spelling. It’s written by Gyles Brandreth, who, like others that write these kinds of books, claims to love language but spends his whole book proving that he actually hates it.
I’m going to start off with good stuff in this book. Then we’ll move on to the meh stuff and end with the garbage fire material.
Here’s some advice on grammar that I’ve seen a lot, both online and in print: the notion that the subject is the person or thing that is the “doer” of the verb in a sentence. Turned around a bit, this advice is given as a way to find the subject in a sentence. Just figure out who or what is doing the action in the sentence et voila! You’ve found the subject.
There’s a new article out that uses faulty methods to study the linguistic complexity of politicians’ speech. It makes many of the same mistakes that I criticized Schoonvelde et al. (2019) for – and even references that article. But it somehow comes to the right conclusion… for the wrong reasons. I know, it’s strange. Let’s check it out. Continue reading “More political scientists doing bad linguistics”→