I was re-reading the HAWKEYE book by Matt Fraction and David Aja and wouldn’t you know it, in issue #3 there is some dialogue relevant to this blog. The character Clint Barton (aka Hawkeye) scolds the character Kate Bishop (also Hawkeye… don’t ask) for dangling a preposition. Check it out:
But wait a minute! Is that really a preposition? Haykeye Barton is talking about the word “to” at the end of Hawkeye Bishop’s sentence:
‘Cause I’m about to.
So is that a preposition? It depends on who you ask.
Recently, a colleague pointed me to this 2018 article by Grace Jennings-Edquist on the word guys. The article discusses whether guys is gender-neutral these days, especially in regard to using it at the workplace. This topic is something that’s been on my mind for a while since you guys is the second-person plural pronoun where I come from. I’ve been actively trying to use other terms when addressing my classes – and not just because most of my students are women.
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.
The podcast On The Media recently ran an interview with Walt “Clyde” Frazier, who is a former professional basketball player and current color commentator for the New York Knicks. As the interview shows, he has a way with words. But I found his commentary on how he developed his voice really interesting. He told host Brooke Gladstone:
Frazier: To improve my vocabulary, I used to get The Sunday Times, the arts and leisure section when they critiqued the plays.
Brooke Gladstone: Oh, the plays?
Frazier: Yes. Riveting, mesmerizing and provocative, profound. People think I’m a voracious reader but I have books and books of words and phrases. When I first started, I just studied these books over and over. Ironically, you can use cliches and no one will ever say anything, but if you use ubiquitous twice, they’ll go, “He used that word twice already.”
Frazier: Then all of a sudden, I fell in love with words. Words are like people, the more you see them, the more you relate to them. Even today, just like fashion, I’m always looking for new words and how I can incorporate them into my style.
That’s a pretty good point about ubiquitous. People love to nitpick when that word is used. But it’s an even better point about cliches. Even though the style guide will tell you to avoid cliches, using one is often the best way to go. Check Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage if you don’t believe me.
This part of the interview starts at around 12:30 minutes in. Go listen to the interview with Frazier. That page also has the transcript of the interview.
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”→
I don’t know what’s going on over at Dictionary.com, but I like it. They’ve been stepping up their blogging game recently. Gone are the days of word hating (I hope)! Instead, they recently published a post about the problematic nature of some words that get casually thrown around. If you don’t know why it might be harmful to use words like Sherpa, Nazi, and hysterical, you might want to check this one out.
On the one hand nerd can definitely still be an insult. Consider this clip of the Philadelphia Flyers player Travis Konecny chirping the Pittsburgh Penguins player Evgeni Malkin last year (the relevant bit comes around 38 seconds in):
(I can neither confirm nor deny whether I like watching Penguins players getting chirped)
Konecny clearly uses nerd as an insult. Yes, he qualifies it by saying “ya fucking nerd,” but he also calls Malkin just “you nerd”. Now, despite what you may think of Penguins players, Malkin is probably the opposite of the traditional definition of a “nerd” – he’s an elite athlete. (But maybe he’s a hockey nerd???)
On the other hand, might not be using nerd to be an insult much anymore. Earlier this year, Dr. Lisa Davidson tweeted about whether geek and nerd are humblebrags.
A while back you mostly disagreed w/my discomfort with 'geek' & 'nerd'. On @theindicator podcast @titonka was also uncomfortable, but b/c she considers it a humblebrag! I want you all to know I'm working on updating my lexical entries to get with the times, k? #LanguageChangeshttps://t.co/VGyCp2sMuq
This led to some discussion which you should check out. The idea is that maybe the word nerd has changed from something that is definitely negative into something that is maybe positive. Before you confirm your intuitions, keep reading. I thought checking a corpus would be good to answer this question (you know, because I’m a corpus linguist). I decided to check the iWeb corpus because it is unedited and so should give us an idea of how nerd is used “in the wild”. The iWeb corpus is very large (14 billion words) and contains language from websites in 6 English-speaking countries (US, Canada, Ireland, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand) from 2017. There are 38,554 instances of nerd in the corpus. So I took a random sample of 500. Go here to automatically search for “nerd” on the iWeb corpus, and here for an overview of the corpus (PDF).
Look! Up in the sky! It’s bird shit… It’s acid rain… It’s another garbage article about Words You Shouldn’t Use™!
Ok, so this one’s from way back in 2013. Excuses? Maybe. But it was linked to by an article from 2019, so maybe it’s still relevant? I don’t know. Thick as thieves, these bad linguistics posts, I guess.
The article is called “9 Words You’re Literally Beating to Death” and so you already know it’s going to be the worst. It’s by renowned linguistesteemed language scholarrevered language expert some dude named Rob Ashgar. Let’s have a little look see at Rob’s linguistic brain farts, shall we? (Scroll down for why all this is important)
Right off the bat, we’re deep in La La Land:
A few people can shift from a chatty and casual tone to a formal and professional one. But most of us can’t. We import our worst habits from everyday chattage to a formal job interview, a sales presentation or a eulogy.
“A few people”? What, like 3? Maybe four or five? You got any evidence to back this up, Robbo? Remember there are over 500 million L1 English speakers. If only a few of them can shift from a chatty and casual tone to a formal and professional one, why don’t you tell us their names? Oh right, because you’re making this up. Continue reading “1 Idea You Are Literally Beating to Death”→
Dreyer’s English is not a style guide like
the MLA or Chicago Manual. It’s more in the vein of the Elements of Style and Gwynne’s
Grammar. Unlike those books, however, Dreyer’s English is fun to read and (for
the most part) correct in its language proclamations. One of the reasons this
book is good is because Dreyer knows what a style guide is and what it should
be. He explains in this quote:
This book, then, is the next conversation. It’s my chance to share with you, for your own use, some of what I do, from the nuts-and-bolts stuff that even skilled writers stumble over to some of the fancy little tricks I’ve come across or devised that can make even skilled writing better.
Or perhaps you’re simply interested in what one more person has to say about the series comma.
Let’s get started.
No. Wait. Before we get started:
The reason this book is not called The Last Style Manual You’ll Ever Need, or something equally ghastly, is because it’s not. No single stylebook can ever tell you everything you want to know about writing – no two stylebooks, I might add, can ever agree on everything you want to know about writing […] (p. xvii)
Sounds good to me. This passage also gives
you an idea of Dreyer’s writing style, the conversational nature of it. I’ve
broken this review up into the Good, the Bad and the Other. This may seem like
there are three equal parts, but really there’s much more good in this book
than anything else.