The subject is not (always) the “doer” in a sentence

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.

But this is wrong. Let’s find out why.

Continue reading “The subject is not (always) the “doer” in a sentence”

Walt “Clyde” Frazier’s words and phrases

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.”

[laughter]

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.

[applause]

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.

More political scientists doing bad linguistics

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”

Superman and Batman and Language!

I bet you weren’t expecting some tricky linguistic commentary in the pages of SUPERMAN & BATMAN VS. VAMPIRES AND WEREWOLVES! But here it is!

In Issue #4 of the six-part series, our heroes are hanging around making plans and waiting to be attacked by demon-like creatures (as you do). That’s when Jason Blood, aka the rhyming demon Etrigan, senses the creatures’ arrival and says “THEY’RE HERE”:

Superman_Batman_Vampires_Werewolves_Issue_4_1
SUPERMAN AND BATMAN VS. WEREWOLVES AND VAMPIRES #4 by Kevin VanHook (w), Tom Mandrake (art), Nathan Eyring (c), and Steve Wandis (l)

Continue reading “Superman and Batman and Language!”

Dictionary.com with some good advice

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.

Stop Using These Phrases in 2020 (Use These Synonyms Instead)” on Dictionary.com

Good job, Dictionary.com. Keep it up!

An awful take on the word “like”

Welcome back, language fans. This time we’re traveling over to Grammar.com, where the grammar is… not so good, Al. Specifically, we’re going to look at a PDF that they’re slinging (for free!) called “The Awful ‘Like’ Word”.

This little ditty is 9 pages of nonsense. I would copy the text and comment on it in this post, but that would take forever. Those of you interested in truly awful language commentary can check out the PDF below. I’m gonna warn you, though. This PDF might be, like, the worst thing I’ve read about the word like. If your face likes meeting your palm, then read on!

Here’s the PDF “The Awful ‘Like’ Word” with my comments. I promise it’s not all snide remarks. There’s some good linguistic commentary in there as well. But snide remarks too.

And here it is without my comments if you want to color it in for yourself.

Technology is also biased against women’s voices

Back in November*, the radio show On the Media did a segment on women’s voices in broadcasting. They took a different angle than we’re used to – instead of talking about the social and political factors used to police and silence women, they discussed the technological factors. Because of course there are also technological things keeping women out of public spaces.

On the Media talked to Clark University professor Tina Tallon about how audio recording and broadcasting technology was specifically designed to favor men’s voices over women’s. It’s a story that sucks, but the interview is interesting and worth a listen. Here’s the link to where you can listen to it: https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/otm/segments/how-radio-made-female-voices-sound-shrill

* You’re not the only one who’s behind on their podcasts, friend.

Christopher Hitchens falls flat on “you know” and “like”

Christopher Hitchens can’t do language commentary, you know

In looking around for something else, I came across an article on language by Christopher Hitchens. For all his skill in analyzing social progress and literature, Hitchens doesn’t seem to have ever even seen the cover of a linguistics book.

The whole article is a hot ball of gobbledygook, but I want to focus on one thing Hitchens talks about in it. He starts his article by disparaging Caroline Kennedy for the number of times she uses you know in two interviews. Continue reading “Christopher Hitchens falls flat on “you know” and “like””

The grammar of “With great power must also come great responsibility”

What is the subject of this sentence:

With great power must also come great responsibility!

It’s either with great power or great responsibility.

Think about it again. Are you sure of your choice? Did you change your mind?

I asked Twitter and was surprised at the results.

I’m in the minority here. In my opinion, the subject is with great power. Let me explain. *Thwip* Continue reading “The grammar of “With great power must also come great responsibility””