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?Continue reading “Google doesn’t know what a subject is”
Book review: Have You Eaten Grandma? By Gyles Brandreth
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.Continue reading “Book review: Have You Eaten Grandma? By Gyles Brandreth”
What does the word origin mean today?
What does the word origin mean today?
There was a recent post on the blog Science-Based Medicine which discussed the changing meaning of the word organic. I think the author hits the nail on the head, but misses the mark slightly. How’s that for a mixed metaphor?! Let’s dig in.Continue reading “What does the word origin mean today?”
HAWKEYE and prepositions
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.Continue reading “HAWKEYE and prepositions”
The Language Snakes on Carl Sagan’s Plane
In my last post, I mentioned that Matt Kaplan’s book Medusa’s Gaze and Vampire’s Bite pointed me to an interesting claim made by Carl Sagan. Early in the book, Kaplan mentions in a footnote that Sagan claimed there might be a link between snakes and the sh-sound that people make when they want to command attention or silence. The book Kaplan refers to is Sagan’s Dragons of Eden (1977) and in it Sagan postulates the idea in the form of a question (that he doesn’t answer):Continue reading “The Language Snakes on Carl Sagan’s Plane”
Some strange language claims in Kaplan’s book on monsters
Matt Kaplan’s book Medusa’s Gaze and Vampire’s Bite is about the science behind monsters, or how we can trace the origins of some of our most classic horrible creatures. The book does a good job in that regard, but it also makes some interesting claims about language. One of these seems to be a simple slip up, while a second follows some unfortunate tropes of describing languages that aren’t in the Germanic or Romance families. The third one is a side note about a claim made by Carl Sagan and it’s very interesting. Let’s look at these in turn.Continue reading “Some strange language claims in Kaplan’s book on monsters”
Comics and language! An update to the Super Dictionary
There’s the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the American Heritage Dictionary, the Macquarie Dictionary, and even the leviathan called the Oxford English Dictionary. But there is only one SUPER DICTIONARY!
Put out in 1978 as a kids dictionary featuring DC Comics characters, this amazing work became internet famous sometime in the 2010s. (Full disclosure: every dictionary is an amazing work, this one is just extra amazing). Not least because of this absolutely wild definition of forty:
And now, because nothing and no one in comics stays dead for ever, the SUPER DICTIONARY has an update.Continue reading “Comics and language! An update to the Super Dictionary”
Is you guys really a gender-neutral term?
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.Continue reading “Is you guys really a gender-neutral term?”
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.”
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.