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MacDonald’s breaking new linguistic ground????? 
Posted: 15 December 2012 12:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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It’s not quite that simple. In Old English, the year was reckoned to have two seasons, winter and summer. Lent, or lencten, was used in Old English, but it always had a strong ecclesiastical significance, being associated with Easter. (This is not the case in other Germanic languages, but it is in English.)

Autumn appears in English in the fourteenth century, at first in translations where the Latin autumnus appears in the original. Both spring and fall appear in the sixteenth century. (I’m always surprised how late this is.) So it’s not so much a distinction having been lost, as new ones being made in the sixteenth century.

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Posted: 15 December 2012 01:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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There’s a small 13th century poem which always stays in my memory, probably because it was one of the first, if not the first, in Quiller-Couch’s Book of English Verse. In the first line of the poem the word Summer is used where we might expect Spring, as in the first cuckoo of Spring. Now I see why. (The song dates from 1260).

Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med

And springþ þe wode nu,
Sing cuccu!
Awe bleteþ after lomb,
Lhouþ after calue cu.
Bulluc sterteþ, bucke uerteþ,
Murie sing cuccu!
Cuccu, cuccu, wel þu singes cuccu;

Ne swik þu nauer nu.

Sing cuccu nu. Sing cuccu.
Sing cuccu. Sing cuccu nu!

I remember that Quiller-Couch glossed uerteþ, as leaps whereas farteth is the preferred translation now. Wikipedia, whence the text, mentions uerteþ, gives no source and is a little waffly in its explanation, but I heard the same thing from several sources in the early 70s and anyway se non è vero, è ben trovato! (If it ain’t true it should be).

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Posted: 15 December 2012 02:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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Stieg Larsson!!!!  For goodness’ sake, climb out of that coffin already, grab a pen, and start writing, “The Guy Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest”!!!!

And if he does, chapters two, three, and four will feature me, first delicately pulling many stingers out of my tender flesh (such sharp stingers thrust, oh so unjustly, into my raw, inflamed flesh by you hornets!), and then maybe, just maybe, doing a little (gentle) wing-clipping to you in return, where appropriate.

I want to respond to each of you, and the points you raised, individually, but little time and lots of responsibilities means that it’ll take me a while to do so.  In this post I want to confine myself to just one item.

If a proscriptivist I must be, then I have to insist that you recognize I am a most peculiar one!
Why? Dave says a typical proscriptivist has either “1) a dislike of change, of anything new; 2) a desire to set oneself and one’s small clique of insiders above the rabble who don’t know any better.”

My response:  Re 2: Nothing fires my ire faster and hotter than someone treating people disdainfully in order to elevate himself.  Re 1:  I welcome change, I embrace the new, in fact if anything I’m guilty of giving big, slobbering kisses to Innovation of even the most trivial sort. 

But the kind of Innovation I lavish affection upon is not random, mindless change for change’s sake (THAT usually results in regress not progress).  A perfect example of what I despise and resist is what occasioned this thread to begin with.  Remember those tiny hats?  In the skit that they were a part of they represented a trend-setter’s random fashion innovation, one that not only served no useful purpose (the hats were too tiny to afford any of the benefits of a hat), but actually made life more difficult because of the time and effort required to affix the hat to the head and keep it there.  And isn’t that true of so much of fashion!!  And the linguistic equivalent of that kind of “innovation” is what I object to. And so many of the changes in the meanings of words occur in this random, mindless way—to take just one of many varieties of mindlessness: where people sloppily use a word that is vaguely similar to another when they actually mean that other one.  I believe many of you hornets are Brits, so maybe you’re not dealing with this to the degree we are in the States.  But ladies and gentlemen, imagine routinely interacting with people who use “imply” and “infer” interchangeably!!!! 

So THAT is the kind of change I object to.  But why do I claim to have an intense, perhaps even an indecently intimate, relationship with Innovation?  Because I encourage three types of linguistic novelty in lieu of the unnecessary and arbitrary modification of the meaning of existing, commonly used words that I’ve been denouncing.  1) I recently encountered the number of new words that language experts figured out Shakespeare alone introduced.  I forget the number but it was astonishingly large.  New words!!!!!  Instead of confusing the meaning of common, existing words, coin a new one when you have something new to express.  Or, 2) Borrow a word that’s fallen into disuse that vaguely encompasses your new meaning and give it, explicitly and precisely, that new meaning.  I remember reading a long time ago that when the Bible was being translated into Latin for the first time, they needed a word to describe the new concept Jesus had pioneered of a kind of general, altruistic concern for one’s fellows and they seized upon a little-used existing word, “caritas” (what of course has become “charity” in English).  Or, 3)Physically make a slight modification of an existing word, and give this slightly, but recognizably different-looking and different-sounding word your new meaning.  A great illustration of this is what Leeuwenhoek did, after observing, for the first time in history, a drop of pond water under a microscope and seeing that it was teeming with life.  He named the creatures he observed “animalcules”.  Imagine, Dave and fellow hornets, if Leeuwenhoek had done what you all have such a laissez-faire attitude about, and just called them “animals”!!!!  How perfect, instead, to take an existing word, modify it slightly, and simultaneously convey old and new meanings!!!

I want, I CRAVE, every nuance of every human being’s thought to be expressible in words, and while I recognize that requires expanding our existing vocabulary, that expansion shouldn’t be done in a way that compromises clarity, that muddies distinctions, and that makes those newly discovered nuances incomprehensible because a single word is being used with multiple overlapping meanings so nobody knows who means what!!

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Posted: 15 December 2012 03:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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Oops, I meant, of course, “prescriptivist”, not “pro”.  I’m so unused to this new identity of mine, I got confused!!!

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Posted: 15 December 2012 05:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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The very poem I was referring to, aldi. And thanks for the correction, Dave.  Another thing I’ve got to toss out of my Junk Drawer Memory®.

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Posted: 15 December 2012 05:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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That’s OK, graviton.  Seems the worst of them spend more time proscribing than they do prescribing.

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Posted: 15 December 2012 07:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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Faldage - 15 December 2012 05:57 PM

The very poem I was referring to, aldi. And thanks for the correction, Dave.  Another thing I’ve got to toss out of my Junk Drawer Memory®.

Indeed it was. Sorry for missing that, Faldage.

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Posted: 16 December 2012 04:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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That’s OK, aldi, and thanks for posting the entire set of lyrics.  Another thing I like about that particular piece is that line, “Ne swik þu nauer nu.” Nice use of negative concord.

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Posted: 16 December 2012 11:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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One thing I feel compelled to respond to are these interesting, and probably perplexing to many of you, final lines from Dave’s comment to me (#11 in this thread): “ I’m not saying you shouldn’t express your opinion, but comparing people who disagree with you on finer points of language usage to one of the worst, mass-murdering regimes in history isn’t exactly the best way to ingratiate yourself with the community, even if done in jest as you obviously were doing here. “

First, even assuming (FALSELY) that I compared those “who disagree with me on the finer points of language usage to one of the worst, mass-murdering regimes in history” as Dave asserts, the fact that he immediately acknowledges that, whatever I did, it was “obviously done in jest”, to me renders any complaint utterly absurd.  Did you excoriate Mel Brooks as a pro-fascist propagandist for his gentle treatment of Nazis in “Springtime for Hitler”, Dave?

Now, what is it I ACTUALLY did?  Dave is referring to this paragraph in my own comment (#9):”When I strolled in here a couple of days ago in search of an answer to a rather silly question, I had no idea I was entering Festung Non-Prescriptiva, where the mildest expression of regret at the loss of useful words and phrases is met by lethal force.”

Dave was erudite enough to recognize that in my phrase “Festung Non-Prescriptiva” I was making a playful reference to “Festung Europa”, or Fortress Europe, which was the intention of the Germans to create a European-wide bastion, impervious to intrusion (at least that’s what I remember from a history class). 

Now, what did I mean by comparing the vehement exclusion of any seemingly prescriptivist comments from this site and Festung Europa (via my term Festung Non-Prescriptiva)?  I only meant to invoke the concept of a hoped-to-be impregnable bastion, impervious to intrusion.  Yes, the original bastion was being created by the Germans between 1939 and 1945, but so, let’s imagine, was a lovely little park on the Schillingstrasse in Berlin.  If I said Central Park’s duck pond reminded me of that beautiful park would Dave accuse me of invoking “one of the worst mass-murdering regimes in history”?  If the great German mathematician David Hilbert had, because of his eminence, been appointed to a high position in the regime and if he’d proved the Riemann hypothesis during that time, would future mathematicians have been forbidden to cite his proof for fear of being contaminated by association?  I had enough faith in the intelligence of you (readers) to believe you would recognize that one could compare something to a German act UNCONNECTED WITH THE CAMPS without simultaneously comparing that something to mass-murderering.  Especially when one has a jesting tone, which I had from the very first line of that post, and which Dave himself acknowledged!

But my real purpose in bringing all this up is to compare this misunderstanding to the problem with non-prescriptivism.  Now, in this case we have my (implicit) use of an historical term, Festung Europa, that had several aspects.  One: impregnable bastion Two: that the German regime creating the Festung Europa was elsewhere creating death camps. And though I intended to invoke the first, Dave decided I was invoking the second, and got angry.  That’s the problem with a term that has multiple facets, one innocuous, one deeply offensive.  Now, with an historical event, there’s no way to avoid multiple facets or, perhaps, a resulting misunderstanding.

But with words and phrases, there is a way:  avoid their having multiple facets caused by people not bothering to learn their intended meaning or being sloppy in their usage.  Let me close with a real-life example of this.  In 1999, Public Advocate David Howard, of Washington, D.C. was lamenting the stinginess of the government in providing funds to the schools at a big staff meeting of the mayor’s.  But he made a fatal error—he called the government, not stingy, but niggardly.  The staff, largely African-American, erupted in anger at what they thought was the ugliest racial epithet uttered by the white Howard.  Widespread demands followed for Howard’s termination, and he was fired by the mayor! To paraphrase an earlier comment from one of you non-prescriptivists, a word means what the overwhelming majority thinks it means.  So I guess David Howard WAS using a racial epithet, even if he didn’t know it, and should have been fired.  Right, non-prescriptivists?

The miscommunication between Dave and me over “Festung Europa” was perhaps unavoidable because it was an historical event with inevitable multiple meanings.  The firing of David Howard over “niggardly” was entirely avoidable--better education, led by prescriptivists, would have kept those thinking “niggardly” was a racial epithet to a tiny minority.

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Posted: 16 December 2012 12:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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I hesitate to respond to this at all, but sometimes we just have to do things that aren’t good for us. Actually I was referring to:

...immediately taken to task by the Cultural Revolutionaries of the site for “prescriptivism”. 

And:

I await being sent to the re-education camp!!

A different mass-murdering regime.

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Posted: 16 December 2012 05:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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So I guess David Howard WAS using a racial epithet, even if he didn’t know it, and should have been fired.  Right, non-prescriptivists?

No, and frankly you seem more interested in repeating your preconceived views than in honest discussion (much less learning anything that might alter those views).  Also, I think we’re all familiar with the “niggardly” contretemps; in general, you can assume that pretty much any relatively well-known example of a linguistic furor has been batted around here at least once.

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Posted: 16 December 2012 06:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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This is sooooooo interesting!!  I never anticipated when I strolled in here a few days ago that I would inadvertently initiate an experiment in group dynamics, especially one with such fascinating results!  More on that in a moment.

But first, let me deal with Dave’s latest salvo.  So, in reading his comment above, it turns out when he accused me of making a comparison to “ one of the worst, mass-murdering regimes in history” it actually was to the Chinese during the Cultural Revolution that Dave was referring.

When I read that I was genuinely startled.  “Whaaaat?”, I asked myself, “What the heck is Dave talking about?” The meaning of the Cultural Revolution as a cultural reference is clear: a shockingly overzealous attempt to “purify” thought, by “re-educating” anyone aligned with the old, hated way of thinking (the “capitalist roaders” in China) .  In most general accounts of the Cultural Revolution mass murder isn’t even mentioned--though checking on my part indicates it probably did occur.  But again, it’s not part of the Cultural Revolution meme, and certainly wasn’t suggested in anything I wrote in my post.  And comparison of people to the Red Guard always involves only their ruthless insistence that everyone view things their way or be sent to re-education camps (not mass-murdering).  It was exactly that concept that I had in mind when I invoked the Cultural Revolution to describe, HUMOROUSLY, the venomous reception my prescriptivist comments received and the way people reacted on the Hyphen thread to Dave’s own prescriptivist “tendencies”.  Even Dave recognized my comment “I await being sent to the re-education camp” was jesting.  Given these facts, I think it was completely unjustified for Dave to have condemned me. 

But now, to much more interesting matters.  Let’s examine that most fascinating opening sentence of Dave’s in his last comment, “I hesitate to respond to this at all, but sometimes we just have to do things that aren’t good for us.” What a strange statement!  What does Dave mean by ‘sometimes we just have to do things that aren’t good for us’?

In order to answer that, we have to place upon the table two other striking facts that considered by themselves are merely suggestive but taken together with Dave’s statement allow a tentative conclusion to be drawn.

First, of course, is the shockingly and UNIVERSALLY hostile and intolerant reaction to my modestly prescriptivist views among the site’s regulars.  I needn’t belabor THAT point.

Second, given the voluble nature of the regulars on this site, it is most peculiar that my lengthy defense of my brand of prescriptivism and my challenge to non-prescriptivism (#18) was completely unresponded to, substantively.  Surely those on the other side can offer SOME intellectual defense of their position (as weak as I think it is), SOME reasoned undermining of mine.  So why didn’t they?

I was puzzled by that, until I read Dave’s statement ,” I hesitate to respond to this at all, but sometimes we just have to do things that aren’t good for us”. Now, it’s seems pretty clear:  a consensus was reached among the regulars, “This guy is bringing up disturbing material. But it’s not ‘good for us’ to respond.  We can’t simply censor his posts.  So let’s ignore him, and he’ll go away.  Got it, everyone?”

A nice neat hypothesis that explains everything.  But what implications it has if true!!!!

Think about it: A discussion forum about language that gets over 70 comments about hyphens and dashes refusing to substantively discuss a topic that actually has some importance!!  But more significantly, consider the group dynamics.  As someone quite familiar with lawyers, I know that some sort of case can be made for even the weakest positions.  And I’m sure some of the regulars have been itching to make the case for their non-prescriptivist position.  How powerful must the peer pressure be to keep them silent!!

But let’s consider:  Why the decision to make no case?  Why is it not ‘good for us’ to respond? Is it that they know their position simply cannot withstand logical scrutiny?

But if that’s true, then why do they maintain their position?  Why don’t they become prescriptivists?  In fact, if one examines posts #12 and #13, languagehat and Dave confess that emotionally, viscerally they sometimes themselves resist new common usages.

So then what is going on?  I can only conclude this is political.  And Dave’s earlier comment about his suspicion that the prescriptivist has “a desire to set oneself and one’s small clique of insiders above the rabble who don’t know any better” provides evidence.  Supposedly prescriptivism is “situationally included” in the crime of conservatism and elitism, and even if language suffers as a result of your non-prescriptivism, and even if you personally wince when you hear someone use “infer” when they mean “imply”, your egalitarian beliefs require that you endorse it. 

By the way, amusingly, I, graviton the evil prescriptivist, am probably more left-wing than anyone on this site.  I just care about the meaning of words being as clear as possible.

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Posted: 16 December 2012 08:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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graviton - 16 December 2012 06:21 PM

This is sooooooo interesting!!

Actually no, it isn’t.

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Posted: 16 December 2012 10:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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Is it that they know their position simply cannot withstand logical scrutiny?

It’s that they recognize, from much experience, all the hallmarks of a prolix, hypersensitive crank, and know the futility of trying to engage in reasoned discussion with same.

[ Edited: 16 December 2012 10:31 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 17 December 2012 10:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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Just use the IGNORE button. It saves a lot of eye strain.

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