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Posted: 17 December 2012 11:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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ElizaD - 17 December 2012 10:52 AM

Just use the IGNORE button. It saves a lot of eye strain.

Graviton said it himself,

So let’s ignore him, and he’ll go away.  Got it, everyone?

Got it. If only…

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Posted: 17 December 2012 05:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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Someone once said, “Of course truth is stranger than fiction.  Fiction has to make sense!” In the last couple of days, as these, to me, quite extraordinary and fascinating events have unfolded (so unexpectedly!) on this thread, one thing came recurrently into my mind:  “An Enemy of the People”.  For those unfamiliar with the Ibsen play, it’s set in a little town that has invested considerable money in “baths”, and just as the town starts to enjoy great prosperity from tourists’ money, Dr. Stockmann discovers that the baths are being contaminated by a nearby factory and tourists are becoming ill.  He proposes a solution that would have cost a great deal of money.  The play is perhaps the first depiction of “mob psychology”, as essentially everyone in the town turns against Dr.Stockmann, insults him, and vilifies him, ultimately, as “an enemy of the people” as they seek to silence his unwelcome voice.  But if Ibsen were around now and I suggested to him that he dramatize the recent events on this thread, he’d say to me, “Graviton, the townspeople in my play, though they behaved disgracefully, at least had a powerful motive for trying to silence Dr. Stockmann—he was threatening their livelihood!  The people vilifying and trying to silence you....why??  What’s the motive for their conduct?  No one would believe my narrative!  Remember, ‘fiction has to make sense’!

Indeed, what’s the motive?  What egregious, satanic act have I committed that has led to this campaign to drive me from the site?  Let’s review what’s happened.  I came here to get a silly question answered, made a casual observation at the end of #5 that I naively expected everyone would agree with, and was brusquely informed otherwise by languagehat.  Since then, in a series of posts, I’ve tried to make cogent arguments explaining and justifying my position and refuting the validity of the opposing position.  But except for a couple of sentences here and there, there was never any attempt made by those opposed to my views to expose their flaws.  Instead, there’s been angry, bitter sarcasm, mockery, false accusations, and, increasingly, sheer venom.

Dr. Techie calls me a “prolix, hypersensitive crank”.  Prolix?  When one is trying to carefully articulate views and distinguish them from superficially similar but fundamentally different views, it requires quite a few words.  Brevity should never be at the cost of clarity.  Hypersensitive?  Actually, for the more discerning among you, it should have been obvious that my “hypersensitivity” was a light-hearted pose, that my “smoothing my disheveled hair” and “regaining my composure” and “removing the painful hornets’ stingers from my tender flesh”, etc. was just me being a little playfully theatrical, as I’ve often been throughout my posts.  In truth, try as you regulars obviously have to wound me, to shame me, to make me feel “bad” in order to “run me out of town”, as long as I know that I have done nothing in the slightest wrong, that I’ve not been profane, racist, sexist, etc., that I’ve merely forcefully presented an unpopular (around here, anyway) but entirely legitimate viewpoint, your words don’t hurt me in the least.  All your words make me think about is the depths to which supposedly decent people will sink when they are members of a group and there’s the scent of blood.

Actually, I believe months or years from now, when you regulars reflect on what’s happened and your role in it, some of you will feel ashamed, deeply ashamed of yourselves.

And I want to address a few words to the majority of you readers out there who haven’t posted a word, who have just been following events, merely reading along.  You almost certainly consider yourselves “innocent bystanders”, just like the people in the little town who never said anything against Dr. Stockmann, but merely watched events unfold from behind their curtains.  But you’re not innocent at all, and neither were the behind-the-curtains townspeople.  Anyone who has the opportunity to intervene and CHOOSES NOT TO is complicit in what happens.  Each of you had the opportunity to post a comment, to say, “Hey everybody, wait a second.  Agree with graviton or not, he’s just expressing a dissenting opinion, why are you vilifying him?  You should try to counter his arguments with logic of your own, not drive him from the site.” Edmund Burke famously said that ‘the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’.  And make no mistake, what has happened here over the past few days is evil.  No, not shooting-up-a-school evil, but evil nonetheless.  And I would say, questioningly, back to Edmund Burke, “Sir, if ‘good’ men do nothing in the presence of evil, how ‘good’ are they, really?

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Posted: 18 December 2012 04:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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Edmund Burke didn’t say that. And apparently nobody ever claimed that he did before 1968.

I hope, for your sake, that you’re deliberately trolling.

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Posted: 18 December 2012 05:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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Right, kurwamac, it’s never been successfully traced to Burke, although the first attribution to him is in the 20s rather than 60s.

The earliest attribution of the modern saying to Edmund Burke was found by top researcher Barry Popik. In July of 1920 a man named Sir R. Murray Hyslop delivered an address at a Congregational church conference that included the following [MHEB]:

Burke once said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.”

Taken from this site, which also gives the earliest known instance of the quotation.

The earliest known citation showing a strong similarity to the modern quote appeared in October of 1916. The researcher J. L. Bell found this important instance. The maxim appeared in a quotation from a speech by the Reverend Charles F. Aked who was calling for restrictions on the use of alcohol [SFCA]:

It has been said that for evil men to accomplish their purpose it is only necessary that good men should do nothing.

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Posted: 18 December 2012 05:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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Gosh.

I feel like the old lady in Josephine Tey’s novel The Franchise Affair, who, learning that she and her daughter were being accused of a kidnapping, said:

“It is not every afternoon, I assure you, that I go to my rest a dull old woman and rise a potential monster.”

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Posted: 18 December 2012 06:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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graviton, you seem to be under the impression that you are the Lone Truth-Speaker confronting a mob of crazies with pitchforks.  In actuality, you are an entirely representative (except for the prolixity) sample of the vast majority of people, who depend on their native intuitions about language (which, like intuitions about pretty much anything, will often lead them astray) and resent anyone who tries to tell them different.  You’ve got your analogy exactly reversed; we are Dr. Stockmann, trying to share actual science, and you are a representative of the mob bellowing your unscientific nonsense.  And nobody’s trying to drive you away; we’re trying to educate you, which is apparently such a painful process that you prefer to run away.

And believe me, you’re not the first of your kind here.  Every once in a while we get a Brave Defender of Common Wisdom who tries to tell us we’re wrong because what we say is so counterintuitive.  Sometimes they even stick around long enough to learn something, but I’m guessing you won’t have the intestinal fortitude for it.

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Posted: 18 December 2012 12:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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aldi’s “sumer is icumen in” reminded me of Ezra Pound’s crap parody:

“Ancient Music
by Ezra Pound

Sing goddamn, damn. Sing goddamn!
Sing goddamn, damn. Sing goddamn!

Winter is i-cumin in,
Lhude sing goddamn!
Raineth drop and staineth slop
And how the wind doth ram
Sing goddamn!

Skiddth bus and sloppeth us,
An ague hath my ham
Freezeth river, turneth liver,
Damn you, sing goddamn.
Goddamn, goddamn, tis why I am goddamn,
So gainst the winter’s balm.

Sing goddamn, sing goddamn, DAMN!”

And, yes, seasons are human constructs, despite solstices, in the same way the Seven Seas are really all one and joined together.

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Posted: 18 December 2012 12:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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Languagehat, you say, “And nobody’s trying to drive you away; we’re trying to educate you, which is apparently such a painful process that you prefer to run away. “ And conclude, “Every once in a while we get a Brave Defender of Common Wisdom who tries to tell us we’re wrong because what we say is so counterintuitive.  Sometimes they even stick around long enough to learn something, but I’m guessing you won’t have the intestinal fortitude for it.”

Okay, languagehat, you sound like you’re willing, FINALLY, to actually debate the matter, instead of vaguely alluding to arguments that supposedly exist that would demolish my position if you bothered to advance them.  Excellent, I accept.

But first I have to disabuse you of the notion that I’m some typical prescriptivist Defender of Common Wisdom, by which you evidently mean: Enforce the rules, whatever the rules are, fight change, cling to the familiar, maintain stability at all costs.

Maybe that represents the attitude of a typical prescriptivist, but as I’ve repeatedly signaled from my very first substantive post about my position, I am a very narrow prescriptivist because I only care about MEANING.  Anything that doesn’t significantly impede one person’s communicating his meaning to another is completely irrelevant to me, and in those realms I am either radically non-prescriptivist or rabidly ANTI-prescriptivist.  And what are those realms: 1)spelling, 2) punctuation, 3)grammar (yes, GRAMMAR), and 4) all those word changes that DON’T impede communication (such as converting nouns to verbs,e.g.streamlining “gain access to” to “access”.  I remember when this ‘access’ change first happened there was an outcry, perhaps from the old-fashioned prescriptivists.  For that reason, to distinguish my brand from theirs, I’ll dub mine Enlightened Prescriptivism, where I’m concerned only with preserving the meaning of useful words and phrases (like your hated “beg the question”) and trying as hard as possible to ensure that when two people use the same word or phrase they understand it in the same way. 

So, 1)spelling:  As long as a spelling is not such an extreme and idiosyncratic and senseless departure from the norm that one genuinely can’t quickly figure out what word the person intends, I wouldn’t object in the least.  And in truth, most spelling “errors” are neutral or, because they’re more phonetic than the conventional spelling, are actually improvements over the conventional.  Dave’s defense of prescriptivism in spelling and punctuation is laughable.  Even if it occasionally takes a millisecond longer to decipher an unusually-spelled word, that means it might take 240 milliseconds longer to read a poorly-spelled “War and Peace”.  That’s less than a quarter of a second for you innumerates. And Dave, do you have trouble figuring out what Twitterers mean when they use “4”?  2)Punctuation?  Dave’s worrying over the proper use of em dashes and en dashes and hyphens as serious impediments to communication is too silly to have to debunk.  Yes, as we know from “Eats, shoots, and leaves”, strange placement of commas can occasionally impair communication, and that, obviously, I would staunchly oppose.  But violating most punctuation rules does not impair communication, and those I’d allow the flouting of with impunity for the flouters. 3) Grammar?  Grammar is more nuanced.  But in truth, most of the time spent on enforcing grammatical rules involves departures from convention like “he don’t” and “between he and I”, and while I don’t say those things myself, I don’t think less of those who do, and it doesn’t bother me in the least because, as an Enlightened Prescriptivist, I recognize that someone’s use of ‘between he and I’ is not impeding his communicating of his meaning. 4)All those word changes that DON’T impede communication, like ‘access’ becoming a verb.  Here’s where I’m rabidly anti-prescriptivist because I don’t merely accept the changes, I embrace and encourage them.  If you read Dave’s #13 comment, he confesses that he recognizes the utility of ‘impactful’ but can’t bring himself to use it.  That’s ridiculous Dave!!  If you acknowledge that ‘impactful’ improves our expressive capacity then to refuse to use it because.....  Exactly, why, Dave?  For aesthetic reasons?  After a few uses, the ugliness of unfamiliarity will fade away, and it’ll be just like any other word.  Someone once did a comedy bit where he said, we have the beautiful English word, “butterfly”, and the delightfully euphonious French “papillon”, and the sonorous Spanish “mariposa”, and then, God help us, the German SCHMETTERLING!  And he didn’t simply ‘say’ it, he growled the word in the raspiest way possible.  So a few years after that I was conversing with a native speaker of German and I asked him what he thought of the word “Schmetterling”.  And he said, “A lovely word!” As I suspected he would!  Because I had theorized that the MEANING OF THE WORD (conjuring up the mental image of the magnificent butterfly) would greatly dwarf the impact of the sound.  And the same thing would happen Dave with “impactful” if you overcame your silly, viscerally prescriptivist reluctance.

I see, languagehat, I’m running out of space, so next time I’ll explain exactly what my Enlightened Prescriptivism tries to preserve and avoid, and, more importantly, WHY.

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Posted: 18 December 2012 02:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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In The Book of Days: A Miscellany of Popular Antiquities..., Vol. 2, edited by Robert Chambers, 1832, on page 32:

books?id=K0UJAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA32&img=1&zoom=3&hl=en&sig=ACfU3U2Eaytp7MoCbeS6DonJ_HU40L-Jnw&ci=576,553,298,145&edge=0

The priest that once with rose and band,
With formal wig, and hat in hand,
Sagacious phiz that might demand,
A bow from any tony;
Behold him now all debonair,
With tiny hat and tortured hair,
And while he prattles to the fair,
He shews the macaroni.

[Link here]

Tiny hat‘s have long been held in low esteem.

[ Edited: 18 December 2012 02:49 PM by sobiest ]
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Posted: 18 December 2012 05:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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Interesting point, sobiest, but what may be truly remarkable is how you came upon it.  Did you vaguely recall this poem and the reference to the tiny hat, and then dig it up?  If so, I kneel in awe of such scholarship!!!

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Posted: 18 December 2012 06:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]
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Syntinen Laulu, I laughed at your analogy (#35), but, although it seems at first blush to be apropos, it’s actually not.  Why?  Because it obviously wasn’t you I was addressing, when I spoke of people (your “monsters”) seeking to drive me from the web site.  Why don’t you read Comment #31, for example, to get an idea of the naked hostility I’ve been dealing with?

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Posted: 19 December 2012 05:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]
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Life imitates art—with a twist!

Remember the old-fashioned Westerns, in particular the scene, inevitable in every cowboy movie, where an unshaven, (literally) black-hatted man suddenly bursts through the swinging doors of the saloon—and instantly a deathly, and menacing (so menacing!), silence fills the room?  He swaggers over to a guy sitting at the bar drinking a whiskey, and insults him, questions his “guts”, snarls that he’s a “lily-livered coward”, and suddenly grabs the guy’s drink and throws it in his face!

Now, of course, the guy jumps up from the bar stool, and soon the two men are tossing hay-makers at one another, tables are overturned, chairs go flying, and, depending on the director’s intentions, either the good guy or the bad guy ends up, unconscious and bleeding, on the floor.

Now imagine the movie audience’s disappointment and perplexity, if, when the guy jumps up from his bar stool, the black-hatted man suddenly bolts out of the saloon, and the camera pans slowly over the doors, swinging back and forth.

Well, yesterday, languagehat burst through the doors of the saloon, came over to me at the bar, and launched into a screed that you can go to #36 to read, concluding by indicating that I don’t have the “intestinal fortitude” to stick around and be “educated” by him.  Since I recognized that his saying I lack the intestinal fortitude is the modern equivalent of being told I’m a lily-livered coward, I jumped off the stool, ready for battle.

But it appears languagehat has bolted from the saloon!!  Where are you languagehat?  Soon after your bold words, I delightedly accepted your challenge to debate, or to “be educated by you”, as you put it, and posted an opening salvo.  As a traditional courtesy, I’ve said nothing further, awaiting your response to what I said, or a presentation of your own position, or whatever you wish.  But nothing!

And just to correct the record, when yesterday languagehat suggested I was avoiding the discussion, it was a complete invention, as anyone following this thread will know.  A quick backward glance will reveal it’s been I who’s repeatedly posted comments explaining and defending the prescriptivist side (to the limited extent I am a prescriptivist) and pointing out the flaws of the other side, and in fact I urged those who support that other side to come out and defend it.

And so,languagehat, you saunter in yesterday with a bold claim ABOUT me, and a bold challenge FOR me.  You don’t support your claim (you can’t—it’s false), and as for your challenge: I’m here, where are you?

Assuming languagehat proves not to be up to the discussion, I welcome any and all who disagree with my position to express yourselves however you wish.  One thing has baffled me since I inadvertently stumbled into this prescriptivist controversy. (Before a few days ago, I was barely even aware it existed—remember the language debates have occurred on the periphery of my life, with my only occasionally becoming aware when some dictionary would be in the news for permitting or not permitting some word or usage.  And I have no emotional commitment to any of my prescriptivist or non-prescriptivist or anti-prescriptivist positions (I have all three).  I have adopted the position with respect to each element (spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc.) that seems most logical, but if a persuasive argument is made for another position, I would adopt it without hesitation or qualms.) But, what has genuinely baffled me is why all you non-prescriptivists are so adamant in refusing to discuss it in a thorough, systematic fashion. In fact, refusing to discuss it at all. Dr. Techie essentially said no one expressing a position opposing his on this issue is capable of reasoned debate.  Can there be a more absurd or arrogant stance?

The only conclusion I can draw is this: a)Unlike me, you all are emotionally committed to your position. b)Deep down, you realize that you can’t logically defend your position, but your emotional commitment makes the position impossible to abandon. c)It would be painful and embarrassing for you to be publicly exposed as incapable of defending your position.

Just think of the irony!  A prominent site for discussion of language where all these intelligent, knowledgeable and articulate people refuse to discuss perhaps the greatest controversy in the field, while spending inordinate space and time distinguishing among em dashes, en dashes and hyphens!

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Posted: 19 December 2012 08:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]
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Dr. Techie essentially said no one expressing a position opposing his on this issue is capable of reasoned debate.

That’s a gross misstatement. I’m one of the more prescriptivist-leaning members here, but to the extent that I might agree with you, I find it embarrassing to have someone who writes like you arguing on the same side. I haven’t found it worthwhile wading through the drama-queen histrionics and self-aggrandizing metaphors with which you’ve filled your over-lengthy posts, to sort out what positions you’re espousing that I might agree with, and I suspect the same thing is true for those who might disagree with them.

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Posted: 20 December 2012 07:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]
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The only conclusion I can draw is this: a)Unlike me, you all are emotionally committed to your position. b)Deep down, you realize that you can’t logically defend your position, but your emotional commitment makes the position impossible to abandon. c)It would be painful and embarrassing for you to be publicly exposed as incapable of defending your position.

Other possible conclusions you might draw:

d) Languagehat actually has a life and does not spend all his time at Wordorigins, breathlessly awaiting the next opportunity to run off at the mouth.

e) Languagehat has spent forty years (measuring, somewhat arbitrarily, from when he graduated from college with a degree in linguistics, about to go to grad school in historical linguistics) dealing with people who know little about language but have belligerent opinions about it, and he has developed a pretty good sense for who is likely to be educable in a time frame compatible with his plans not to spend his life pounding ideas into unwilling brains (there are good reasons he didn’t wind up becoming a professor).  He does not judge that you fall into that category.

If you seriously want to learn something about all this, I recommend reading one or more of the following:

1) Robert A. Hall, Jr., Linguistics and Your Language (long out of print but available for one thin penny at Amazon): a book for the general reader by a great American linguist; the book that rewired my snottily prescriptivist adolescent brain and impelled me toward linguistics in college (when the math department and I came to a parting of the ways).

2) Jim Quinn. American Tongue and Cheek: A Populist Guide to Our Language (also long out of print, also available for a penny at Amazon): Not by a linguist but by a poet and columnist who got the linguistic facts under his belt and writes well about them; showed a good friend of mine the folly of his prescriptivist ways.

3) Laurie Bauer and Peter Trudgill (eds.), Language Myths (still in print, inexpensive): chapters by different writers on various myths (e.g., “The Meanings of Words Should Not Be Allowed to Vary or Change,” “The Media Are Ruining English,” “Children Can’t Speak or Write Properly Any More"); of varying quality but generally well done, if a tad academic in style.

It should be obvious that you cannot expect me to say some magic word that will open your eyes to The Truth.  The facts about language are as complex as the facts about planetary systems or subatomic particles, and you can’t expect to absorb them in the course of an exchange on Wordorigins.  More important, though, is the mental framework that allows those facts to make sense in your world; just as you can have a basically scientific outlook on the world without remembering Avogadro’s Law or the equations of general relativity, you can have a scientific outlook on language without being able to define a phoneme or explain Grimm’s Law.  But it takes time and mental effort; the upside is that it’s fun to learn about something as basic to us as language.  I recommend it!  But it’s not my job to teach you; I leave that to you and your degree of interest.

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Posted: 20 December 2012 07:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]
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So graviton, when I thought I’d read the following rant in one of your posts I was just imagining things?

Actually, I believe months or years from now, when you regulars reflect on what’s happened and your role in it, some of you will feel ashamed, deeply ashamed of yourselves.

And I want to address a few words to the majority of you readers out there who haven’t posted a word, who have just been following events, merely reading along.  You almost certainly consider yourselves “innocent bystanders”, just like the people in the little town who never said anything against Dr. Stockmann, but merely watched events unfold from behind their curtains.  But you’re not innocent at all, and neither were the behind-the-curtains townspeople.  Anyone who has the opportunity to intervene and CHOOSES NOT TO is complicit in what happens.  Each of you had the opportunity to post a comment, to say, “Hey everybody, wait a second.  Agree with graviton or not, he’s just expressing a dissenting opinion, why are you vilifying him?  You should try to counter his arguments with logic of your own, not drive him from the site.” Edmund Burke famously said that ‘the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’.  And make no mistake, what has happened here over the past few days is evil.  No, not shooting-up-a-school evil, but evil nonetheless.  And I would say, questioningly, back to Edmund Burke, “Sir, if ‘good’ men do nothing in the presence of evil, how ‘good’ are they, really?

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