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MacDonald’s breaking new linguistic ground????? 
Posted: 20 December 2012 09:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 46 ]
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Dave, this is awful. Can’t you put an end to it? The letters T*R*O*L*L stick out a mile. You are all much too good-naturedly letting this casually malevolent individual sabotage this site.

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Posted: 20 December 2012 09:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 47 ]
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My policy, for good or ill, is to not ban members for anything short of racist, sexist, pornographic, or otherwise seriously abusive comments. I don’t consider a few rants in one thread to be “sabotage.” And actually I believe it is instructive to newbies, lurkers, and anyone who randomly happens upon this thread. It’s pretty clear which parties are the ones who know what they’re talking about.

You can, like me, choose not to pay him any mind.

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Posted: 20 December 2012 12:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 48 ]
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As soon as you read, ”The history of language is really one of ordinary people completely failing to grasp the true meaning of things” it’s game over.

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Posted: 20 December 2012 01:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 49 ]
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Right, Dave. And the rest of you: please DNFTT

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Posted: 20 December 2012 03:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 50 ]
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Rather than plunge immediately into the icy water of an abstract discussion, I first want to vividly illustrate why I feel it is so necessary that in any symbolic communication, whether involving a word or a phrase or even a number (hey, or even a hand gesture!), the symbol should conjure up the exact same meaning in the minds of speaker and listener.  Even non-prescriptivists acknowledge that their merry acceptance (nay, encouragement!) of the natural, willy-nilly evolution of language means there will be frequent instances where speaker and listener have very different conceptions.  I want to give examples where these different conceptions do palpable harm.

A few posts ago, I discussed the “niggardly” incident (for those who missed it, it was in #24, and basically involved a white public official using “niggardly”, meaning “stingy”, and his largely African-American listeners being outraged at his “use of a vile racial epithet”, and it culminated in his firing by the mayor of Washington, D.C.).  That certainly is a fairly well-known example, and perhaps some would believe that it’s a rare instance of genuine damage.

So today, let me tell you a personal story that illustrates that in the ordinary course of daily life, language misunderstandings can result in small tragedies, tragedies that often aren’t ever understood to have been caused by language misunderstandings.

When I was about seventeen, one Sunday afternoon in the spring my family went on one of our frequent visits to my adored maternal grandmother.  Though she might have been elderly, she was incredibly spry and vivacious, intelligent and well-educated, and above all MERRY.  She (and everyone on my mother’s side of the family) was a humorous self-dramatizer, always laughing, frequently at her own expense.  So as my father was still parking the car, I jumped out and approached my grandmother, who was standing in front of her house conversing with a neighbor, a man of about thirty.  As I got to about 7 or 10 feet from them (within earshot of their conversation), I heard my grandmother say to the neighbor, in laughing, self-deprecating reference to herself, something about “hoary old age”.  Though everyone on this site probably knows this, let me just say that “hoary” is a reference to “hoarfrost”, and the word “hoary” means “gray with age”.  Everything that happened next occurred almost simultaneously.  My grandmother turned to greet me, and I, looking at both her and the neighbor saw a “look” on his face that I knew was very abnormal, and my neighbor nodded a greeting to me, and in a strangled voice, said to my grandmother he’d leave her to her guests, and then shot away to his house.

Though I was only seventeen, I’d been a constant reader since about three and so the phrase “hoary old age” was familiar to me.  But I instantly understood that my grandmother’s neighbor had interpreted it as “whory old age”.  Well, later in the day, when I had a chance to be alone with my grandmother I told her what I thought had happened.  Her initial reaction was, Oh, c’mon, don’t be ridiculous (my grandmother never condescended to people and usually assumed they were smart enough, and knowledgeable enough to understand her).  But I persisted, and after a minute she was saying, “Oh my, do you really think it’s possible?” And, since I was as relentless then as I am now, after another minute of persuasion she said, “Oh my God, I’m so embarrassed!!!!”

We flash now to the next evening.  I’m back home, the phone rings, my mother answers, and immediately yells for me, “It’s Grandma, she wants to speak to you!” No sooner do I say hello, than I hear, “Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou!!!” And my grandmother proceeds to tell me that she’d spoken to, and explained everything to, the neighbor, who’d instantly burst into relieved and confessional laughter, saying that, yes, “whory old age” was EXACTLY what he’d thought my grandmother had said, and then added, “I’d already begun thinking of ways to avoid encountering you—I thought you were going batty!”

Consider those words, “I’d already begun thinking of ways to avoid encountering you”!!  If not for my fortuitous eavesdropping, a lovely friendship would have ended, without either of them grasping that the needless breach had been caused by a verbal misunderstanding!

P.S.  Languagehat and Syntinen Laulu, I haven’t forgotten you!  I’ve got some pressing obligations, but as soon as time permits I’ll give your comments the thoughtful responses they deserve.  As for the person insisting I’m a “troll”, I’d suggest you carefully read the thread from the beginning and see what actually happened: I asked a silly, but sincere, question, made a casual observation that I believed would meet with unanimous approval (remember, I’m a dabbler, not someone steeped in the language wars), was met with an onslaught, and have been defending myself and my position ever since against incredible hostility, the latest example of which is your post.  How is that a “troll”?

Oh, I forgot:  Have you noticed that this debate about prescriptivism I’m trying to engage in is probably the most intellectually stimulating thing currently going on at this site!  Troll????????

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Posted: 20 December 2012 09:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 51 ]
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I think “tipping my tiny hat” might have evolved in a positive sense to connote humility, i.e., one does not have a swollen head, nor emit what might be found in such, when one realizes that one is in the presence of something admirable or virtuous.

if so: tipping my tiny hat to Dave and the masters and scholars who frequent these pages.

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Posted: 21 December 2012 01:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 52 ]
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You won’t catch OP Tipping his hat.

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Posted: 21 December 2012 07:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 53 ]
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For what it’s worth, I don’t think he’s a troll at all.  He strikes me as someone who loves the English language and is very invested in his understanding of it; he’s probably used to knowing more about it (in the sense of vocabulary and traditional grammar) than most of the people he interacts with, and he’s experiencing what one of my friends would call “severe cognitive dissonance” upon encountering a community of people who not only don’t agree with him but appear to value language and know a lot about it.  I mean, trolls don’t write like this: “ If not for my fortuitous eavesdropping, a lovely friendship would have ended, without either of them grasping that the needless breach had been caused by a verbal misunderstanding!” There are a lot of people like him, language-lovers who want to preserve what they see as the treasure of the English language against what they see as misuse, abuse, degeneration, etc.  A high school course taught by someone who understood linguistics would do wonders for these people, but alas, such courses, if they exist at all, are few and far between.

At any rate, I’m pretty sure he’s not “malevolent” and he’s certainly not sabotaging the site, just expressing himself enthusiastically and at length in a thread that can easily be ignored if one is so inclined.

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Posted: 21 December 2012 09:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 54 ]
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I agree with LH above. I have a friend who functions in a similar mode on certain language issues. He can’t, for instance, accept the idea that the meaning of words is a democracy and not a dictatorship. I learned long ago that discussion on the subject was fruitless.

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Posted: 21 December 2012 10:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 55 ]
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I just ask for brevity and conciseness. I simply ignore multiple lengthy posts, as do many people on discussion forums.

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Posted: 21 December 2012 04:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 56 ]
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Brevity’s wit’s soul.

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Posted: 21 December 2012 07:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 57 ]
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Languagehat, after reading your comment (#53), I instantly, and perhaps rather recklessly, plunged a thermometer into my heart, because the scientist in me needed to quantify just how much your words had warmed it!!

Now seems a perfect time (a brief moment of complete amity between us) to tell you a little story.
You might be amused to know that when I first read your “lecture” on ‘hoi polloi’ that you linked to in #7 (I have to interrupt myself to suggest—no, to urge, exhort, and importune readers of this to go to #7 and click on languagehat’s link on the word ‘lecture’ and be taken to two dazzlingly edifying and entertaining paragraphs—even if there’s friction between us, languagehat, I will always feel ethically-bound to acknowledge merit when I encounter it), as I was saying, when I first read your ‘hoi polloi’ commentary, even though the link to it came in the midst of a post where you were ‘taking me to the woodshed’, I was so tickled that I immediately called one of my best friends, now living in Chicago, and read him your piece verbatim, including supplying the appropriate anger in my voice when you say “this whole thing irritates me so much”.  This friend enjoys language at the same amateur level as I, and as I read him your piece (with full attribution of course, and I had to try to explain to him “Why ‘languagehat’?” I speculated that you were so well-informed on so many subjects, that the language hat was just one of many you wear.  But what is the real reason for your nickname?), so as I read, or acted out, your piece (I’ve admitted I come from a family given to theatrics) he literally (yes, literally!) squealed with delight at least four times, just like a seven-year-old girl receiving a new Barbie wearing ‘a little black dress’ for her birthday!  And my friend is about 6 foot 5, and 240 lbs, so hearing him squeal with delight is quite something!

Anyway, with your wonderful ‘hoi polloi’ commentary fresh in my mind as I type these words, I have a renewed and intensified desire for you to participate in a dialogue with me about prescriptivism—I request nothing onerous of you, no laboriously prepared formal comments, simply: if you see something I say that triggers a response, share it.  My ideas about prescriptivism are inchoate, still developing, and that development can certainly be influenced by your input.

Happydog, my own tail is wagging in welcoming you and your words!  But your thinking (Comment #53) that somehow the choice is between democracy (evidently your beloved non-prescriptivism) and dictatorship (which you somehow think all forms of prescriptivism are) is so wrong!  At least my own Enlightened Prescriptivism is not dictatorial.  What I want to do in my upcoming posts is give a few more examples of the miscommunication casualties that non-prescriptivism inevitably leads to, then offer illustrations of how every way of evolving or changing in the universe (really, everywhere!) that’s analogous to non-prescriptivism produces at best sadly inferior results and at worst catastrophic ones, compared to the system I’m going to be recommending.  I haven’t written any of that yet, I’ve just been mulling over ideas and examples in my spare time (what little I have these days!) so my plans may change.  I read some of your posts, happydog, and I love your analytical and feisty spirit!  I would so enjoy both you and languagehat tossing in any ideas and objections as I make my future posts (and I’ll make sure you and languagehat don’t kill each other!!--I read the Transliteration of Chinese Names thread!!!)

ElizaD, what are you doing here (#55)? I thought your life was dedicated to ignoring me and urging others to do the same (#30).  Is your reappearance here a sign that the madness surrounding me is finally ebbing?  And let’s not deny the undeniable: it has been madness.  First, orchestrated ostracism of me for the crime of......what?  I’m the Joseph K. of this site, still seeking to learn just why I’m being prosecuted!  And then Dave having to resist the shrieks of the banshees demanding my excommunication, or perhaps my beheading!  (Dave, how recently you were chiding me for rashly overdrawn comparison of happenings on this site to some decidedly unpleasant regimes!  Dave, in light of Comments #46 and #49, it’s clear I was engaged in DRASTIC UNDERSTATEMENT!
Sources tell me that after reading Comments #46 and #49, Kim Jong-Il is seeking to hire their author as his US spokesman.

Reb Wlm (#51), your analysis is exceptionally imaginative, but has one hidden drawback you couldn’t know about—all the appearances of “I tip my tiny hat to you” came in the aftermath of the SNL skit, where it definitely did NOT have a positive meaning, as I explained ( #3).  If you were right, then appearances of the positive examples would have been scattered throughout the historical record.

OP Tipping (#56), is that original?  It’s very clever, and made me chuckle audibly!  When witticisms produce actual laughing sounds it’s quite an achievement!

Syntinen Laulu—Yikes!  I’m out of space!  Soon, I promise!

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Posted: 22 December 2012 10:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 58 ]
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For what it’s worth, I don’t think he’s a troll at all.  He strikes me as someone who loves the English language and is very invested in his understanding of it; he’s probably used to knowing more about it (in the sense of vocabulary and traditional grammar) than most of the people he interacts with, and he’s experiencing what one of my friends would call “severe cognitive dissonance” upon encountering a community of people who not only don’t agree with him but appear to value language and know a lot about it.  I mean, trolls don’t write like this: “ If not for my fortuitous eavesdropping, a lovely friendship would have ended, without either of them grasping that the needless breach had been caused by a verbal misunderstanding!” There are a lot of people like him, language-lovers who want to preserve what they see as the treasure of the English language against what they see as misuse, abuse, degeneration, etc.  A high school course taught by someone who understood linguistics would do wonders for these people, but alas, such courses, if they exist at all, are few and far between.

At any rate, I’m pretty sure he’s not “malevolent” and he’s certainly not sabotaging the site, just expressing himself enthusiastically and at length in a thread that can easily be ignored if one is so inclined.

On sober reflection, i agree with language hat, and regret my hasty outburst, while withdrawing my “troll” allegation. My apologies to graviton. All I can say in mitigation is: I wasn’t myself (suffering simultaneously from coryza, bronchitis, fatigue and severe jet-lag).

But, graviton --- heed the words of ElizaD and OP Tipping, above! Your postings tend to prolixity, which is self-defeating—if they’re too long, nobody’ll read them.

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Posted: 22 December 2012 01:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 59 ]
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Lionello (no longer the “author of #46 and #49” in my eyes!), just the fact that you are capable of “sober reflection” makes you estimable these days, and your unqualified, no if-I-offended-someone apology was exceptionally gracious.  So of course I accept it, and I also take seriously your criticism of the length of my posts, but, believe it or not, I never make them one word longer than I feel is necessary. In fact, you should see them before my radical pruning-with-a-shears!  If people choose not to read them for that reason alone, so be it!

P.S. Get over that cold, kid!!

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Posted: 22 December 2012 11:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 60 ]
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’A shears’? Just as a matter of interest, where are you from, graviton? I’ve only ever come across that construction (as in ‘a scissors’ or ‘a trousers’) used by Irish writers.

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