1 of 3
1
HD: Word Crimes
Posted: 16 July 2014 05:22 AM   [ Ignore ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4786
Joined  2007-01-03

“Weird Al” Yankovic takes the low road of peevery

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 July 2014 07:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1286
Joined  2007-03-21

A first year English teacher posted this. Truly horrible. But why should be expect more from Mr. Yankovic?

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 July 2014 10:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  340
Joined  2007-02-17

Sure, language changes, and we’ve all spluttered at self-styled pedants who know very little about the subject. But I’m not sure why you say that certain usages aren’t errors. ‘Less’ for countable nouns is proscribed by any number of style guides, for example. There may come a time when it’s as acceptable in print as it is in common speech, but until that time arrives, it’s certainly an error in some contexts.

Similarly, if ‘literally’ can mean ‘figuratively’, we may as well give up on the word. I could go on.

I’m not sure why ‘peeving’ should invariably lead to ‘stilted, poorly written prose’, but certainly non-peevers aren’t exempt from this sort of thing when they’re frothing at the frothers, as it were. Quite frankly, three clauses separated by semicolons in a parenthesis takes ‘stilted’ to a new dimension. Also, a parody has to be related to something: generally a literary work, or at least a quality, as in ‘parody of justice’. I don’t think that the use of this word, common amongst the uneducated, as a synonym for ‘satire’ has been accepted as standard yet, so as things stand, objecting to its use here doesn’t count as peeving.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 July 2014 12:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4786
Joined  2007-01-03

Using less for count nouns goes back to Old English. The “rule” has no relation to English as it has ever been spoken or written.

The figurative use of literally goes back to the eighteenth century. Dickens, Twain, Joyce, and Nabokov all used it without irony. Yes, one should refrain from using the figurative sense in very formal writing or in the rare case when it might cause confusion, but usually its meaning is clear and unproblematic. We have a number of Janus words—those that can also mean the opposite—and they rarely cause problems. Focusing on this one is just a mark of pedantry and hypercorrection.

Peeving doesn’t inevitably or invariably lead to bad prose (I said “tends to"), but you will find that those who engage in it are very often bad writers themselves. These so-called “rules” have no relation to what makes writing good. They’re just easy to identify and complain about.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 July 2014 12:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2344
Joined  2007-01-30

Literally in its figurative sense has been around for at least a few centuries and co-existed quite happily with the primary sense. Here’s OED:

literally, adv.

I, 1

c. colloq. Used to indicate that some (freq. conventional) metaphorical or hyperbolical expression is to be taken in the strongest admissible sense: ‘virtually, as good as’; (also) ‘completely, utterly, absolutely’.Now one of the most common uses, although often considered irregular in standard English since it reverses the original sense of literally (‘not figuratively or metaphorically’).

1769 F. Brooke Hist. Emily Montague IV. ccxvii. 83 He is a fortunate man to be introduced to such a party of fine women at his arrival; it is literally to feed among the lilies.
1801 Spirit of Farmers’ Museum 262 He is, literally, made up of marechal powder, cravat, and bootees.
1825 J. Denniston Legends Galloway 99 Lady Kirkclaugh, who, literally worn to a shadow, died of a broken heart.
1863 F. A. Kemble Jrnl. Resid. Georgian Plantation 105 For the last four years..I literally coined money.
1876 ‘M. Twain’ Adventures Tom Sawyer ii. 20 And when the middle of the afternoon came, from being a poor poverty-stricken boy in the morning, Tom was literally rolling in wealth.

I have no problem with the usage at all.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 July 2014 05:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3131
Joined  2007-02-26

Ah well, we all have our pet peeves. Like all pets, they are harmless if kept on a leash.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 July 2014 02:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1187
Joined  2007-02-14

If you say you were “literally glued to my seat” and were in fact stuck to it with glue, you would have to explain that there was glue holding you to your seat to avoid your audience making the assumption that you were using “literally” in its common sense.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 July 2014 04:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2344
Joined  2007-01-30

Yes, there are occasions when ambiguity can arise but they’re very few. I admit that there was a time when the figurative literally irked me no end. I’ve mellowed since then. I wouldn’t use the term in that fashion myself but I recognize that millions do. The term used thus obviously fills a need; where’s the harm?

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 July 2014 06:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3524
Joined  2007-01-29

‘Less’ for countable nouns is proscribed by any number of style guides, for example.

You do realize, don’t you, that “style guides” are simply books written by people with strong ideas about language?  They have no evidentiary value whatever except about the ideas of that particular author.  A state legislature mandating that pi = 3 would not make it so (to take an analogy based on a pleasing urban legend).  I understand that you dislike certain uses of “less” and “literally,” but that does not make them incorrect.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 July 2014 08:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  206
Joined  2013-10-14

kurwamac - 16 July 2014 10:33 AM
Sure, language changes, and we’ve all spluttered at self-styled pedants who know very little about the subject. But I’m not sure why you say that certain usages aren’t errors. ‘Less’ for countable nouns is proscribed by any number of style guides, for example. There may come a time when it’s as acceptable in print as it is in common speech, but until that time arrives, it’s certainly an error in some contexts.

The book, “An Index to English” published in 1939 by Porter G. Perrin University of Washington

Less refers either to amount or to number:

There was a good deal less tardiness in the second term [amount] .

In the making of the present work no less than 513,000 terms of all kinds were critically examined, revised, or defined.
Preface to New Standard Dictionary

Concerning Fewer:  Theodore M. Bernstein in The Careful Writer:

“The building has less floor space than the Empire State, yet it contains no fewer than 1,200 offices.” There is one oddity about fewer: Whereas it is fine to write, “The Liberals won three fewer seats than in the previous election,” you run into idiom trouble if you reduce the number to one: you cannot say “one fewer seats,” nor can you say “one fewer seat.” The only other problem about fewer is to distinguish whether it is quantity or number that is being spoken of. For instance: “Not many of these buildings are fewer than thirty years old.” The thought here is not of individual years but of a period of time: therefore, less. Another example: “Some professors earn fewer than $7,500 a year.” Make it less. The thought is not of separate dollars but of a sum of money.

Well, it seems that usage guides are not always in accordance.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 July 2014 12:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  236
Joined  2007-02-23

Did “crime”, an offense, as in Word Crimes precede or follow “crime”, a legal offense?

[ Edited: 17 July 2014 02:28 PM by droogie ]
Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 July 2014 01:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  206
Joined  2013-10-14

You do realize, don’t you, that “style guides” are simply books written by people with strong ideas about language?  They have no evidentiary value whatever except about the ideas of that particular author.  A state legislature mandating that pi = 3 would not make it so (to take an analogy based on a pleasing urban legend).  I understand that you dislike certain uses of “less” and “literally,” but that does not make them incorrect.

This is somewhat true; nevertheless, not all style guides are written based entirely on the idea of one particular author.  On what are you basing the evidentiary value? 

Aren’t certain grammatical rules implemented for comprehension and clarity and wouldn’t this have value?

There are many idiomatic expressions that you understand in the context of how it was said, but a foreigner might not understand it in written form.  Not everything can be deciphered in context.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 July 2014 01:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  206
Joined  2013-10-14
Dave Wilton - 16 July 2014 05:22 AM

“Weird Al” Yankovic takes the low road of peevery

• Less used to modify count nouns is perfectly acceptable
• I could care less is correct; it’s an idiom and doesn’t have to be logical (hint: acceptable usage is never determined by logic)
• Innovative abbreviations are okay; what’s important is that the message gets across
• Whom is dying; using who in its place is okay in most contexts
• Good can be an adverb too
• Literally has a figurative meaning too

Is whom dying or it just that some people don’t know the difference between the subjective and objective cases; therefore, let’s eliminate it.  Regardless, I find it to be one of the few mellifluous English words, sorry to see it go.

“I could care less...”

I understand that “I could care less” is correct as a statement, but how can it be correct if one’s intention is not to care less?
Logic aside if one is trying to say one thing but says another does it not create confusion?

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 July 2014 04:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4786
Joined  2007-01-03

Aren’t certain grammatical rules implemented for comprehension and clarity and wouldn’t this have value?

Grammatical “rules” aren’t bylaws that some committee decides upon and enforces. The “rules” are simply patterns of usage that have been discerned and articulated. The rules conform to how people use language, not the other way around. (You can enforce certain rules among a relatively small group of professional writers. But you can’t control how ordinary people will write, and controlling how people speak is utterly futile. And remember, speech is the primary mode for language. Writing, at best, is a johnny-come-lately, hanger-on.)

And “clarity” is often talked about when it comes to linguistic peeves, but rarely is clarity ever at issue when placed in context. And when a certain expression would be confusing in certain contexts, the better solution is to use something else in that particular situation rather than ban it in the 95% of situations where clarity isn’t a problem.

There are many idiomatic expressions that you understand in the context of how it was said, but a foreigner might not understand it in written form.  Not everything can be deciphered in context.

True. Language is arbitrary and the way we do things isn’t always logical. That’s the way it is. If you want logic and consistency, try mathematics, not linguistics. Idiomatic expressions and preposition usage may be the most difficult aspects of English (or any language) for a second-language learner to grasp. They’re what you can typically use to discern a native speaker from a non-native one, because there is no logic to them. They’re second nature to native speakers because they’ve been absorbed since infancy, but are baffling to outsiders.

Is whom dying or it just that some people don’t know the difference between the subjective and objective cases; therefore, let’s eliminate it.  Regardless, I find it to be one of the few mellifluous English words, sorry to see it go.

The entire system of declensions is dying in English. It’s a slow death; it started happening about when the Anglo-Saxons settled in England. It’s a long process. Whom will continue to be used for the rest of our lifetimes, but it will eventually go. And it’s not like we can decide whether to keep it or eliminate it. Whether it stays or goes depends on the whims of about a billion English speakers. As it stands now, it’s on its way out.

Regardless, I find it to be one of the few mellifluous English words, sorry to see it go.

That’s fair. We all have both the peeves that set us off and the tidbits that we really enjoy. But these are personal preferences, and you can’t demand that others share them. No one is forcing you not to use whom. (Although if you do, you will come off as stiff and overly formal in certain contexts.)

I understand that “I could care less” is correct as a statement, but how can it be correct if one’s intention is not to care less? Logic aside if one is trying to say one thing but says another does it not create confusion?

Because the phrase does not mean what the words literally do. The phrase means “I don’t care at all.” It’s an idiomatic expression and you parse it as a single unit of speech.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 18 July 2014 03:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4786
Joined  2007-01-03

Ben Zimmer has a nice bit of commentary on the video.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 18 July 2014 04:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3131
Joined  2007-02-26

I reckon “dying” is a bit ‘arsh for whom. It has become rarer but there are still those of us that think it adds a bit of class to a formal document. I would not literally fall of my chair if there were still whomers 100 years hence.

Profile
 
 
   
1 of 3
1
 
‹‹ HD: Word Origins Quiz      BL: Viking ››