1221: "Nomenclature"

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goofy
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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby goofy » Thu Jun 06, 2013 2:50 pm UTC

WriteBrainedJR wrote:I'll put it this way: when I read Chaucer, I laugh at most of the jokes.


But if you heard Chaucer, you would probably have a lot of trouble understanding him.

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby Red Hal » Thu Jun 06, 2013 3:01 pm UTC

San Fran Sam wrote:
You do know that Matt Smith is leaving the series?


Not until the Christmas Special.

My hope (but not my money) is on Shirley Henderson as the 12th.
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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby blowfishhootie » Thu Jun 06, 2013 3:14 pm UTC

Plutarch wrote:
blowfishhootie wrote:Language evolves constantly. If we traveled back in time just a few hundred years to an English-speaking country, we would be unable to communicate, because pronunciations, vocabularies, types of slang, and so on all are constantly changing. Hell, even going back just 100 years would make communicating very difficult, though most of us could probably manage.


I agree with your general point, but not the part about communication being difficult if we went back 100 years. P G Wodehouse's first stories, published around 1903, contain nothing that would be confusing to a person from 2013. Jane Austen was published around 1813, and that still seems clear enough. Samuel Pepys wrote his diary about 1660, and I think most literate people today could read that. It would be a bit more difficult to talking to Samuel Pepys, but I think the difficulties could be overcome quite quickly. I don't know how far back a modern English speaker would have to go before communicating in English became really difficult.


I'm not saying this is true, just a theory, but maybe part of the reason those stories remain popular today is because they are written in English that we can easily understand?

When I wrote that about going back 100 years, my thought was that there would be so much antiquated technology that we don't know how to talk about, that we would certainly encounter tons of unfamiliar vocabulary. The spread of telephones, radio, television, and other mass media though have made speech behaviors a lot for uniform today than when communities were more isolated, so you would also be much more likely to encounter a dialect that either you couldn't understand, or by speakers of which you could not be understood.

Klear wrote:
blowfishhootie wrote:
goofy wrote:
mooncow wrote:The period derives from a mark used to indicate omitted letters.


I don't think this is true.

And even if it was true, it's irrelevant to how the period should be used now.


You are absolutely right, and this is what strict linguistic prescriptivists always fail to understand. Language evolves constantly. If we traveled back in time just a few hundred years to an English-speaking country, we would be unable to communicate, because pronunciations, vocabularies, types of slang, and so on all are constantly changing. Hell, even going back just 100 years would make communicating very difficult, though most of us could probably manage. By the time you come up with a rule, it's already outdated and people are using the language in some other way. You can't put limits on language, it's just not possible. I mean, you can, but the limits will never hold and will never actually reflect the full range of contemporary linguistic practices. There is no such thing as an objectively "correct" use of language.

Any thought you have, there are basically infinite ways to describe it using any language. It is one of the things that makes language so amazing and humans so incredibly removed from the rest of the animal kingdom. Prescriptivists try and put arbitrary and baseless limits on this beautiful tool humans have created, for reasons I cannot fathom.

Mooncow, since ancient language use is the only right one (assuming your claims are even correct, I don't know and I agree with goofy that it's irrelevant), why are you addressing me with the pronoun "you" here? Don't you know that historically that is only a plural pronoun? You really need to be using thou, thee, thine, etc. How ignorant of you!


U R rite lol. grammer sux!!


Not at all what I said, but isn't it amazing that I managed to understand you just fine, even with your "incorrect" grammar? There are many, MANY people who write every day exactly the way you did here, and manage to communicate just fine. So what makes this incorrect?

The only useful analysis of grammar is in assessing how people DO speak, not how they SHOULD. Our brains are amazing things and are quite capable on their own of deciding whether a particular piece of language makes sense or not. How they should is an arbitrary value judgment, how they do speak is simply a matter of observing and describing what you find. With the advent of texting and the Internet, the way you've written here is absolutely an acceptable example of English grammar, in certain contexts. Virtually all native English speakers could read what you've written and understand it, even if many have been conditioned to take it as an opportunity to pat themselves on the back and tell themselves how great they are because they speak a certain way, following some arbitrary rules.

In 18th century England, there was a bishop named Robert Lowth who published what was one of the first majorly influential textbooks on English grammar. Because Latin was still something of a prestige dialect at that time, he decided that the rules of Latin should be all of a sudden applied to English. This is where the myth that English sentences can't end in a preposition comes from - it is my understanding (I don't speak Latin) that Latin forms actually make doing so impossible. But the truth is, most English speakers do this all the time; there's nothing making it incorrect, unless there is a context where doing so makes your message unclear. He also pulled the "no double negatives" rule out of his ass for the same reason - English at that time was full of double negatives, and even today it is quite common in some dialects. Other romance languages - which evolved from Latin, mind you - also use double negatives. It wouldn't be hard to come up with a scenario in which a double-negative made your meaning unclear, but all that means is that in *that context* a double-negative doesn't work.

Unfortunately, publication of Lowth's book coincided with the emergence of a new middle class in England, desperate to be more like the wealthy ruling class. His book was popular because these people were seeking to be "proper," and here was a respected member of the church arbitrarily telling them how he thought they should do that. The same conflict is in place today, at least in the United States - who would you most expect to use double-negatives? Poor people. Why is speaking "properly" in many contexts, such as job interviews, important? Because to do otherwise would mark you as poor and uneducated, regardless of whether that were actually true. Who would be most likely to say "aint" or "y'all" or other "improper" forms? Poor people. And on and on.

My favorite quote on this topic comes from a man named Thomas Lounsbury. He wrote: "There seems to have been in every period in the past, as there is now, a distinct apprehension in the minds of very many worthy persons that the English tongue is always in the condition of approaching collapse and that arduous efforts must be put forth persistently to save it from destruction." And that was in *1908*, more than 100 years ago! And yet, here were are, still somehow able to communicate, despite this neverending downward spiral our language use has reportedly been going through for centuries.
Last edited by blowfishhootie on Thu Jun 06, 2013 3:22 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby goofy » Thu Jun 06, 2013 3:19 pm UTC

blowfishhootie wrote:In 18th century England, there was a bishop named Robert Lowth who published what was one of the first majorly influential textbooks on English grammar. Because Latin was still something of a prestige dialect at that time, he decided that the rules of Latin should be all of a sudden applied to English. This is where the myth that English sentences can't end in a preposition comes from


The prescription against preposition stranding comes from Dryden, not Lowth.

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby blowfishhootie » Thu Jun 06, 2013 3:23 pm UTC

goofy wrote:
blowfishhootie wrote:In 18th century England, there was a bishop named Robert Lowth who published what was one of the first majorly influential textbooks on English grammar. Because Latin was still something of a prestige dialect at that time, he decided that the rules of Latin should be all of a sudden applied to English. This is where the myth that English sentences can't end in a preposition comes from


The prescription against preposition stranding comes from Dryden, not Lowth.


Thanks for that, I knew Lowth wrote about it in his book, but I had no idea it predated him.
Last edited by blowfishhootie on Thu Jun 06, 2013 3:30 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby WriteBrainedJR » Thu Jun 06, 2013 3:24 pm UTC

goofy wrote:
WriteBrainedJR wrote:I'll put it this way: when I read Chaucer, I laugh at most of the jokes.


But if you heard Chaucer, you would probably have a lot of trouble understanding him.

Probably, if for no other reason than accent and my own poor hearing. I have trouble with the London accent as spoken today.

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby orthogon » Thu Jun 06, 2013 3:25 pm UTC

blowfishhootie wrote:This is where the myth that English sentences can't end in a preposition comes from.

I think you mean "This is from where the myth that English sentences can't end in a preposition comes."
klear wrote:U R rite lol. grammer sux!!

I can't see anything wrong with the grammar in Klear's utterance, apart from perhaps the interjection "lol", which should probably have been set off with an m-dash or semicolon and followed by an exclamation mark (perhaps borrowing the superfluous one from the second sentence); but even that is arguably punctuation rather than grammar. The spelling, of course, is another thing entirely.
xtifr wrote:... and orthogon merely sounds undecided.

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby goofy » Thu Jun 06, 2013 3:27 pm UTC

WriteBrainedJR wrote:
goofy wrote:
WriteBrainedJR wrote:I'll put it this way: when I read Chaucer, I laugh at most of the jokes.


But if you heard Chaucer, you would probably have a lot of trouble understanding him.

Probably, if for no other reason than accent and my own poor hearing.


No, because all the long vowels sounded very different in the 1300s, among other reasons.

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby blowfishhootie » Thu Jun 06, 2013 3:32 pm UTC

orthogon wrote:
blowfishhootie wrote:This is where the myth that English sentences can't end in a preposition comes from.

I think you mean "This is from where the myth that English sentences can't end in a preposition comes."
klear wrote:U R rite lol. grammer sux!!

I can't see anything wrong with the grammar in Klear's utterance, apart from perhaps the interjection "lol", which should probably have been set off with an m-dash or semicolon and followed by an exclamation mark (perhaps borrowing the superfluous one from the second sentence); but even that is arguably punctuation rather than grammar. The spelling, of course, is another thing entirely.


Grammar, as I use and understand it, includes spelling. The first definition under grammar in my computer's dictionary is: "the whole system and structure of a language or of languages in general."

That we can have different understandings of a word as common as "grammar" is further evidence that language is not nearly as uniform or objective as prescriptivists like to pretend. :)

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby Klear » Thu Jun 06, 2013 3:34 pm UTC

orthogon wrote:
ijuin wrote:Regarding the use of thou (and its objective case form "thee" and possessive case form "thy"), this is the "intimate" firm of address (a structure found in most European languages but abandoned in modern English). As such, it is generally only appropriate for addressing someone that one is on a first-name basis with. "You" still applies in other situations,

I'm not clear which form our ancestors would use on a web forum though. What is the netiquette on the use of T- and V- pronouns on fora when writing in languages that have them?


Mostly you. Using the thou equivalent is nothing but rude towards people you don't know. You can see people using the thou equivalent, especially on forums with a lot of young people and/or flamewars.

blowfishhootie wrote:
Klear wrote:U R rite lol. grammer sux!!


Not at all what I said, but isn't it amazing that I managed to understand you just fine, even with your "incorrect" grammar? There are many, MANY people who write every day exactly the way you did here, and manage to communicate just fine. So what makes this incorrect?


Of course, this way of writing is perfectly fine for everyday life. I'm not really saying it's incorrect, only that it is not proper. Besides, journalists, authors, and other people are held to a higher standard when it comes to language, and they should follow the accepted grammar much more strictly than when you are writing your shopping list.

Edit:
orthogon wrote:
klear wrote:U R rite lol. grammer sux!!

I can't see anything wrong with the grammar in Klear's utterance, apart from perhaps the interjection "lol", which should probably have been set off with an m-dash or semicolon and followed by an exclamation mark (perhaps borrowing the superfluous one from the second sentence); but even that is arguably punctuation rather than grammar. The spelling, of course, is another thing entirely.


It's possible I may have misused the word grammar. In Czech, "pravopis" (literally "right-writing") is used in almost all the same contexts as grammar is in English, certainly a lot more than "gramatika". It seems its literal meaning is orthography, which is a word I haven't even heard before now.

That is, however, quite irrelevant from the point I was making.
Last edited by Klear on Thu Jun 06, 2013 3:40 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby WriteBrainedJR » Thu Jun 06, 2013 3:37 pm UTC

goofy wrote:
WriteBrainedJR wrote:
goofy wrote:
WriteBrainedJR wrote:I'll put it this way: when I read Chaucer, I laugh at most of the jokes.


But if you heard Chaucer, you would probably have a lot of trouble understanding him.

Probably, if for no other reason than accent and my own poor hearing.


No, because all the long vowels sounded very different in the 1300s, among other reasons.

Yeah, I know. I'm familiar with those differences, though.

That recording is awesome. I think I'll listen to the whole thing this evening.

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby scotty2haughty » Thu Jun 06, 2013 3:44 pm UTC

Initial thought:
This was a reference to Field of Dreams that I just didn't get. There is that player that leaves the field and becomes a doctor...and people are playing baseball...and I thought I was just missing the punchline.

Dr. Who/A&C makes much more sense.
/s/

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby blowfishhootie » Thu Jun 06, 2013 3:49 pm UTC

Klear wrote:
blowfishhootie wrote:
Klear wrote:U R rite lol. grammer sux!!


Not at all what I said, but isn't it amazing that I managed to understand you just fine, even with your "incorrect" grammar? There are many, MANY people who write every day exactly the way you did here, and manage to communicate just fine. So what makes this incorrect?


Of course, this way of writing is perfectly fine for everyday life. I'm not really saying it's incorrect, only that it is not proper. Besides, journalists, authors, and other people are held to a higher standard when it comes to language, and they should follow the accepted grammar much more strictly than when you are writing your shopping list.


Longtime newspaper reporter and copy editor here. The reason newspapers require more uniformity is not because of a higher "standard," but because the newspapers are being both written and read by people from wide ranges of linguistic backgrounds. The above discussion about grammar is a good example - to me and to the other poster, apparently the word means slightly different things. So if we read it in a newspaper, how do we know what it means? If I read two different New York Time stories by two different reporters, in my mind I'm still just reading one newspaper, and I expect the meanings of things to be uniform. In essence, the reporters need to lose their own voice, because they are speaking for the Times, so they need to make sure they use the Times' meanings.

Though there is another reason, and that is that newspaper writing can often have social or political implications and ramifications that most language does not, which is why newspaper style guides will specify to use either black or African-American, depending on the paper, and stuff like that. But that's not because using one or the other is "proper," but because that publication has decided it thinks one is more technically correct than the other, the same reason I wouldn't call my microwave a toaster.

Your response that one is proper is just kind restating the same attitude that started this line of conversation. Proper is a totally subjective and arbitrary thing. It has no basis in anything empirical, but is instead a value judgment on your part.

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby goofy » Thu Jun 06, 2013 3:50 pm UTC

blowfishhootie wrote:Grammar, as I use and understand it, includes spelling. The first definition under grammar in my computer's dictionary is: "the whole system and structure of a language or of languages in general."


However, spelling is not part of languages in general. Not all languages are written, but all languages have grammar.

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby blowfishhootie » Thu Jun 06, 2013 4:01 pm UTC

blowfishhootie wrote:
Klear wrote:
blowfishhootie wrote:
Klear wrote:U R rite lol. grammer sux!!


Not at all what I said, but isn't it amazing that I managed to understand you just fine, even with your "incorrect" grammar? There are many, MANY people who write every day exactly the way you did here, and manage to communicate just fine. So what makes this incorrect?


Of course, this way of writing is perfectly fine for everyday life. I'm not really saying it's incorrect, only that it is not proper. Besides, journalists, authors, and other people are held to a higher standard when it comes to language, and they should follow the accepted grammar much more strictly than when you are writing your shopping list.


Longtime newspaper reporter and copy editor here. The reason newspapers require more uniformity is not because of a higher "standard," but because the newspapers are being both written and read by people from wide ranges of linguistic backgrounds. The above discussion about grammar is a good example - to me and to the other poster, apparently the word means slightly different things. So if we read it in a newspaper, how do we know what it means? If I read two different New York Time stories by two different reporters, in my mind I'm still just reading one newspaper, and I expect the meanings of things to be uniform. In essence, the reporters need to lose their own voice, because they are speaking for the Times, so they need to make sure they use the Times' meanings.

Though there is another reason, and that is that newspaper writing can often have social or political implications and ramifications that most language does not, which is why newspaper style guides will specify to use either black or African-American, depending on the paper, and stuff like that. But that's not because using one or the other is "proper," but because that publication has decided it thinks one is more technically correct than the other, the same reason I wouldn't call my microwave a toaster.

Your response that one is proper is just kind restating the same attitude that started this line of conversation. Proper is a totally subjective and arbitrary thing. It has no basis in anything empirical, but is instead a value judgment on your part.


In addition to what I've said here, while newspapers have their own style guides for what is the "correct" way to write, there are no newspapers I've ever heard of that tell their readers and the communities that they cover that they have to speak and write the same way the newspaper reporters do. So that's an important difference too - just because a person has decided how they want to speak or write, that doesn't suddenly give them the authority to tell everyone else how THEY have to speak or write. I decided yesterday to buy a new Ford truck because I think the one I'm getting is an awesome model, this doesn't mean I get to tell everyone who has any other kind of vehicle that theirs is the wrong kind. Or I can, but I'd be laughed out of the room, because it makes no sense.

(I don't actually have a Ford truck and I won't be getting one.)

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby speising » Thu Jun 06, 2013 4:53 pm UTC

Klear wrote:
orthogon wrote:
ijuin wrote:Regarding the use of thou (and its objective case form "thee" and possessive case form "thy"), this is the "intimate" firm of address (a structure found in most European languages but abandoned in modern English). As such, it is generally only appropriate for addressing someone that one is on a first-name basis with. "You" still applies in other situations,

I'm not clear which form our ancestors would use on a web forum though. What is the netiquette on the use of T- and V- pronouns on fora when writing in languages that have them?


Mostly you. Using the thou equivalent is nothing but rude towards people you don't know. You can see people using the thou equivalent, especially on forums with a lot of young people and/or flamewars.


there are huge differences between cultures.
the french, i gather, have to practically know someone naked to use the intimate form, while i have yet to encounter a german forum where someone uses "Sie" (maybe apart from places where people >60 are roaming)

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby Angelastic » Thu Jun 06, 2013 5:46 pm UTC

speising wrote:
Klear wrote:
orthogon wrote:
ijuin wrote:Regarding the use of thou (and its objective case form "thee" and possessive case form "thy"), this is the "intimate" firm of address (a structure found in most European languages but abandoned in modern English). As such, it is generally only appropriate for addressing someone that one is on a first-name basis with. "You" still applies in other situations,

I'm not clear which form our ancestors would use on a web forum though. What is the netiquette on the use of T- and V- pronouns on fora when writing in languages that have them?


Mostly you. Using the thou equivalent is nothing but rude towards people you don't know. You can see people using the thou equivalent, especially on forums with a lot of young people and/or flamewars.


there are huge differences between cultures.
the french, i gather, have to practically know someone naked to use the intimate form, while i have yet to encounter a german forum where someone uses "Sie" (maybe apart from places where people >60 are roaming)
On the francophone forums I'm on, people use tu all the time. It's also common in real life amongst strangers who are young-ish or in informal situations such as bars etc. From what I've heard, it's pretty much the same as in German. I've done a couple of German courses that were taught in French and I don't recall the teacher warning us of a difference in usage.

I'm told that people from Québec use tu for basically everyone everywhere except, say, the Queen.
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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby speising » Thu Jun 06, 2013 5:51 pm UTC

well, judging by the line voulez vous coucher avec moi, that must be a more recent development. or canadian?

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby neremanth » Thu Jun 06, 2013 5:52 pm UTC

blowfishhootie wrote:Also, I'm American, and "airplane" and "aerobics" as I say them do not start with the same sound. I can't figure out your point.

...They don't? I'm intrigued.

---

blowfishhootie wrote:My favorite quote on this topic comes from a man named Thomas Lounsbury. He wrote: "There seems to have been in every period in the past, as there is now, a distinct apprehension in the minds of very many worthy persons that the English tongue is always in the condition of approaching collapse and that arduous efforts must be put forth persistently to save it from destruction." And that was in *1908*, more than 100 years ago! And yet, here were are, still somehow able to communicate, despite this neverending downward spiral our language use has reportedly been going through for centuries.

This is like saying "Those silly people of the late nineties! All those predictions of civilisation grinding to a halt due to the milennium bug and then 1st January 2000 rolled round and everything was completely fine." I mean to say, maybe the fact that there have been people around expressing these concerns is the reason that we are still able to communicate ok? (I don't actually believe that, but it's an equally logically valid conclusion to draw from the quote as that raising such concerns is/was unnecessary. Maybe more logical even).

My view is somewhere in the middle. If no-one worried at all about what the "correct" form of language was supposed to be, then I think native speakers at least would not find it too hard to communicate with each other. Even when they are geographically separated, things like the internet, films and TV will ensure there is enough overlap to keep them mutually intelligible. (Non-native speakers might find they have more of a challenge than at present, if they are interested in keeping up with all the commonly used variations in grammar and vocabulary). However, even though communication would still be perfectly possible, it would probably take more effort - more occasions when the other person hasn't come across the word you were using before and you have to find another one, more talking at cross purposes for a while before you realise some word or phrase has different meanings for each of you. Without standardised spelling, it would still be perfectly possible to read and understand what other people have written, but it would be harder work and slower - more sounding out the words and less pattern recognition. And that's all considering two people communicating with each other in the present. In this scenario, language is going to evolve more quickly, and so I think books, films etc would more quickly become unintelligible, or difficult to understand. So there would be some disadvantages to not having any enforced language rules, even though it wouldn't lead to the collapse of civilisation.

On the other hand, linguistic diversity is a beautiful thing. And language does naturally evolve at some speed. Even if you try to put the brakes on by agreeing on some common standard and pointing out to people whenever they transgress, sooner or later it's going to get to the point where some particular usage that the rules mark as wrong feels much more natural to the vast majority of speakers than the alternative that the rules say is correct.

So I think the best thing is to have a balance. Maybe even - gasp! - the balance we actually have at the moment. Some prescriptivism to slow down language evolution (and so keep historic media easily intelligible for as long as possible), and keep the diversity somewhat in check so there's likely to be less of one speaker's dialect that another won't understand, and so that non-native speakers have an easier time joining in. But some flexibility as well so that we can recognise when it's time to let a rule go, and allow some differences in dialect to provide a bit of colour in our lives.

I'd just like to take this opportunity to mention my pet peeve - I'm not sure whether this is something that used to be incorrect usage but is now widely used (in which case I'm going to have to learn to let go, *sob*, cos it's probably too late), or whether it's a US vs UK thing (in which case I'll have to learn to grit my teeth when US speakers use it but maybe I can still correct UK users *evil laugh*). Anyway, it's "not that <adj> of a <noun>" or "how <adj> of a <noun>", where <adj> is not 'much' (is 'much' an adjective? I have a feeling it isn't, but anyway.) I really don't think that 'of' should be in there. So, "not that big a deal", not "not that big of a deal".

---

Re 'tu' vs 'vous', my friend who did a French (and German) degree and so spent 6 months in France told me that everyone uses 'vous' except to figures of authority such as teachers who are called 'tu' as a point of revolutionary principle. I've no idea how accurate this is, but I thought it was amusing.

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby speising » Thu Jun 06, 2013 5:58 pm UTC

neremanth wrote:
I'd just like to take this opportunity to mention my pet peeve - I'm not sure whether this is something that used to be incorrect usage but is now widely used (in which case I'm going to have to learn to let go, *sob*, cos it's probably too late), or whether it's a US vs UK thing (in which case I'll have to learn to grit my teeth when US speakers use it but maybe I can still correct UK users *evil laugh*). Anyway, it's "not that <adj> of a <noun>" or "how <adj> of a <noun>", where <adj> is not 'much' (is 'much' an adjective? I have a feeling it isn't, but anyway.) I really don't think that 'of' should be in there. So, "not that big a deal", not "not that big of a deal".

So, you'd say "a pound flour", or "a flock birds"?
interestingly, that'd be like in german.

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby neremanth » Thu Jun 06, 2013 6:07 pm UTC

speising wrote:
neremanth wrote:
I'd just like to take this opportunity to mention my pet peeve - I'm not sure whether this is something that used to be incorrect usage but is now widely used (in which case I'm going to have to learn to let go, *sob*, cos it's probably too late), or whether it's a US vs UK thing (in which case I'll have to learn to grit my teeth when US speakers use it but maybe I can still correct UK users *evil laugh*). Anyway, it's "not that <adj> of a <noun>" or "how <adj> of a <noun>", where <adj> is not 'much' (is 'much' an adjective? I have a feeling it isn't, but anyway.) I really don't think that 'of' should be in there. So, "not that big a deal", not "not that big of a deal".

So, you'd say "a pound flour", or "a flock birds"?
interestingly, that'd be like in german.

No, no. Definitely "a pound of flour" and "a flock of birds". Cos 'pound' and 'flock' aren't adjectives. Also "not that much of a problem" rather than "not that much a problem".

(Interesting that that's how it works in German though!)

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby Splashy » Thu Jun 06, 2013 6:18 pm UTC

Doctor What?

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby da Doctah » Thu Jun 06, 2013 6:33 pm UTC

jpvlsmv wrote:
orthogon wrote:This reminds me of the whole "Hu is the president of China" routine that the Now Show did after the last-but-one Politburo reshuffle. The Prime Minister was Wen Jiabao, which doubled the comedic potential. ("The Chinese Prime Minister is coming to visit." "When?" "Yes" etc).

And now they have a president named "She".

So She replaced Who? When did this happen?

Personally, I prefer when the Animaniacs' "Slappy Squirrel" went to Woodstock. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0513247/
What's the name of the band playing on stage? Who. The Band. No, they're playing later.

Which in turn was probably inspired by the Credibility Gap's bit where the concert promoter is trying to take out a big newspaper ad for a three-act concert: Who, Guess Who and Yes.

Even Abbott and Costello weren't the originators of the basic idea. For that you probably have to go back to when Odysseus tells Polyphemus that his name is "Nemo" (Latin for "nobody"), so that later when he blinds him and escapes, the other cyclopes ask who did this to him and he's forced to say "Nobody did it".

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby SimonMoon5 » Thu Jun 06, 2013 6:35 pm UTC

Antior wrote:Also, referring to The Doctor (character) as "Doctor Who" is about the same level of ignorance as mixing up Vulcans and Klingons.


And despite this fact, there are often long and tedious arguments in Doctor Who fan forums about whether or not his name is "Doctor Who." I usually suggest that this error is akin to calling Frankenstein's monster by the name "Frankenstein" or calling the original Captain Marvel (the one who uses the magic word Shazam (the name of the wizard who gave him his powers) to change from Billy Batson into Captain Marvel) by the name "Shazam." It's a tragic and yet common mistake.

But the justification some people give is that the credits have at times called him "Doctor Who" and there are the occasional in-joke moments where he refers to himself in a way that could be misinterpreted, such as giving a fake German name as "Doctor van Wer" or having a car with "Who1" as the license plate. Oh, and a computer one time said "Doctor Who is required," though the script-writer later admitted that that was a mistake. And there may have been other references (edit: as have already been mentioned on this thread, that I didn't read until I started typing this).

However, the movie versions of the character, played by Peter Cushing, definitely did refer to himself as "Doctor Who" but that was not canonical to the TV show continuity. So, there is at least one character called Doctor Who (just as there are characters named Frankenstein and Shazam), but they aren't who most people think of.

BAReFOOt wrote:
But that’s nonsense, since nobody ever calls him “Doctor Who".


Nobody on the *show* calls him "Doctor Who," but lots of real-world highly-mistaken people do. For example, there is lots of speculation in the media on who will play the next "Doctor Who," when they should ask who will play the next "The Doctor."

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby Angelastic » Thu Jun 06, 2013 6:47 pm UTC

speising wrote:well, judging by the line voulez vous coucher avec moi, that must be a more recent development. or canadian?

That's a pretty unusual line; the best explanation I've heard of it is that it could be said by a high-class prostitute who addresses her potential clients rather formally. But apparently (according to the French wikipedia article for the phrase, which gives this as a reference, and only describes the expression in terms of its popularity in English) it comes from a 1921 novel written in English by an American, so… if that was actually something that was often said by the average francophones back then, there's been plenty of time for more recent developments.
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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby blowfishhootie » Thu Jun 06, 2013 6:58 pm UTC

neremanth wrote:
blowfishhootie wrote:Also, I'm American, and "airplane" and "aerobics" as I say them do not start with the same sound. I can't figure out your point.

...They don't? I'm intrigued.


Aerobics as I say it starts with the same sound as appliance. There are places in the US where it is pronounced the way you imply, according to my dictionary, but I've never heard it. Or if I have, I don't remember it; it's not something I would usually pay much attention to.

EDIT: After reading this again, I realize, you're not the person who first made the aerobics/airplane comment, so my claim of "the way you imply" should actually say "the way that other poster implied." Sorry :)

blowfishhootie wrote:My favorite quote on this topic comes from a man named Thomas Lounsbury. He wrote: "There seems to have been in every period in the past, as there is now, a distinct apprehension in the minds of very many worthy persons that the English tongue is always in the condition of approaching collapse and that arduous efforts must be put forth persistently to save it from destruction." And that was in *1908*, more than 100 years ago! And yet, here were are, still somehow able to communicate, despite this neverending downward spiral our language use has reportedly been going through for centuries.

This is like saying "Those silly people of the late nineties! All those predictions of civilisation grinding to a halt due to the milennium bug and then 1st January 2000 rolled round and everything was completely fine." I mean to say, maybe the fact that there have been people around expressing these concerns is the reason that we are still able to communicate ok? (I don't actually believe that, but it's an equally logically valid conclusion to draw from the quote as that raising such concerns is/was unnecessary. Maybe more logical even).


It's not actually valid.

If it were a valid way of thinking, it would be because all the Y2K freakoutery caused people to come up with software patches and stuff that saved the day and made all the doomsday predictions moot. I don't know if that's actually true, but it seems to be what you are implying. I can't think of any equivalent among language prescriptivists. Language stops for nobody. Nobody can freeze language use in a moment and say, "this how people speak." There isn't actually a problem at all to address like the Y2K thing, it is entirely made up. In 1999, if you asked someone why the Y2K thing was a problem, they could give you a concrete answer: "Because our computers with only two-digit year input spots have no concept of a new century, or something like that." I don't actually know. But if you ask prescriptivists what the problem is with language, why certain forms are wrong, they can't answer. I've asked for an objective explanation of what makes certain uses of grammar universally right or wrong, because that's the claim that must be true for their position to hold, and nobody has given any such example.

(I admit the request for a definition of universally objectively right grammar vs. wrong grammar is rhetorical though, because I already know it doesn't exist.)

And if none of this is true, and there actually never was any valid reason to fear the Y2K "bug" then ... yeah, in hindsight we can mock the people who freaked out about it, just like I mock centuries of people who have insisted the English language was doomed.

My view is somewhere in the middle. If no-one worried at all about what the "correct" form of language was supposed to be, then I think native speakers at least would not find it too hard to communicate with each other.


If a certain language practice made it hard to communicate, then that practice would not evolve into common usage, or if it did it would quickly disappear. This seems like common sense to me. Do you worry that without strict oversight, we will start building cars that don't drive (and I don't mean in a "businesses cut corners" kind of way)? Why would language evolve into something that isn't useful for communication, which is the only purpose it actually serves?

EDIT: Also:

I'd just like to take this opportunity to mention my pet peeve - I'm not sure whether this is something that used to be incorrect usage but is now widely used (in which case I'm going to have to learn to let go, *sob*, cos it's probably too late), or whether it's a US vs UK thing (in which case I'll have to learn to grit my teeth when US speakers use it but maybe I can still correct UK users *evil laugh*). Anyway, it's "not that <adj> of a <noun>" or "how <adj> of a <noun>", where <adj> is not 'much' (is 'much' an adjective? I have a feeling it isn't, but anyway.) I really don't think that 'of' should be in there. So, "not that big a deal", not "not that big of a deal".


You can certainly say "not that big a deal" in American English. I think either form is approximately equally common, in my experience. I'm pretty sure I say both. But "not much a concern" or something like that sounds very weird, I think you're saying that's one you would expect to hear?

I suspect, but can't actually look it up right now, that this is a case of the "of" getting dropped because "a" sounds a lot like it anyway. When I do say the of in these sentences - "it's not that far of a drive" - I barely pronounce that f, so to someone not actually listening for it, I can see how it might sound like "it's not that far a a drive," especially considering the o in "of" and the standalone "a" in that sentence sound identical the way I say them.
Last edited by blowfishhootie on Thu Jun 06, 2013 8:26 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby goofy » Thu Jun 06, 2013 7:09 pm UTC

SimonMoon5 wrote:However, the movie versions of the character, played by Peter Cushing, definitely did refer to himself as "Doctor Who" but that was not canonical to the TV show continuity.


If the Cushing movies aren't canon then the best bit of Doctor Who fiction ever, Paul Magrs's In the Sixties, isn't canon. Any canon that doesn't include In the Sixties is not a canon I want.

blowfishhootie wrote:
neremanth wrote:
blowfishhootie wrote:Also, I'm American, and "airplane" and "aerobics" as I say them do not start with the same sound. I can't figure out your point.

...They don't? I'm intrigued.


In North American I think aerobics starts with a schwa /ɘ/ and airplane starts with /ɛr/ as in hair.

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby Pfhorrest » Thu Jun 06, 2013 7:35 pm UTC

Splashy wrote:Doctor What?

If you like.
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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby blowfishhootie » Thu Jun 06, 2013 7:44 pm UTC

About 15 years ago, I lived with two guys who were HUGE pro wrestling fans, and I would watch with them sometimes. There was a group, I can't remember what they were called, but this Dr. Who conversation has gotten their theme song stuck in my head. I only know two lines, because those lines were so stupid that my roommates and I would repeat them often in a mocking way. Those lines are:

The king of rock - who?
The king of rock - what?

I've kind of been playing those over and over again in my head all day. Thanks, people.

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby neremanth » Thu Jun 06, 2013 9:12 pm UTC

(Sorry for the long post..)
blowfishhootie wrote:Aerobics as I say it starts with the same sound as appliance. There are places in the US where it is pronounced the way you imply, according to my dictionary, but I've never heard it. Or if I have, I don't remember it; it's not something I would usually pay much attention to.

goofy wrote:In North American I think aerobics starts with a schwa /ɘ/ and airplane starts with /ɛr/ as in hair.

Thanks, that's interesting.
---
blowfishhootie wrote:If it were a valid way of thinking, it would be because all the Y2K freakoutery caused people to come up with software patches and stuff that saved the day and made all the doomsday predictions moot. I don't know if that's actually true, but it seems to be what you are implying.

Yes, that's what I was implying. (I don't actually know for sure that that's true, but I thought it was, and it doesn't matter too much because I'm just using it as an analogy).

blowfishhootie wrote:I can't think of any equivalent among language prescriptivists. Language stops for nobody. Nobody can freeze language use in a moment and say, "this how people speak." There isn't actually a problem at all to address like the Y2K thing, it is entirely made up. In 1999, if you asked someone why the Y2K thing was a problem, they could give you a concrete answer: "Because our computers with only two-digit year input spots have no concept of a new century, or something like that." I don't actually know. But if you ask prescriptivists what the problem is with language, why certain forms are wrong, they can't answer. I've asked for an objective explanation of what makes certain uses of grammar universally right or wrong, because that's the claim that must be true for their position to hold, and nobody has given any such example.

No, you're quite right that you can't stop language from evolving. But as I said, you can affect the rate at which it evolves - so you can try to slow that evolution down.

I think most claims about a certain language use being right or wrong can get a little way into justification - citing past usage, making analogies with other usages that both parties to the discussion agree on the correctness of - although yes, in the end you can only go so far before you meet the arbitrary rules level. (So, if I tell you that it's wrong to say "the data shows that..." and you ask me why it's wrong, I don't have to go straight to "because!", I can stop on the way at " 'data' is borrowed from Latin where it is plural: it means 'the things which are given' ", "when we borrow words into English we usually (although not always) preserve things like whether or not they're plural from the original language", and "plural nouns do not add an 's' to the end of third person singular present tense regular verbs of which they are the subject", although if you keep asking "why?" to each of these answers it's not going to be very long before I end up having to say "because!").

However, if you're asking what the problem is with just laying off the prescriptivism and letting language take its course, then the answer is not "But then people will start saying things like 'the data shows...'! And that's wrong! Because reasons!". Rather the answer is what I mentioned in my previous post, about how it will become more difficult (although not impossible) for people to understand each other and historic media.

It's a bit like driving. Every country has arbitrarily decided to drive either on the left or the right; here in the UK we've opted for the left. And that decision is arbitrary. If you ask me why we drive on the left I might be able to dig up something I half remember reading somewhere about how in the days of horse drawn transport driving on the left put the sword hand towards any potentially dangerous people coming the other way or something (the details are very hazy and it was probably apocryphal anyway); but that would hardly apply nowadays, and the fact that the majority of countries made the opposite decision underlines how arbitrary it is, nevertheless. So I'm not going to be able to give you a good solid reason why the left is the only correct side to drive on. But if you decide that if there isn't a good reason to drive on the left, then you'll drive on the right in the UK whenever you feel like it, then that isn't going to end well. It's the same with language. Whatever rules we devise and choices we make are arbitrary, but for the reasons I mentioned it helps to have more or less a consensus on most of them (and so in order to persuade people towards one particular choice when there's disagreement, we might bring out what reasons we have, even if they do end up at "because" if you push too far).


blowfishhootie wrote:If a certain language practice made it hard to communicate, then that practice would not evolve into common usage, or if it did it would quickly disappear. This seems like common sense to me. Do you worry that without strict oversight, we will start building cars that don't drive (and I don't mean in a "businesses cut corners" kind of way)? Why would language evolve into something that isn't useful for communication, which is the only purpose it actually serves?

Two things here. First, the way language evolves and the way car designs evolve are rather different. Language evolution is closer to the evolution of living things than car design evolution is, because most of the time when we speak or write we aren't consciously trying to design language, we're just using what seems correct to us, i.e. what we perceive language to be in its current state. Sure, we think about what we say and we try to choose words that will communicate as effectively for us as possible. But we're thinking about that specific instance, not about the language as a whole. And we don't always have all the information. (For example, for a long time I'd only seen 'segue' written, not heard it. I thought it was pronounced 'seeg'. If I'd used it when speaking, and no-one had been able to correct me because no pronounciation could be considered wrong, that could have started off another pronounciation that might have become frequently used, especially if there were other people making the same mistake as me. I might consider that it's not helpful having multiple pronounciations for the word and really the best language design would only include one. But if I have no idea that the usual pronounciation is 'segway', then I can't make that design choice, because I don't even know I'm introducing a new pronounciation. If anyone looks baffled and fails to understand me, then I'm more likely to assume they just don't know that word at all and explain what it means than to realise I've mispronounced it.)

The second thing is that I think the prescriptivism might be part of the evolutionary process, or rather the forces that naturally shape the evolutionary process. We don't have to get out our grammar books and dictionaries every time we see or hear a sentence in order to check whether it's right or wrong. We know whether it sounds/looks right or wrong to us (which, ok, might not be quite the same as whether it's right or wrong according to the grammar book and dictionary, but the point is that we have a natural instinct for wrongness). It's only natural to point out when someone else's sentence looks/sounds wrong to us (even if we generally learn to restrain that impulse out of politeness). I'm suggesting that natural behaviour might be the very reason why we can expect language not to evolve to a form that makes communication difficult. Well, that and people saying when they don't understand something, prompting the speaker to try a different choice of words. If we stop saying any particular language use is wrong, then we remove that evolutionary pressure, as it were. So instead we end up with a somewhat more diverse range of dialects, and more frequent instances of people saying "What? I don't understand what you just said." That's certainly perfectly workable, but it leads to less smooth interaction. (For example, at the moment I wouldn't usually correct someone's language use on a forum, but I would if I was reviewing an academic paper, say. The fact that correction is still used in some contexts means that we might get things on the forum (as anywhere else) that are wrong, but in the vast majority of cases not so wrong we can't understand them. If we stop correcting anywhere, and instead only query when we don't understand something, then I don't see why we wouldn't get things that are unintelligible on the forums at the same rate that we presently get things that are wrong, and we couldn't just ignore those like we can ignore things that are wrong unless we don't mind not understanding what the person has to say).

---
blowfishhootie wrote:You can certainly say "not that big a deal" in American English. I think either form is approximately equally common, in my experience. I'm pretty sure I say both. But "not much a concern" or something like that sounds very weird, I think you're saying that's one you would expect to hear?

I suspect, but can't actually look it up right now, that this is a case of the "of" getting dropped because "a" sounds a lot like it anyway. When I do say the of in these sentences - "it's not that far of a drive" - I barely pronounce that f, so to someone not actually listening for it, I can see how it might sound like "it's not that far a a drive," especially considering the o in "of" and the standalone "a" in that sentence sound identical the way I say them.

Thanks, that's interesting to have it confirmed that "not that big a deal" is correct (or at least commonly enough used to sound valid) US English even if the question of whether "not that big of a deal" is also correct is still open.

No, "not much a concern" sounds strange to me too, because 'much' is an exception where I think the 'of' is required - as I said, I'm not convinced 'much' is an adjective so that may be why. (I looked it up and I'm still not sure as it seems that it can be an adjective or an adverb; though 'how much' which seems closest in sense to how it's used here is apparently an adverb. It seems to me like it could be a noun too - "that much is too expensive" - but it didn't say it could so I'm probably wrong about that). I personally doubt the 'of gets dropped' explanation, at least if it's a language evolution thing rather than US vs UK thing, because I'm pretty sure that the version without 'of' used to be correct at least in the UK (I don't recall seeing the 'of' version in print in something like a novel). So I think the 'of' has been added in. I was guessing maybe it was by analogy with 'much' - "not that much of a problem" influences "not that big a deal" and then as "not that big of a deal" becomes more common other similar phrases are influenced by that. But I have no idea really, I'm just making this up.

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby Lyricthrope » Thu Jun 06, 2013 9:20 pm UTC

I've always heard "aerobics" pronounced as "uh row bix" while "airplane" is "air (rhyming with hair) plane." For some reason, "aeoroplane" sounds like "arrow plane" if I read it, though I doubt that's actually how anyone says it.

blowfishhootie wrote:There was a group, I can't remember what they were called, but this Dr. Who conversation has gotten their theme song stuck in my head. I only know two lines, because those lines were so stupid that my roommates and I would repeat them often in a mocking way. Those lines are:
The king of rock - who?
The king of rock - what?

They were "D Generation X," their theme is "The King" by Run D.M.C. It wouldn't let me post a link to the lyrics, since it claimed it was spam. :shock:

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby goofy » Thu Jun 06, 2013 11:49 pm UTC

neremanth wrote:I think most claims about a certain language use being right or wrong can get a little way into justification - citing past usage, making analogies with other usages that both parties to the discussion agree on the correctness of - although yes, in the end you can only go so far before you meet the arbitrary rules level. (So, if I tell you that it's wrong to say "the data shows that..." and you ask me why it's wrong, I don't have to go straight to "because!", I can stop on the way at " 'data' is borrowed from Latin where it is plural: it means 'the things which are given' ", "when we borrow words into English we usually (although not always) preserve things like whether or not they're plural from the original language", and "plural nouns do not add an 's' to the end of third person singular present tense regular verbs of which they are the subject", although if you keep asking "why?" to each of these answers it's not going to be very long before I end up having to say "because!").


You're making the etymological fallacy here. Whether data is plural or not in Latin is completely irrelevant. So I can keep asking "why?" and you need to provide a better justification for the claim that "the data shows that..." is wrong. And this justification has to appeal to how the word is actually used by actual English writers. According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, data is used two ways: as a plural noun, and as a singular noncount noun (like information). Both of these are completely standard.

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby neremanth » Fri Jun 07, 2013 12:34 am UTC

goofy wrote:
neremanth wrote:I think most claims about a certain language use being right or wrong can get a little way into justification - citing past usage, making analogies with other usages that both parties to the discussion agree on the correctness of - although yes, in the end you can only go so far before you meet the arbitrary rules level. (So, if I tell you that it's wrong to say "the data shows that..." and you ask me why it's wrong, I don't have to go straight to "because!", I can stop on the way at " 'data' is borrowed from Latin where it is plural: it means 'the things which are given' ", "when we borrow words into English we usually (although not always) preserve things like whether or not they're plural from the original language", and "plural nouns do not add an 's' to the end of third person singular present tense regular verbs of which they are the subject", although if you keep asking "why?" to each of these answers it's not going to be very long before I end up having to say "because!").


You're making the etymological fallacy here. Whether data is plural or not in Latin is completely irrelevant. So I can keep asking "why?" and you need to provide a better justification for the claim that "the data shows that..." is wrong. And this justification has to appeal to how the word is actually used by actual English writers. According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, data is used two ways: as a plural noun, and as a singular noncount noun (like information). Both of these are completely standard.

Ah, well, I'm not particularly interested in claiming that 'data' is plural. That's not one of my peeves; indeed I tend to naturally use it as singular (and get corrected for that by my supervisor). I just mentioned it as an example. My point was that language use isn't arbitrary to the point of not being able to provide any kind of justification for a claim that a certain usage is correct, but I agreed that if you attempt justification you're quickly going to come to things that are arbitrary. So in this case a hypothetical supporter of 'data' being plural who tried to argue the point with you would be left at arbitrarily claiming that we should keep the number of words we import, and if the dictionary says the singular is valid then it's wrong and should be changed. And you would point out that that is an arbitrary rule (or maybe even propose the counter rule that we should always ignore the number in the original language and make imported words singular in English), and if it's made it into the dictionary then that's that. And I would say both positions are arbitrary (though if forced to choose between them, which I guess in a way, as a user of English, I am, I would support your dictionary claim - in theory. In practice I'll keep using it as plural myself so my supervisor doesn't complain. :wink: )

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby goofy » Fri Jun 07, 2013 12:57 am UTC

neremanth wrote:Ah, well, I'm not particularly interested in claiming that 'data' is plural. That's not one of my peeves; indeed I tend to naturally use it as singular (and get corrected for that by my supervisor). I just mentioned it as an example. My point was that language use isn't arbitrary to the point of not being able to provide any kind of justification for a claim that a certain usage is correct, but I agreed that if you attempt justification you're quickly going to come to things that are arbitrary. So in this case a hypothetical supporter of 'data' being plural who tried to argue the point with you would be left at arbitrarily claiming that we should keep the number of words we import, and if the dictionary says the singular is valid then it's wrong and should be changed. And you would point out that that is an arbitrary rule (or maybe even propose the counter rule that we should always ignore the number in the original language and make imported words singular in English), and if it's made it into the dictionary then that's that. And I would say both positions are arbitrary (though if forced to choose between them, which I guess in a way, as a user of English, I am, I would support your dictionary claim - in theory. In practice I'll keep using it as plural myself so my supervisor doesn't complain. :wink: )


Language is arbitrary, that's one of the features of language. It's arbitrary that the sequence /kæt/ denotes my pet feline. It's arbitrary that we add -s to singular third person verbs, etc.

But what isn't arbitrary is our methodology for examining what the rules are in a language. In order to determine how "data" should be used, we examine the evidence - how do writers use it? How is it listed in dictionaries? This is not an arbitrary position, it's a rational one.

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby blowfishhootie » Fri Jun 07, 2013 1:18 am UTC

I don't know where I first heard this, but I think it drives the point home pretty well: Language is a tool created and shaped by humans, for our own purposes; prescriptivists would have it the other way though, and make humans slaves to language, unable to change it. If you acknowledge that language is always changing, then you can't possibly believe there are rules that must always be followed; if you deny that language is always changing, then you are wrong.

I liken it to any other tool. If I need to hammer a nail into a wall, but I don't have a hammer, can I just never put that nail in the wall? Or is it OK to use, say, the head of a screwdriver? If I did this, and you walked into my house and said "Hootie, no! That's for driving screws into things, not hammering nails!", then I would say, "well, it works fine" and then ignore you and go back to hammering my nail with a screwdriver. The only question that matters is, can I get that nail in the wall using that screwdriver, and if the answer is yes, then I don't really care what the screwdriver was designed to do. Should I just not put that nail in the wall out of some silly, baseless principle? All I'm doing is depriving myself of the ability to hang a picture on the wall. What is gained by not using that screwdriver?

Similarly, if I use a word that you think isn't really a word (or whatever other allegedly "wrong" example you want to use), but the audience to which I am speaking understands it, then I don't really care if you think it's a word or not. It works for my purposes, and that's really the only practical question. What is gained by claiming people can't or shouldn't speak a certain way, if that way of speaking communicates their point? All you are doing, ironically, is hampering people's ability to communicate, in that case. Language is the greatest tool humans have ever created, I can't understand why anyone would seek to take that away. I don't worry about it too much, because to argue that there are actual rules that must be followed is an argument doomed to lose over and over and over again, both history and logic support this. But I would, as a matter of curiosity, like to understand it. What do people gain by trying to tell the rest of the world how they are supposed to speak? It is not better communication, that much is for certain.

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby goofy » Fri Jun 07, 2013 1:26 am UTC

blowfishhootie wrote:I don't know where I first heard this, but I think it drives the point home pretty well: Language is a tool created and shaped by humans, for our own purposes; prescriptivists would have it the other way though, and make humans slaves to language, unable to change it. If you acknowledge that language is always changing, then you can't possibly believe there are rules that must always be followed


Well, I acknowledge that language is always changing, but I also believe there are rules that should be followed. I don't see the contradiction. In business writing for instance, I shouldn't use slang, I should begin sentences with capital letters, etc. Certainly the rules change over time, and there are different rules in different contexts, but there are rules, and they should be followed if we want to communicate effectively. Your position seems to me to be close to "anything goes" which IMO is just as irrational as the most irrational prescriptivism.

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby blowfishhootie » Fri Jun 07, 2013 1:47 am UTC

goofy wrote:
blowfishhootie wrote:I don't know where I first heard this, but I think it drives the point home pretty well: Language is a tool created and shaped by humans, for our own purposes; prescriptivists would have it the other way though, and make humans slaves to language, unable to change it. If you acknowledge that language is always changing, then you can't possibly believe there are rules that must always be followed


Well, I acknowledge that language is always changing, but I also believe there are rules that should be followed. I don't see the contradiction. In business writing for instance, I shouldn't use slang


I'd say it depends on the business being written about, your role in it, the intended and expected audiences for the writing in question, and also what is considered slang. Many, many words we use everyday and wouldn't consider slang were considered slang in the past, but I know you know this already. Any "rule" you can produce, it is incredibly simple to provide any number of scenarios where that rule doesn't apply, which means it's not actually a rule.

I should begin sentences with capital letters, etc.


People start sentences without capitalization all the time, and it is not even a recent thing. In most cases, it does not obscure the meaning. Sometimes it does, and I admit it can make it hard to read, but I also think that's probably because we've trained our brains to look for capital letters to start sentences. Like everything else about language, that is arbitrary and it doesn't mean it must be a universal truth.

It's not that I believe "anything goes" - it's that to whatever extent rules exist, they are linked to our brains' ability to process the language we find ourselves trying to understand, and so trying to force those alleged "rules" on someone else really makes no sense - if they have a brain, they already subconsciously know the only "rules" that matter. If I want to tell you I own a blue car, providing the sentence "bumblebee cat dragon filing cabinet" doesn't communicate this point, so clearly it is not "anything goes." But there are so many different ways for me to tell you that I have a blue car, that to pretend there is any one way, or two ways, or three ways, etc., that is "more right" than others is absurd:

I have a blue car.
My car is blue.
I have a blue truck.
I have a blue sedan.
I drive a blue sedan.

... there are some specific scenarios in which these have subtle differences that would be important, but in a LOT of conversations where I wanted to make this point, any of these sentences would work (well, either truck or sedan, depending on what I have). Also, if the subject of my car is already established and I've been asked what kind it is, I could say:

sedan
a sedan
a blue sedan

But ... these aren't "complete" sentences! It doesn't matter. What is the best way to communicate a particular point is dependent entirely upon the preference of the speaker and the ability of the audience to understand. Maybe where I live, we have some different word for sedan, which makes the matter even more complicated.

I also think there are many examples where the so-called "proper" way to speak or write does not actually reflect the way a majority of people speak or write most of the time.

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby Pfhorrest » Fri Jun 07, 2013 1:51 am UTC

I really want to wade into this debate because I think there is a good argument to be made for a kind of flexible prescriptivism, but I don't have the time to engage in this fully right now.

I just want to comment on the point about language as a tool: it is a tool that we make as well as one that we use, and it is a peculiar kind of tool in that we make it by using it. As such, I think there is a place for limited linguistic prescription as a force for better directing how we make our tools. To stretch the hammer metaphor perhaps too far: instead of just randomly mutating our hammers and then basing new mutations off the more popular mutant hammers, we can intelligently engineer better hammers directly. Those purportedly better hammers will still be subject to mutation and selection, and ones that aren't really better won't get used, but it's hard to argue that refining the hammer varieties we make with smart, directed intention will hinder and not help the process of hammer evolution.
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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby goofy » Fri Jun 07, 2013 2:14 am UTC

blowfishhootie wrote:I'd say it depends on the business being written about, your role in it, the intended and expected audiences for the writing in question, and also what is considered slang. Many, many words we use everyday and wouldn't consider slang were considered slang in the past, but I know you know this already. Any "rule" you can produce, it is incredibly simple to provide any number of scenarios where that rule doesn't apply, which means it's not actually a rule.


But language has rules. It must have rules, or we couldn't communicate at all. You know this, you talk about subconscious rules. I can produce rules that are actual rules and that apply in every scenario. Here's one: "determiners proceed nouns."

blowfishhootie wrote:
I should begin sentences with capital letters, etc.


People start sentences without capitalization all the time, and it is not even a recent thing. In most cases, it does not obscure the meaning. Sometimes it does, and I admit it can make it hard to read, but I also think that's probably because we've trained our brains to look for capital letters to start sentences. Like everything else about language, that is arbitrary and it doesn't mean it must be a universal truth.


Whether or not it obscures the meaning is irrelevant. Its recency is irrelevant. Of course it's arbitrary, all language is arbitrary. In many kinds of formal writing, writers begin sentences with capital letters, so you should begin sentences with capital letters in those kinds of formal writing if you want to communicate effectively. This seems a reasonable position to me. It's not a universal truth, I never said it was, but it is a reasonable rule.

I wish I hadn't mentioned capital letters, because orthography and grammar are two very different things. Orthography is manufactured, while grammar is grown. Grammar doesn't need formally imposed rules but you could argue that orthography does. That is, without some guidance on how to spell and how to use punctuation, we could potentially have some miscommunication.

blowfishhootie wrote:It's not that I believe "anything goes" - it's that to whatever extent rules exist, they are linked to our brains' ability to process the language we find ourselves trying to understand, and so trying to force those alleged "rules" on someone else really makes no sense - if they have a brain, they already subconsciously know the only "rules" that matter.


But subconscious rules are not the only rules that matter. We all know more than one language. The language we learn on our mothers knee is not the same language we write our formal essays in. The rules of standard written English do matter if we want to communicate in standard written English.

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Re: 1221: "Nomenclature"

Postby gmalivuk » Fri Jun 07, 2013 3:36 am UTC

blowfishhootie wrote:
goofy wrote:Well, I acknowledge that language is always changing, but I also believe there are rules that should be followed. I don't see the contradiction. In business writing for instance, I shouldn't use slang
I'd say it depends on the business being written about, your role in it, the intended and expected audiences for the writing in question, and also what is considered slang. Many, many words we use everyday and wouldn't consider slang were considered slang in the past, but I know you know this already. Any "rule" you can produce, it is incredibly simple to provide any number of scenarios where that rule doesn't apply, which means it's not actually a rule.
It's still a rule of thumb, though. And just because an alleged rule has exceptions doesn't make it not actually a rule. You just need to be more specific when stating it.

I teach English as a foreign language, and I would be a bad teacher if I didn't tell students that they shouldn't write "gonna" in formal business correspondence, or if I tried to weasel my way out of admitting that was a good rule of thumb by pointing out that there might be certain businesses where it would be fine or even preferred.

The fact is, there are rules in language, it's just that they're conditional rather than absolute. They are rules about how you should communicate if you want to convey such-and-such information to such-and-such audience. And when the audience is composed of educated and literate users of the language you're using, and part of the information you want to convey to them is that you are likewise an educated and literate user of that language, then there are absolutely certain rules you should be following. Not because to do otherwise would be "incorrect" or "improper" or "lazy" or "ignorant" or whatever else prescriptivists claim, or at least not any of those things in any objective sense, but simply because to do otherwise would not in fact tend to communicate the information that you are an educated and literate user of the language in question.

Pfhorrest wrote:I really want to wade into this debate because I think there is a good argument to be made for a kind of flexible prescriptivism, but I don't have the time to engage in this fully right now.

I just want to comment on the point about language as a tool: it is a tool that we make as well as one that we use, and it is a peculiar kind of tool in that we make it by using it. As such, I think there is a place for limited linguistic prescription as a force for better directing how we make our tools. To stretch the hammer metaphor perhaps too far: instead of just randomly mutating our hammers and then basing new mutations off the more popular mutant hammers, we can intelligently engineer better hammers directly. Those purportedly better hammers will still be subject to mutation and selection, and ones that aren't really better won't get used, but it's hard to argue that refining the hammer varieties we make with smart, directed intention will hinder and not help the process of hammer evolution.
You would have a point if linguistic mutation was as random as genetic mutation in the first place. But I doubt many language changes ever catch on after appearing as truly random mistakes. And even ones that did, such as nonstandard spellings like "teh" and "pron" and "wat", were embraced in certain communities and passed on because they were judged to serve a specific purpose useful to those communities.

I've never really been sure what your "limited prescriptivism" really amounts to, because it always seems to depend on preventing things happening in language change that don't actually happen, or on promoting things that already do happen. (Like, what do you think coining a new word consists of, if not "intelligently engineering better" utterances for the purpose at hand?)
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