Saturday, January 25, 2020

On Words, Definition Soldiers — January 25, 2020

Do you like words? Are you exhausted by the impeachment trial? Here's a place for you to relax.

They’re Getting the Ban Back Together

slang, education, youth language

For as long as I live, I don’t think I will ever truly understand some grown-ups’ desire to rein in youth speech in favor of “correct” formal English. But here we are again (and by we I mean Paige Neal-Holder writing for BBC News) asking “Should schools be allowed to ban slang?” A number of schools in England have slang bans in place. They're aimed specifically at lessons in the classroom, but “grammar police” posters and “slang jail” stickers appearing around the school will certainly have a chilling effect in the hallways as well.

Language restrictions at school are nothing more than dress codes for your tongue, only with more opportunity of uneven, unfair distribution that could push already marginalized populations even further into the margins.

And another thing: I guarandamntee you that every single person who supported a slang ban was once a teenager who used the slang of their own cohort in the halls of academe. Only the most self-loathing or self-unaware could argue that their slang was just fine, but this generation’s slang is detrimental.

Like I said, I’ll never understand it.

Dutch Courage May Actually Help You Speak Dutch

foreign languages, liquor

The Language Nerds this week (or maybe not — read the end) reported on a study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology (they have the best centerfolds) that claims that consuming a moderate amount of alcohol can actually improve one’s ability to speak in a second language. Presumably, the alcohol lowers inhibitions and increases self-confidence, cutting through the nerves and social anxiety that lead to hesitation and self-doubt.

The researchers claim that the benefits disappear if “too much” alcohol is consumed, but I believe more research is needed to make that claim. And I would appreciate it if someone would give me a call when some young linguist decides to start a new study to find out where that “too much” line is.

So here’s my hedging: This article drifted through my feed last week, and I liked it, so I thought I would share it. After poking around a little more (and after I wrote it up), it appears this article might be older than I thought. Like maybe two years older. But the Language Nerds don’t put dates on their posts, which really annoys me.

If you have a website where you frequently post new content, please put the date it was posted in there.

A Proliferation of Diarrh— Dierhe— Deaiaerree— Let’s Say “Dots”

diacritics, fake news

It’s a proven fact* that copy editors who regularly read The New Yorker have stronger eye muscles than the general population. Why? It’s all the extra eye rolling. The New Yorker’s house style guide is famously stuck in the 1920s, and there is no more visible sign of that anachronistic outlook than the fact that they still put a diaeresis (a word no one can spell without help) over the second of two consecutive vowels when those vowels occur in separate syllables, as in coöperation, naïve, or, I don’t know, homoërotic?

This week, ClickHole — a website that strives “to make sure that all of our content panders to and misleads our readers just enough to make it go viral” — declared “‘The New Yorker’ Has Announced That They’re Going to Start Putting an Umlaut [sic] Over Every Letter ‘O’ and No One Can Stop Them.” Yes, this is a fake article, but I wouldn’t put it past them.

* Not at all a proven fact.

I'm Feeling Disorientated

British English, language differences, peeves

As a word lover and scholar, I went through a snooty, smarter-than-thou, grammar-judging stage; I think most professional copy editors can say the same thing. I also came through it and now have a more balanced approach to language, grammar, and “correctness”; again I think most successful professional copy editors can say the same.

But there are some peeves from those days that I have a hard time letting go of. For example, I still cringe a little when I remember showing up at Ball State University for freshman orientation, and having our guide — an English major, no less — introduce herself and say that she was there to help orientate us to the campus.

Shivers just now, typing that.

But this week, Patricia O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman of The Grammarphobia Blog took on a word that, from my point of view, is even more disturbing: disorientated. And they didn’t spend their time explaining why it was wrong.

Apparently, disorientated is accepted as standard in most dictionaries, though it’s more commonly used in the U.K. than the U.S. What’s more, British English speakers seem to prefer disorientate to disorient. Click over to their post "Disoriented or Disorientated?" to examine their evidence and arguments.

I will continue to never ever ever use disorientate in my own work (unless, like now, I’m writing about the word itself), but as a working copy editor, the door has now been opened — just a crack — for others whose work I edit to use it. It still makes me cringe, though.

Tweet Thread of the Week

typos, signage

Jon Danziger, who is (according to his Twitter profile) a researcher at the Oxford English Dictionary, posted an enjoyable thread of error-riddled grocery-store signs this week. (The "high biscuit" plant is my favorite.) Just click the image to go to Twitter and see the whole thread.

I get a little uneasy about proliferating images like these because the act might be construed as poking fun at or belittling the people who made the mistakes. viewed in this light, it isn't fair to amplify a single mistake on a global scale like this. But I hope that isn't what you see here. I certainly don't intend it that way, and I don't think Danziger does either.

I am totally against shaming someone for making mistakes; after all, we all make mistakes because we're all human, and shaming someone for being human is ridiculous. So as you look through these images, there are really only two takeaways: 1) These are mistakes. 2) They're funny. Full stop.

But also remember: Some day, you'll make a mistake like this too. (You probably already have.)

Embiggened MacMillan

dictionaries, new words

In a new post at MacMillan Dictionaries, Liz Potter offers an overview of new additions to that esteemed reference work. A large chunk of the additions deal with how we talk about gender these days, including non-binary, cisgender, and Spivak pronouns. This last was new to me. It’s an eponym for “a set of gender-neutral pronouns developed . . . by a mathematician called Michael Spivak back in the 1990s.”

It isn’t all about gender words, though. It isn’t even all about words. MacMillan has also expanded the number of sound clips in its online dictionary as well as the collection of images paired with definitions. This explains the jarring juxtaposition at the top of the post. The headline reads “Reflecting on How We Talk about Gender: A New Update of MacMillan Dictionary,” which is immediately followed by a photograph of a bowl of noodles and mushrooms.

While the 14-year-old boy who lives inside me was gung-ho about reading about the connection between gender and noodles, the slightly-more-adult professional in me had his doubts.

Reprobate Court

etymology, self-promotion

Have you ever noticed that reprobate is just probate with re- tacked on? Now you have! Does that mean you're a reprobate if you have to go back to probate court a second time? Yeah, no. That's silly. Get a brief look at how these two wildly different words are related in my latest In a Word at The Saturday Evening Post, From Probate to Reprobate.”

Hilarious Auto Cucumber Errors

autocorrect, typos

Lastly, and just for fun — because we could all use more satisfied fingers, horny Asians, and goat choking in our lives — here from The Language Nerds, in a more recent post, is the totally NSFW “30 of the Most Concerning Autocorrect Fails of All Time.” Remember these whenever you find yourself thinking that a grammar- and spell-checking algorithm could be just as good as a live copy editor.

Featured image courtesy of the Public Domain Review.