Archive for the ‘language dude’ Category

Foreigners Have a Different Name for Your Town

21 October 2011

You’ve heard of Calcutta, right? What about Kolkata? It’s the same place, pretty much the same name, but spelled differently. Indians didn’t think “Calcutta” was a cool name, so they changed it. “Calcutta” was what the British Empire called the city, and the masses of actual Indians who live around there want to assert their ownership by giving it a home-grown name.

I can understand that. The thing is, I don’t have any problem with the name “Calcutta”. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s a British rendition. The British did invent English, and that’s the language I know best, so I’ll go with their choice. It’s not a political decision, just a natural linguistic leaning. Anyway, we’ve been calling it “Calcutta” around here for a long time now, and I’m going to keep calling it that. If you know what I mean when I say “Calcutta”, then the name works fine. If you know what I mean but you also think I’m wrong not to call it “Kolkata”, then that’s your problem.

Likewise, “Bombay” is a good enough name for what Indians now call “Mumbai”, and “Peking” was a good enough name for “Beijing”. Why should I let China tell me what to call their city when I’m speaking English to Americans, and we all have been saying it our way all our lives? When I learn Chinese, then I’ll listen to what Chinese people tell me about pronunciation.

No one ever tries to get English speakers to call Vienna “Wien”, and, Olympics aside, we don’t feel the need to call Turin “Torino”.

I do think BBC newsreaders sound funny when they say “Mary-land” for the state we call “merrilind”.


What Rand Paul Was Trying to Say

26 May 2011

When Rand Paul said that health care is not a right, and that saying it is a right means that doctors should be enslaved, he had a point. It was a point he expressed poorly, and a point an elected official should not have even tried to make, but it was a good point.

The point is that “health care is a right” is a questionable principle, especially as rhetoric on health care policy. It’s questionable because no marketable good or service belongs to consumers by right. Rather, they generally have to pay for it.

Free speech is a right. It’s not marketable. You don’t have to pay to speak. Television ad time is not a right. If you want it, you have to buy it. Similarly, since a doctor’s service is something one pays for (either the patient pays or someone else pays on the patient’s behalf), it is not something one has a right to.

For those smart enough to say, “Look, we know you just can’t demand the doctor’s service, but everyone should be given a way to obtain health care.” That’s better, but this definition of “right to health care” doesn’t tell us anything about what our governments must do to facilitate the transaction.

I Cannot Lie, But I Lay Like a Rug

19 December 2008

I am not sure where all the English teachers are on this, but do you all remember learning that the verb present tense for stretching oneself out on a horizontal surface is “lie”, not “lay”? Try to find someone using “lie” in this sense anymore. Do people even understand the expression “lie like a rug”?

Here’s an Associated Press instance of this misusage:

His warnings were heard too late, and he’s become a symbol of a botched oversight of Madoff by the SEC. His mother says the father of three boys under 5 has been bombarded by media requests. Now, a man who tried to be heard for years is going to lay low for a bit, she said.

I would have figured that people would at least retain familiar combinations like “lie low”.

Not to be completely boring about this, I will mention the German cognates, which I suppose to be in no danger of being lost: liegen and legen. Germans do have the advantage of having another different word for “lie” in the sense of telling a falsehood; that is lügen.

On to see how my umlaut looks in my browser when I publish this post.

Word Rescue: Inane

17 December 2008

Oh, twenty-some years ago it was, I guess, when I read someone criticizing sportscaster Chris Schenkel as “inane”. Hell, it could have been thirty years ago. Thanks goodness I have so much of this stored material to fluff out the blog.

Anyway, I am not sure whether I had to look up “inane” back then, or if I already knew what it meant. If you do not know, it means “not going anywhere”. That is an “in-” for “not”, and a root “ane” related to “animal” and “animate”, meaning “moving”. I never listened much to Chris Schenkel to tell whether his sports commentaries went anywhere, but it is easy to believe they did not.

Now, if you did already know what “inane” means, I commend you. It would be hard to pick up that meaning from the way the word is used in political blogging, where it seems to mean “illogical” or “baseless” and is usually applied to dumb political reporting. Here is an example fresh from Tapped:

Today she makes the inane argument that Obama “mishandled the media” in the ongoing Blagojevich scandal and that’s why they’ve been making so many assumptions about the president-elect’s conduct without any evidence of wrongdoing, and considerable evidence that there was none.

Defending the Adjective “Democratic”

9 December 2008

I think it was Al Franken whom I first heard remarking that Republicans like to say “the Democrat party”, to be annoying to Democrats. That is indeed what they do. It would be merely silly, except it feeds just the kind of linguistic sloppiness that bugs me, apart from political sensibilities.

Now there is a growing frequency of “Democrat” as an adjective. Let me be clear: “Democratic” is the adjective that is applicable to a member or event or political action of the Democratic party. “Democrat” is a noun that may be used for a member of the party. Not only is “Democrat Party” a bastardized name, but “Democrat candidate”, “Democrat bill”, “Democrat advantage”, and “Democrat spin” are all bastardized language. Also, not only Republican partisans but also neutral news agencies and pollsters are guilty.

It takes a poorly schooled writer to be confused by this, but some subtler cases catch lot of highly trained people. If you classify the population by their preferred party and the intensity of that preference, you might well classify their leanings as “strongly Democratic”, but “strongly Democrat” is wrong. Furthermore, even though it is fairly conventional to shorten the term to “strong Democratic”, “strong Democrat” is not right. Remember, you are talking about people’s preference, not which party they belong to. They can call themselves independent, libertarian, or even Republican and still express a “Democratic” leaning, be it “strong Democratic” or “weak Democratic”. “Strong Democrat” should mean a Democrat (member of the Democratic Party) who is strong in some way, perhaps in the sense of having good popular support.

Compare to a characterization of people as “strong pro-life” or “strong pro-choice”. I do not think I have ever seen anyone label these categories as “strong pro-lifer” and “strong pro-choicer”. Those would be noun phrases describing individuals. The category labels are adjective phrases.

Sorry, this is the kind of point that will elude many people, maybe most. The label for a category of people, and a label for an individual in that category—what is the difference? some will ask. There is a difference. Call it a petty and pedantic peeve of mine, if you will, but do not chalk it up to witless reflexive defense of the Democratic Party. It hits my language-dude nerve.

Waiting for My Payment to Reflect

30 November 2008

From an online banking web page:

Allow 24-48 hours for your payment to reflect online.

They are inverting a transitive verb so that the thing that should be a direct object is treated like a subject. Sloppy. What they mean is, 24-48 hours for your payment to be reflected online. Yes, people should try to avoid the passive voice, but not always, and not like this.

Oh, this is also an example of using a range where a single estimated limit would make better sense. Tell us to allow 48 hours, if it might take that long. What is the point of giving us the 24-48 range?

The Word “Blog”

29 November 2008

I do not like the word “blog”. When I first heard it, it annoyed me. First, I did not know what it meant, but I was seeing it bandied about casually. To me, jerks were using a made-up word that I did not know, although it did not seem to signify much more than a web journal. Then I found out it was short for “web log”, and I thought the abbreviation was repulsive and not needed. Now I am pretty much used to it.

Bad Verbing

28 November 2008

“Verbing” is using a word as a verb that is not really a verb. Like “verb”, there. Guardians of good English usage tend to abhor verbing. Bill Watterson’s Calvin once commented, “Verbing weirds language.” From time to time, though, a verbed noun makes it into the common tongue. “Access” has recently got established as a verb as well as a noun. “Input” gets work as a verb, too.

This probably is no peculiar trend of modern times. There are plenty of words that have been around as both nouns and verbs for a long time. Care, stop, run, walk, talk, record, permit. So maybe it’s not something to fight against all the time.

Some cases are worse than others. Like when there’s a perfectly good verb for what you want to say, but you use a noun as verb instead. Here is an example by Spencer Ackerman where he uses a noun as a verb, seemingly unaware that the noun is in fact derived from a verb that means just what he is trying to use the noun to mean:

I suppose you could rejoinder that we don’t want someone who loses the moral forest for the bureaucratic trees.

That’s what Spencer Ackerman suposes. I would rather suppose you could rejoin that we don’t want someone who loses the moral forest for the bureaucratic trees.

I mean really: that verb is already in the dictionary, and it is fewer characters to type. Go with it!

I would guess that the verb “rejoin” is less familiar than the noun “rejoinder”, so I can understand how this happened, but I think a healthy disdain for verbing might have led Ackerman to ask himself whether there was a real verb he could have used instead of “rejoinder”. If he had asked himself that, maybe he would have found “rejoin” breaking upon his consciousness.

Open “Mike”, Not Open “Mick”

9 August 2007

Respect your language, English speakers! Understand that the written language is above all based at representing the sounds of speech. As such, the word pronounced “mike” and meaning “microphone” should be spelled–can you guess?–“mike”!! Spell what you hear unless customary standards preclude it. Do not adopt the awful spelling “mic” as in the nowadays-common “open mic”. Anyone who understands how English spelling signals pronunciation knows that “open mic” should be pronounced as “open mick”. That is not how people say it. Not yet, anyway.

Of course, I know where “mic” came from. Every microphone jack on any tape recorder or audio component that has been produced in the last fifty years has borne the abbreviated label “MIC”. That is an abbreviation. Now sometimes people do make a funny word out of an an abbreviation. Maybe a few people out there talk about “St. Louis Moe”. But word shortenings in speech naturally are based on the spoken sounds, so the spoken short word for “microphone” has always been “mike”, not “mick”. So, if “open mike” is what you say, let “open mike” be what you write.

“Lede” is not a word

6 August 2007

Too many writers are caught up in a fad of using “lede” to mean the beginning of a news article wherein the main news is summarized. (See the end of the fifth paragraph in this piece, for example.) If you thought that was a sense of the very well known noun “lead”, pronounced with a long “e”, then I am with you. I think it is weird and parochial to give the word a special spelling in a journalistic context.

The explanation is that it has been common practice in the newspaper business to spell it “lede” to avoid confusion with “lead” as in the lead metal type that printing presses use. I can imagine it might be useful in proofreading marks to avoid confusion with the verb “lead” in the sense of adding space between lines. I just do not see how it is a necessary distinction for the general consumers of an article.

Now if some reformer wanted to always spell the long-e form of “lead” as “lede”, in any context, I would respect that, but that is not what people are doing.