Category Archives: Dialects

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Correct/Incorrect Grammar-Test Items

An English teacher living in Jerusalem wrote to ask me to resolve a dispute about a test question. Someone had set a correct/incorrect test on the preterite (the simple past, e.g. took) vs. the perfect (e.g. have taken). This was the test item (the students were supposed to circle the correct form of the verb inside the parentheses):

I (have just received / received) a message but I haven’t read it yet.

 

Some of the teachers who discussed the quest…

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Hillary Who?

Hillary-60-minutesNoting that I’ve written about the hip-hop/youth/New York trend of glottalizing (that is, “swallowing” the t before the last syllable) such words as important, button, and Manhattan, a reader recently e-mailed me, “I was intrigued by how Hillary Clinton glottalized her last name … as early as 1992. Not surprisingly, she changed it back to Clin’T’on in her campaign video last year.”

The reader included links to two YouTube videos. The first, a fairly amazing comedy bit at a 1992 roast of Ron Brow…

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Being an Antecedent

On the morning of April 1, I heard a BBC newsreader say (without levity, April Fool’s Day though it was) that Sajid Javid, the British government’s secretary of state for business, innovation, and skills, had “assured the steel workers that ministers were doing everything they could to save their jobs.” And for a few misguided milliseconds my brain was saying “Typical: politicians trying to protect themselves!” I had linked the genitive pronoun their to t…

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Being a Subjunctive

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Teaching them who Buddy Holly was would be more valuable than trying to make them shun covertly inflected mandative clauses.

For grammar bullies “the subjunctive” is sacred ground. Reforms proposed for the British national curriculum in 2012 required teaching use of the subjunctive not later than sixth grade. People seem to think the subjunctive is a fragile flower on which civilization depends; without our intervention it will fade and die, and something…

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Good on Us

19th_century_slangLike others in this forum, I try to keep abreast of changes in idiom over time. We notice the emergence of vocal fry, the increasing acceptance of singular they, and so on. But for the most part, our observations are those of the disinterested listener. We may note, as I have, our tendency to cling to expressions now considered old-fashioned or stiff. But what of the ways in which we find the expressions of the zeitgeist coming out of our own mouths?

I can’t recall what my husband and I were t…

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Wassup, Wazzock?

 

You may have caught this Budweiser ad during the Super Bowl. Dame Helen Mirren sits before a burger, is served a Bud (not bloody likely), and counsels, in strong language, against driving drunk. Anyone who does so, she avers, is a “shortsighted, utterly useless, oxygen-wasting human form of pollution.” Then, at about the 41-second mark, she says, “Don’t be a pillock.”

My guess is that somewhere north of 99 percent of the people who saw the spot had no idea what a pillock is — though they coul…

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Oh, Commas

As the self-appointed watcher of commas, known to some (OK, known to myself) as The Comma Maven, I naturally was concerned when I saw the provisional title of my friend Craig Pittman’s forthcoming book about the weirdness of Florida. The book grew out of the tweets that Pittman (a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times) has been putting out for some time, like this:

 

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And this:

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(Craig is not connected with the person or persons who send out tweets like the following under the handle @_FloridaMan:

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Aussie Aussie Aussie! Oi Oi Oi!

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The tiddly oggie is actually of English origin, but it typifies the Australian penchant for diminutives and abbreviations.

I’ve been in Australia for two weeks now, and all I can say is the people here must be extremely busy. Why else would they feel obliged to abbreviate so incredibly many words? I started to write down examples shortly after I arrived, and already my notebook is almost full.

A lot of the abbreviations are diminutives: Tasmania is Tassie, mosquitoes are mossies, politicians are…

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‘Hey’ Now

Hey, if you don’t mind, listen to the first 20 seconds or so of this conversation between National Public Radio’s Ari Shapiro and Gene Demby:

If you didn’t care to listen, or experienced technical difficulties, here’s the exchange in which I’m interested:

Shapiro: Hey Gene.

Demby: Hey Ari.

hank-kingsley

Hank Kingsley of “The Larry Sanders Show”: “Hey now!”

Ari and Gene are partaking of a meaning for hey that’s not recognized by the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED defines the word as “A call to attract att…

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Digital ‘DARE’ Update: Half-Price Holiday Special

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Illustration by Ellen Winkler for The Chronicle

OK, word lovers. Here’s the perfect gift for yourself, or any other logophile: A whole year of the complete online Dictionary of American Regional English at your fingertips for only $47.50, half the usual subscription price.

Yes, for that price you can leave the six monumental volumes of DARE reposing majestically on your shelf and access their contents with a few keyboard commands. And there’s much more in the interactive digital version. For a s…