Category Archives: Style

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An Insult From Professor Faxman

I have received a letter from a person I will refer to as Professor Faxman (I’ll explain the name below). After some preliminary throat-clearing compliments about The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, he comes to his main point: Alluding to my recent paper on the passive (browsable HTML version here), he asserts: “When I looked at your article on passive loathing, I found a lot of straw-man slaying.”

Scoundrel! The Oxford English Dictionary and Webster’s Third New International Dictiona…

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Whose Monday? Your Monday!

7206615_GA concerned Lingua Franca reader writes:

Perhaps it is just here in Gainesville, but I find that the radio reporters, especially those reporting weather, use the possessive pronoun when referring to time periods: “Your Friday will be sunny.” “It will be below freezing on your Monday night.” Is this modern usage? Does it happen in other places as well? Is it acceptable?

I’d noticed this particularly in robocalls and fund appeals from local arts charities—Support your Hartford Symphony! Support yo…

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To Space or Not to Space

two_spaces_badMy friend Robb Forman Dew, who won the National Book Award for her first novel, Dale Loves Sophie to Death, recently received more than 50 comments on her Facebook post:

I’m weary of the sudden and peculiar crowing about not being so old that you would be ignorant enough to double space after a marking the end of a sentence with a period. And now people are complaining about “double periods.” If you’ve been composing prose since the moment you could hold a crayon, and then you used a pencil to p…

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Me and I, Sailing to Skye

Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Randall Fraser (Caitriona Balfe), of “Outlander.”

Why me? Why I?

That’s the grammatical puzzle posed by a newly popular Scottish ballad. It’s a strange song, as well as a haunting one, that begins every episode of the Starz series Outlander. Based on Diana Gabaldon’s time-traveling novels, the TV series is an impressively realistic  re-creation of life in Scotland in the 1740s, to which the 20th-century heroine, Claire Beauchamp, finds herself transported. This happe…

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Talking About Grammar Pedantry

Seven hundred and seventeen comments in four days. The readers of The Wall Street Journal have many feelings about grammar.

On March 13, the Wall Street Journal published an essay by Oliver Kamm titled “There Is No ‘Proper English.’” In it Kamm makes arguments with which I wholeheartedly agree, including: The English language is not in deep decline; a wide range of variants are all grammatical in the descriptive sense; Standard English is not “correct” and all other dialects are not …

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Swinging for His Supper

Jeremy Clarkson, suspended from “Top Gear”

The Chronicle’s strict profanity policies, as I explained last year, bar mentioning offensive or obscene words, even in linguistic discussions where the details are crucial. Asterisk-respelling tricks are unapproved under the New York Times style guidelines that we follow. But let me try, despite having my linguistic hands tied behind my back, to tell you a bit about the latest high-profile free-speech crisis in Britain’s media.

Jeremy Clarkson is the l…

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Coming and Going

GrizzlyThe complexity of language mirrors the complexity of life.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the so-called deictic words, those that connect a particular situation in language directly to a situation in life. Consider this and that, for example. This is something closer to the speaker or writer; that  is something more distant.

Similarly, here and there depend on who or what’s closer, whether to the speaker or to something the speaker is discussing. Now and then require decisions about time. 

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Having a Problem With ‘Having a Problem With’

I have a problem with the expression have a problem with. It always tempts me to think the utterer is admitting to a personal difficulty. But although nothing technically blocks that literal meaning, the phrase has developed another completely idiomatic sense. The Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary and Thesaurus says (in the entry you can see at Cambridge Dictionaries Online) that X has a problem with Y, in informal style, means “X finds Y annoying or offensive.” More briefly and vaguely, i…

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Electronic Innovation >>>

600px-Smiley.svg copyMy expertise in the conventions of texting and Twitter and Instagram, compared with the expertise of the undergraduate students I work with, is <.

Actually, it is <<<<<.

A couple of weeks ago,  Carlina Duan, a senior at the University of Michigan, dropped me an email to see if I had heard of a new(ish) bit of language use, which she was suddenly noticing everywhere in social media: to use her words, “the use of ‘>’ or ‘<’ in text as a way to compare an experience or item/mark an experience or …

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Me and Chris Jones, We Got a Thing Goin’ On

MS-MRGender neutrality, however loudly announced in official pronouncements or in the news, creeps into our own set of norms on little cat feet. In my case, I realized it had made another inroad when I was settling in at a symphony performance and heard the voice over the loudspeaker: Ladies and Gentlemen, please silence your cellphones and other electronic devices.

Why Ladies and Gentlemen? I thought. Why can’t he simply say, Symphony Patrons? Must he remind us at the outset of our socially assigned…