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Language Items from 2012:                                               to enlarge a photo, click on it

New languages   Oratory  Hashtags spreading   Language for communication   Communication changes   Suspense is overrated Very old notes      What is believable?   Pronunciation poem     Haywire   Kin classifications    RULES and rules   A new snowclone      Nervous cluelessness    Burglarized?    Oxford comma     Right said Fred     Like oil & water     Literally funny    The Metcalf prize     British-isms     Is English Scandinavian?     Stages of language changes              

New languages
A language is born as a pidgin and then becomes a creole and then a language. The pidgin starts when people who do not share a language have to communicate. It has no grammar, a very small vocabulary which is biased towards words from the native language of the more powerful (even if the minority) group.
Pidgins can last a long time as pidgins or die. It takes other ingredient to become a creole. Children must speak the pidgin as an important communication tool amongst themselves. With each generation the language becomes less of a creole and more a language. This is due to the children imposing rules and conventions as well as increasing the vocabulary. When a creole is mature and if it has a sizable number of native speakers and a power base, it becomes recognized as a language.
Here is a discussion of Gullah:
“African American English also shares a connection with Gullah (also known as Geechee), an English-based creole variety spoken by African Americans in a region along the Atlantic coast from the southeastern corner of North Carolina to the northeastern tip of Florida. While both Gullah and African American English developed as a result of language contact, major factors giving rise to Gullah were the high ratio of enslaved Africans to whites and the limited interaction with white English varieties on plantations in isolated coastal regions. This was not the case throughout much of the other slaveholding regions where African American English developed. Like African American English, the linguistic structure of Gullah is different from that of Standard American English. And though they share some structural similarities, there are many ways that Gullah differs from African American English. For example, Gullah speakers can omit the verb 'am' in addition to 'is' and 'are' in certain constructions, whereas speakers of most African American English varieties cannot. So, for example, a sentence like: 'I glad to hear from you.' is grammatically fine in Gullah, but not in Standard American English nor in most African American English varieties.
Gullah, like most creoles, was formed through the interaction of substrate and superstrate languages. In Gullah, the most likely substrate languages were Mende and Vai (spoken in present-day Sierra Leone) and Twi (spoken in Ghana). The superstrates were mainly the English varieties spoken by Highland Scots and other Scots who settled in South Carolina and Georgia.”
English has had a complex history of pidgins and creoles. Old English was a collection of dialects based on the languages of the Saxons, Angles and Jutes. Then the Danish and Norse settlements added in another couple of languages.. Because all these languages were fairly similar; by and large the words had the same roots and the grammar had the same rules but the details varied. The  pronunciation also varied. There was simplification and fudging of word endings and the like but nothing so drastic as a pidgin. All the languages were Northwest Germanic from the North Sea coast (the Low Lands, North Germany, Denmark, Norway), different but mutually intelligible.
But when French was added by the Norman landholders after the conquest, the situation was different. English and French were not similar. The French were in charge and they were not in a hurry to learn any English. But they were outnumbered and there were limits to how much French they could impose on the bulk of the population. So it seems that a pidgin and creole grow up within and around the French aristocrats estates. It had, as expected, a simplified Germanic grammar and the vocabulary of French words. This gives us Middle English and this was eventually seen as the language of the country. 
Many people are becoming bilingual by learning immaculate English from teachers who are native speakers of standard English.  But all over the world there is growing up new English-y pidgins, creoles and various unique types of mixtures. Their vocabularies are largely English but their pronunciation and grammar are those of the local people. In many cases children are learning 'English' from second and third generation non-native 'English' teachers. We should not be snobbish about these languages - some of them may inherit the earth.

Every situation where persuasion is really, really important, we use oral speeches, oratory. Arguing guilt and innocent in court, arguing the laws in parliaments, taking marriage vows, giving half time pep talks, praying to God and so on. I ran across some discussion of the oratory of US Presidents. Interesting because most of their power is in the 'bully pulpit'. Theodore Roosevelt coined that term, bully then meant wonderful.
In the early 1700s presidents didn't speak, they wrote their 'speeches'. Good orators were distrusted because they were thought to be too anxious for power. The lack of public speaking did not last (it never does). It is the way that people can judge their politicians character, intelligence and attitudes. Of course, good orators can fake it as every evil demagogue knows.
Here is a sad little story:
“In the 1840 presidential campaign William Henry Harrison, a Whig, was portrayed by the Democrats' campaign machine as a simple frontier fighter and a hard cider drinker, living in a log cabin. In fact Harrison was a scion of the Virginia planter aristocracy, and he'd studied classics and history. Once elected - and determined to slay this false image - Harrison delivered a three-hour inaugural address, pulling out all the stops and using all the rhetorical flourishes from his classical training, which included references to the ancient Athenian constitution. Unfortunately for Harrison, this speech was delivered on a cold March day in Washington. Soon after Harrison caught a cold, which developed into pneumonia, and he died on 4 April 1841.”
Bill Clinton wanted his speeches to be like jazz with the speech-writer prepared melody to start and finish and his own ad-lib in the middle where he could be his empathetic, sensitive self. Churchill liked his speeches to be like a psalm – very biblical in style – deep and stirring. Lincoln's Gettysburg address (probably the most famous presidential address) also has that old fashioned biblical air about it. FDR had a positive air, cheerful and hopeful but also with the air of a father, uncle or teacher whose wisdom would save the day. JFK was always on a mission and looking into the future with resolve. Were these images the real men? They were probably at least what the real men aspired to.

Hashtags spreading
Hashtags were invented by Twitter users (actually they occurred earlier in other places but were not well known until Tweeters took to them) as a way to group similar messages, search for and follow particular conversations. For example during the demonstrations in Egypt, tweets about it would be tagged with #TahrirSquare or similar. It is no wonder that the tags were added to Twitter and that once there, Twitter supported their use. Twitter is a crazy environment to find things in and a place where anything that saves characters is welcome. What is a surprise is its spread to other messages (facebook, google+, texting, email). Google+ was forced to support them even though their search does not need them. Some users are angry at Facebook for not adopting them. Others are not so happy with hashtags - “I find it annoying. It does nothing. It's for twitter to search, but then people come along on Facebook and #hashtag #every #word #but #it #does # NOTHING! They don't even look cool while doing it…
Well I have to say that if hashtags do nothing than people would not have taken to them with such enthusiaism.
Meanwhile, hashtags were been changing their use. They are not just for searching. Now people are using them as a form of metalanguage – comment on the main text, emotion indication like emoticons, pieces of sarcasm, self mocking, irony, scorn, asides, intimate whispers, disclaimers, jokes, reasons for message, indications of importance and so on.
They have been used in advertising to say 'we are cool and up to date'. Some use them in conversation - 'hashtag sorry forgot'. Some make the # sign with their fingers where most would use a wink.
There is nothing new here in what is being communicated, just how. It is another case of the oral language being written down and therefore needing ways to communicate the non-verbal part of the oral language without changing its nature to conventional written language. This new type of language is written but keeps oral vocabulary, grammar, style and pragmatics. What it does not have is the oral language non-verbal channels and so it creates them. This is the language of creative young people not grumpy old authors who have spent a lifetime learning how to write so as to communicate what would be non-verbal using very cleverly constructed sentences. Let's be thankful we have a living language that can change and grow.

Language for communication
Some linguists apparently doubt that the primary reason for language is communication. That is surprising enough but their reasoning is even weirder. They believe that language cannot have developed for communication because it is so poorly designed for communication. It appears that they back this idea up by pointing out that language is very ambiguous. Duh! You would want a language with no ambiguity?
What would an unambiguous language be like? First it would have a lot more words. Most of us just manage a sizable English vocabulary and keep adding words throughout our lifetimes. We still have to go to the dictionary or ask someone every once in a while. If words did not have more than one meaning (according to statistical analysis) we would need about to increase the number of words three fold – too many words. As this ratio seems fairly constant across various languages, it is probably near an ideal compromise between remembering large vocabularies and putting up with ambiguity. Too many narrow words and we forget the rarer ones, using commoner ones to cover extra meaning. Too many ambiguous utterances and we will coin words to separate meanings. There is no reason to think this is not a self regulating system and is clearly based on what is best for communication.
Secondly, we need a little ambiguity when we do not know all the aspects of what we are saying. Words like 'stuff' show this; the speaker does not know what specific sort of stuff should be specified. This is an example of a wide meaning rather than an ambiguous one. Its a fine line between the two. The point is that sometimes it is better communication to be vague rather than inaccurate or giving an emotional slant that is uncalled for. Again over the years a language will develop the ambiguities, meaning ranges, overlaps, non-meaning/emotional differences etc. that are generally convenient (again for communication).
Thirdly, the way words are born tends to be in metaphors. Icon now has two distinct meanings to do with religion and with computers both the result of our metaphorical use of the word for an image. Without metaphor communication is practically impossible and with metaphor words are going to be used with many meanings coming from distinct metaphors. Metaphor is natural to language and to communication. As an example of this, here is a list of meanings coming from an old Germanic work for 'pull' given in LanguageLog:
Meanings of draft and draught
n. A current of air in an enclosed area.
n. A device that regulates the flow or circulation of air.
n. The act of pulling loads; traction.
n. Something that is pulled or drawn; a load.
n. A team of animals used to pull loads.
n. Nautical The depth of a vessel's keel below the water line, especially when loaded: a river vessel of shallow draft.
n. A heavy demand on resources.
n. A written order directing the payment of money from an account or fund.
n. A gulp, swallow, or inhalation.
n. The amount taken in by a single act of drinking or inhaling.
n. A measured portion; a dose.
n. The drawing of a liquid, as from a cask or keg.
n. An amount drawn: ordered two drafts of ale.
n. The process or method of selecting one or more individuals from a group, as for a service or duty: a candidate who did not pursue the nomination, but accepted a draft by the party convention.
n. Compulsory enrollment in the armed forces; conscription.
n. A body of people selected or conscripted.
n. Sports A system in which the exclusive rights to new players are distributed among professional teams.
n. The act of drawing in a fishnet.
n. The quantity of fish caught.
n. Any of various stages in the development of a plan, document, or picture: a preliminary draft of a report; the final draft of a paper.
n. A representation of something to be constructed.
n. A narrow line chiseled on a stone to guide a stonecutter in leveling its surface.
n. A slight taper given a die to facilitate the removal of a casting.
n. An allowance made for loss in weight of merchandise.
v. To select from a group for some usually compulsory service: drafted into the army.
v. To select from a group for placement on a sports team.
v. To draw up a preliminary version of or plan for.
v. To create by thinking and writing; compose: draft a speech.
v. To work as a drafter.
v. To move, ride, or drive close behind a fast-moving object so as to take advantage of the slipstream, especially in a race.
adj. Suited for or used for drawing heavy loads: oxen and other draft animals.
adj. Drawn from a cask or tap: draft beer.
idiom. on draft Drawn from a large container, such as a keg.
This is not ambiguity; this is metaphor/figurative usages and a strength of language.
Finally, the whole idea that meaning is a property of a word is an illusion. Meaning is a property of whole utterances. Meaning includes the context: who is talking with whom, where, when, to what purpose and so on. Meaning includes the other words in the utterance – and even what might have been said yesterday. If I say “I'll go.” this may only have meaning because you asked some time previously if I wanted to go with you to a meeting and I was undecided. Communication is not words but conversations. Communication includes voice, face, body language, gesture as well as actually verbal content. When people write, they have to be more careful about ambiguity but there is still a lot of context to rely on. The beauty of language for communication is that it is flexible and can be bent to all sorts of communication: gossiping, teaching, commanding, pleading, deceiving, and on to every type of use we put it to. It is easy for babies to learn. It is easy for all of us to use. It has had its corners smoothed like a water worn pebble. It is extremely well designed for communication – communication is what has designed it.

Communication changes
When we first lived in England in the 60s, we had no phone - we had no friends with phones so why would we. A couple of times a year I would phone my mother. This involved a trip to the phone company or preferably to a big posh hotel. In either case, we arrived arranged for the call to be booked, waited around until we were called to a phone and the call was connected. It cost a bomb, it must not go on for too long and the line was a bit noisy. As I was not a great letter writer I didn't communicate with other relatives and friends for many years.
How times have changed. People carry their phones like they carry their wallets and keys and are never without them. They call a lot from anywhere and don't think about the cost or the time. And now there is also email and texting, and also Facebook, Twitter, Google+ etc. People are communicating like mad but not so much face to face.
Here some surprising facts:
People under 25 spend more time texting from their cell phones than talking on them.
Knowledge workers spend half their working time on emails.
People exchange the highest volume of email with the people they know least.
People feel free to email others that they do not known well enough to phone or visit.
But average answering times for emails are close friends–7hrs, work contacts–11 hrs, strangers–50 hrs.
The number of friends and of close friends a person has does not change with Facebook use but amount of communication goes up.
On the internet, people make some close friends that they could never been able to meet without the web.

Suspense is overrated
I am a person who does not enjoy surprises. It is great to have a part in choosing the right present, in planning the party, in knowing who is coming. Surprises are fun for the giver but often disappointing for the receiver. I remember someone in tears because there were a couple of people she hated at her surprise birthday party and missing were a couple of her best friends. I also have to admit that I am not too keen on suspense – like horror movies - don't see why I should pay good money to be made uncomfortable.
I do like great plots like an Agatha Christie's and many other mystery writers who put their work into plots and the who-done-it guessing games. But I have found that I actually enjoy them more the second time around when I know what is going to happen – especially if it is a really, really good plot.
Some researchers have found that my attitude is common. They gave people stories to read (ironic-twist, mystery, ordinary stories – 12 in all). In some cases told the reader the ending, in other cases they hid knowledge of the ending in a sentence early in the story, and finally in some cases they gave no hint of how the story ended. Each story was read by 30 readers. The readers were asked how much they enjoyed the stories they read. For all the story types, the readers enjoyed the 'spoiled' stories the most especially when the ending was given ahead of the story rather than hidden in its text.
Some are saying that this means that plots are overrated. Nonsense – plots are enjoyable but they just get more enjoyable on repetition. A really great story can improve over five or six encounters. How many times it can get better depends on the writing, the plot and if a show, the acting and staging. It is not plot structure but suspense/surprise that is overrated.

Very old notes
Here are some notes made on the margins of medieval manuscripts by the copying scribes. Of course, the notes would have been in Latin originally. Poor monks.

New parchment, bad ink; I say nothing more.

I am very cold.
That's a hard page and a weary work to read it.
Let the reader's voice honour the writer's pen.
This page has not been written very slowly.
The parchment is hairy.
The ink is thin.
Thank God, it will soon be dark.
Oh, my hand.
Now I've written the whole thing: for Christ's sake give me a drink.
Writing is excessive drudgery. It crooks your back, it dims your sight, it twists your stomach and your sides.
St. Patrick of Armagh, deliver me from writing.
While I wrote, I froze, and what I could not write by the beams of the sun I finished by candlelight.
As the harbor is welcome to the sailor, so is the last line to the scribe.
This is sad! O little book! A day will come in truth when someone over your page will say, “The hand that wrote it is no more.”

What is believable?
I ran across some advice on believability – use concrete language.
Simple sentences with concrete language such as actors, action verbs, objects are understood quickly. The brain does a little trick, fast means easy, easy means good, good means true. And language that can be pictured in the mind is remembered better and easy recall adds to the sense of validity. A pictured event also passes a test of being physically possible so we don't have to ponder whether the event is probable, also adding to believability. Ambiguous words add to the effort and doubt in the listeners mind. So does complex grammar that needs thought to parse.
Another way to add believability is to include more details and facts. We are convinced by hearing details and facts. Vivid details are especially effective.
Of course people find it easier to believe things they would like to be true. We positively welcome confirmation of our believes. A speaker can start with things we believe and stick what he wants to convince us of in the middle.
It is a good idea to have this advice in mind when you are a listener as well as when you are the speaker. You may have a bit of immunity against demigods, but don't count on it. You will probably be enthralled by the images in your head and the easy flow of the language without registering the danger.

Pronunciation poem
Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.
Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.
Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.
Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.
Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Fe0ffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.
Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.
Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.
Pronunciation (think of Psyche!)
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It’s a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.
Finally, which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!!!

English Pronunciation by G. Nolst Trenité

I recently ran across a history of the term 'haywire'. It originally (around 1900) was a joining of 'hay' and 'wire' for the wire that was used to bale hay. Later it became an adjective meaning not functioning properly or broken and finally it came to mean mentally confused or crazy.
This wire was like duct tape – used for any sort of quick, makeshift repair. It was always around on a farm, handy for use. It was also always around in lumber camps from the hay bales delivered for the horses. It was even more handy in the camps with no hardware stores within reach. It became associated with those make-shift repairs, and a haywire outfit was how poorly equipped loggers were described. This was a North American but especially Canadian usage – probably because that where the logging was being done.
The meaning drifted further to be broken or working badly when applied to equipment and objects in general. There was a tinge of the impossibility of keeping haywire neat and organized. So as well as broken or poorly mended was added disorganized.
Finally the word was applied to people who resembled the broken, inefficient, disorganized things. It came to mean out of control, erratic, confused, unpredictable, or crazy people. But the emotion carried by the word is not that unfriendly. It implies that the person manages to get on with their life but just not in a conventional or predictable way – someone is not quite right.

Kin classifications
Every language carefully specifies kin with words that create categories of relatedness. In English we have mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, cousin, grandfather, grandmother, granddaughter, grandson with their half -, -in law, step-, -once removed, and great- modifications just for a start. As a child, I wondered why there was only one word, uncle, for a parent's brother and for a parent's sister's husband. They seemed very different ideas to me. But it didn't occur to me that it would be useful to specify which parent was involved in supplying the sibling. But then I encountered information about cultures where it was a child's mother's brother who had many duties to a child not cover by any other relative. I once talked to someone who had taken to referring to she-cousins and he-cousins, which she found useful. Having surnames helps to save the need for specifying maternal from paternal relationships but not much. We have an awkwardness in the specification of birth order in groups of siblings. Apparently if you take all the contrasts that are common in languages in their kin classifications and apply them all to 3 generations up and down (ie from you great-grandparents to your great-grandchildren) you would have 71000 words for each possible person to be uniquely referred to. At least this is what I am told – it seems too high a figure, but I accept that it will be a large enough number to be unworkable as a system even if it is a fraction of that.
If the group of words is too small, we will be inventing words (like she-cousin). If the group is too large, we will forget how to make obscure classifications (and just call them cousins or kinfolk or make a stepwise path like my sister's husband's step-mother). There is a happy medium which each culture needs to find based on which relationships it is important to mark in that culture. “A system with a single category that includes all possible relatives would be simple but uninformative because this category does not help to pick out specific relatives. A system with a different name for each relative would be complex but highly informative because it picks out individual relatives perfectly.”
This is true of all sorts word types. How many or how few words can a language stand for individual colours? Always a compromise.

RULES and rules
The Queen's English Society has bit the dust; it is killed by apathy because no members will serve as officers or on committees. After 40 years, the language police have called it a day. They did studies to document the slip in English standards. They influenced teaching in schools. They even corrected the Queen herself a few times. Their biggest dream was an Academy of Contemporary English and that plan collapsed this year. I can hardly contain my glee. The prescriptivists have lost a weapon to hit us English speakers over the head with. (How is that for a prescribed sentence) Now we can think about small letter rules.
What is the difference between a prescriptivist and a descriptivist approach to grammar. They both believe in 'rules' but in a very different way.
A rule to a prescriptivist is the product of logic, made by order of an authority, it is right and the alternatives of wrong. A rule can be right even when many people ignore it. Change is bad for language and it needs to be halted.
A rule to a descriptivist is a description of a pattern of usage which has grown or evolved in the language. A rule exists when the pattern is used by many people. People are not aware of most of the rules they use. Change is natural for language.
Of course, most people who know me know that I come from the descriptivist camp. This is because I view language as being a form of communication. What is important is whether a speaker is expressing their message and whether a listener is understanding the message. The language that groups of competent native speakers use to communicate successfully with one another is 'the language' and it varies with place, age, purpose etc. Only when communication does not work well is there a problem.
Here is John Rickford: “… the patterns of variation and change … are regular rather than random, governed by unconscious, language-internal rules and restrictions that can often be appreciated only when we assemble large numbers of examples and study these quantitatively. People tend to think of rules and grammar as covering only the small set of items about which we receive overt instruction … But in fact we are unconscious of most of the language regularities and restrictions that we follow every day … Language learning and use would be virtually impossible without systematic rules and restrictions; this generalization applies to all varieties of language, including vernaculars.”
Here is Steven Pinker: “The maddening paradox of false consensus has long afflicted lexicographers and grammarians ... a rule of usage that everyone obeys because they think everyone else thinks it should be obeyed, but that no one can justify because the rule does not, in fact, exist. The most notorious ... is the prohibition against split verbs, where an adverb comes between an infinitive marker like to, or an auxiliary like will, and a main verb.” Many think this is a rule but almost no one actually obeys it.
Here is Friedrich Hayek: "rules which have by a process of selection been evolved", in what he calls a "grown order", (as opposed to) what he calls a "made order" governed by principles that are "thought of as having been deliberately constructed by somebody, or at least owing whatever perfection they possessed to such design".

A new snowclone
A new snowclone has been noticed by Language Log. It is, “X is the last acceptable form of (SomeImmoralAttitude). Here are some examples:

Obesity is the last acceptable object of prejudice.
Linguistic bigotry is the last acceptable form of prejudice.
Gingerism is the last acceptable form of discrimination.
Abuse targeted at Travellers and Gypsies has become the last acceptable form of racism.
Racism against Asians are one of the last acceptable forms of racism.
Orientalism is the last acceptable form of racism.
Smearing all things Arab remains the last acceptable form of ethnic bigotry in America.
Anti-Muslim hatred had become Britain's last socially acceptable form of bigotry.
Catholicism is now acknowledged as the last acceptable form of discrimination.
The fight is to end the “last acceptable form of bigotry” against evangelical Christians.
The last acceptable form of bigotry left in America is bigotry directed at orthodox people of faith.
Anti-Christian prejudice is the last socially acceptable form of bigotry in this country.
We'd reached a moment when homophobia finally ceased to be the last acceptable form of bigotry.
Anti-gay bigotry may be the last "acceptable" form of discrimination remaining in American politics.
Conservative-bashing is the last acceptable form of bigotry.
Anti-Americanism that is perhaps the last acceptable form of xenophobia among European intellectuals.
Among Texans, hating Yankees is the last acceptable form of bigotry.
Anti-Welsh sentiment is one of the last acceptable forms of prejudice in modern England.
Age discrimination remains the last acceptable form of discrimination
The stigma against people on welfare seems to be one of the last acceptable forms of prejudice.
Pejorative stereotypes of the white working class are freely disseminated in popular culture and uniformly embraced across identity politics lines as the last acceptable form of prejudice.
John Walsh - a wealthy, self-made corporate chieftain - believes he is a victim of the last acceptable form of discrimination.
"Poshism" is the "last acceptable form of discrimination"
Mental ill health is seen as the last acceptable form of discrimination
I am a victim of what is perhaps the last acceptable form of prejudice: late-riser bashing.

That is enough, I'll not go on with short people, the youth of today, Bolshie people, blondes, pushy women and so on. You get the pattern of the snowclone. (The name snowclone comes from the pattern 'X has Y words for Z' as in 'the Eskimos have a 100 and something words for snow' being cloned to produce thousands of similar statements about how many words some group has for something. The idea is that the pattern of a snowclone gets overused to the point of being meaningless.)

Nervous cluelessness
There is a notion among grammarians of 'nervous cluelessness'. This is where native speakers use phrases that are not considered grammatical and that children would not use. Here is an example:
Many children will say, “Me and Johnny went to play.” but a child would not say “He gave it to Johnny and I.” But many adults say things like that. Because – when they were children their 'me and Johnny' was corrected to 'Johnny and I' and they corrected all references to themselves and another person to be 'name and I'. They then have “He gave it to Johnny and I” corrected to be ”He gave it to Johnny and me” they are throughly confused and nervous about when to say 'I' and when to say 'me'. This is nervous cluelessness and many people suffer from it in certain distinct usages. The particular usages are those where children are likely to make mistakes and unable to comprehend the distinction that the correction is about. The distinction between nominative and accusative in English is all but invisible – many/most young children do not recognize it. Most children would assume that the correction is about the order of myself and another person or in whether to use I or me when referring to the pair. Every time they think they have got it right, oops it is wrong. They do not recognize the concepts of subjects and objects. The advice that people give to adults that have trouble with this is to leave out the other person and decide whether it is “I went to play” or “Me went to play”; ditto “He gave it to I” or “He gave it to me”. The problem is that the nervousness is not relieved but made worse. Now the person has to stop and do a little mental calculation before they say something using that usage. They will learn other ways to constructing sentences so that “Johnny and me/I” do not occur. Have some sympathy for people who make this mistake. After all it is not necessary to be correct for the meaning to be clear – the mistake, original or acquired, is really, really trivial.

I read an article by Helen Sword in the New York Times and I found myself oscillating between agreeing and disagreeing, both strongly.
I hate words like burglarize because there is a perfectly good word, burgle. What is wrong with burgle? 'I was burgled' is good so why say 'I was burglarized'? Then we have burglarization rather then burglary. What is the point of all this nominalizations? Well, even though it is annoying to many, there is a point to it. It cuts the meaning from the emotional impact of words.
Now if what you want an emotional impact then go with the action statement, who-did what-to whom. Go with concrete words rather than abstract. Avoid the passive construction. Use vivid examples. And, yes, avoid those nominalizations.
If on the other hand you want the meaning to be crystal clear without any emotional baggage, then the nominalized words are great. Many of them come from technical jargon and were coined so that 'loaded' words could be avoided.
Sword uses this as an example of the problem:
The partial participation of newcomers is by no means “disconnected” from the practice of interest. Furthermore, it is also a dynamic concept. In this sense, peripherality, when it is enabled, suggests an opening, a way of gaining access to sources for understanding through growing involvement. The ambiguity inherent in peripheral participation must then be connected to issues of legitimacy, of the social organization of and control over resources, if it is to gain its full analytical potential.
Now, I agree that this passage would not do for a rousing speech or an interesting novel. It is like a flat, matt, grey piece of paper. No one does anything to anyone here. Nothing is concrete; nothing is vivid. And nothing has emotional connections. It is difficult to extract the meaning, but after we have worked at it, I think that only one meaning is available, the intended one. For this passage, that is the point of the writing. The word 'peripherality' was no doubt carefully defined. If the idea of the writing is precision then this is the sort of thing that often results.
This has been going on for a long time. People used to write in Latin. And it was thought to be a more precise language then English. That was only because it was not the 'mother tongue' and therefore carried none of the emotion that is attached to words in childhood. When French words were introduced into English they had a high-class air about them. A little of that still remains and, being newer, the French rooted words seem emotionally weaker than the AngloSaxon rooted words. Our language would be very different if people were only interested in the impact of their words and not attempting more precise meaning.
Don't get me wrong, I am a great believer in impact, but not for every single bit of writing. The social sciences have a particular problem in trying to discuss society and its problems without get bogged down in old ruts of thought. They have to invent these ridiculous words and stilted style to avoid emotion and preserve meaning. The physical sciences have to do this too but the problem is not as acute; some flare is allowed (just a weensy bit). But like the social sciences, the physical ones often have to avoid attributing agency when none needs to exist. If who did something does not matter, then it is misleading to say that some particular person was the doer. I wish that critics would think for a moment and ask themselves, not why is this writer so bad, but why did this writer feel the need to write like this? Ignorance is not always the answer. They should try to walk in the other persons shoes.
I still hate burglarize – it makes me feel robbed.

Oxford comma
Many people get very hot about whether to use the Oxford commas or not. This is the comma that some but not all people put in front of the 'and' or 'or' in a list. It is also called the serial comma and the Harvard comma. So “red, white and blue” has no Oxford comma and “red, white, and blue” does include an Oxford comma. The arguments on one side are valid but lame. The arguments on the other side are lame but valid. Both point to consistency with convention and avoiding ambiguity and can show examples. I like the Oxford comma because I like commas that mark tiny pauses in the oral language – there that's my prejudice. Enjoy the joke illustration.

I think it comes down to whether you like or dislike commas. Those who dislike them want to rid the page of any that are not absolutely necessary of the text to be grammatical. Those who like them want to add any that can help the reader take in the text as intented (including the rhythm if it was spoken).

Right Said Fred
The other day we were reminded of this little ditty as it was sung with Bernard Cribbins. There have been many times over the years when one of us has said “right” in a Fred-ish sort of way. 

"Right," said Fred, "Both of us together
One on each end and steady as we go."
Tried to shift it, couldn't even lift it
We was getting nowhere
And so we had a cuppa tea and

"Right," said Fred, "Give a shout for Charlie."
Up comes Charlie from the floor below.
After strainin', heavin' and complainin'
We was getting nowhere
And so we had a cuppa tea.

And Charlie had a think, and he thought we ought to take off all the handles
And the things wot held the candles.
But it did no good, well I never thought it would
"All right," said Fred, "Have to take the feet off
To get them feet off wouldn't take a mo."

Took its feet off, even took the seat off
Should have got us somewhere but no!
So Fred said, "Let's have a cuppa tea."
And we said, "right-o."

"Right," said Fred, "Have to take the door off
Need more space to shift the so-and-so."
Had bad twinges taking off the hinges
And it got us nowhere
And so we had a cuppa tea and

"Right," said Fred, " Have to take the wall down,
That there wall is gonna have to go."
Took the wall down, even with it all down
We was getting nowhere
And so we had a cuppa tea.

And Charlie had a think, and he said, "Look, Fred,
I get a sort of feelin'
If we remove the ceilin'
With a rope or two we could drop the blighter through."

"All right," said Fred, climbing up a ladder
With his crowbar gave a mighty blow.
Was he in trouble, half a ton of rubble landed on the top of his dome.
So Charlie and me had another cuppa tea
And then we went home.

(I said to Charlie, "We'll just have to leave it
Standing on the landing, that's all
Trouble with Fred is, he's too hasty
Never get nowhere if you're too hasty.")

(c)1962, by Myles Rudge (lyrics) & Ted Dicks (music)

Like oil and water
Have you ever noticed that in quiz shows, someone can be answering questions quickly and fluently and then there is a simple arithmetic question (say what is 12 minus 5, plus 1?). The people stop dead and take a long time to think about the question and answer it; some even get visibly flustered and pass. But we can assume that in a series of arithmetic questions, this example would be answered easily and quickly. The same is true the other way; someone answering arithmetic questions with a quick rhythm will stop dead at a word logic question. We have to change gears and it takes time and effort to do it.
I have encountered situations that separate those that trust mathematics from those that don't. Harry had a little puzzle about a man who climbed a hill in the morning starting at 8 o'clock and taking 3 hours. The next morning he came back down starting at 8 o'clock and taking 2 hours. The question was – is there a spot on the hill where the man was at exactly the same time both mornings. Harry said, make them two men on the same day or a man and his time ghost from the previous day. They both start at 8 o'clock, one from the top and one from the bottom. They have two cross at some point and that is the point where the man is at the same place at the same time both trips. Simple proof, but not for one person who said it was not a proof it was just a sketch of a hill and a wordy story. To him a proof was algebraic. There are people who do not accept an algebraic proof and demand the logic in words or pictures. Most people accept any good proof.
It seems that in biology (perhaps particularly in biology, perhaps not) it is not a good idea to jump in and out of equations.  Scientific papers that have equations in the text are less regarded by scientific readers than those without. Words and pictures are what impresses most biologist.
This is a bit of a problem, because scientists regard mathematical proofs highly and yet shy away from examining them enough to fully understand them. They come to some equations, skip past them and continue reading, so that in the end they do not fully understand or trust the argument. The solution may be to put the equations in an appendix but to explain the nature of the mathematical equations clearly in the text, referring the reader to the appendix for the equations. Don't force the reader to change gears in the middle of a text. If they have been processing words give more words; if they have been processing numbers give more numbers. Like oil and water, words and numbers do not mix.

Literally funny

literally joke

The Metcalf prize
Alan Metcalf who writes in the Lingua Franca column of The Chronicle of Higher Education, was criticized for using 'centered around' in a comment. As usual in these situations, this complaint has a history of a normal usage being offensive to some one person and it snowballs into a rule for the grammar police. In this case:
“ And the facts are that until the 1920s, nobody complained about “center around.” Then, some as yet unidentified maven started the ball rolling by declaring that “center around” is illogical. Others picked up this stricture, and soon it spread like a computer virus through the usage handbooks, with the warning that “some people” consider it illogical.”
So Mr. Metcalf announced a competition to make your own new rule. Entrants were to state the rule, explain its logic and give an example of its violation with how to correct it. The rule must be brand new but must look venerable – not new or arbitrary or idiosyncratic. The sort of rule that appears like it would be followed by careful writers while ignored by careless one.
Here is the winner:
"Because of
should not be used to modify a sentence in the future tense, since it is a logical fallacy to impute a cause to something that is not (yet) true. Rather, a construction such as due to or owing to should be used, or the sentence should be rewritten to be more clear.
For example, instead of He's going to Florida next week, because of a friend's wedding, one should write, He's going to Florida next week for a friend's wedding.
Writers who observe this rule thereby uphold an important distinction; a sentence such as Because of the promised bonus, he decided to teach an extra class next summer makes clear that the promised bonus is the cause of the decision (which has already happened), not the cause of the teaching an extra class (which hasn't happened yet, so doesn't yet have a cause)."

Geoffrey Pullum said of the winning rule, “It is truly a dumb rule. It is clearly and simply written but remarkably difficult to understand. And although it is totally fictive, with a sinking feeling in my heart I see that I can imagine it catching on. For pity's sake, don't let it. It's a joke.” But, of course, the logic behind avoiding 'centered around' should also be a joke.

Here is a change. After generations of American words and usages entering British English; the words seem to be flowing in the opposite direction.
I remember when I was back in Canada, there was a big to-do about a Scottish lady saying, “I'll have your guts for garters”, and claiming that it was an ordinary phrase. A couple of her co-workers came to see me and asked if I had ever heard that phrase. I had not only heard it, I had used it. It was a colourful but mild treat.
Apparently the words are just flowing into the States from TV shows, movies and books – think Harry Potter, Top Gear, Monty Python and so on. Examples:
spot on – perfect
will do – promise to do (and soon)
chattering classes – derogative for pundits and commentators
cheeky – insolent
cheeky monkey – friendly for insolent child
chat up – flirt
sell by date – the time after which something is useless
the long game – pursue a long-term goal
ginger – red headed
go missing – disappear or run away
washing up – dish washing
keen on – like, be eager to
to book – to reserve
gastropub – gentrified pub serving good food
twee – excessively cute
metrosexual – fashion conscious heterosexual
snog – kiss amorously
trendy – in fashion
bespoke – custom-made (suit)
one-off – made or done only once
peckish – hungry
gormless – dumb, clueless
bloody – a negative intensifier
bum – backside, rump
chav – pejorative for young person of low social status and taste
cheers – word used for toasting, goodbye and thanks
fancy – like, fond of
flat – apartment
frock – woman or girl's dress
gap year – year off especially between levels of education
gobsmacked - amazed

innit – isn't it

kit – collection of personal effects, athletes bag, uniform, gear
knickers – panties
loo – toilet
mate – same sex friend, term of address for males like dude
mobile – portable phone, cell phone
muppet – stupid person
pop over – visit
proper – suitable, appropriate
queue – waiting line
roundabout – traffic island
row – quarrel, argument, fight
shag – vulgar for copulate
skint – without any money, broke
sussed – figure out, found the truth about
twit – a fool
wonky - unsteady

Is English Scandinavian?

We were once at a party where there was a weird man who claimed at length that the only place where English was spoken without an accent of any sort, was Leicestershire. He was from Leicester and the party was in Leicester. He sounded like a ridiculous bigot. Since then I have learned more about English history. As it happens some of the early printers who standardized the language's spelling and to some extent its pronunciation and vocabulary, spoke the Leicestershire variety of English. So to a large extent modern English descends from the language of the East Midlands in the 1300s rather than its competitors.
danelawRecently there has been discussion of whether English is a Scandinavian language. The 'pros' say Old English was an Anglo-Saxon (in West German group) language. But the language spoken at the same time as Old English was a mixture of English, Danish and Norwegian (in North or Scandinavian German group). It was spoken in the half of the country under the Danelaw. The extent of the Danelaw varied but basically if you draw a line from London to Liverpool, north and east of that line was heavily settled by Danes and Norwegians amongst the Angles. Leicester was always in the Danelaw.
(When we lived around there we used to picnic in a wild little corner near the village of Markfield south of Leicester. The name Markfield was because it was on the border between England and the Danelaw.) In fact Leicester was the center of the most densely populated part of the Danelaw in the south of England. They postulate that the foundation of English is the language of the Danelaw (Northern Middle English) which merged with Old English/Southern Middle English. What family a language belongs to has to do with its little common words, its basic grammar and its peculiarities. On this evidence, they say modern English is most like Norwegian. This is because the people who created modern English were basically from the old Danelaw and they spoke a mixed Scandinavian and borrowed from Old English. Had they been from Wessex, they would have borrowed from the Danelaw language.
Where there were different words for the same idea and they were little common words, it tends to be the Scandinavian version that has survived: anger, awe, bag, band, big, birth, both, bull, cake, call, cast, cosy, cross, die, dirt, dream, egg, fellow, flat, gain, get, gift, give, guess, guest, hug, husband, ill, kid, law, leg, lift, likely, link, loan, loose, low, mistake, odd, race, raise, root, rotten, same, seat, seem, sister, skill, skin, skirt, sky, steak, though, thrive, Thursday, tight, till, trust, ugly, want, weak, window, wing, wrong.
There are some important grammar clues. English like Scandinavian languages and unlike West German languages including Old English, puts the object of a sentence after the verb and not in front as a general rule. English like Scandinavian languages (informally) ends sentences with propositions and splits infinitives.
The 'cons' do not accept the idea. Yes, there was a heavy influence from Norse, and Wessex sort of died. But this is like the influence of French. Basically modern English, taken as the total, resembles West German more than North German. It is closer to Frisian then to Norwegian. And we know too little about the histories of the Germanic languages to understand how many of the similarities arose and we also do not know enough about the borrowing of grammar. Modern English is essentially the language of London and all the people who gathered there, from north and south, east and west.
The argument carries on.

Stages of language changes
The third edition of Garner's Modern American Usage uses a code to show the phases of change in the language.
Garner's five-stage "Language-Change Index":
Stage 1 (“rejected”): A new form emerges as an innovation (or a dialectal form persists) among a small minority of the language community, perhaps displacing a traditional usage (e.g.: “your” misused for “you’re” or "lightning" misspelled "lightening").
Stage 2 (“widely shunned”): The form spreads to a significant fraction of the language community but remains unacceptable in standard usage (e.g.: “pour over books” for “pore over books” or "real trooper" for "real trouper").
Stage 3 (“widespread but . . .”): The form becomes commonplace even among many well-educated people but is still avoided in careful usage (e.g.: “clinch” misused for “clench” or "criteria" used as a false singular for "criterion").
Stage 4 (“ubiquitous but . . .”): The form becomes virtually universal but is opposed on cogent grounds by a few linguistic stalwarts (die-hard snoots) (e.g.: “often” pronounced “OF-tuhn” or "alibi" for "excuse").
Stage 5 (“fully accepted”): The form is universally accepted (not counting pseudo-snoot eccentrics) (e.g.: “decimate” for inflicting large-scale destruction or "raise" meaning "to bring up [children]").
These examples were a shock to me. I misspell 'lightning'; I 'pour' over books like a 'trooper'; and of course I use 'alibi' and 'raise' with their new meanings; I avoid using 'decimate' because Harry has a fit if it is used for anything but reduced by a tenth and I know that very few others understand it that way – better to just never say it.