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Language Items from 2014:                                               to enlarge a photo, click on it

Sorry to say    Interesting words   Competence or performance   Rhyme or Reason  Geek speak    The DTR techniques    Attributive Nouns   How to recognize violence coming   John Newlove  The usage game: catering to perverts   Oral, written and in between   The etymology of fairy ann    To boldy split    A child's Christmas in Wales   new  


Sorry to say

Americans seem fond of making fun of how often Canadians say 'sorry', or Brits say 'pardon', or Japanese say 'suminasen'. Well, sorry, but these are nice useful words and they do not imply that I necessarily feel guilty. It is not the same as 'mea culpa' – that says I am responsible for something but does not necessarily imply that I regret doing it. 'Sorry' is regret without necessarily responsibility. So I may say sorry that someone died. I had nothing to do with their death but I wish it had not happened. I may say sorry because I am going to force someone to move, I may wish that I didn't have to move them but I do. I may say sorry to console someone who has been hurt and I am just saying that I wish they hadn't been hurt; it doesn't mean I hurt them. I may say that I'm sorry to have to give you bad news although I did not make the news. I would say sorry I didn't hear you and I am implying that you could maybe talk louder. Sorry is like please, thank you, your welcome, and all those other little words that oil our social interactions.
'Sorry' has a history – it has the same root as 'sore' but never meant physically sore, but distressed, full of sorrow, expressing grief. Late in its life it became associated with regret and still later with feeling of guilt. But that guilt admission has never been the only or the strongest meaning.
A recent pole showed the order of meanings currently in Britain and found that saying sorry for actually having done something wrong, is now at the bottom of the list of reasons why people utter the word. In the top five reasons for saying sorry:
number one is when we don't have time to speak to someone or do something ("Sorry, I don't have time to talk right now");
• two is to apologise on someone else's behalf, such as our children, a partner or a colleague ("Sorry, little Jimmy is always smashing things");
• three is when we didn't hear what someone was saying ("Sorry, can you repeat that?");
• in fourth place is when you want something to be explained to you again ("Sorry, I'm not sure what you mean");
• and right at the bottom, at five, is when we actually feel the need to apologise for having double-crossed, lied to or let someone down - "I'm sorry."

So why should Americans find this difficult? Is it a low regard for politeness? I think not. It seems more likely that it is the business that goes – if a bad thing happens, it must be someone's fault, and they must pay to remedy it. It is a mindset about taking things to court. Someone must be at fault for every mishap. Or maybe it is not that at all, sorry.


Interesting words
January is the time of year for everyone to produce lists of new words, 'words of the year', words to outlaw, worst words. It is boring. These seems to be produced by people who hate words – they take no pleasure in new words, new ways of using words, new trends, new anything. They resent anything that is not the language they were taught in school. This is from the website http://9gag.com/gag/ajrVP9p that has some joy and enjoyment in it.



words1words2words3



Competence or performance
I was once in an argument with someone about some aspect of language and I said something about language being, after all, about communication. Well, I got an ear full: I should separate language from communication, it was a novice mistake to think that language was about communication.
This year I encountered a complaint from NJ Enfield, a professor of linguistics. He thinks that a science of language should be concerned with more than 'competence'. What does that mean? He means that linguists emphatically avoid direct observation of language as it is used. He says that the bad idea is that linguists should study the mental capacity for producing sentences (competence) rather than study what happens when we actually talk (performance). Communication only degrades the idealized perfect language of thought with all the problems of motor control, attention, errors, local conventions, reactions of listeners etc. Oh, what an ivory tower he is describing. (I have to say that it is not my impression of a number of linguists what I read on languagelog, but it seems a good description of Chomsky and linguists of that sort and it certainly fit the man I was arguing with.)
To me communication in general is more interesting than most any other aspect of language. How language carries meaning from one brain to another is intriguing, so is the practicalities of conversations with their back and forth. The way a language changes is interesting. And in the end, no matter what the formal linguists say, we have language in order to communicate because it is communication that is the pay off.
Really the heart of language is not model sentences or even ordinary writing, but oral language. Whenever communication is important, it is oral: in school, in church, in parliament, in courts, in courtship. The idea that we cannot think without language and that language developed as a way of thinking before it was used to communicate seems just crazy to me.
Or as Enfield says, “Perhaps the most unfortunate outcome of this idea is that generations of linguists who have eschewed the study of performance now have nothing to say about the essentially social function of language, nor about those aspects of social agency, cooperation, and social accountability that universally define our species' unique communicative capacity.”


Rhyme or Reason
Why do we have aphorisms? They strike us often as trivial, but there they are in our heads ready to pop out when they seem appropriate. Sometimes they are almost embarrassing in the way a pun can be. And yet they are remembered, generation after generation, always ready to hand. There seems to always be one that fits the situation or even two with opposite meaning like “Out of sight, out of mind” versus “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”.
A reason for the use of aphorisms is that if a statement is easy to process in the brain, it appears to be more trustworthy. This is the “illusory truth effect”. This can be an unfortunate reality, but it is true of all of us under normal conversational conditions. If I understand the statement immediately, it 'rings true'. There is obviously an advantage to often repeated statements. Familiar statements come to be believed (as Hitler remarked). The more aphorisms are repeated, the more they appear to be old and wise advice.
The other thing that works for aphorisms is that rhyme, alliteration, metaphor and other rhetorical devices make understanding faster and easier. They also make remembering easy. Aphorisms tend to take those forms. In scientific tests, people were asked to judge whether a string of letters was a word. The string came with a priming word. If the priming word rhymed with the string, the decision about whether it was a word was faster that if it didn't. Children learn to rhyme very early in their mastery of language.
Is there no “rhyme or reason” in this? If you are on your guard to separate the form (rhyme) of a statement from the content (reason) it is quite easy to do. But we are not usually on our guard.
“Consider defense attorney Johnnie Cochran’s celebrated plea to the jury during O.J. Simpson’s criminal trial: “If the gloves don’t fit, you must acquit!” Journalists have focused almost exclusively on the mnemonic value of rhyme in this statement: Rhyme increased the likelihood that jurors would rehearse, remember, and thus apply Cochran’s directive. However, the fluent quality of the statement undeniably overshadows its dubious proposition—after all, the jury was obligated to consider all of the presented evidence, not just the tight gloves! We wonder how persuasive the jury might have found this proposition had Cochran proclaimed, “If the gloves don’t fit, you must find him not guilty!” - McGlome & Tafighbakhsh”


Geek speak
"I speak fluent Geek" from efytimes.com
As if the programming languages weren’t enough, programmers almost literally have a language of their own. Here are 20 such jargon words and phrases.
Banana Banana Banana: No, they’re not going bananas. They are just referring to placeholder text, which means that certain documentation is in progress.
Barack Obama: This is our favourite. This refers to a project management account, which consists of the most optimistic projects. These are projects, which would otherwise not get approval.
Bugfoot: This term is a proof that programmers live in a world of their own that runs parallel to ours. It is the programmer version of Bigfoot, meaning a bug that has been witnessed by only one person. They also call it the Loch Ness Monster bug.
Counterbug: Programmers can be touchy when it comes to their code. When a reviewer points out a bug in the code, many return with a counterbug, which was caused by the programmer.
Drug Report: You have to be on drugs to write such an incomprehensible bug report!
Chug Report: It’s a slightly toned down drug report. It’s like a sarcastic way to say, “Had one too many drinks did you? Tipsy when you write this bug report?”
Shrug Report: Don’t report a bug and describe it using ‘xyz doesn’t work’. That’s what they call a shrug report.
Smug Report: We think this is the most aptly used term after Bigfoot. Internet users often like to act high and mighty, while the geeks sitting on the other end of a system are laughing themselves to glory. Some users report bugs and act as if they know a lot about the system. This bug report is called a smug report.
Duck: Programmers often add features to their code, which draws the management’s attention. Not for the appreciation though, the management will remove these features, but pay less attention to other aspects of the code, making less changes to the code.
Fear-Driven Development: This is when your bosses put pressure on you by doing things like firing team members.
Ghetto Code: A code has to be elegant. If it’s not elegant, then its ghetto. Period.
Refactoring: This refers to making changes to a well designed code, which makes to so different from the original that only the programmer can maintain it.
Stringly Typed: This is an implementation that needlessly relies on strings.
Jimmy: You’re a developer, you’re new to the arena and you’re clueless. You’re a Jimmy.
Unicorny: Unicorn’s are imaginary but this refers to an idea that is so early in its planning stages that it is close to being imaginary only.
Baklava Code: This is a code that has too many layers. The food loving programmers call it lasagne code.
Mad Girlfriend Bug: Ever had your girlfriend being really mad at you but you can’t quite figure out why? If yes, then you would relate to this. It refers to a problem with the code execution, for which the programmer is finding hard to figure out the reason.
Jenga Code: A code that collapses after a part of it is altered.
Claustrocodeia: This is apparently the fear of coding on monitors with small screens.


The DTR techniques
Disrupt-then-reframe is a technique to influence people in a very short time. It is being used by professional salespeople and other influencers since it was discovered in '99. First you have to disrupt the listener's normal thought process and then quickly (within a couple of seconds) give them a frame to view things through. The listener will accept the frame if they still have their thoughts disrupted.
Davis and Knowles give the examples:
Here the 300 pennies is the disrupt – people have to stop and deal with this unusual phrase. The reframe is immediately following in the same sentence. The frame is accepted.
The disrupt can be anything a word or grammar mistake or awkwardness. The reframe is short, fast and direct.
This technique reduces counterarguments very effectively. BE WARNED. All sorts of people will be after your acceptance or money with this simple ploy.


Attributive nouns
Often two nouns appear together as in 'meat market' or 'weapons grade'. These are a complex mixture and the rules of how to create them are not clear. For instance why don't we say 'meats market' and 'weapon grade'. When do we make the first noun plural?
One usage guide says: "Sometimes an attributive becomes conventional in the singular (toy store), and sometimes in the plural (ladies room). Often we choose by ear and it doesn't matter (employee lounge, employees lounge)." It does not seems to be about the number of things – there are lots of toys in a toy store. There isn't even a hint that number is involved.
Maybe it is not an 's' for plural but an 's' for ownership. Could we say 'room of lady' rather than 'ladies room'. Using just an 's' without an apostrophe used to be common. But this doesn't turn out to be consistent either. In other words there is no logic, just what we get used to in each case.
What about whether we make a compound or leave the two nouns separate? 'Buttermilk' could be 'butter milk' like 'coconut milk'. This seems to be a question of age. It used to be common to compound nouns but now is less so. Still no logical consistency.
When can a particular noun be used as an attributive noun? Some would say, 'if the dictionary shows it to be 'attributive' then it can be used and if not you need to put in a hyphen'. It gets tricky then a word is both listed as a noun and as an adjective with slightly different meanings. There is not a great deal of logic here either.
Many language buffs say not to sweat it, use what sounds OK to you, and don't bet money on being right about any rule or convention you think you have found.


How to recognize violence coming
What is hate speech? Insightment to violence? Instigating violence? Actually it often takes a lot to get people to become violent. The target cannot just be hated but must be hated deeply and it a particular way. Leaders of violent movements are masters of the sort of speech that encourages violence. Leaders of non-violent movements are masters of dampening the particular triggers of violence. It would be a good idea if people could recognize the different between dangerous and non-dangerous verbal attacks on specific groups and individuals.
Countries differ in their laws but there is an international law against incitement to genocide that has the same standing as war crimes and crimes against humanity. It can be enforced with reference to national laws. There is also a international convention that puts a duty on countries to prohibit all negative statements towards national groups, races or religions if those statements constitute incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. How countries have interpreted this duty varies widely. For example in the USA the statements would need to be incitement which is intended to cause imminent violence. Many other countries have hate speech laws that are more restrictive.
Studies of leaders speeches leading up to violence and to non-violent protest show differences. An important characteristic leading to actual violent is a mixture of anger, contempt and disgust. It takes anger to do violence, contempt to degrade the targets to being not-human-ish, and disgust to make the targets immoral and the attackers righteous. Take away one ingredient and the incitement is likely to be ineffective. It can take months of increasing use of anger, contempt and disgust in the speeches of a leader, to work people in to a state that turns into a raging mob.
Speeches that work against feelings of anger, contempt and disgust but are still motivating are required to create a group that can protest successfully but non-violently. Non-violence like violence does not 'just happen'.
In condemning groups on the web, clubs and organization we should look for whether they are using these three emotions in their propaganda. Those are the people we should be afraid of and try to discourage.


JohnNewlove
newloveWhen John was writing poems pretty well all day every day in Vancouver, he wrote and rewrote on scrapes of paper and then when it took some shape he would start writing a poem in his note book. After days of polishing he would have his poem and he would say that he had learned some more about being a poet. He had a backpack and not much more, he ate at various friends houses and slept in Stanley Park. If it was raining at night (which was common this being Vancouver), we would look out and see John coming up the hill to our tiny one+-room flat to spend the night out of the rain. The flat had only some furniture Harry had made: long table, two long benches, a screen. Our bed was one of those that came out of the wall. So when the bed came down there was no room for any more furniture. John would put his sleeping bag on one of the benches. So we got to hear some of his early poems in various stages of perfection. Recently this appeared in Facebook (thanks to Judith Copithorne)

rob mclennan on John Newlove at 76
On June 13, 2014, Saskatchewan poet John Newlove would have been seventy-six years old. He died the morning of December 23, 2003, two years after an initial stroke that he expected not to live through. Soon after the stroke, he told me that he knew something was coming, but he’d expected it would have taken him out. He even seemed surprised.
After stints in Vancouver, Toronto, Regina and Vernon, John Newlove and his wife Susan moved to Ottawa in 1986, the same year his trade collection The Night the Dog Smiled (ECW Press) appeared. He lived his final seventeen years in Ottawa, and yet, he always considered himself a Saskatchewan poet. Once here, he didn’t publish another trade book during his lifetime, save the second of his three volumes of selected poems, Apology for Absence: Selected Poems 1962-1992 (The Porcupine’s Quill, Inc., 1993). In Ottawa, where he remained, he once wrote in a bio, “for his sins.”
For well over a decade, I saw John Newlove on a regular basis, whether around Ottawa’s Chinatown, where we lived but a fraction of a block apart, or on Bank Street, near his office at Official Languages. When we’d encounter each other on the street he always took the time to wave, or tell me a story of obscure Greek history. Once, he gleefully recounted a somewhat inappropriate story of himself as a young man at a party at Jane Rule’s house. It took time for me to realize that John didn’t deliberately stay away from people, he just happened to. Through shyness, he developed the habit. Aware through others of his discomfort with people, I did my best to leave him alone, slipping envelopes of chapbooks into his mailbox for years without any expectation of response. I simply wanted to pass along what I had produced, as author and publisher both. I wanted to give thanks, in my own way. Occasionally, he would even respond. Once, a postcard arrived that said: “If I didn’t thank you for the books, I do. JN.” A week or so after I told him I was enjoying the poems in The Cave (McClelland and Stewart, 1970), a book I had borrowed from the library, a hardcover copy arrived at my doorstep with the inscription, “would it be more vain to rip out the bad pieces or to leave them in? Jn.”
During the time we corresponded, my favourite had to be the twenty dollar cheque he mailed, having to travel further to a post-box than simply slip into my own mailbox. A thanks for the books, I suppose.
In 1999, he allowed me to produce a small chapbook, THE TASMANIAN DEVIL and other poems, through above/ground press, his first publication of new work in fourteen years. He launched it as part of the Ottawa International Writers Festival, and later, in Vancouver, where he had to be convinced to read anything but what he considered his long-published “hits.”
Soon after his stroke in June 2002, at his wife Susan’s insistence, I went to visit him at the Civic Hospital. On entering his room, I said something along the lines of, geez, John, you must have to see a bunch of people now. No, he shook his head, and held up two fingers, for myself and John Metcalf.
When I was seventeen years old, the first poem of his I read of John’s came from ,em>Contemporary Poets of the 1960s, edited by Eli Mandel. It was an important book for my future considerations, after my eventual ex-wife gave me a copy, where I was introduced to the work of John Newlove, George Bowering, Leonard Cohen, Margaret Atwood, Gwendolyn MacEwen and others.
It was the variant on one of John’s hitch-hiking poems from the early 1960s that first struck me, composed when he was still travelling back and forth from the prairies to the west coast, the first of many of his poems to do so. Originally published in his collection 7 Disasters, 3 Theses, and Welcome Home, click., It's the last poem of his in the anthology.
Everywhere I go
What are people talking about. Everywhere I go they whisper.
They stick their eyes at me, right at the base of the breastbone,
when I’m not looking.
The breastbone seems flat, pointed like a dagger to the top of my
stomach.
O, my stomach, my stomach . . . when the knife rips you open it will
find coffee and four strips of bacon, pieces of chewed beard and a
handwritten note saying I have left town forever again.

There are poems that stick with you, long after you’ve read them, which might just be the mark of a great poem. Or perhaps that’s a flimsy argument. There are more than a couple of poems by John Newlove that have stuck with me at various points over the years. For a couple of stretches throughout my twenties, I used the poem “Concerning Stars, Flowers, Love, Etc.” from The Night the Dog Smiled almost as a blueprint for how to approach my own writing. While driving the prairies during a reading tour with Joe Blades, Brenda Niskala, Anne Burke and D.C. Reid in May 1998, I rode the highway to the endless beat of his “Ride Off Any Horizon.” Driving across Manitoba, Saskatchewan and into Alberta, there was just something about the poem that made a new kind of sense. I carried his books around with me, while alternately amazed that most writers my age hadn’t even heard of him.
John Newlove was a friend of mine, I said at his memorial. Breif weeks after John died, Randall Ware and John Metcalf organized a small event at the Manx Pub in Ottawa, and a dozen or so freinds and admirers read poems and told stores to a packed crowd. At the end, Susan said that John would have hated this. She added: But I really appreciate it.
John Newlove has long been hailed as one of our early masters, “the best lyric poet in Canada” from 1964 to 1974, somehow emerging fully-formed as a poet in the early 1960s, and capable of such incredible precision and brevity. Despite his shyness, he also managed to live in the prairies more than once during interesting periods of prairie writing, and living in Vancouver as one of the “downtown Vancouver poets” (a loose grouping that included Judith Copithorne, Roy Kiyooka, Maxine Gadd and Gerry Gilbert) alongside the emergence of TISH. There are stories of Newlove’s days working at the UBC Bookstore, stealing reams of paper and tossing it out the back door to a truck of TISH poets, waiting to haul it away to produce a new issue. By the opening of the 1970s, he was in Toronto working as an editor for McClelland and Stewart, in the heyday of the new generation of Canadian literature. Somehow, this shy poet happened to be at the right place at the right time far more than once. And yet, once he made Ottawa, he was happy enough to fade quietly into the background, writing occasionally, and corresponding with numerous writers, students and others (even now, Montreal critic J.A. Weingarten works to finalize editorial work on a selection of letters for publication). The poems that emerged were rare.
When we were putting together A Long Continual Argument: The Selected Poems of John Newlove (ed. Robert McTavish, Chaudiere Books, 2007), we were only able to discover some twenty-four pages of work that hadn’t yet been collected into a trade work, since the publication of Apology for Absence. We kept hoping for more. Perhaps greedy.
I recently heard from the poet John Pass, asking me about Newlove’s poem “The Grass Is A Reasonable Colour,” a poem not included in our selected, and one I wasn’t previously aware of. At least, not consciously. As Pass says, “Can’t go far wrong with Newlove.” A poem he doesn’t recall seeing in print since the sixties, possibly “in mimeo form in Bill New’s Canlit class,” and one he’s toying with reissuing as a broadsheet if any of us can get our hands on it. After some digging, I discover the poem in Moving in Alone (Contact Press, 1965; Oolichan Books, 1977). It includes lines that feel familiar to any reader of Newlove:

There is a time for everything.
Mistakes are explainable.

The Usage Game: Catering to Perverts
Here is the abstract of a talk given by Geoffrey K. Pullum of Edinburgh University at the Cambridge Symposium on Usage Guides and Usage Problems in June:
"I am sure most educated users of works on grammar and usage believe that they seek a sensible relationship in which they are treated like grownups and provided with authoritative information about Standard English. There is a great deal of evidence, however, that what many of them really want is to be dominated, humiliated, and punished. They yearn, they positively lust, to be forced to use their language in certain ways and to be disciplined for any transgressions. One sign of this is that The Elements of Style, with its 105 pages of century-old maxims from Strunk and opinionated stylistic nonsense from White, far outsells Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, with its 978 pages of brilliant and clearly explained objective scholarship, about a century newer (and costing very little more). This poses a dilemma for usage guide authors. The advice of economics is of course to supply what the customer wants; but ethics may differ: usage guide authors find themselves in the role of pornographers serving a community of masochistic perverts. Worse, if they dare to provide evidence refuting myths about grammatical correctness in English they are attacked for lowering standards and promoting anarchy. I will review this problematic situation, and make some modest proposals about how the users of Standard English might be drawn out of their dark fantasy world into the daylight of mature and healthy linguistic behaviour."

Oral, written and in between
Many people think that written language is just like oral language, but it isn't. Oral language is what we learn as children when we learn language and it is what humans have learned for hundreds of thousands of years. Some of humanity still doesn't read and write. So oral language is much more the heart of language then the written product.
There are ways to tell that there is a difference between the two. If you have every read a court transcript you will have found that it was very difficult to figure out the meaning of what was said. In the actual court they had no difficulty or the judge would have asked for clarification. So written language is not just oral language that has been recorded in writing. Next if you listen to radio talks you can often tell whether the person is reading a script or just talking. It can be very plain to recognize but hard to identify exactly what is different between speaking freely and reading aloud. Oral language differs in 3 ways: its delivery, its vocabulary and its grammar.
Delivery:
The tone and strength of the voice adds a good deal of meaning clarification and emotional content to words being said. A person communicates with their whole body whether they think about it or not. They communicate not just with their voice but with their posture, body movements, facial expressions and gestures. (Watch people talking on the phone.) These channels of communication are ancient – older than language, some older than humans, a few older than mammals. We use them automatically without planning or practice. (Watch how much the body is used when little children talk.) When these channels are removed, the language has to change to make up for their loss. Communication is restricted to words and is not an expression of the whole body, forcing written language to use work-arounds to deal with questions, irony, sarcasm, emphasis, and emotional colouring. Clever ways are used to make the words alone carry the whole weight of communication. Without those literary devises, written language is somewhat dull.
There is another aspect of delivery in oral language, rhythm. Here is the problem. The speaker must deliver his utterance in a way that the listener can follow: not too fast, not too slow, in the right sized phrases, in a consistent rhythm. If they do that then the listener can work in that rhythm and when a phrase is delivered, the listener is ready and able to take it in. (Watch how people who are conversing move in unison – when it is speeded up with film it looks like a little dance.) People quite literally get on the same 'wavelength'. The way oral language is phrased is right for the length of easy breathing and the amount of information a person can take in at a time. Often this makes reading aloud difficult because the phrases are an awkward or erratic lengths. This is one of the reasons that writing dialogue is difficult – it must be written language to carry the emotion etc. because there is not an actual voice to carry it, but at the same time, it must be oral language in its other aspects like rhythm.
Finally, the delivery of oral language is to a specific person or audience and they give feedback. The speaker can tell if the listener/s are following and understanding what they are saying. They can go back the restate something or go more carefully or be less careful. Listeners are rarely silent; they give little murmurs of recognition. They nod, smile, frown and in many ways help the speaker. When writing, the writer often has to guess who, when, under what circumstances the words will be read. Therefore writing is naturally more exact and structured then oral language.
Vocabulary:
For some reason (that I do not know), words from German/Scandinavian roots are more common in oral English than in written; French/Latin roots are less common. I seems that there is a difference in tone. The French borrowings seem more formal and impersonal, while the Germanic words seem more plain homely English and carry more emotion and power. Whatever the reason, it is a measured fact. And it is also true that using to many French/Latin root words sounds stuffy and pompous. This feeling comes over much less in written language. The Romance words tend to have narrower, exact meanings that are useful in writing.
It is also the case that spoken language has more phonic devices then written. The ear loves to hear rhymes, alliterations, assonance, consonance, phonic echoes, meter, cadence patterns and the like. They are often missed when they do occur in written language and rarely valued by the writer. These phonic devices along with the rhythm of oral language makes it more poetic in nature. This has always been part of oral language. If you think of the time before writing, all the knowledge in a culture was in the form of oral recitations: the history, laws, geneology, property borders, art, religion, entertainment and much more was all oral. It was important that this oral tradition was not forgotten or degraded. For this reason it was often in the form of poetry (or song) and the rhythm, rhyme, alliteration and other phonic devices made it was easier to remember unchanged.
Grammar:
With writing, you can go back and check things as you read. You do this on purpose some times but you also do it unconsciously with a tiny flick of the eye. For this reason, written sentences can be much longer and more complex grammatically then oral ones. On the other hand, to be understood without the context of an on-going conversation, written language has to be more carefully grammatically. For example almost all written language is in the form of proper sentences. Quite often full sentences are in the minority in oral conversations. Oral language seems to be based on phrases as opposed to sentences. (Watch how often people leave out the place holder words 'it is' which have no meaning but create a sentence with a subject and a verb. People will say 'very hot today' rather than 'It is very hot today.) It is interesting that for a very long time there was no study of English grammar; it was important to have perfect Latin grammar but English was just assumed to be basically the same grammar and where it differed was a mistake. When English grammar was studied as its own creature, it was the grammar of written English. The grammar of oral English has never been systematically recorded.
Usage conventions differ too. This has to do with avoiding boredom in writing and avoiding having to use a lot of memory in speech. For example, I might say: “I'm going to the store, then I'm going to the library, then I'm going to my friend's.” But I would never write that, I would write: “I'm going to the store, the library, and then my friend's house.” The redundancy in the oral sentence saves the listener's memory, each part is complete and the meaning resolved before dealing with the next part. But if you wrote like that it would drive people up the wall. On the other hand 'friend's' can stand alone in speech because the listener gets the meaning from the whole context. But in writing, even though we know that the thing belonging to the friend is the destination, having a possessive with nothing to possess is grating.
A new form:
Over the years there have been other forms of English, such as headline English which has a very odd grammar. But these other forms were limited in their use. When people started to use computer communication for chatting, they were trying to be speedy and were thinking in an oral rather than a proper written fashion. There were misunderstandings and so smiley faces and the like became very popular. Now it is as if a new form of the language was taking form and is spreading, an e-English between oral and written. In the mind it forms pieces of communication as if it was talking and then tries to put it in written form while still being as fast as talking but as clear as writing. It is not just smiley faces that have appeared, it is also hashtags, abreviations, small groups of letters standing for whole phrases, a different use of the period and of capitals, and it changes very quickly – trying to get things right. But this is a hard task – to be oral and written at the same time. It is fascinating to watch this form develop, changing month to month. It is also interesting to see how the existence of this new English is bleeding into both the oral and the written language.

The etymology of 'fairy ann'
Fairy ann is one of the lastest eggcorns examined on Language Log. An eggcorn is coined when people do not see a word and phrase - they hear it and sometimes re-make it so that it is sensible to them. For example people will say 'damp squid' – it seems to make sense – because the word 'squib' is not known to them.
Jeannette Winterson has this story:
“My father was in Ipres, (pronounced Wipers), during the War, and like many of his generation, came back with bits of French. Ce ne fait rien turned into San Fairy Ann, meaning Stuff You, and then a new character emerged in Lancashire-speak, known as Fairy Ann; a got-up creature, no better than she should be, who couldn’t give a damn. ‘San Fairy Ann to you’, morphed into, ‘Who does she think she is? Fairy Ann?’”
It is now in the Oxford Dictionary “san fairy ann., n., as Jocular form repr, French ca ne fait rien 'it does not matter', said to have originated in army use in the war of 1914-18. An expression of indifference to, or resigned acceptance of, a state of affairs. Also ellipt. as Fairy Ann.”
Eggcorns are interesting and I have found that I was guilty of some.
I like:
eggcorn -for acorn (the original that give the name to the group)
a hare's breath -for a hair's breadth
a mute point -for a moot point
a shoe-in -for a shoo-in
isle -for aisle
all for knot or all for not -for all for naught
Old-Timer's -for Alzheimer's
You get the idea. There are many hundreds to be found in print.


To boldly split
There are still people in this world that worry about split infinitives. How did this come to be a problem?
There was a time when 'Grammar' meant Latin grammar, or in a more general way the 'Natural Principles' that were found in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Latin was the dead language most often taught and so it was Latin grammar that must be learned. There arose a teaching method that taught the children to speak English in a way that made it easier to think in a Latin way. One of the elements of style in this manufactured English was that the English infinitive could not be split – the 'to' had to be said immediately in front of the infinitive verb. If children learned to think in this way, they would write the Latin infinitive rather than a non-infinitive form and an awkward attempt at a Latin 'to' in an awkward place.
These changes to the school boy English were not considered a bastardizing of English because English was considered a degenerate language. This teaching method came into vogue in the 1600s, at the time when the number of schools increased, but few of the students were actually going to use their Latin. At that time government, scholarship, and church language was becoming more often English rather than Latin. Although Latin was used less, it was still felt that to think with logic and precision, it was important to think in Latin or some sort of quasi Latin. Many educated people wrote in the Latinized English but spoke in the ordinary English of the day.
The problem with the no split infinity rule is that it messes with English meaning. In Latin because it is inflexed, word order is not important to meaning. Each word carries inflexions that identify the part it plays in the meaning. But English is basically syntactic and therefore word order is very important – sometimes it is awkward to put the 'to' directly in front of the verb. For an inflexed language to dictate the position of a word in a syntactic language is asking for trouble.
For many, many years, scholars who study English have pointed out that this rule is not always followed by the great writers of English. And if you take their 'slips' and move the 'to' to in front of the verb, it is clear why they broke the rule. But the rule is still something that many people feel should be followed, including teachers, editors and others who should be experts in language use. And even those that really do not believe that the rule is valid, will still advise people that they should follow it because there are many people who will judge them ignorant if they don't. So - do we have to wait until the last teacher who knows of someone who rejects applications with this particular grammar 'fault', actually dies, before we are rid of this silly rule?
Why does this stubbornness exist? Language is important to people and they worry when they sense that it is changing. The idea seems to be that any change must be a change for the worse. This is a misunderstanding of how language works. Each child does not so much learn his mother tongue as invent it. The child constructs a way to communicate with the people around it. The carers make the odd and fairly rare direct correction, but mostly the child listens carefully, mimics, tries things out, experiments, practices and ends up with his own personal version of the language – very close but not identical to other versions. This generational reinvention assure that the language stays useful in the current environment, that it does not change faster than a speed that allows grandparents to converse with grandchildren, that there is enough logic. The reinvention maintains consistency in the language so the brain to handle it, and so on. The language is not about to fall apart because it is reborn in every child with new vigor and eloquence. And while the child grows into a teenager and young adult, their language is creative. They coin new words and ways of expression until the day they stop being inventive and want to freeze the language. There is no reason to protect language as if it was fragile – it is sturdy. It is one of the most resilient bits of our cultures.
There are other reasons for the angst. Language is a kind of glue that hold societies together. The constant chatter has been compared to grooming in other primates. The communication through language is vital for our societies to function. Anything that looks like it will interfere with communication is a source of worry. Again this worry is not necessary. No communication is going to depend on a single word, and if a word becomes unusable because of some on-going change in meaning, some other word will be used instead. Quite often when there are complaints about some usage, it is clear from the complaint that the complainer understood what was meant. There was no failure to communicate only a failure to do it 'right'. Communication is also fairly sturdy.
People can become extremely angry, hysterical and even destructive on the subject of correct language. I don't think this is because they fear that the language is going down-hill or communication is threatened. That bothers many but does not account for the emotional moral outrage. That has to do with people's identification with their language – not their language in general but their personal usage, accent and the particular grammatical rules they respect. The anger seems to come from finding people who pretend to be 'us' rather than 'them' but insist on talking like 'them' rather than 'us'. This is an affront by traitors, interlopers, pretenders, outsiders to the group 'us'. The failure to follow the usage of the group can be ample reason for a very self-righteous corrective put down, no matter how rude. Usageism, to coin a word, is very similar to racism, sexism, ageism and other types of discrimination. As with all things where one is protecting identity, there is a feeling of pride and a smugness noticeable in the “I'm right and your wrong.” The way people spend effort in going out of their way to find and point out faults, that are of no importance to them, indicates that there is some sort of reward in finding fault. This discrimination should be called whenever it occurs just like other discriminations; to be silent is to participate. The anger is not about language, it comes from class warfare, xenophobia, political intolerance, ideological battles. It is about separating identities rather than coming together in communication. It is not about loving your language but about using language as a weapon of hate.

In an old tradition, at Christmas I read yet again the poem about memories of childhood told in gorgeous language. There are some things that one loves very personally and deeply. No matter what anyone else thinks, to me this poem is damn near perfection.
from A Child's Christmas in Wales – Dylan Thomas
One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.
All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find. In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero and the firemen.
It was on the afternoon of the Christmas Eve, and I was in Mrs. Prothero's garden, waiting for cats, with her son Jim. It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas. December, in my memory, is white as Lapland, though there were no reindeers. But there were cats. Patient, cold and callous, our hands wrapped in socks, we waited to snowball the cats. Sleek and long as jaguars and horrible-whiskered, spitting and snarling, they would slink and sidle over the white back-garden walls, and the lynx-eyed hunters, Jim and I, fur-capped and moccasined trappers from Hudson Bay, off Mumbles Road, would hurl our deadly snowballs at the green of their eyes. The wise cats never appeared.
We were so still, Eskimo-footed arctic marksmen in the muffling silence of the eternal snows - eternal, ever since Wednesday - that we never heard Mrs. Prothero's first cry from her igloo at the bottom of the garden. Or, if we heard it at all, it was, to us, like the far-off challenge of our enemy and prey, the neighbor's polar cat. But soon the voice grew louder.
"Fire!" cried Mrs. Prothero, and she beat the dinner-gong.
And we ran down the garden, with the snowballs in our arms, toward the house; and smoke, indeed, was pouring out of the dining-room, and the gong was bombilating, and Mrs. Prothero was announcing ruin like a town crier in Pompeii. This was better than all the cats in Wales standing on the wall in a row. We bounded into the house, laden with snowballs, and stopped at the open door of the smoke-filled room.
Something was burning all right; perhaps it was Mr. Prothero, who always slept there after midday dinner with a newspaper over his face. But he was standing in the middle of the room, saying, "A fine Christmas!" and smacking at the smoke with a slipper.
"Call the fire brigade," cried Mrs. Prothero as she beat the gong.
"They won't be there," said Mr. Prothero, "it's Christmas."
There was no fire to be seen, only clouds of smoke and Mr. Prothero standing in the middle of them, waving his slipper as though he were conducting.
"Do something," he said. And we threw all our snowballs into the smoke - I think we missed Mr. Prothero - and ran out of the house to the telephone box.
"Let's call the police as well," Jim said. "And the ambulance." "And Ernie Jenkins, he likes fires."
But we only called the fire brigade, and soon the fire engine came and three tall men in helmets brought a hose into the house and Mr. Prothero got out just in time before they turned it on. Nobody could have had a noisier Christmas Eve. And when the firemen turned off the hose and were standing in the wet, smoky room, Jim's Aunt, Miss. Prothero, came downstairs and peered in at them. Jim and I waited, very quietly, to hear what she would say to them. She said the right thing, always. She looked at the three tall firemen in their shining helmets, standing among the smoke and cinders and dissolving snowballs, and she said, "Would you like anything to read?"