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Posts tagged ‘Grammar’

Words of the Year 2015

In its annual vote, the American Dialect Society has chosen its Words of the Year:

  • Most Useful was “they”, an animate singular gender–neutral pronoun.
  • Most Creative was “ammosexual”, a gun nut who identifies weaponry with manliness.
  • Most Unnecessary was “manbun”, using a bun as a men’s hairstyle.
  • Most Outrageous was “fuckboy”/”fuckboi”, an objectionably–behaving man.
  • Most Euphemistic was “Netflix and chill”, a sexual advance disguised as a proposal to relax while watching Netflix.
  • Most Likely to Succeed was “Ghost”, to abruptly end a relationship by ceasing all contact.
  • Least Likely to Succeed was “Sitbit”, anything that rewards for not being active.
  • Most Notable Hashtag was “#SayHerName”, used to bring attention to the serious problem of violence against women.
  • Most Notable Emoji was the eggplant, used for sexual implications

And the Word of the Year is the singular they.

Let me take this opportunity for another demonstration of why prescriptivism is bullshit. The example in this is objecting to using “they” as a singular pronoun. The nonsense objections seem to boil down to variations of the following:

  • Singular they violates number agreement. Essentially, if an antecedent is singular, so is its pronoun, and “they” is plural. This includes the singular aspects of distributives. It seems rather strange for number agreement to be so important that it cannot be violated, while at the same time natural gender (or, alternatively, animacy) agreement to be so unimportant that it can be abandoned
  • Singular they, by using plural verbs for singular antecedents confuses people. We use plural verbs in the second person, even when the context makes it clear that singular meaning is intended. Clearly, verbs being ambiguous with respect to number is no barrier to understanding. For example, we get by just fine without number agreement most contexts, such as the past perfective.
  • Singular they is a newfangled construction that is ruining the English language. The singular they is found in Shakespeare and Chaucer, for example. The earliest prescriptive complaints about it appear to date to the nineteenth century. Essentially, then, the singular they is centuries older than the earliest known  complaints about it.

In a companion vote, the ADS’s sibling organization, the American Name Society, chose “Caitlin Jenner” as its Name of the Year.

Worst punctuation complaint ever

I just found this ridiculous rant concerning punctuation. The guts of that post is that English punctuation is illogical because we don’t use Spanish–style inverted question marks to begin questions (and, mutatis mutandis, inverted exclamation points). By reading his rant you’ll notice that the writer seems not to know the difference between a tag question and a tag itself. The reason for his belief is that it is confusing to rely on context to determine when a question begins. The fact that he makes such a claim shows why he has no clue what he’s talking about.

Heres why.

What happens when you ask a question in the English language? In almost all cases, either you invert the subject and an auxiliary verb (if there’s no auxiliary, add one), or you do the preceding and also begin with one of the wh–words. The main difference between the two question forms is that the former is a yes–no (or polar) question, while the latter is a wh (or non–polar) question. The other form is a tag question. Tag questions are a semantically a subtype of yes–no questions. Let’s look at examples:

  • (Declarative): You went to the store.
  • (Polar) Did you go to the store?
  • (Wh) Where did you go?
  • (Tag) You went to the store, didn’t you?

What do wh– and yes–no questions have in common? The first word(s) (or implicitly, the word order) in either of them indicate that the following sentence is a question. In other words, the beginning of these sentences indicates that what follows is a question. Hence, there is no need for a beginning of sentence question–marking punctuation mark because the words and word order already do that. Tag questions are rare enough that they won’t need special punctuation rules. Indeed, in speech, tag questions have no “marker” at the beginning that tells us a question is coming, but this in no way hinders our ability to make ourselves understood. The same applies to writing.

This post has been edited for clarity.

You can’t make this up

The National Organization for Marriage has released two new advertisements. You can watch one of them here. Then, notice this still (my underlining):
Same same sex marraige? What's that?

Same same sex marraige? What's that?

You can watch NOM’s other ad here. Again, notice this still (my underlining):

Same same sex marriage? What's that?

Same same sex marriage? What's that?

Update: The NOM has removed the first ad (top still) from YouTube; last time I checked, the second one was still working.

Update 2: The NOM has also yanked the second ad (bottom still) from YouTube. Must have been too embarrassing to show the world that bigots don’t know grammar and can’t spell.

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