• subject to debate, dispute, or uncertainty, and typically not admitting of a final decision: whether the temperature rise was mainly due to the greenhouse effect was a moot point .
• having no practical significance, typically because the subject is too uncertain to allow a decision: it is moot whether this phrase should be treated as metaphor or not.
"Bring and Take " - do people actually get these wrong? They didn't even provide an example for this one.
In order to employ proper usage of “bring” or “take,” the writer must know whether the object is being moved toward or away from the subject. If it is toward, use “bring.” If it is away, use “take.” e.g., Bring that here. e.g., Take that there. Your spouse may tell you to “take your clothes to the cleaners.” The owner of the dry cleaners would say “bring your clothes to the cleaners.”
It's about whether an occurring utterance matches the correctness conditions (whatever they may be) for the speaker who uttered it. Either speakers or linguists can be wrong. Speakers will sometimes speak or write in a way that exhibits errors (errors that they themselves would agree, if asked later, were just slip-ups); and linguists will sometimes state correctness conditions in a way that incorporates errors in what is claimed about the language (errors that they themselves would agree, if asked later, were just mistaken hypotheses about the language). I claimed that I'm right about the correctness conditions on verb agreement in Standard English, and that the person who wrote the letter I quoted made a slip-up. That's not a contradiction — no one is attempting to be both an apple and an orange.
And none of the foregoing has anything to do with prescriptive claims about grammar, which are a whole different story. Prescriptivists claim that there are certain rules which have authority over us even if they are not respected as correctness conditions in the ordinary usage of anybody. You can tell them, "All writers of English sometimes use pronouns that have genitive noun phrase determiners as antecedents; Shakespeare did; Churchill did; Queen Elizabeth does; you did in your last book, a dozen times" (see here and here for early Language Log posts on this); and they just say, "Well then, I must try even harder, because regardless of what anyone says or writes, the prohibition against genitive antecedents is valid and ought to be respected by all of us." To prescriptivists of this sort, there is just nothing you can say, because they do not acknowledge any circumstances under which they might conceivably find that they are wrong about the language. If they believe infinitives shouldn't be split, it won't matter if you can show that every user of English on the planet has used split infinitives, they'll still say that nonetheless it's just wrong. That's the opposite insanity to "anything that occurs is correct": it says "nothing that occurs is relevant". Both positions are completely nuts. But there is a rather more subtle position in the middle that isn't. That is the interesting and conceptually rather difficult truth that Zink does not perceive.
I begin by taking it for granted that there are conditions we might call correctness conditions for natural languages. (Whether they are standard languages, non-standard dialects, or undescribed tribal languages of preliterate peoples does not matter: all have correctness conditions.) And I will also assume that it is possible in principle to be perfectly explicit about such conditions. In terms of the distinction drawn familiar thirty-?ve years ago by John Searle, They are constitutive, not regulative. They do not regulate the use of the language, in the sense that one could use it either in ways that comply or in ways that don’t; they constitute the language, in the sense that not respecting them amounts to not using it at all but doing something else instead.
It is a complete caricature of linguists’ attitudes to usage that they think anything goes and regard everything that occurs as grammatical. They don’t. Quite to the contrary, they insist that there are constitutive correctness conditions for natural languages, conditions that define the difference between right (grammatical) and wrong (ungrammatical) for individual languages. Grammaticality is not to be confused with choice of formal style, though: informal style is grammatical too.
Correctness conditions provide sufficient justification for saying that something is grammatical or ungrammatical, provided they are the correct conditions; but they need their own justification. Linguists seek to justify formal statements of proposed sets of correctness conditions by means of a basically scientific investigative methodology — it based on attention to evidence.
Prescriptive ideologues tacitly take the descriptive work to be already done (they do not spend any time on order of subject and predicate or preposing of relative pronouns, where there is no disagreement); their concern is solely with a superstratum of particular points on which usage is controversial and they have a view to present.
The regulative rules that the prescriptive ideologues advocate need their own justification, if they are to have any force. If the justification offered were to be simple compatibility with the facts of usage in uncontroversially admirable exemplars of good English prose, the prescriptivist project would collapse with that of the linguists, so that is never the justification cited. Instead an array of external sources of justification are vaguely alluded to.
These are very diverse, but what is clear is that none of them can be taken seriously. The prescriptive ideologues do not know what is found in the texts they take to illustrate good usage; they do not even know what their own usage is. Jacques Barzun, for example, recommends using only that for integrated relative clauses on one page of his book Simple and Direct (1975), and then opens a paragraph on the next page by using one with which. E. B. White does not even get through the second paragraph of his Stuart Little without using an integrated relative with which, which in The Elements of Style he deprecates.
Unjustified and perhaps unjustifiable, the rules of the prescriptive ideologues, dimly grasped and often misunderstood, nonetheless form the backbone of what the general public understands and believes about English grammar.
1) Its practitioners are wrong on usage points.
2) It imports a conservative agenda.
3) It usurps professional privilege, because its practitioners are not trained as linguists.
3a) Prescriptivism represents vulgarity in the public sphere, because the uneducated and unsophisticated are usurping the privilege of the educated.
Which is not to say I don't appreciate the pleasure to be had in manipulating the traditional rules; you will notice I write according to them, and I make my living from them as well (I'm a copyeditor).
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