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October 20, 2003 1:30 AM   Subscribe

mumbo jumbo... BBC journalist John Humphrys bemoans the abuses suffered by the English language. At the risk of becoming a Grumpy Old Man before my time I can't help but agree with him, in particular about the Management Speak. I recently came across the verb "to hero" which set my teeth on edge. And just what the hell does "to leverage" mean?
posted by jontyjago (73 comments total)

 
to leverage (OED)

trans. and intr. To lever; spec. to speculate or cause to speculate financially on borrowed capital expecting profits made to be greater than the interest payable. Hence leveraging vbl. n.; also leveraged ppl. a., freq. as leveraged buy-out (chiefly U.S.), the buy-out of a company by its management with the help of outside capital.

1937 Harper's Mag. June 63 Acey leveraged the arm upward. 1957 Robert R. Young & Alleghany Corp. 2 Founded in 1929.., Alleghany was a classic example of the highly leveraged holding companies of that period. 1968 N.Y. Times 20 Feb. 64 Short-term trading,..selling short and leveraging through borrowing are all speculative techniques which carry with them greater risk of loss. 1971 Atlantic Monthly July 49 He gave her the benefit of his experience, leveraging her up to the ears in convertible bonds. 1972 ‘A. SMITH’ Supermoney IV. i. 209 The corporation discovered that the more it borrowed, the higher the earnings and the higher the stock, so it began to leverage. 1973 N.Y. Law Jrnl. 26 July 3/3 Tight credit tends to put some of the marginal builders (that are very highly leveraged and have tiny working capital positions) under additional pressures. 1976 Forbes (N.Y.) 15 July 83/1 We have eased into the safer waters of secondary financings and leveraged buyouts. 1980 Financial Rev. (Austral.) 8 July 19/3 John Polmear had engineered what the Americans call the ‘leveraged buy-out’. 1984 USA Today 6 Apr. 4B/5 Many..clients want to buy companies in leveraged buy-outs. 1985 Times 2 May 21/5 Leveraged buyouts are commonly used in the United States to defeat hostile takeover bids, but have yet to be successfully tested in Britain.
posted by biffa at 2:24 AM on October 20, 2003


So it's an Americanism, invented in the last half-century or so. What's wrong with "pry"? From whence this untrammeled yearning for extraneous syllables? Ok I kid. But you have "lighted" instead of "lit", "automobile" instead of "car", "gasolene" instead of "petrol". I must admit some sympathy with the poor man, even if it's a word you may use perfectly legitimately, always assuming you have the time. I personally fear for English, especially with the likes of "Friends" all over the television. My usage has suffered horribly from conversing with Americans on the internet ... and I mean nothing personally: I simply regret the passing of the language I grew up to love. There is some hypocrisy in this, since I also detest pedants, especially myself.
posted by walrus at 4:51 AM on October 20, 2003


While I don't want replay 1776, I don't believe that Americans have a monopoly on multisyllabic words. For instance (to continue with your automotive theme), you say "lorry" and we say "truck"; we say "lawyer" and you say "barrister" and "solicitor"; you say "estate agent" and we say "realtor".

And some of your examples are unfair. I don't know anyone who regularly says "automobile." Americans say "car." We also, as a rule, say "gas" (which is shorter than "petrol"), not "gasolene." And we DO say "lit." I lit the gasolene stove only last night.
posted by grumblebee at 5:09 AM on October 20, 2003


I come across leverage in sentences such as the following: "with enhanced reporting that leverages your security, portal, and data model, for a greater return ".

I may just be dense, but I really don't understand it... It seems to have no relation to the leverage in the above definition or any other definition I've read. I suspect that the majority of people that bandy it around don't really understand it either...
posted by jontyjago at 5:14 AM on October 20, 2003


It's all very well Mr Humphrys criticising misusage of words in a newspaper like The Times (although I myself didn't realise that the example cited was wrong), and I find myself annoyed when watching BBC News and noticing the numerous errors made by the script-writers and caption-writers, but to attack someone for their personal mode of speech, in conversation, for example, is nothing short of fascism!
posted by mokey at 5:28 AM on October 20, 2003


Fair enough grumblebee. It's an old complaint and I used it unthinkingly, as much to try to make it funny as anything else. Coming from me, complaints about verbiage are adjacent to sarcasm, but you shouldn't be expected to know that, so here I am making a fool of myself. It actually turns out that every novel in which I see "lighted" used instead of "lit" (invariably to ill effect) turns out to have been written in America, and hence my prejudice on that particular front. I really don't have a big "thing" about it, but perhaps I have been unfair in the past so I'll try to be a better person if you'll forgive me for the above rant.
posted by walrus at 5:39 AM on October 20, 2003


So it's an Americanism, invented in the last half-century or so.

Like the internet you mean?

My usage has suffered horribly from conversing with Americans on the internet

Clearly it is all a plot to pollute your language use, and the Americans should just stop talking. If your language use has got worse that's your responsibility, not anyone else's.
posted by biffa at 5:40 AM on October 20, 2003


Well that learnt me good.

I take the theory that if a sentence is English and you can undersand it, then it is good English. Simple. As.

If it made of English is and you thinking nearly can understand it , then English it is.

The only time English is bad is when there is a gap between what is meant and what is understood. I'd argue that this gap is Absolutely Neccessary, and language could not evolve without it.

So. In conclusion... Bad English is Good.
posted by seanyboy at 5:51 AM on October 20, 2003


mokey - if, in the singular you would say "I" then in the plural it stays "I" - I went to the zoo, Bob and I went to the zoo. Equally if it should be "me" in the singular then it stays "me" in the plural - That could be said of me, that could be said of Bob and me.

That's how I've always understood it anyway.
posted by jontyjago at 5:53 AM on October 20, 2003


Business is indeed a great offender, but when it comes to murdering the language, technology is right up there. I googled (heh) for a jargon solution and found that it can be nearly impossible to distinguish the real from the surreal.
posted by madamjujujive at 5:54 AM on October 20, 2003


All grammer nazis must die.
posted by y6y6y6 at 5:58 AM on October 20, 2003


His most interesting point comes at the end of the article. Who are these linguistic offenders?
I doubt that anyone really knows, least of all the people who use it. They tend to be middle managers striving to impress their bosses or, possibly, each other. The people at the top, in my experience, tend to communicate clearly. Maybe that's why they made it to the top in the first place. Lazy use of language suggests lazy thinking.
Bang on, in my experience. Clear thought begets clear speech. In science, the best people are, generally, the best speakers. In government, mushy speech is the province of middle management and the support folks, especially personnel and trainers.

You can hear it in also in interviews on the news. The person-on-the-spot often puts on a very affected speech to sound more intelligent in the broadcast. The howlers that result are sometimes funny, but usually just leave me annoyed and depressed.

Also, impact. Could we just leave this one to the astrophysisits and dentists, please?
posted by bonehead at 6:02 AM on October 20, 2003


Clearly you are right biffa, if somewhat touchy about it. My sense of humour should probably be hauled into metatalk and strung up by its toes, but Bob help me I was actually going for funny, as I had already pointed out by the time of your rejoinder. Have a nice day now.
posted by walrus at 6:08 AM on October 20, 2003


I fear Humphrys has already lost his battle, as I can see by a quick peak in various databases:

met up with: citations exist from 1862.

impact, v. : citations exist from 1934.

fast track, v. : earliest found citation from 1977 is from the Daily Telegraph (UK). Citations of the noun in other than a horse-racing sense are as early as 1970, with a key cite from 1964, but explained by comparison to horse racing.

And so forth...
posted by Mo Nickels at 6:15 AM on October 20, 2003


All grammer nazis must die.

ITYM "grammar." HTH. HAND.
posted by jammer at 6:28 AM on October 20, 2003


Thanks jontyjago I am pleased to learn that. It seems my comment above was misjudged anyway because Mr Humphrys in that article is not attacking spoken English but written English and he even defends John Prescott for his speeches. Oh well maybe he's not an evil maniac after all.
posted by mokey at 7:13 AM on October 20, 2003


English is a fascinating and complex language.

I love it. No other language in the world is so flexible and has so many nuances. I highly recommend "The Story of English" by Robert McCrum, Robert MacNeil and William Cran, to anyone interested in how English came to be the most widely used language in the world.

While adaptability has allowed English to flourish, it would be a pity to allow the language to suffer degradation through sheer laziness.
posted by bwg at 7:13 AM on October 20, 2003


[this is proactive]
posted by muckster at 7:19 AM on October 20, 2003


Does language form thought? (insert psych 201 arguments here) If we suppose that it does, does the vacuous, jargon ridden bullshit that passes for communication in meeting after fucking meeting that I attend not inevitably corrupt one's ability to think critically? What if "I find that statement spurious" is not longer an option in thought-or-speech because it has been replaced by the phrase "brand extensions into new diffusion lines targetting tween alphasumers". Capitalism's natural endgame will be to extinguish all active, rational thought and replace it with slogans, jingoism, and biz-nis speak.

Language. I'm lovin' it.®
posted by i blame your mother at 7:43 AM on October 20, 2003


No other language in the world is so flexible and has so many nuances.

How do you know?

If we suppose that it does, does the vacuous, jargon ridden bullshit that passes for communication in meeting after fucking meeting that I attend not inevitably corrupt one's ability to think critically?

Well that's the whole premise of New Speak isn't it? I don't fully believe it. I think thoughts are non-lingual and we merely attach words to them. Mind you, that's limiting in its own way, as we have to fit our thoughts into a structure that isn't of our own making when we speak, therefore a concept that might have been complicated and original ends up being trite and predictable. I have no evidence for this other than my own experience of how I think. I need languagehat to put me right.
posted by Summer at 7:54 AM on October 20, 2003


"ITYM "grammar.""

The abject joy many here seem to have with niggling principals of grammar is a constent source of reticence for me. But you've got a ways to go before you'll convince me this is revelant at all.

The reason is because one person's mistake is anothers standard usage. Its the same difference. Secondly, in actual fact, english usage is literally expanding all the time as new stuff is added.

All this going on about the misnomer that bad grammar makes a person look stupid is pointless. You will never incent the masses to learn by waving silly rules in their faces.

The point being is that language is not set in stone. It's not like a UPC code where formal rules are required. Sure, good grammar has it's place. But you people get carried away.

So there.
posted by y6y6y6 at 7:55 AM on October 20, 2003


You are absolutely right Summer. Thought is constructed of a pattern of chemicals released across the synaptic gaps between a huge, ever-changing network of neurons. Language is the product of higher-level conceptualisation, and there is no single, static structure in the brain which corresponds to a linguistic unit.
posted by walrus at 8:14 AM on October 20, 2003


Thought is constructed of a pattern of chemicals released across the synaptic gaps between a huge, ever-changing network of neurons. Language is the product of higher-level conceptualisation, and there is no single, static structure in the brain which corresponds to a linguistic unit.

Well that's what I thought.
posted by Summer at 8:15 AM on October 20, 2003


y6y6y6: incent

You're just baiting people now arent you?
posted by biffa at 8:19 AM on October 20, 2003


The person-on-the-spot often puts on a very affected speech to sound more intelligent in the broadcast. The howlers that result are sometimes funny, but usually just leave me annoyed and depressed.

It wasn't a man-on-the-street interview, but I once was watching 48 Hours or 60 Minutes or some other show of that ilk, and there was a segment about private investigators. They were following a PI around as he followed a suspected adulterer around, and Mr. PI was using his best elocution for the camera. For instance, he stopped and observated the man doing whatever, and later he even saw the man and his lady make a rendezvoutation!
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:43 AM on October 20, 2003


I think thoughts are non-lingual and we merely attach words to them. Mind you, that's limiting in its own way, as we have to fit our thoughts into a structure that isn't of our own making when we speak, therefore a concept that might have been complicated and original ends up being trite and predictable.

Summer, you don't need me to put you right; that's one of the more concise and well-put things I've read on the subject. Too many people stand at opposite ends of the spectrum of possibilities and holler "Language determines thought!" and "Language is irrelevant to thought!" at each other. I think (though of course nobody can know this stuff for sure) that our initial reactions (whether you want to call them "thought" or not) are probably non-linguistic, but being the language-dependent creatures we are, we have to put them into words to express them, and our choice of words ends up influencing what we "think" (and of course how others react to it). Many times, as you say, a concept "ends up being trite and predictable"—but sometimes, if we're lucky, an accident of word choice will lead us to more interesting lines of thought than we would have come up with otherwise.

As for all the balderdash about "the passing of the language I grew up to love" and "a pity to allow the language to suffer degradation through sheer laziness," arguing with it is a waste of time, because people need something to deplore, and better some imagined linguistic degradation than other people's religion. But just to give you something to think about, don't you realize that if language really degraded, we'd all be grunting unintelligibly at each other by now? People have been deploring such "decline" for centuries, and yet somehow languages survive. Furthermore, the very usages that one generation's deplorers see as signs of the apocalypse are completely accepted by the next bunch, who deplore usages that will be accepted in their turn. If you think about that long enough, you might come to the conclusion that it's just a matter of not liking what you didn't grow up with. And you'd be right.

Oh, and as for:
And just what the hell does "to leverage" mean?
That question doesn't say anything about the verb, it says something about you. I'm quite sure that there are thousands upon thousands of technical terms that you don't understand (any more than I do, although I'm familiar with this one); the world gets more and more specialized, and each specialty needs its own vocabulary. Try reading an advanced math text sometime. "Leverage" is a clear and necessary verb to anyone dealing with finance; there's no reason you should know financial vocabulary if you're not interested, but your lack of interest doesn't make it a bunch of meaningless babble.
posted by languagehat at 8:50 AM on October 20, 2003


Well english isn't my motherlanguage , my knowlege of english grammar is at best sufficient for everyday purposes
and my dictionary is limited as well : yet I manage to explain myself somehow. The whole point of languages is
extablishing a set of rules for the purposes of communicating idea and notions, isn't it ? So I think that while
every language is going to evolve and change I don't think that adding too many synonims is going to do any language
any good. For instance, I don't see the point of using the new verb "to google" , one needs to know what Google is to
understand what "to google" means ; why shouldn't we just use "to search" ?

Italian is my motherlanguage, it's probably among the most difficult languages one could try to learn (except maybe ideogram
based languages such as chinese) but I don't see that as a shortcoming, rather as an advantage given that many english words
are an evolution of latin words. For instance "market" comes from "mercatus" , "media" is the plural of "medium" , "generate"
comes from "generare" and the list goes on forever. So when I started learning english the only thing that managed and still
manages to trouble me :) is its grammar, but only because I don't have as many occasions of using it as motherlanguage speakers.

What I think is far more troubling then a few google words is the belief that once one have mastered english he/she
doesn't need to learn any other language because english is the unofficial world language. One should, in my opinion, always
know at least two languages ; english because it's relatively easy and widely used, any latin based language because it helps
learning more latin languages like french, spanish and italian. It's a good exercise for brain and improves communication skills, IMHO.
posted by elpapacito at 9:02 AM on October 20, 2003


"with enhanced reporting that leverages your security, portal, and data model, for a greater return ".

I may just be dense, but I really don't understand it... It seems to have no relation to the leverage in the above definition or any other definition I've read.


Think of leverage as being the verb meaning "to use a lever", where a lever is "[a simple machine] used for transmitting and modifying force and motion" (Webster's). In this case, a lever is a tool that helps you maximize your results from your input, e.g. with a certain setup of a lever, you will be able to lift twice as much weight with the same amount of force you would need to lift it straight up. Thus by using a lever, you are increasing your capacity to lift.

In business-speak, you can use lever metaphorically to sell stuff. If you buy a machine that increases productivity by 300% and it costs you only 150% of your normal cost, you are leveraging your investment because you are increasing your return via a metaphorical lever.

In finance-specific talk, leveraging has to do with borrowing money. In a nutshell it means that you borrow money so that you don't have to spend as much of your own for some ends. For instance, a leveraged buyout is one in which people borrow money to buy a company, fix it, and then repay the loans with the returns. Thus they don't have to invest their own money, effectively completing the purchase using less input via their "lever".

That much said, I agree heavily with your point, I just don't think that "leverage" is a good example of it. My personal pet peeve: "paradigm shift".
posted by toothless joe at 9:35 AM on October 20, 2003


Furthermore, the very usages that one generation's deplorers see as signs of the apocalypse are completely accepted by the next bunch, who deplore usages that will be accepted in their turn.

What I want to know is, do these deplorings ever work? I'd think they would sometimes because of the way sociopolitical factors play into language; if there was a sudden catastrophic depression, or if we suddenly discovered faster-than-light travel, the current ascendancy of financial jargon in the wider language would end quick. If grammar bitching is really just telling various sectors of society to shut up already, the politics have to win out sometimes, no?
posted by furiousthought at 9:40 AM on October 20, 2003


The reason is because one person's mistake is anothers standard usage. Its the same difference.

btw: another's and It's.

If your standard usage is stupid mistakes, you cannot help but sound annoying to people who know the difference. If I were making hiring or grading decisions, you can bet I'd give ample weight to such things.

Sure, good grammar has it's place. But you people get carried away.

Consider yourself lucky that you don't feel, as I do, something akin to physical pain every time you see someone misuse the word its / it's.

Somehow you have gotten the rule backwards. Here is how it goes: when you're using a contraction for "it is" or "it has", use an apostrophe. When it's a simple possessive (belong to 'it'), no apostrophe.

I would link to Bob the angry flower's little lesson on apostrophes, but unfortunately it seems to be down.

And not everyone who cares about correctness in language is opposed to language change. I welcome, for instance, the new (to me) word "inciteful" that I've seen around lately. I think it's clever.
posted by beth at 9:48 AM on October 20, 2003


I generally concur with the "Grammar Nazis" and "Grumpy Old Men" on linguistic issues, but their are a few instances where I hope sloppy usage becomes correct, which is what tends to happen as language evolves. For example: "Will everyone please return to their seats" grates on the ears of many of the Linguistically Correct, but I'd like to see it replace the alternative "Will everyone please return to his or her seat."
posted by kozad at 9:56 AM on October 20, 2003


English has long needed a neuter singular third-person pronoun, and our friend the plural third-person pronoun is boldly taking over the job. I think it's great, kozad. Sometimes it sounds a little awkward, but to the next generation it will sound perfectly natural.

(and I should have written "belonging to 'it'" above. Mea culpa)
posted by beth at 10:04 AM on October 20, 2003


I read something recently that said that the "they/their" solution to the gender neutral 3rd person pronoun dates back to at least 1535. And, it appears in Shakespeare twice: Much Ado About Nothing (Act III Scene 4) and again in Comedy of Errors (Act IV Scene 3).

Thus, when challenged by the grammar nazis who do care about that little tidbit, I throw the bard back at them. It works every time - even if it doesn't convince them, it leaves them confused long enough for me to make my escape.
posted by Irontom at 10:28 AM on October 20, 2003


walrus, I was aware of your attempt at humor. I was also making an attempt. Perhaps we should quit "attempting" and either succeed or call the whole thing off (an apt choice when discussing tomato/toMAHto issues, don't you think?).

I'm half British and half American (unfortunately, I'm British from the waist down), and I've lived in both countries. From my p.o.v., both populations butcher the language with equal amounts of glee and gusto.

I'm also Jewish, and therefor not charmed when people (such as kozad -- though I noticed the quotes -- and mokey) use the terms "fascist" and "nazi" to describe everyday martinets (of the grammatical or soup variety). Some words should be kept sacred and used only to describe, say, those people who make soap out of their fellow humans.

But I'm also able to "lighten up." Or should that be "lit up?"
posted by grumblebee at 10:34 AM on October 20, 2003


generally, I'm the kind of person who will intentionally mis-use a word or phrase for effect, counting on my audience (of one or many) to know that I'm using a special effect, and to think of it in that sense. and i can imagine that it would drive the language police mad, if they don't "'get" what i'm doing: so be it.

but the one thing guaranteed to set my teeth on edge is the statement "you don't..." as a means of asking a question. e.g.: "You don't have the new Radiohead CD?"
Sometimes the phrase includes, "do you?" at the end, which sort of spins it into a question, but really, it's a bullshit sort of passive/agressive form of speech, isn't it? Either you mean to ask me a question, or you mean to tell me something: make up your mind! :)
Persons stating to me, "You don't have the new Radiohead CD," usually get a statement of correction from me: "You're wrong, we do, it's over there."
or a jokey-chiding instruction to "Think positively! Ask me where we keep the new Radiohead CD!" followed by a big smile to let them know that they're a star if they do, and that I'll then happily show them where to find it.
Of course, this sort of thing can be lost on some people, then they think I'm just being another "Jack Black" CD store employee, but -- hey! -- I figure they started it...
posted by Badmichelle at 10:36 AM on October 20, 2003


"Consider yourself lucky that you don't feel, as I do, something akin to physical pain every time you see someone misuse the word its / it's."

This is silliness. Users are suppose to understand what my meaning is and they do. One way of writing the possesive it is not better then another if everyone in this forum knows what I mean. We all here know what the meaning of its is. These kind of "painful" sensations are a problem you need to work threw.

Since time began this has constantly been drug into places it doesn't belong. As if proper grammar will impact anything here positively at asshat central. The importance is just over-exaggerated.

Look, you can spend several thread's space trying to make a case for fabulous grammer and I'm sorry for your pain but be reasonable.
posted by y6y6y6 at 10:36 AM on October 20, 2003


Thanks for taking my statement out of context, languagehat.

Most of my comments were in praise of the fluidity and dynamism of English.

In my final comment, I said, "...it would be a pity to allow the language to suffer degradation through sheer laziness." That is, if laziness were allowed to run amok, which I don't believe is happening.
posted by bwg at 10:38 AM on October 20, 2003


This guy's crazy. Languages are dynamic and always changing; new words are being invented, new uses, new dialects. Trying to pin down language and control grammar is tantamount to trying to limit speech and thought and creativity.

I don't hear him whining about 'thy' and 'thine' being out of the common vernacular.
posted by gramcracker at 10:41 AM on October 20, 2003


They/their has historical precedence: we've already killed off one singular form. Thee/thou used to be second-person singular. See Shakespeare, for instance. By the time of Austin, it had fallen out of use.

Next up: I becomes we
posted by bonehead at 10:46 AM on October 20, 2003


Also just for the record:

impact, impact, impact, impact, impact, impact, impact, impact, impact.

"Impact" is for mush-for-brains who can't figure out affect and effect. Bah!
posted by bonehead at 10:48 AM on October 20, 2003


y6y6y6: "Users are suppose to understand what my meaning is and they do."

I'll just say that if you're actually perfectly understood by every mefi reader, then you're the only one, ever.

I can imagine that the last time a human was ever completely clear about what s/he meant was someone with perfect Latin grammar, speaking before a group of similarly-expert Latin speakers. The language is that damned specific about every conceivable case and tense...

Since then, we've had the poetic, rhetorical, instructive and interrogative possibilities for both postive and negative misunderstandings blown wide-open by language imprecision.
I'll quote Metallica, for the sheer irony of it: "Do you choose what I choose?/More alternatives/Energy derives from both/the plus and negative."
The "alternatives" in language can be a great source of strength, but don't conclude that your choice (or lapse) in using "it's" over "its" -- or similar grammatical "errors," -- in any way makes your message come through as clearly as if you'd done it in a more grammatically correct way.

And I think we've all seen threads here on MeFi go on way past the point of reason because two (or more) people got it in their heads that they were absolutely correct and clear in making their point of view known when in fact they were neither...
posted by Badmichelle at 10:52 AM on October 20, 2003


"met up with" -- I don't see what's wrong with this. The phrase is a hybrid of "catch up" and "meet," meaning that you get an opportunity to meet someone whom you haven't seen in a while (thus implying that you really need to "meet" them to reestablish contact), while listening to things they've been up to since you last hooked up. Like any good expression, this takes two separate concepts and slings them together. No real mystery there.

However, I do have to agree with Humphrys that the Times headline was inexecrable.
posted by ed at 11:29 AM on October 20, 2003


Thank you toothless joe for your explanation of "leverage" - makes things a lot clearer. I still think though, in the context I hear the word (used by salesmen in a software company and nothing to do with the world of finance), that the people who use it could not explain what it means... They use it because they think it sounds good.
posted by jontyjago at 11:32 AM on October 20, 2003


"Realtor."

God I hate that word.
posted by Blue Stone at 12:22 PM on October 20, 2003


""Impact" is for mush-for-brains....."

Look all ready. As long as any one is willing to make a conscience effort to insure you understand there meaning, I don't see what the big deal is. Surely, every one can heave their own grammar. But being overly too critical is even more disruptive than the bad grammar itself.

And spotting the real mush brains is funner then grabbing at something stupid so that you can feel smarter than others.
posted by y6y6y6 at 12:32 PM on October 20, 2003


Yes, language constantly changes--but that doesn't mean we have to welcome and embrace all of those changes. Corporate speak, like military speak, is generally meant to bloat, obfuscate, glorify, and plain-out deceive. We don't have to stand by and shout huzzah, and I for one refuse to be proactive when good ole active will do. If lanuage indeed changes perception, there is more at stake than a headache at the meeting.

And y6y6y6, I for one stopped reading your posts in this thread because of the glaring errors. Make of that what you will, but I figure somebody who doesn't care about their words probably doesn't care about their ideas, either. Result: you're not communicating.
posted by muckster at 12:36 PM on October 20, 2003


In my experience, reactionaries complaining about how things shouldn't change from the way way they used to be are just whining about their lost childhoods (or more precisely, their imagined childhoods), and should recieve a nice pat on the head, a cup of hot chocolate and a blanket to warm their knees.
posted by signal at 12:40 PM on October 20, 2003


The point being is that language is not set in stone. It's not like a UPC code where formal rules are required. Sure, good grammar has it's place. But you people get carried away.

What it comes down to, for me, is this: when writing anything other than a bilious rant, I put a non-trivial amount of effort into attempting to express myself in a way that is clear, concise, and follows standards of proper grammar and diction. If I'm saying something that I truly want to express to others, I am asking that they give me their time and concentration; it would be rude to return this boon with poorly constructed sentences and hopelessly muddled thought processes.

If you're not willing to extend the same courtesy to me -- through proper use of spelling, punctuation, and the other various rules of written communication -- then why should I bother wasting any of my time attempting to interpret what you were trying to say.

Rules exist to speed communication -- both amongst humans and computers. A computer speaking a non-standard protocol shouldn't expect any attention from any other host on the network. A person with the prose skills of a dyslexic ninth grader shouldn't expect any attention from other people.

That's why grammar is important to me.
posted by jammer at 12:44 PM on October 20, 2003


The sentence opening "I for one..." is a glaring redundancy. Most people I've met know how to count to five. And small amoeba life forms have been known to count to two. Unless you plan on living in a parallel universe in which the first person singular is actually meant to represent groups of five, and a person needs to distinguish between this linguistical penta-tic and the singularity of an overlord's opinion, there's no reason to add "for one" after "I." You wouldn't say, "We, for three, are the musketeers."
posted by ed at 12:58 PM on October 20, 2003


"Bob the angry flower's little lesson on apostrophes, but unfortunately it seems to be down."

Damn, I love that one. And I can't get it load either.

Meanwhile, having transcribed many an interview I can tell you that a good number of us never speak with 100% grammatical correctness. But when speaking its understandable - people also speak in sentence fragments, and mangle all sorts of grammar laws. When I'd transcribe people I knew to be intelligent I'd often hate to type it up word for word because I knew they'd cringe. But hey, it was for video that had to be edited, and the editor needed exact wording.

Somehow I think many folk write by placing the words down exactly as they'd have spoken them. Which can be wonderfully natural and exactly like reading a conversation with someone - or can be something that makes some folk want to get out their red corrective pens and edit like mad.
I myself have always needed an editor btw. No crime in that.

[beth, I left out the apostrophe on my its just for you. Heh.]

"Surely, every one can heave their own grammar.

I try not to make a mess when I'm heaving up my grammar. It usually only happens when I'm running a temperature.

[muckster - this is y6, this is your chain - can you not hear the yanking noises?]
posted by batgrlHG at 1:03 PM on October 20, 2003


The reason I dislike "impact" as a verb is that it shrinks the collective breadth of thought. You claim to see elitism in my complaint, but truly, I just mourn the passing of subtlety and beauty in the language. English is a fluid thing, and turning it into a simplified newspeak does none of us good. "Impact" collapses a complex and rich set of concepts into a cacaphonic Action Verb straight out of the '87 middle-management phrasebook. If thought preceeds language, how do we express ourselves when the words are taken away? That's why I don't like the verb impact.
posted by bonehead at 1:05 PM on October 20, 2003


ed, "I for one" is not necessarily redundant. It adds emphasis, and it adds a subtext of "others may feel differently, but." In other languages you might get the same effect by rearranging the syntax, but in English, that's generally not an option. I also like it for reasons of rhythm.

batgrlHG, I realize y6 is making mistakes on purpose. My point is that in doing so, he risks quick dismissal. It was a shorthand way of making jammer's argument.
posted by muckster at 1:16 PM on October 20, 2003


bwg: I realize that, and I wasn't dealing with your entire statement, just plucking that clause out as an example of typical over-the-top rhetoric. "Allowing the language to suffer degradation through sheer laziness" is a non-issue, and your comment would have been vastly improved by omitting the last sentence. Needless to say, I approve of your general attitude.

y6: Your crakin mee up!
posted by languagehat at 1:27 PM on October 20, 2003


muckster: I, for one, think that some people, for an unknown number, wouldn't know rhythm, generally for four four, if it bit then on the buttcheeks, in one's case for two. Redundancy, for too often, kills flow. Know what I, for one, mean?
posted by ed at 1:31 PM on October 20, 2003


'Result: you're not communicating."

I'm not here to effect some sort of sea change in regards to alternate grammar. I'm just saying that expecting users in a chat forum to use grammar like a English major does is silly.
posted by y6y6y6 at 1:39 PM on October 20, 2003


Redundancy, for too often, kills flow.

So does reductio ad absurdam.
posted by jammer at 1:40 PM on October 20, 2003


yeah ok
posted by muckster at 1:44 PM on October 20, 2003


"My point is that in doing so, he risks quick dismissal."

Its goal of Discordians to be dismissed thusly. Especially by people like you who're to smug in their own world view.

If it ever seems as people are out to get you, it is, indeed, that me and mine, are out to get, you. You are our penultimate source of amusement.
posted by y6y6y6 at 1:50 PM on October 20, 2003


"If you're not willing to extend the same courtesy to me -- through proper use of spelling, punctuation, and the other various rules of written communication -- then why should I bother wasting any of my time attempting to interpret what you were trying to say.
...A person with the prose skills of a dyslexic ninth grader shouldn't expect any attention from other people."


So I take it you've never graded any college level essays? I've had plenty of students whose grammar and spelling were horrible - yet understood the lectures and had obviously done the reading - they made this clear in their writing. Then there were a good chunk who hadn't done the reading at all and I'd never seen in lecture - but had put together a wonderfully grammatically correct argument in their papers - but an argument about nothing. All bs'ing.

So do I, as a teacher who is not trying to teach grammar or how to write (I had enough to get through already, thanks), just pay no attention to the paper with bad grammar that at least indicated the student had learned something about the subject at hand - or dump it in the pile with the well written paper about nothing, where the student hadn't learned anything? Some of us have to read around bad grammar. And wonder how on earth some students missed learning subject verb agreement by college age. And know that some of them will graduate and go on into the work force without knowing this.

Meanwhile editors and co-authors work with lapses in grammar all the time. They make a little note in the margin (or on the computer screen) and then continue reading to try and understand what thoughts the authors are trying to convey.
posted by batgrlHG at 2:03 PM on October 20, 2003


Its goal of Discordians to be dismissed thusly. Especially by people like you who're to smug in their own world view.

So it's not possible to be a Discordian and compose proper English sentences at the same time? Dammit, I'll have to hand in my Popeship and stop partaking of hotdogs on Fridays now...
posted by jammer at 2:05 PM on October 20, 2003


Meanwhile editors and co-authors work with lapses in grammar all the time. They make a little note in the margin (or on the computer screen) and then continue reading to try and understand what thoughts the authors are trying to convey.

That's their job. And any writer who was serious about being published would not attempt to release a manuscript that has not been the subject of a thorough inspection by a competant editor. This way, we are saved the pain of having to parse poorly constructed sentences, along with much worse excesses of authorial ego.

Similarly, it is your job to read your students' papers and grade them on their content, rather than their facility with the language -- a prioritization which I question. When I was at university, my professors certainly took off for improper usage, and I would mourn the passing of such a procedure should it have disappeared in the past few years.

As a member of the general public, however, I have no such obligation. In our current information-glutted age, there is already surfeit of text for me to digest which the author hasn't -- be it through ignorance, malace, or simple nonchalance -- pre-obfuscated for me. If you want to get my attention, you're going to have to do it with capital letters, periods, paragraphs, and at least a basic demonstrable familiarity with the laws of standard communication.
posted by jammer at 2:15 PM on October 20, 2003


malace

... or typos. ;)
posted by jammer at 2:22 PM on October 20, 2003


I'm just saying that expecting users in a chat forum to use grammar like a English major does is silly.

Since when is communication a specialized skill that only a few people are expected to master?
posted by kindall at 2:26 PM on October 20, 2003


"Since when is communication a specialized skill that only a few people are expected to master?"

Well, fine. My point is that grammar pedants are fun.

"I for one stopped reading your posts in this thread because of the glaring errors."

Followed by:

"I realize y6 is making mistakes on purpose."

[glee]
posted by y6y6y6 at 2:36 PM on October 20, 2003


English came to be the most widely used language in the world.
Is that now true? I thought that Chinese was the most commonly used language? Unless you mean the language used in more regions that any other, in which case you may be right.

Being something of a pedant, I hate it when people use incorrect grammar as it slows down my comprehension, forcing me to go back and re-read parts of the text to ensure I have understood the message correctly. I see no problem with the language continuing to evolve as it has done for centuries, but that does mean you can ignore the rules then say you are "evolving the language".

I am not sure about the rest of the world, but there was a period around the early '90s when the teaching of grammar in Australian schools was formally abandoned and teachers who attempted to teach grammar were disciplined. This policy was thankfully abandoned after a few years but it has resulted in a whole generation of people who are now in the last years of their schooling and who have no idea how to construct sentences or how to most effectively communicate in writing because they do not know how the language works. I am very grateful to the teacher that my eldest daughter had for several years during this dark period, as she secretly taught her students grammar, risking discipline from her bosses in the Education Department.
posted by dg at 3:47 PM on October 20, 2003


When I was at university, my professors certainly took off for improper usage, and I would mourn the passing of such a procedure should it have disappeared in the past few years

It depends on what you mean.

If you mean writing SPLIT INF -5 in the margin, that seems silly. It's paying too much attention to the process instead of the goal, because the process is easier to grade. Also, a lot of the rules that get marked like that are, like the split infinitive rule, not really rules of English at all.

If you mean writing "This is a badly-organized paper with numerous grammatical and spelling errors, only a few of which I have noted. You need to meet with someone from the writing program" in the margins, I'm down with that.

If you mean me sitting down and doing what amounts to a thorough editing job on the paper, making corrections right and left all through the paper... well, that's not the best use of my time, and there are supposed to be other people in most universities who work on that anyway.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:59 PM on October 20, 2003


"Similarly, it is your job to read your students' papers and grade them on their content, rather than their facility with the language -- a prioritization which I question. When I was at university, my professors certainly took off for improper usage, and I would mourn the passing of such a procedure should it have disappeared in the past few years."

I think it depends on where you teach, how many students you have per class, and whether you have a teaching assistant to help with grading. I've had as many as 60 students per class and no teaching assistant. And no time to set aside to teach a class on how to write - though I did teach several days on how to put a research paper together (in a class with sophomores and juniors, I should add). So if I do get a paper that is readable, has grammar and spelling mistakes, but indicates that the student has read and attended lecture and has a good grasp of the concepts under discussion, I take that into account. Not an A, if the mistakes are frequent and obvious, but possibly a B considering what the rest of the class comes up with. The problem with improper usage and spelling is quantifying how much you're going to take off for each mistake. And to really do that properly I have to read each paper twice - one for grammar and one for content (I know people who can do both at the same time, I'm not one of them.) And when I have 60 papers to get through - well, I'm not there to teach grammar. If it's so bad that it makes it hard to actually get through the paper, well, they get docked a couple of points.

Frankly it is my priority to make sure they learn what I teach in my class. If they've made it through to their junior year without learning grammar, well, sadly I can't fix that. (And this is the kind of thing we teachers talk about to the point of tears. It does not make us happy.) Also it seems that certain mistakes in grammar occur more frequently than others - so it seems to be an area that's being missed by education in general. And I once taught a lab where the grammar workbooks the students were given had mistakes within the texts. (Which made all the lab assistants want to tear out their hair - since the prof who wrote the workbooks taught the main lecture, what could we say? He said the books were fine. Argh.)
posted by batgrlHG at 4:46 PM on October 20, 2003


And yeah, what ROU said.

Hey, if I only have 15 students in a class, and one consistently shows that they can make a good case in an essay but have a grammar problem, I take them aside and have a chat with them, point them to help in another dept. (I am not the goddess of corrective grammar, thanks.) But in a large class, that's hard to do.
posted by batgrlHG at 4:50 PM on October 20, 2003


Apparently "woe is I" is the correct usage, not "woe is me."

But goshdangit, sometimes a mistake is worth correcting and sometimes the one in the "right" is just defending what will eventually be an archaic. Granted, everything may become archaic eventually and people have different opinions on how quickly this should be allowed to progress.

But there are time when you get hit with the grammarstick, and you can tell by the smell that it was freshly withdrawn from someone's clenched ass. Theirs gotta be somewhere to draw the line.
posted by scarabic at 5:13 PM on October 20, 2003


scarabic, I was going to tell you you'd misunderstood, and the writer was just making a joke... but I investigated and found out she really did think that:
The title of the book comes from Hamlet's famous refrain, "Woe is me." While Shakespeare was not in error using the personal pronoun 'me' because the rules of grammar were not standard in his time, O'Conner points out that the correct form should be, "Woe is I."
Bzzt. You can ignore anything she says, because that is completely mistaken. "Woe is me" is a relic of Old English grammar, in which the dative did not require a preposition; it's the same "me" as in "methinks" (= OE me thincth 'it seems to me'). Please, everybody, don't be so ready to believe that something you've said all your life is "wrong" just because you read somebody who says so in print. You own the language, not professors and pedants.
posted by languagehat at 6:13 PM on October 20, 2003


Yes indeed, English is the most widely used language in the world.

Over 1 billion people now use it. It is more widely scattered, written and spoken than any other language. While other languages, such as Mandarin Chinese, may have slightly more users, they are generally confined.
posted by bwg at 7:30 PM on October 20, 2003


Rules exist to speed communication -- both amongst humans and computers. A computer speaking a non-standard protocol shouldn't expect any attention from any other host on the network.

Ah, but we humans do have the ability to understand those non-standard protocols. It's one of the things that makes us special.

Whether the differences come in the form of 'poor' grammar, dialects, or good ol' word inventification, it's so much more interesting to accept disparate grammar and vocabulary habits. As has been said, the intent of the words is often clear, whether it's been communicated in your preferred way or not. You can learn a lot about someone through their language quirks when you're not so fast to dismiss such as mere laziness.
posted by Mrmuhnrmuh at 11:23 PM on October 20, 2003


A couple of fascinating books on English from Bill Bryson

1) "The Mother Tongue - English and How It Got that Way" William Morrow & Company, NY 1990

2) "Made in America" Avon; (November 2001)

I just finished the latter which puts to rest some of the myths that British English is 1) always the "pure" original form of spoken English; and 2) that all newer English words are "Americanisms." Also has a great final chapter on PC or "politically correct" language that is worth the price of the book alone.

The former book, I have read three times. I always find something "new" and enlightening with each reading. It traces the birth of English. It starts with a great first chapter with examples of horrible "English" in other countries like Japan, etc. Living in Japan, I find I am becoming more tolerant of "Japanese English" like aircon (airconditioner) and terebi (television) after reading "Made in America" and coming to understand how many words we take for granted were in fact bastardizations of French, Dutch, Native American words that we ourselves assimilated and used to suit our needs. The words we have now are no different than say a katakana pronunciation in Japan. We adapted based upon our pronunciation and changed words and names to suit our own tongues.

A language that doesn't grow and adapt and even "consume" from other languages is probably doomed to die...a short, painful death.
posted by charms55 at 10:43 PM on October 21, 2003


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