Skip

The Social Psychology of Linguistic Naming and Shaming.
June 18, 2010 3:08 PM   Subscribe

Although people have been worried about correct speech for thousands of years, it's apparently the status anxieties of modern societies that create the market for usage advice in which artificial "rules" can spring up and spread, independent of the genuine norms of speaking and writing. [via]
posted by rebent (78 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
F*cking language, how does it work?
posted by chavenet at 3:18 PM on June 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


How I shot verb?

This article is strangely similar to the oatmeal take or irony.
posted by poe at 3:26 PM on June 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is an interesting thing about which you have posted.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:27 PM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


LOLUNINFORMEDPRESCRIPTIONISTS
posted by everichon at 3:31 PM on June 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


ever since I got to know lots of really smart people who speak nonstandard english I have tried to quit being a dick about nonstandard english, mainly because it makes me look fucking stupid.

also because what I love more than almost anything else are fine and creative examples of nonstandard english.
posted by toodleydoodley at 3:31 PM on June 18, 2010 [8 favorites]


>This article is strangely similar to the oatmeal take or irony.

The likelihood of an ironic typographical error in a comment increases in direct proportion to the I-am-linguistically-correcter-than-thou content of the post or link.
posted by chavenet at 3:31 PM on June 18, 2010


By "modern societies" he means ever since humans got to the British Isles, right? Though maybe in Caesar's letters from gaul he takes some random legionnaire to task over some improper latin declension, I dunno.
posted by GuyZero at 3:33 PM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I seem to remember that the Latins were extremely strict over the usage of the language
posted by rebent at 3:35 PM on June 18, 2010


The real topic of concern with "correct" language is concern about how we appear to others. This is a legitimate thing to be worried about. We want to speak correctly the same way we want to have nice-looking hair, teeth and shoes. Fashion is arbitrary too, but you ignore it at your peril. Vigorous debate about what constitutes correct language is a good thing. Long may it continue.
posted by Faze at 3:36 PM on June 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


What I hate: phrases or words that are said in a way that makes it obvious the user has no idea what they actually mean. "Orientate" is one, "try and" (instead of "try to") is another. I also am quietly disgruntled about "impact" as a verb, which originates in the fact that no one can remember the difference between "affect" and "effect," although they do remember that there is a difference and don't want to be embarrassed.

But for the most part, I enjoy neologisms and the repurposing of one part of speech as another, and find most complaints about language to be simply attempts at social control.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:39 PM on June 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Let us problematize the French paradigm. NOT!
posted by yesster at 3:40 PM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


word
posted by defenestration at 3:44 PM on June 18, 2010


there are rules?
posted by johnny novak at 3:49 PM on June 18, 2010


rebent: Although people have been worried about correct speech for thousands of years, it's apparently the status anxieties of modern societies that create the market for usage advice in which artificial "rules" can spring up and spread, independent of the genuine norms of speaking and writing.

@Metafilter, I totally agree.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:51 PM on June 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


This post is a bit misleading. I liked the Language Log post, but the pull quote reads like a supported conclusion, and it's really neither.
posted by OmieWise at 3:54 PM on June 18, 2010


That was great, thanks. The Tolerating variation, or not, and That-Which rule commentary were great too.

Fucking prescriptivists.
posted by mrgrimm at 4:05 PM on June 18, 2010


My personal favorite is the policy of following rules for Latin in English because "DUH! It's Latin!" (Cheif among these is the rule against puting a preposition at a sentence's end.)

I revel in pointing out that Latin is the only language I know of that has a word for "kill every 10th person" and ask if I should start doing that as well.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:17 PM on June 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


What I hate: phrases or words that are said in a way that makes it obvious the user has no idea what they actually mean. "Orientate" is one, "try and" (instead of "try to") is another.

Jimmy Havok, I don't know what nationality you are, but those are both standard in British English. As a Brit, it's only fairly recently that I've noticed "orient" join "orientate" as a verb over here. And do you really think people don't know what they mean when they say "try and"? (I'd say it's pretty obvious, personally!) If you think most complaints about language are social control, what's different in this case with either of these examples? Genuine question, I'm intrigued.
posted by badmoonrising at 4:30 PM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


We've been socialized to believe that being able to understand and be understood by other people is important, by a society which is organized to penalize those who don't conform to oppressive institutional requirements like these, including shaming and ostracizing those who speak differently. Why shouldn't each individual be allowed to speak a language of their own making? The only way to achieve true individual creativity, self-expression and autonomy is by remaking society so that we don't have to speak to each other at all. Language must be abolished!
posted by AlsoMike at 4:32 PM on June 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


This isn't Nam, this is language, there are rules.
posted by brundlefly at 4:38 PM on June 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


Hey, AlsoMike, can I borrow your Frindle?
posted by GuyZero at 4:46 PM on June 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Sorry, I should clarify - frindle.
posted by GuyZero at 4:47 PM on June 18, 2010


I'm glad we could conversate about this.
posted by Splunge at 4:47 PM on June 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Orientate drives me nuts on man vs wild, even though I know it's perfectly correct.
posted by empath at 5:00 PM on June 18, 2010


Fucking prescriptivists

IT'S MISSIONARY OR NOTHING, OMG YOU ARE DOING IT ALL WRONG, WAIT WHAT IS THAT?
posted by everichon at 5:01 PM on June 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


I revel in pointing out that Latin is the only language I know of that has a word for "kill every 10th person" and ask if I should start doing that as well.

You've never heard of English?
posted by Sys Rq at 5:10 PM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


This isn't Nam, this is language, there are rules.

Indeed. Please learn them, brundlefly.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:13 PM on June 18, 2010


I'm sure I'm not the only one to speculate about the nature of language as a class marker as one of the sources of the extraordinarily emotional nature of the combative discourse regarding such issues.

I also wonder how Great Britain and the USA differ in the extent of language usage kerfuffles, especially since the two countries differ dramatically in their acknowledgement of the obvious (read: elephant in the room) class differences.
posted by kozad at 5:14 PM on June 18, 2010


Recently I saw an unattributed chart that said using "[name] and I" as an object (of either a verb or a preposition) instead of "[name] and me" was a class marker, presumably in the US. Call me a snob and a prescriptivist, but I thought the latter was correct and the former was just plain wrong.
posted by immlass at 5:17 PM on June 18, 2010


This article doesn't say that language has no rules, or that we shouldn't care about aesthetics or style, or anything like that. If you read the article and came away with one of those interpretations, you've allowed your preexisting biases to distort the meaning of the actual text. That's an abuse of language comparable to any grammatical error.
posted by decagon at 5:18 PM on June 18, 2010


has a word for "kill every 10th person"

I like σπαραγμός even better. Yikes.
posted by everichon at 5:24 PM on June 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


I seem to remember that the Latins were extremely strict over the usage of the language

Yeah, this one time a centurion made this poor guy write "Romans go home" a hundred times on the city walls because he'd gotten it wrong.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 5:30 PM on June 18, 2010 [8 favorites]


> the status anxieties of modern societies that create the market for usage advice

As long as "modern" means "starting sometime in the early 19th century." That's when the newly jumped up mobile folks with Industrial Revolution money started worrying about their grammar, accents, and table manners when having the Squire and his missus to dinner. And hiring coaches and reading prescriptive books to polish off the Midlands rough edges.
posted by jfuller at 5:38 PM on June 18, 2010


> has a word for "kill every 10th person"

I know that one. It propagated itself into English, where barely one blogger/journo in a hundred uses it correctly.
posted by jfuller at 5:43 PM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


As long as you can work in "dude", I think we're fine.
posted by stormpooper at 5:51 PM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]




"Orientate:" back formation from "orientation," which is "orient" + ation. So "orientate" actually means "orient," so it's a case of people not actually knowing what they are saying. Yeah, the Brits say it a lot...ignorant twits. They also say "wee-kend." I have no idea what a "kend" is. They also say "fink." I know what a fink is.

"Try and:" That implies guaranteed success. "Try to" indicates that an effort will be made, and that is what is meant whenever I hear someone say "try and." They're taking the elided "to" of "try to" and expanding it into "and." Once again, it's someone who doesn't actually know (or care) what the words they are saying mean.

That's what I hate, people who don't pay attention to what they say (or write). It's not the words per se, it's the ignorance that produces those words.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 6:12 PM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


l33tpolicywonk: that story is shameful. The tools to catch that kind of thing have been around for more than a generation, and should be a part of the design process for any test. ETS's monopoly on college testing is the only thing that allowed them to do it for so long.

They need to be sued into oblivion.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 6:19 PM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]




I'm pretty relaxed about non-standard English. What peeves me off is ambiguous English. Unfortunately, standard usages have standard meanings even when they are technically ambiguous if you go by literal meanings. Which means that some of my complaints about ambiguity sound like complaints about usage.
posted by DU at 6:30 PM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sez who? Not the OED

The OED has no opinion, so no point in bringing it to bear.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:31 PM on June 18, 2010


Once again, it's someone who doesn't actually know (or care) what the words they are saying mean.

I hate "try and", too, but you really seem here to be trying to elevate personal taste, and tradition, into some kind of objectively correct principle. (I guess that's pretty much the definition of a prescriptivist.) You don't have any evidence whatsoever, from those words, that the person speaking them doesn't know or care about meaning. You just don't like it, and it's non-traditional, and so, because you can come up with an argument according to which it's wrong, you've decided that that argument must be objectively true.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 6:40 PM on June 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


You've never heard of English?

Last week the Governor was visiting the facility where I work. Since someone decided that we needed an amendment to make English the official language of the state of Missouri, I did my part by insisting that everyone refer to him as Ealdorman Nixon.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:48 PM on June 18, 2010


you've decided that that

I hate "that that" too. I know that those are two different senses of the word, but it still rankles me.

Who said I though I was being objective? Is there anything objectively wrong with bone-deep ignorance?
posted by Jimmy Havok at 6:55 PM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


> you really seem here to be trying to elevate personal taste, and tradition, into some kind of objectively correct principle.

Which of course it is, and has been since we came down out of the trees. Momentum like that, nobody's going to stop it now. Or even slow it down so's you'd notice.
posted by jfuller at 7:05 PM on June 18, 2010


I had an accent when I was a kid. I lost it when I was a teenager. I was ashamed I'd ever had it as a young adult. And now I sort of wish I had it back.

Fortunately, I still make plenty of typos.
posted by thivaia at 7:44 PM on June 18, 2010


This isn't Nam, this is language, there are rules.

Independent clauses are to be joined by a semicolon, not a comma.

What? I can still be a pedant in a roomful of pedants, can't I?

Actually, I think there are at least a couple different ways you could punctuate that correctly, but that wasn't one of them.
posted by toodleydoodley at 9:29 PM on June 18, 2010


I don't know for sure, but couldn't that be right? Like "This isn't Nam (this is language, i.e. something other than Nam) there are rules" -- it has a slightly different meaning, maybe, but I think it is okay, isn't it?

Hell, I've just stayed up until one am playing Heroes of Might and Magic III, what the hell do I know?
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:01 PM on June 18, 2010


My personal favorite is the policy of following rules for Latin in English because "DUH! It's Latin!"

Languages evolve. One way they evolve is that bilingual speakers introduce features of other languages. Another is that the habits of elite groups trickle down into the wider population.

For centuries, the elite groups of English speakers were bilingual in Latin.

It's an entirely natural and predictable part of the evolution of English that it would become more like Latin.

It seems to me the difference between a "descriptivist" and a "prescriptivist" is that the former sneers at out-groups' language use as unnatural or affected, while the latter sneers at out-groups' language use as wrong.

I find the prescriptivists less annoying. At least they admit that the language they don't like are simply breaking somewhat arbitrary rules: they don't have fantasies of a natural use of language. For instance, that article doesn't seem to have any evidence that it's "the status anxieties of modern societies that create the market for usage advice". Has any anthropologist found that tribal hunter-gatherer societies don't chide children or adults for unorthodox use of language? Or is it just a pleasant fantasy: people who speak the way I approve of are like the simple, honest, Noble Savage; people who speak differently are degenerate and affected...
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:49 AM on June 19, 2010


You trimmed that quote rather severely to make your point, TheophileEscargot. The sentence begins by explicitly addressing your question about hunter-gatherer societies, and continues to clearly define the subject as rules which are not supported in general usage. It is a much narrower subject than the correct use of language in general. It's also very interesting. Where do these phantom rules come from? Why are we so willing to accept them, even to enforce them?

I don't think anyone here is talking (or fantasizing) about a natural use of language. The descriptivist argument is not that people who refuse to split infinitives are wrong.
posted by Nothing at 1:12 AM on June 19, 2010


"Try and:" That implies guaranteed success. "Try to" indicates that an effort will be made, and that is what is meant whenever I hear someone say "try and." They're taking the elided "to" of "try to" and expanding it into "and." Once again, it's someone who doesn't actually know (or care) what the words they are saying mean.
I suppose what I'd ask you to think very hard about is how you came to learn what "and" means. Because it seems very clear to me what "I'm going to try and bake a cake means", and I really don't understand why you think people who say such things don't know what it means.
posted by planet at 1:25 AM on June 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Language is open-source right? So if enough people start using "orientate" as an alternative of "orient", then **flash!** **ker-convention!** it becomes 'correct'. Common usage trumps all else.
posted by memebake at 1:36 AM on June 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is there anything objectively wrong with bone-deep ignorance?
OK, can you consider for a second the possibility that you're being a bit harsh?


Once again, it's someone who doesn't actually know (or care) what the words they are saying mean.

Actually, Jimmy Havok, I care a lot about words, and I generally know exactly what they mean when I use them. But I use "try and" and "orientate" because they're standard British English, and they're what I'm used to, particularly in conversation. (The first time I heard someone say "orient" instead of "orientate", I wondered why they'd left the last syllable off!) So bearing that in mind, can you maybe not write off my entire country as full of "ignorant twits" who "don't care" about language just because we say some things differently to you? Thanks. :)
posted by badmoonrising at 2:42 AM on June 19, 2010


differently tofrom you.

Sorry. Had to.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:11 AM on June 19, 2010


I really don't understand why you think people who say such things don't know what it means.

I don't think they ever suggested not understanding you. I think what they were suggesting was that, while you remain understandable, you are still wrong.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:16 AM on June 19, 2010


Thanks, Jimmy Havok, for telling us how to speak our own language.

Don't worry, they don't even bother translating American books into 'British' English any more, so we'll all be writing and speaking the same language within a couple of decades.

God bless Planet America.
posted by Quantum's Deadly Fist at 8:29 AM on June 19, 2010


QDF, we're hyphenating any-more these days.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:15 AM on June 19, 2010


so we'll all be writing and speaking the same language within a couple of decades

Yep, Chinglish.

The first time I heard someone say "orient" instead of "orientate", I wondered why they'd left the last syllable off!

I agree. Orient is a destination for a famous train, orientate is a commonly used word.
posted by robertc at 9:34 AM on June 19, 2010


Sys Rq, all I know is I'm not allowed to write anymore, anymore.
posted by Quantum's Deadly Fist at 9:52 AM on June 19, 2010


"The word orient as a noun means "east." It may be capitalized when referring to the geographical location of the Far East.

Example: Hong Kong is located in the Orient.

Orient as a verb means to "find direction" or "give direction." The noun form of this kind of orienting is orientation.

Sometimes people in their speech will form an imagined verb from orientation and say orientate. At best, orientate is a back-formation used humorously to make the speaker sound pompous. The correct word is the verb orient.

Incorrect: Melanie is helping me get orientated to the new job.

Correct: Melanie is helping me get oriented to the new job.

Orientate is more widely accepted in the U.K. than in the U.S.A., but it should be avoided in any formal or standard writing. "



I know. Like whatever.
posted by Splunge at 10:09 AM on June 19, 2010


Because it seems very clear to me what "I'm going to try and bake a cake"" means

If you parse the words themselves, it means the same thing as "bake a cake," so "try and" is just mouth noise. If you don't worry about what the actual individual words mean, then it means the same thing as "try to bake a cake."

Thanks, Jimmy Havok, for telling us how to speak our own language.

You're welcome. It would be nice if you didn't mangle it so badly.

I really do detest the most commonly heard English accents (I'm thinking received, BBC, and that horrible London one where the "th" is turned into "f" and the last consonant is dropped). They seem calculated to sound either sarcastic or deliberately stupid. I've listened to quite a few of the IDEA soundfiles, though, and the less posh accents are often quite pleasant.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 10:35 AM on June 19, 2010


DAMN JIMMY HAVOK YOU SURE ARE WREAKING "HAVOK" WITH YOUR STRAIGHT-SHOOTIN' TELLING OF DIFFICULT TRUTHS
posted by everichon at 11:09 AM on June 19, 2010


I'm truly sorry about the oil spill, Jimmy.

All better now?
posted by Quantum's Deadly Fist at 11:26 AM on June 19, 2010


Jimmy Havok. How do you pronounce your name?
posted by Splunge at 3:08 PM on June 19, 2010


Orient is a destination for a famous train, orientate is a commonly used word.

Common in Britain. Say "orientate" anywhere else, and people might think you're sadly misinformated.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:12 PM on June 19, 2010


How do you pronounce your name?

The "k" is silent. So are the other letters.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:17 PM on June 19, 2010


Man, after having just read Consider the Lobster, I can't help but wish that DFW was still around to read this thread.
posted by psp200 at 3:28 PM on June 19, 2010


How do you pronounce your name?

The "k" is silent. So are the other letters.


That would then be considered ironic, no?
posted by Splunge at 4:03 PM on June 19, 2010


No. I mean, yes. Wait, which sense of "ironic" do you mean?
posted by Jimmy Havok at 4:20 PM on June 19, 2010


Is there anything objectively wrong with bone-deep ignorance?

I held my tongue yesterday but this is fucking ridiculous. "Try and [verb phrase]," like all idioms, has a meaning that can't be deduced from its component words. Some idioms are avoided in formal writing, but many are not; one example of an idiom appropriate for formal writing is "ahead of time," which understood literally is absurd in its meaning. It's hard to take your ranting about the lexical failings of the unwashed masses seriously when that simple fact eludes you.
posted by invitapriore at 4:56 PM on June 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


the unwashed masses

Lots of well-washed people are ignorant, and proudly so.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 5:51 PM on June 19, 2010


Jimmy, do you have to be a belligerent asshole in every thread you participate in? I can kind of see getting passionate in an I/P thread, but this is ridiculous. Go take a walk or something.
posted by empath at 7:04 PM on June 19, 2010


so "try and" is just mouth noise

I'd just like to non-confrontationally point out (split infinitive don't even give a fuck) that something like 30% (not actual data) of all spoken language is just mouth noise, if you think about it for a second. Various caesuras, breathing, sound effects, saying "like," going "pshh," etc. Hardly anyone speaks the same language they write, in my experience.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 7:59 PM on June 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Try and" actually bothers me a lot more when it's written than when it's said, since when it's said it's usually not enunciated to the point of even being a nasal, "try 'uh do it." Which makes sense, since what's being elided is "to," not "and." And that's my beef. The people who write "try and" instead of "try to" aren't thinking about what they are saying enough to understand it, and it's not thinking that bothers me most of all. So you can see I'm bothered quite a lot.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 2:32 AM on June 20, 2010


Did you get molested by a Beefeater or something? Jesus.
posted by Quantum's Deadly Fist at 8:53 AM on June 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


I revel in pointing out that Latin is the only language I know of that has a word for "kill every 10th person" and ask if I should start doing that as well.

Greek also has that one: Αποδεκατίζω. Incidentally, it also means nowadays killing (or incapacitating) more than one in ten.
posted by ersatz at 9:42 AM on June 20, 2010


Although people have been worried about correct speech for thousands of years, it's apparently the status anxieties of modern societies that create the market for usage advice in which artificial "rules" can spring up and spread, independent of the genuine norms of speaking and writing.

Nonsense. Chaucer lampooned it.

It's simply another statement of "There's something new that's never happened before!"-ism.

And that (TSNTNHB!ism) has been going on for all of recorded history.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:14 PM on June 20, 2010


Jimmy Havok, while "try and" often sounds off to me, that argument that it is wrong because that is not the literal meaning of the component words is just silly. I mean, English is full of expressions which make no literal sense ("quit cold turkey"), or are made of foreign words ("vis-à-vis"), or are made of words so old they are not used anywhere but that expression ("kith" in "kith and kin"). We all still know what they mean, and the language still works.
posted by Nothing at 7:54 PM on June 21, 2010


« Older Near the Egress   |   Like any other phone but without the wall attached Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post