Pain In The English
March 17, 2003 4:38 PM   Subscribe

Picky, picky, picky. What a great place to quibble over the fine points of English usage, such as where commas go, or the proper way to use the phrase "a lot of". Focus all that pre-war nervous energy into refining your speech and writing, maybe?
posted by majcher (27 comments total)
Required reading! From the serial commas page:
"I swear to all that is holy that English sucks donkey testicles."
posted by kirkaracha at 4:42 PM on March 17, 2003

Ahem. “” not "".

I mean, if you want to get picky about it.
posted by ColdChef at 5:21 PM on March 17, 2003

ahhh, grammerfilter. I wonder if they have a problem with newsfilter posts?

Thanks for a great find, majcher.
posted by ?! at 5:46 PM on March 17, 2003

I'm down with this site. Looks fun.

I perused the latest issue of a magazine called Glimmer Train this weekend. I wasn't expecting much, as GT publishes mainly the University and Writer's Workshops crowd, who can be pretty dull and uninspired. But this issue featured a short story by one Eric Puchner (on Fellowship at Stanford, natchurly). The story was five pages or less and consisted of probably a dozen sentences. And it worked. He more than got away with it.

I usually hate complex, showy, drawn-out sentences, but these were a half-page long each and they flowed and had rhythm. They were lyrical, like poetry. Try doing that without knowing where a comma goes.
posted by Shane at 6:04 PM on March 17, 2003

This site is the blind leading the blind.
"The Lower East Side" is a name of the neighborhood. You would not say he was arrested ON Chelsea. Why would you use "ON"?
Nobody in the entire history of New York has ever said "in the Lower East Side," but some doofus thinks logic demands that we change the language we have used every day since birth. And there is no right or wrong to serial commas, it's a matter of house style and personal preference. If you like arguing about angels dancing on pinheads, by all means frequent this site, but don't delude yourself that it has anything to do with the English language.
posted by languagehat at 6:13 PM on March 17, 2003

[this is good]

[this is also anal retentive]
posted by signal at 6:30 PM on March 17, 2003

I dunno, languagehat. Didn't look like he was advocating Change, just asking why it Was. And the comments gave a decently plausible explanation or two (none of which, we'll note, included standard usage). But, um, yeah. Angels dancing on pinheads, all the way.
posted by kaibutsu at 6:31 PM on March 17, 2003

Hmm. The 'blind leading the blind' seems to be an accurate peg of descriptivism anyway! Not to mention the burgeoning English creoles. At least people on this site offer up citations to luminary sources as the Chicago Manual of Style, rather than merely spouting their own opinion.

And as questions from an ESL student, these are really quite thoughtful. languagehat, you did realize the author is Japanese and is genuinely asking the question?
posted by dhartung at 9:30 PM on March 17, 2003

While most people find proper grammar annoying, to me writing a good sentence is a beautiful art form. It's composing a symphony in language.
posted by will at 9:53 PM on March 17, 2003

aw, come on, languagehat, you old grouch! You know you gotta love a site in which someone has posted (in response to a question about what to call the current decade):

You don't: the postmodern fallacy is to invent temporally coindexed designators for the purpose of engaging in erroneous and mastrubatory reflexive metadiscourse. I suggest, for the psychological health of yourself as well as that of your historical era, that reference to the present decade be avoided until the proper time for such transpires.

Posted by "cat", Feb-22-03 5:14PM. Hmmm. "Cat"... "Hat"... Naw, couldn't be...
posted by taz at 11:17 PM on March 17, 2003

Looks like alt.usage.english for the web. Uh, I mean alt.usage.english.
posted by sillygwailo at 12:16 AM on March 18, 2003

OK, so can it (or anyone here) tell me the the term for words being put together with the initial capitals left in?...e.g.

EasyJet, AppleWorks, &c.

There's a drink in it for someone ;-)
posted by i_cola at 2:55 AM on March 18, 2003

InterCaps. (coined, as far as I know, by Douglas Coupland, in his book "Microserfs.")

Alternatively, BiCapitalization, but I like InterCaps better.
posted by Vidiot at 3:05 AM on March 18, 2003

InterCaps. Hmm. This splendid affectation is, of course, a variable naming twitch, especially favored by Pascal programmers. I wonder who preceded which?
posted by Opus Dark at 3:23 AM on March 18, 2003

Vidiot: Thank you. I knew I'd come accross it somewhere along the way. I now have a very happy proofreader sitting behind me ;-)

Next time I'm in NY I'll get that drink. Ah, the joy of LazyFilter...
posted by i_cola at 4:20 AM on March 18, 2003

thanky, i_cola. Hope to see you at a meetup one o' these days.
posted by Vidiot at 4:34 AM on March 18, 2003

languagehat, you realize a comment like yours (above) makes you sound more anal-retentive and know-it-all about the English language than the people on www.painintheenglish? Hence your accusation of "angels dancing on pinheads" strikes me as smudged with a certain kettleblack irony.
posted by Shane at 6:14 AM on March 18, 2003

dhartung: No, I didn't realize that, and if I had I wouldn't have been so snarky about it. I should have investigated more carefully, but damn, I just get so tired of these "let's pick nits and pretend we're discussing language" sites. It's not that I object to prescriptivist discussions per se, as long as they're conducted by people who know what they're talking about and don't claim to be bringing down the tablets; Paul Brians' Common Errors in English site, for instance, is sensible and useful (though sometimes wrongheaded in my opinion, as for instance regarding "begs the question"). Anyway, thanks for the heads-up.

taz: You're right, that's a charming comment, and I am indeed an old grouch. Especially these days. Must be something in the air.

Shane: As it happens, I do know more about the English language than the people on www.painintheenglish. I don't mind arguing over insignificant details; the difference between me and them is that I argue over atoms on pinheads rather than angels. Atoms may be small, but they exist.
posted by languagehat at 9:20 AM on March 18, 2003

Don't desert your post, languagehat. I would've said the same thing about that serial comma page. It's entertaining to see all the pro and con arguments rehashed, but this "usage" question is not like, say, subject-verb agreement. If that doesn't happen, the grammar is wrong. A serial comma is not right or wrong, but a simple matter of style. Nobody on that page seems able to make that distinction. So, the blind leading the blind.
posted by soyjoy at 9:26 AM on March 18, 2003

As it happens, I do know more about the English language than the people on www.painintheenglish.
Grouchy and humble. What a charming combination.

posted by Shane at 9:55 AM on March 18, 2003

languagehat: The "Common Errors in English" page is absolutely correct about "begs the question." What is your objection? Is it one of those phrases that is misused by so many people that its meaning has changed? If so, that's sad. It was a good phrase. I'm going to have to start saying "Hey, man, you're really improperly assuming as true the very point you're trying to argue for here." Damn.
posted by Turd Ferguson at 9:56 AM on March 18, 2003

Thanks to the English for shoving their language down our throats so we can vomit it back up in glorious colors.
-paraphrased, not quite quoted, from Malachy McCourt (as I don't have the book handy).

Now if I could only find the quote (from a character in a Brian Friel play--Translations, I think it was) about English being a good language for accountants...
posted by Shane at 10:18 AM on March 18, 2003

Turd - I dunno what if this was languagehat's objection, but the writer of the "begs the question" entry seems unaware of why this phenomenon is called that - or at least, how it was explained to me. It refers to a recursive argument, whose validity depends, ultimately, on itself, so that each statement that should be the stopping point instead begs another question, round and round in circles. To use their example, "this painting is trash" begs the question "why is it trash?" - "because it's obviously worthless." Why is it obviously worthless? Because it's trash. etc.

Still, in general it seems like a good resource.
posted by soyjoy at 10:28 AM on March 18, 2003

Turd: Exactly; its meaning has changed. (Or, to put it differently, the technical meaning used by philosophers changed when the phrase was picked up by the general public, a fate suffered by many such technical usages; ask any physicist about "relativity.") If I've had to come to terms with the change in "disinterested" (which distresses me a lot more), you can deal with this. And look on the bright side: if you say "Hey, man, you're really improperly assuming as true the very point you're trying to argue for here," your listener will actually understand you!

Shane, I should know more about it after all that money I spent on the damn graduate degree. Do you call your doctor presumptuous for claiming to know more about your body than you do? Sorry about the grouchiness, though. To make up for it, here's an interview with McCourt.
posted by languagehat at 12:50 PM on March 18, 2003

That's the wrong McCourt, dammit! I was quoting the nutty one. Kidding--thanks for the link, anyway.
posted by Shane at 1:19 PM on March 18, 2003

Shane: I don't have a copy of the script handy. Was it Hugh in Translations? And something like "English is for commerce."
posted by ?! at 4:59 PM on March 18, 2003

I think so, ?!. I should have looked up that and also Malachy (not Frank) McCourt's quote last night when I had the chance. I'll be glad to check.
posted by Shane at 6:11 AM on March 19, 2003

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