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Pet Peeves
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johnslat



Joined: 21 Jan 2003
Posts: 12348
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

PostPosted: Sun Feb 28, 2010 9:48 pm    Post subject: Pet Peeves Reply with quote

"'Equation,' 'Gingerly' And Other Linguistic Pet Peeves
by GEOFF NUNBERG

February 23, 2010
My friend Scott is always sending me indignant e-mails with examples of people using the word "equation" to mean just a situation with a lot of factors, when nothing is actually being equated as in, "Family members are a critical part of the doctor-patient equation." I tell him I think of this as just routine journalistic bloat, and not even he thinks it's a threat to the republic. But he enjoys grousing about it, all the more because it doesn't seem to annoy anybody else that much. It makes for a fine pet peeve.

I have peeves of my own. When I hear people say "oversimplistic," I suspect they don't know that "simplistic" means that all by itself. I wish somebody would drive "arguably" and "quite possibly" into the sea. And it seems to me it's almost always a bad idea to begin a sentence with "I pride myself on."

A pet peeve should be like a pet theory or a pet story a tic or fancy that you nurture in your bosom and make your own. You can have a pet peeve about people who mispronounce "mascarpone." But it's odd to use the phrase for off-the-rack gripes that everybody shares. Saying that you have a pet peeve about "thinking outside the box" or "Your call is important to us" is like saying you have a pet theory that you should feed a cold and starve a fever.

I have this notion that "gingerly" shouldn't be used as an adverb, as in, "She hugged the child gingerly," because there's no corresponding adjective "ginger" you wouldn't say, "She gave the child a ginger hug." I'll concede that "gingerly" has been used as an adverb for 400 years, and nobody's ever complained about it before. But so much the better: Every time I see the word used as an adverb, I can take a quiet satisfaction in knowing that I'm marching to a more logical drummer than the half-billion other speakers of English who haven't yet cottoned to the problem.

Writers tend to have lots of these notions. Kingsley Amis held that it was incorrect to use "pristine" to mean pure rather than "original," and that you shouldn't say, "I was oblivious to the noise," since "oblivious" can only mean "forgetful." And in a usage book he published a few years ago, Bill Bryson contended that it was wrong to use "expectorate" as a synonym for spit, since it really means to cough up phlegm from the chest. The word did originally mean that, but it's been used to mean spit since Dickens' day. And Bryson knows perfectly well that it would be unreasonable to insist on the original meaning think of the mischief it would work with Major League Baseball's rule 8.02, which says that the pitcher shall not expectorate on the ball. But Bryson also understands that it's the very unreasonableness of the argument that makes it so handy to have around when the dinner conversation flags.
obody ever took this quite so far as the 19th-century writer and journalist Ambrose Bierce. He's best remembered today for his stories and his satirical Devil's Dictionary, but in 1909 he wrote a book called Write it Right: A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults. It was republished for its centenary last year with entertaining annotations by Jan Freeman, who writes the language column for The Boston Globe. Bierce had a gift for discerning usage errors where no one else would have thought there was anything amiss.

Take the sentence, "Since I made no money last year, I had to live in a dilapidated shack with a dirt floor with 10 other people." By Bierce's lights, it contains five errors. You should say "earn money," not "make money"; "last year" should be "the previous year"; "dilapidated" shouldn't be used for a wood structure since it comes from the Latin word for stone; "dirt" shouldn't be used to mean earth; and you shouldn't use "people" with a specific number it should be "10 other persons."

This makes Bierce sound like a caricature of a cantankerous pedant. But he clearly enjoyed being perverse and ornery, and my guess is that his journalist colleagues wouldn't have taken any of this too seriously "Oh, that's just Ambrose being Ambrose."

The weird thing is to see rules like these passed down as traditional linguistic wisdom. Take that edict that you ought to say "10 persons" rather than "10 people." You can still find it in the recent editions of Strunk and White's revered Elements of Style, along with antique admonitions against saying "contact us" or calling something "worthwhile." The linguist Arnold Zwicky calls these zombie rules. Somebody should have run them through a wood chipper long ago, but here we are in 2010 assigning students a style guide that tells them that correct English requires them to write, "There were 5,000 screaming persons at the Lady Gaga concert."

It's bad enough that that leaves students with the impression that mastering good usage requires learning an esoteric code. But it also robs those rules of the kinky charm they had when they were merely somebody's quizzical peeves. Now those personal crotchets are presented as the authorized standards of proper speech, as if you could decree the tune the language is obliged to dance to. But the English language doesn't owe anybody a living it was here first."

Have any pet peeves you'd like to share? I've given up on trying to get "hopefully" used correctly - it's hopeless. But I'm still fighting the "less/fewer" and the "amount/number" battles.
Oh, I have others, too. But I'd like to hear yours.
And, the next dog I get, I swear that I'm going to name him/her "Peeve," just so when I introduce him/her to people, I can say, "And this is my pet, Peeve."

Regards,
John
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Glenski



Joined: 15 Jan 2003
Posts: 12844
Location: Hokkaido, JAPAN

PostPosted: Sun Feb 28, 2010 10:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Few vs. less ticks me off. This happens in spoken or written English.
People usually foul up and write "then" instead of "than". Arggh.
Except vs. accept.
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stillnosheep



Joined: 01 Mar 2004
Posts: 2068
Location: eslcafe

PostPosted: Sun Feb 28, 2010 11:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Johnslat,

The notion that -ly adverbs are somehow illegitimate if loosed into the world sans the care and attention of a corresponding adjective seems in-teresting, if somewhat olde-worlde, but how (or where?) on earth can anyone mispronounce "mascarpone"? (I'm from Europe btw).

As far as Geoff's proposed pet, Peeve, is concerned, I once thought of naming two dogs Pills and Coke, just for the fun to be had calling for them at Festivals. To be fair I was seeing a girl who went by the name of E at the time.

Aceeeeeeeeeeeeeed! Rolling Eyes
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johnslat



Joined: 21 Jan 2003
Posts: 12348
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

PostPosted: Mon Mar 01, 2010 12:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear stillnosheep,

" . . . but how (or where?) on earth can anyone mispronounce "mascarpone"? (I'm from Europe btw)."

Heck, quite easily. I even had to look it up to see what it meant. And when I heard the audio of the word, I knew that I'd have mispronounced it.

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/mascarpone

Regards,
John
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 9018
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Mon Mar 01, 2010 10:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Presently for currently! Disgusting!!
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steki47



Joined: 20 Apr 2008
Posts: 680
Location: BFE Inaka

PostPosted: Mon Mar 01, 2010 12:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

To/two/too
Their/there/they're
Your/You're

I see this a lot. On forums filled with "English teachers". Grrrr!
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tomstone



Joined: 09 Dec 2009
Posts: 293

PostPosted: Mon Mar 01, 2010 2:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

You're correct, your peeve is also one of mine. Their lack of attention to detail means that they're butchering their own language, the one that they're there to teach! If they don't care enough to take two minutes to proofread their own posts, they'll be sloppy in the classroom, too!
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johnslat



Joined: 21 Jan 2003
Posts: 12348
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

PostPosted: Mon Mar 01, 2010 2:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

And let's not forget the ever-popular "loose" for "lose."

Lose it!

Regards,
John
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scot47



Joined: 10 Jan 2003
Posts: 12143
Location: Ultima Thule

PostPosted: Mon Mar 01, 2010 3:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

DEFINATELY !
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jdl



Joined: 06 Apr 2005
Posts: 632
Location: cyberspace

PostPosted: Mon Mar 01, 2010 4:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

John. It must be the weekend. Seems you have too much time on your hands! Isn't there a bike path calling your name?

Hilarious, by the way. Thanks for the levity! Give my regards to you friend Scott. He has brightened our outlook.
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steki47



Joined: 20 Apr 2008
Posts: 680
Location: BFE Inaka

PostPosted: Mon Mar 01, 2010 10:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

tomstone wrote:
Their lack of attention to detail means that they're butchering their own language, the one that they're there to teach!


Nice! Very nice! You're making a good point with your post.

BTW, my Japanese wife used to work at an English school and was constantly correcting those kinds of errors in the teachers' reports.
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stillnosheep



Joined: 01 Mar 2004
Posts: 2068
Location: eslcafe

PostPosted: Tue Mar 02, 2010 11:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

johnslat wrote:
And let's not forget the ever-popular "loose" for "lose."

Lose it!

Regards,
John
They loose 'loose' for 'lose' and thereby lose?

Loosers!

Moving on back:


Last edited by stillnosheep on Tue Mar 02, 2010 11:28 pm; edited 1 time in total
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stillnosheep



Joined: 01 Mar 2004
Posts: 2068
Location: eslcafe

PostPosted: Tue Mar 02, 2010 11:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

johnslat wrote:
sns wrote:


" . . . but how (or where?) on earth can anyone mispronounce "mascarpone"? (I'm from Europe btw)."

Very Happy
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nickpellatt



Joined: 08 Dec 2006
Posts: 1522

PostPosted: Tue Mar 02, 2010 11:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

People not recognising the weak form 'should've', 'could've' and typing it as 'should of', 'could of' ... I see that a lot on facebook.
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elamericano



Joined: 10 Nov 2007
Posts: 50

PostPosted: Wed Mar 03, 2010 2:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

visa/VISA
common nouns/proper nouns
i'm too cool to capitalize anything i type, ever.
weary/wary
"for all intensive purposes"
"just desserts"
"over-exaggerate"
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