Grammar lesson!

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Grammar lesson!

Post by BasiliskWrangler » August 14th, 2010, 6:28 am

I've been using this the wrong way for years!! :oops:

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Re: Grammar lesson!

Post by geishaboy » August 14th, 2010, 7:32 am

That was quite a fun little read

And I'm pretty sure I have messed up the usage more than a few times, i.e. all the time

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Re: Grammar lesson!

Post by Evnissyen » August 14th, 2010, 3:49 pm

Ooh, I love when comix artists teach writing lessons! Whee! :D

The i.e./e.g. misconception is a really common one. Even I get mixed up, sometimes.

Of course, there're a few others that people mess up all the time, without realizing, which can be a little annoying to 'grammar trolls' like myself. The comprise vs. compose confusion bugs me most of all, I guess because so many people, including seasoned writers, get it wrong wrong wrong. The broad misconception seems to be that "comprise" is just a fancy replacement word for "compose", which drives me crazy.

Oh yeah, and the word "anxious". People misuse that word an awful lot. It does not mean "eager", even if your dictionary has given into and accepted that misunderstanding over time. (I think that some of them have.)

..And then there's the confusion between "sarcastic" and "ironic", although that one doesn't bug me as much as the previous two...

...I could go on? :|
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Re: Grammar lesson!

Post by CrazyBernie » August 14th, 2010, 11:17 pm

Nissyen wrote: Oh yeah, and the word "anxious". People misuse that word an awful lot. It does not mean "eager", even if your dictionary has given into and accepted that misunderstanding over time. (I think that some of them have.)
Dictionary.com wrote: —Usage note
The earliest sense of anxious (in the 17th century) was “troubled” or “worried”: We are still anxious for the safety of our dear sons in battle. Its meaning “earnestly desirous, eager” arose in the mid-18th century: We are anxious to see our new grandson. Some insist that anxious must always convey a sense of distress or worry and object to its use in the sense of “eager,” but such use is fully standard.
So you're saying that YOU are the official judge on how a word is used, despite the fact that it's been used in that context for ~300 years??? 0_o

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Re: Grammar lesson!

Post by Evnissyen » August 15th, 2010, 4:13 am

CrazyBernie wrote: So you're saying that YOU are the official judge on how a word is used, despite the fact that it's been used in that context for ~300 years??? 0_o
Um... no... I'm saying that words have been developed to convey particular meanings, and for people to bring deviation from that meaning without any valid purpose (such as a lack of meaning-equivalency to be found in another word) cannot rationally be acceptable context for changing the meaning of that word. Just because lots of people start misusing a word doesn't mean that dictionaries should start accepting that as proper usage.

Now, I'm well aware that there are some dictionaries whose boards (say, 5 judges out of 9?) have wimped out and accepted "eager" as fair usage of the word "anxious" . . . but it's incorrect. Just because lots of people started abusing the word at a certain point doesn't make the abuse acceptable. And dates don't make a factorable difference, either.

Really, it's like saying "i.e. now means e.g."

Dumb, right?

You know . . . 5 out of 9 judges in D.C. have made a few dumb decisions, too.
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Re: Grammar lesson!

Post by CrazyBernie » August 15th, 2010, 4:06 pm

Well considering that these dictionaries have accepted Homer Simpson's "doh" as a word with an actual definition... :?

Humans have organs that don't get used anymore... and others that altered because they evolved to meet their needs/environment. Language evolution works in a similar manner; words get dropped, added, or borrowed, and definitions change. Arguing that the "new" meaning of a word is incorrect is like arguing that your appendix is still essential for survival... in which case I would have kicked the bucket about five years ago... :shock:

For example (i.e., e.g. :mrgreen:), look at words like bad, wicked, and evil that are used in reverse context... who's to say that in another few hundred years that the definitions won't change to mean something else?

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Re: Grammar lesson!

Post by silverkitty » August 15th, 2010, 6:01 pm

Dictionaries are descriptive, not proscriptive - they don't define words, they express how people define words. And people define words by how they use them. So, like it or not, if a majority of people start using a word "wrongly," the "wrong" usage becomes the right usage. Especially if they have been doing it long enough for dictionaries to catch up.

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Re: Grammar lesson!

Post by Randomizer » August 15th, 2010, 9:37 pm

It's d'oh not doh. :) Can't you hear the slight pause?

Usage only means that something that is wrong is now acceptable.

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Re: Grammar lesson!

Post by silverkitty » August 15th, 2010, 10:13 pm

Randomizer wrote:Usage only means that something that was wrong is now acceptable.
Fixed.

Also, what, in language, is the difference between "acceptable" and "right" except, possibly, a few more years? Are you saying the word "apple" is "wrong but acceptable" because usage changed the word "napple" to "apple"?

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Re: Grammar lesson!

Post by Evnissyen » August 16th, 2010, 5:57 am

It's all about whether or not a change can prove itself to be useful. If it can't, then it's nothing more than a dumb screw-up. You don't keep making the same dumb mistake over and over again if it doesn't do anything for you that's helpful or good.

For example, let's take the word "normalcy", which a lot of people still argue should not be in the dictionary. I happen to think that this word is useful. It's hard to simply get rid of this word and start using "normality" instead, because in fact "normalcy" has a different and more specific connotation. It expresses a notion that cannot be effectively expressed with the word "normality". So... normalcy: good.

On the other hand: take another presidential screw up, like the word "strategery", which is just a replacement word for the word "strategy". Sure, "normalcy" was also a replacement word, but unlike "normalcy", "strategery" has no independent meaning or connotation, it's useless. It's nothing more than a dumb screw-up.

If we fill up the language with enough dumb screw-ups, maybe eventually we'll all be having a really hard time talking to one another and making ourselves understood. I just don't happen to think that this would be a good thing.

So . . . somebody please tell me what the word "anxious", as a replacement for "eager", says that "eager" cannot say on its own, in any situation where no anxiety is present? To say that you're "waiting anxiously" is quite different from saying that you're "waiting eagerly".

There's a reason, after all, why every language has a closely-guarded system of grammatical rules, as well as closely-guarded, very specific definitions for every word.

(Bernie used the appendix analogy. I sort of doubt that having, say, 75 little appendixes growing in random places throughout the human body would prove to be a really, really healthy thing.)
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Re: Grammar lesson!

Post by Kreador Freeaxe » August 16th, 2010, 8:21 am

Nissyen, you're pissing up a waterfall. Yes, saying "anxious to hear" connotes a level of trepidation that "eager to hear" does not, but in any situation where a person is waiting for something, there's always a level of anxiety. It's a shade of meaning.

Anyway, if you don't visit it already, you should love: http://www.worldwidewords.org/index.htm

Great resource, and he has a fabulous weekly weird words newsletter.
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Re: Grammar lesson!

Post by silverkitty » August 16th, 2010, 11:32 am

Nissyen wrote: every language has a closely-guarded system of grammatical rules, as well as closely-guarded, very specific definitions for every word.
Except they don't. Grammarians want this, but it is not true. Which is why we speak differently now than Shakespeare did, and can't even recognize Chaucer as English (unless you hear it pronounced correctly, then some of the words kinda make a little bit of sense). As for "very specific" definitions, that's also a dream - there are zillions of words in English which are incredibly vague, leaving you with only context to guess their meaning (e.g. "go" and "do").

Also, dictionaries and grammar references are relatively new things, compared to invention of language, or even the invention of writing. That's why if you look at the letters by, say, the American founding fathers, everyone spells words slightly differently from each other - at the time, without dictionaries, they just spelled things phonetically unless they had some foreign style they were trying to puff up the text with.

The reason "strategery" won't become "canonical" isn't that it is useless, but because people only say it now to make fun of Bush and in a few more years no one will remember the joke and it will drop. However, if 99% of English speakers started using the word instead of "strategy," then eventually it would become right. That's how languages work.
Nissyen wrote:If we fill up the language with enough dumb screw-ups, maybe eventually we'll all be having a really hard time talking to one another and making ourselves understood.
So why don't they become nonsense over time? Why is English able to convey meaning now after a thousand years of evolution, to the point where Chaucer would think we all sound like little children making mistake after mistake? Wouldn't he think that our language is so filled with "dumb screw-ups," as you put it, that we cannot communicate? Because people don't tolerate language that makes no sense - they invent new grammar virtually automatically to distinguish shades of meaning when things get too fuzzy. Our language is full of "dumb screw-ups" compared to Shakespeare's or Chaucer's understanding of the language, or even Jefferson's(*), or Twain's - but we still understand each other (Twain, to his credit, recognized and celebrated this kind of thing). Read about how creole languages evolve - it is fascinating and amazing, really, how strongly and quickly the language instinct makes new rules.

"Dumb screw-up" is, itself, a dumb screw-up - and would have been decried as a sign of your illiteracy a hundred years ago (or even 50 years ago if you weren't in America - dumb in the sense of "stupid" took time to migrate back to England). People wrote books in the 60s (and probably before that, too) about how children were all growing up unable to read and speak correctly - using many of the phrases and meanings that you and I consider normal as examples of how wrong English was becoming.

Incidentally, run, do not walk, to the bookstore or Amazon and get The Language Instinct by Stephen Pinker, Words and Rules also by Pinker, and The Mother Tongue - English and How it Got That Way by Bill Bryson. You will not regret reading those books if language interests you at all.

(*) You ever wonder about the oft-quoted-as-missing Constitutional Right to Privacy? At the time, talking about "privacy" was a euphemism for talking about things you do in the restroom. It simply Would Not Do to mention such a subject in an important work like the Constitution. They honestly thought the Search And Seizure clauses addressed specifically the rights that we would now consider "rights of privacy" - leave it to modern "Constitutional Originalists" to decide that because they didn't use the word "privacy" they obviously didn't mean to protect "privacy" by insisting the government couldn't look at your documents without cause (the problem being these "Originalists" interpret phone calls and emails as being different from documents. Le sigh.)

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Re: Grammar lesson!

Post by Evnissyen » August 17th, 2010, 12:39 pm

First: thanks for the link, Kreador... looks like an interesting site. And thanks for the references, Silver.

But, anyway:

With just about everything, no matter how liberal we are, there's always a point when we say, "Okay, it was fun up until now, but now things are just getting stupid." This applies to language as well as it applies to everything else. I do it when I read submissions. So, regardless of how liberal I usually am, generally, in regard to language (as well as writing, of course, about which my opinions seem to have become really, really complicated), I still can't help but find myself in those "what the hell?" situations from time to time. I'm sure that you, Silverkitty, do as well.

But I'll leave all of the details of the above aside because my posts are always too long.

Maybe I'll post all the other stuff, later. Like the self-defensive aspect to humanity that seems to guard against changes in the language, and my personal view of language's function (that is: to describe humanity rather than to police our communication).

First: Silverkitty: I'd suggest eliminating from the argument -- since it's misleading and unfair -- all era's which did not benefit from the luxury of having a dictionary which defined word usage for everyone. Before the first English dictionary (was this Samuel Johnson's project?), from what I hear, the English language was localized and people from one town had a hard time understanding those in another, and therefore it was quite difficult for a writer to have anything like a solid understanding of the English Language. I suppose there had to be a separate English language for writers, just as there was a separate English language for every rural town and every region.

Now we have a dictionary.

Next: Just because "strategery" became a joke doesn't mean that people can't/won't eventually start using it in their everyday speech and that "strategery" doesn't eventually become accepted usage. Warren G Harding was made fun of for saying "normalcy" instead of "normality", and yet the word proved useful. Even today, people who use the word are made fun of (which, I guess, is probably the main reason I've never used the word). Anyway, I think that what ultimately makes the decision on whether or not a word becomes acceptable or not is whether or not the word really is useful. If "normalcy" didn't seem useful, would people have started using it despite others making fun of the word?

Anyway, I guess, with me, mostly what this is all about is that, like I said above, with certain things, despite any initial intentions, I eventually do sometimes get to that point where I start thinking, "What the hell? This is dumb." And I guess that's really what much of this comes out of.

Of course... with "anxious", it's a little more than that. It's also about wanting (i.e. needing) clarity. In writing we always want to convey things clearly to others (even you, Bernie), whatever we say to the opposite. We need rules in order to help us define things. Rules help to bring clarity to how we understand things and what we like or dislike. We all want clarity, and then when there's too much clarity we want disruption, and then when there's too much disruption we look for clarity again. It's an ongoing struggle that is never, ever resolved.

We can't have "freedom" without laws. Just so, we can't have 'chaotic' writing without rules. Ironically but necessarily, rules define and bring clarity to the chaos.

(And I wanted to make this a short post, sigh...)

EDIT: Kreador: It looks like the site was in my bookmarks already!... See... I dump all this stuff in there and then I forget about it. Oh, well. At least I can thank you for reminding me.
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Re: Grammar lesson!

Post by Antigrav » August 17th, 2010, 6:20 pm

I'm coming from both sides of this argument. Learning Portuguese, ansioso means only "eager", and it's very interesting to see how words that share a common root develop to have completely different meanings. "Exquisite" and "esquisito" is a great example.

However, whereas I understand completely how words transform over time and that dictionaries are updated for a reason, I think more people really need to use them, along with a good thesaurus. I lived outside of the U.S. for about three years and when I returned, I had a great opportunity to hear expressions that had sprung up in that time, with a fresh, outsider's ear. It was 1996, and suddenly people were talking about "going there" and "being in a place" to deal with some issue in their lives. That's language evolution.

On the other side of the same coin, "issue" had become a euphemism for a problem, as though it was suddenly crass to say that a person had hindrances. Besides sounding overly beating-around-the-bush, the substitution could cause confusion. In my anthropology textbook, printed in 1991, in describing hunter-gatherer peoples who had turned to settled agriculture, explained that for them, returning to hunting and gathering "was never an issue." No problem, then? They would readily revert at any time? That's the question that would arise for a reader post-1995.

Now our printers, pets, and politics have "issues." There are plenty of good words, ready made, that would do the job better and without confusion. It only came into the new sense because people were consciously manipulating their usage. That's the difference: It wasn't natural evolution of a word, it was an overnight, consciously applied distortion, because maybe Dr. Drew liked the sound of it. Is that an important distinction?

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