Thursday, December 9, 2010

This is downright hilarious

At least I think so. It's definitely worth a listen. My favorite part is when they call it a new version.

Poorly stated

President Obama:
I think it's tempting not to negotiate with hostage takers, unless the hostage gets harmed.
Let's assume he meant "is going to get harmed." Anyhow, doesn't the qualifier mean that one should always negotiate with hostage takers?

This blog has no opinion on President Obama, on those he calls hostage takers, on the taking of hostages, or on whether one should negotiate with hostage takers. (In private life, I may have such opinions.)

Friday, November 19, 2010

A prescient people

This originally appeared on another blog long ago. Thank you to the proprietor of the other blog for not giving me grief about reposting it here.

The opening words of Alan Wolfe, "The Great Jewish-American Synthesis," Chronicle of Higher Education, June 3, 2005:
Ever since the first Jew arrived on American shores 350 years ago, one question has persistently been asked but never definitively answered. Should Jews accommodate themselves to the culture of the United States...?
Maybe they used the Bible code. Wolfe fails to address this possibility.


Last weekend, I went to a musical venuviality called the Stained Glass Coffeehouse. They should be ashamed of themselves for serving coffee in insufficiently clean vessels, but at least they're providing full disclosure. Not my problem, since I don't drink coffee. (Personal revelation! personal revelation!, this is turning into a downright blog!)

But that's not why I'm writing this, and the stained glasses aren't why I went there. I went there because Claudia Schmidt was performing. She pointed out, correctly, that what doesn't kill you only makes you wish you were dead, but that's not why I'm writing this either. Schmidt has a fantasy about some screaming pundit at some point in the screamage saying "I don’t know" and walking out. That isn't my fantasy (yikes!, this really is becoming a genuine blog). Mine is that someday when some pundits are screaming at or discussing with one another, one of them will say, "Well, you've raised a good point. I may need to rethink some of this."

Yeah, right, whatever.

And one more thing. In the first paragraph, I wrote "They should be ashamed of themselves for serving coffee in insufficiently clean vessels, but at least they're providing full disclosure." So before the comma, I'm telling them they should be ashamed of themselves; after the comma, I'm praising them for being shameless. I acknowledge this now in order to forestall the derisory comments.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Verbal Stuff That I Like: Kris Kristofferson's Cascading Negatives Edition

This is from "Best of All Possible Worlds" on the Me and Bobby McGee album:
I said "I won't be leaving no more quicker than I can/'Cause I've enjoyed about as much of this as I can stand/And I don't need this town of yours more than I never needed nothing else!"!
Of course, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose/And nothing ain't worth nothing, but it's free" is also very wonderful, but you've all heard that one already, and this is an educational blog. [chortle]

The n-word and the w-word, and use vs. mention

Warning: This post has quotations with both the w-word and the n-word, and it mentions (but doesn't use [although it questions the importance of the distinction]) the f-word.

Linguist John McWhorter has an interesting column (in the New Republic, posted on October 13, 2010), which I now quote at some length, since a paraphrase will be less eloquent and not much shorter:
[On a tape, an aide to Jerry Brown, the Democratic candidate for governor of California] suggests that a useful campaign response to Whitman's offering a deal to the Los Angeles policeman's union on pensions would be to frame her as a "whore."

"The people of California deserve better than slurs," Whitman [Meg Whitman, the Republican candidate] objected in a debate with Brown Tuesday. And moderator Tom Brokaw chimed in that calling Whitman a whore was equivalent to lobbing the N-word at a black person...

The simple fact is that whore has two meanings. One is the original and ancient one of a woman who sells her body for money. It could even be argued that this meaning of the word is becoming somewhat old-fashioned. Words evolve. Always. The newer meaning of whore is a secondary and derived one, applied to a person who takes money or some other form of recompense in return for a service deemed substandard in quality or ethics.

Note that I write "person," as whore is applied readily to men as well as women. A quick internet search reveals the word being applied to Ben Stein, Hugh Jackman, Lil Wayne and Harry Reid (and in Jackman's case, he even happily applies it to himself). Pointedly, Whitman's current campaign chairman Pete Wilson, back in 1995, accused Congress of being "such whores to public employees unions" (in reference to the Fair Labor Practices Act during the Depression!!).

This is the meaning that Brown's aide intended, and an analogy to the N-word does not go through. Nigger implies the generic, definitional inferiority of black people regardless of what they do. The proper analogy would be if the staffer had, with Brown's tacit approval, referred to her with a word beginning with c and ending with t. That is a word generally applied only to women, and with an implication of total, bone-chilling, ice-cold dismissal of female individuals in general.
For the little that it's worth, I agree with McWhorter on this. For the demographic record (which shouldn't be necessary--an argument should stand on its own merits, but some may consider this important), McWhorter is a black (he objects to "African American") male, and I am a white male.

The final paragraph of McWhorter's post reads,

For Whitman, Brokaw, or anyone else to claim that Brown's aide's private usage of whore in the sense he intended is equivalent to someone calling Cory Booker a nigger is, well, politics. Just as when some pretend that blacks and whites are using "the same word" when wielding the N-word--or others pretend that someone like Dr. Laura referring to the N-word is the same as using it--we're all playing a kind of game, unaware of it only in a willing kind of way.
Doc Laura Schlessinger. There's one for you. I agree with McWhorter on this, sort of. Schlessinger did refer to the N-word instead of using it. But it was still extremely stupid. Linguists make the distinction between mention of a word and use of it, and it may be useful in scholarship, but in the real world it often isn't. Imagine you're a parent of a child, and you say to your child, "I don't want you to say 'fuck you.'" You probably can't imagine saying that, since you can't imagine being that stupid. The child is going to say, "But you just said it, hee hee hee hee hee hee hee." And you, in this imagined scenario, are going to reply, "Yes, dear child, but I mentioned it, I didn't use it."

In August, there was some hoohah at Language Log about mention vs. use. Geoffrey K. Pullum, whose posts I admire when they're not way over my head (my fault for my head being so low), quotes Shirley Brown, the first black Liberal Democrat to be elected to the Bristol, England, city council, who said to Jay Jethwa, a Conservative member of the council who is of Indian descent
In our culture we have a word for you … we have a word which we use, and I'm sure many in this city would understand, it's coconut. And at the end of the day I just look at you as that. And the water's either worth throwing away or drinking it.
Pullum adds,
Jethwa was upset; she knew very well that the coconut reference was about being brown on the outside but white inside (and she said she felt it insulted not only her but white people too). She also recognized the metaphor of the often discarded coconut water as suggesting that her remarks were worthless.
Brown was charged with aggravated racial harassment. Pullum comments,
The linguistic point is that Mrs. Brown did not use the term coconut. Although the Guardian sub-head said she "called [her] Asian opponent a 'coconut' during heated debate", she didn't. There was in fact no heated debate: she read prepared remarks quite calmly. And she observed that in her own culture there was a word for people like Jay Jethwa, and said what the word was, and said she saw it as an appropriate one in the context.

It's a small point, but there is a linguistic difference between telling someone that there is a word roadhog for people like them who drive aggressively and ignore other drivers' rights and safety, and actually saying "You're a roadhog." It's the difference between use and mention of the word in question. [Pullum's italics and boldface]

There was a lot of backing-and-forthing in the comments on this post, with a lot of did-not-did-so discourse. She did call her a coconut, says a commenter; she did not, replies Pullum. And then another commenter, and Pullum's re-reply. I take Pullum's point, but it seems to me to be a distinction without a difference. "We have a word for you. It's coconut. I just look at you as that." Maybe we can add another differenceless distinction. Brown called Jethwa a coconut. Note that I'm not saying Brown used "coconut," only that she called Jethwa a coconut. One may call another a coconut either by using or by mentioning the word. This would, I believe, satisfy both Pullum and the commenters who disagree with him. Given that nobody used use in the first place. Note too that the Guardian's subhead that Pullum objects to uses call instead of use.

Nevertheless, I agree with McWhorter, based on my reading of the Schlessinger transcript, that the doc wasn't using the word. She was mentioning it. I think she should have been busted for stupidity instead of racism. (Not to mention abusing her callers, but that's off topic here.) (Not that this blog has any opinion on abusing people, although I, its author, may [some may consider this yet another distinction without a difference].)

But I think that McWhorter himself recognizes that the difference between mention and use isn't always meaningful. Recall what he said about the female equivalent of the n-word: that it is "a word beginning with c and ending with t. That is a word generally applied only to women, and with an implication of total, bone-chilling, ice-cold dismissal of female individuals in general." Like McWhorter, I can't mention this word, let alone use it. The distinction between mention and use seems sometimes to disappear here.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Careful readers of this blog will note--heck, I noted it, and I'm not even a careful reader of this blog--anyhow, they'll note that the post about Mr. Breakfast has the title "Verbal Stuff I Like," when the correct name of the series is "Verbal Stuff That I Like." And that in that very post I mention "the Verbal Stuff I Like series" (twice) while in the Raymond L. Weiss post I mention "the 'Verbal Stuff That I Like Series,'" with quotation marks and a capped "Series," not to mention that "That" is in it. Oops.

Yes, I do need to get a life.

Verbal Stuff That I Like: Euro Edition

This all started when, industrious welkin that I am, I found "peanut fondu [sic]" in a manuscript I was working on. The sic was the author's, not my own, and I had to check the Oxford English Dictionary to see whether the sic was called for. The OED says that fondu is an erroneous spelling, which seems like a pretty nondescriptivist tude. So I did a full-text search in the OED for both fondue and fondu, and in the foodie sense fondue sure did preponderate. Not that either one appeared all that often. And isn't it my opinion that if a spelling occurs often enough to get mentioned as erroneous, that's also often enough to make it a legitimate alternative spelling (not that I'd necessarily use it (stop giggling!, I'm being serious!)!)? It sure is.

But anyhow. Here's one of the exemplary quotations I found that includes fondue. It's not an exemplary quotation for fondue (although maybe it should be, but for "Euro-, comb. form, " definition A.1.c. ("Forming the names of types or genres of music originating in or associated with (continental) Europe").

2002 Big Issue 17 June 33/2 Ok, trance isn't everyone's cup of rave gravy, in fact, there is a whole tranche of Euro trance that makes fondue look dairy-free.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Verbal Stuff I Like: Mr. Breakfast Edition

I was wondering one day how to make a soft-boiled egg. Making a hard-boiled egg is a piece of cake. You put an egg in boiling water and neglect it for as long as it ususally takes you to neglect things. After you come back to it, you boil it a few minutes longer if there's any water left. And you've got a hard-boiled egg.

A soft-boiled egg takes more planning. By planning, I obviously mean googling the matter. (So the question arises, if it's so obvious, why am I bothering to tell you? Good question.) So I ended up at the website of Mr. Breakfast. Julie B. asked, "Dear Mr. Breakfast, How do you boil an egg?" Mr. Breakfast acknowledged--correctly, in my opinion--that this is a great question (I would have used "excellent" instead of "great," but that's just a matter of emphasis). Mr. Breakfast then says, "I refer to boiled eggs as 'flash-boiled-then-simmered eggs'. I wasn't sure if you meant 'soft-flash-boiled-then-simmered eggs" or 'hard' so I cooked up a response for both." In point of fact, he doesn't refer to boiled eggs as anything other than boiled eggs anywhere else on the page. But I'm gladdened to know that he intended to do so. Nevertheless, this isn't why I chose Mr. Breakfast for the Verbal Stuff I Like series. Here's his recipe for soft-flash-boiled-then-simmered eggs (or, as he refers to them, soft-boiled eggs). But that's not why I'm featuring him here either. Anyhow, the recipe (which applies only to large eggs):

  • Remove desired number of eggs from the refrigerator and let them sit at room temperature for 15 minutes.

  • Place eggs in a small sauce pan and add just enough water to completely cover eggs.

  • Bring the water to a rolling boil. Covering the pan will lead to a quicker boil and is recommended.

  • Immediately reduce heat to simmer and remove the cover from the pan.

  • The amount of time the eggs are allowed to simmer will determine the degree to which the yolk is cooked. A cooking time of less than 4 minutes is not recommended.

    Soft-cooked runny yolk:
    5 minutes (4 minutes for medium eggs; 6 minutes for extra-large eggs)

    Medium-cooked creamy partially-firm yolk:
    7 minutes (6 minutes for medium eggs; 8 minutes for extra-large eggs)

  • Carefully remove the pan from the stove top and place beneath the kitchen faucet. Run cool water into the pan for a minute until the water is cool to the touch. This reduces the temperature enough so the eggs won't continue to cook under their own internal heat. It also brings them down to a more appropriate serving temperature.

  • To serve soft-boiled and medium-boiled eggs: Place cooked egg in an egg cup. Small cappuccino cups work in a fix. Crack with a small spoon and consume directly from the shell.
  • Just to illustrate his point clearly, Mr. Breakfast follows the recipe with a very cool picture:

    But as I was saying, this isn't why I'm quoting Mr. Breakfast here. No, it's because of this:

    Quick & Dirty Method Of Hard-Boiling
    When Mr Breakfast was in college, a vibrant yellow yolk wasn't nearly as important to him as chasing skirts and getting stoned on beer. I--me being him--would simply bring water to a boil, place my eggs in the water and remove them all when the first crack appeared in any one of the eggs. The eggs would naturally be slightly over-cooked. But the negative effect of slight-overcooking was one of appearance. The yolk was more of an off-yellow, just-short-of-green color. The eggs still tasted great.
    The change of person, from "him" talk to "I" talk, was in itself not a big deal (at work, I'd pretend to be bent out of shape by it, but not in real life). But the explanatory "me being him"--well, as regular readers of this blog may not be surprised to hear, this appealed to me and won Mr. Breakfast this spot in the Verbal Stuff I Like series.

    Wednesday, September 1, 2010

    New Chicago Manual

    I admire The Chicago Manual of Style (except for the usage guide by Bryan Garner)--in fact, I explained here why I don't use italics when referring to it, an explanation based on the then-current sixteenth [oops!, I meant the fifteenth] edition. I also admire Carol Fisher Saller's The Subversive Copy Editor.

    The Chicago Tribune carries an article by Steve Johnson about the new sixteenth edition of the manual, featuring this paragraph:

    "Our readers really told us very clearly, 'We don't want to have to think about it that much. Just tell us the rule!,'" Saller says.
    If I had been writing this, and if there had been any hint of exclamation on Saller's part, I would have written this as
    "Our readers really told us very clearly, 'We don't want to have to think about it that much. Just tell us the rule!'!," Saller says.
    But misfortunately, or perhaps not, I didn't write it, and I don't know whether there was any hint of sclam from Saller herself.

    Sunday, August 29, 2010

    Verbal Stuff That I Like: Raymond L. Weiss Edition (and this one is serious); and, My Hypocrisy

    So far, the items in the "Verbal Stuff That I Like Series" have made the cut by virtue of their quirkiness. This one is absolutely serious. It is from Maimonides' Ethics: The Encounter of Philosophic and Religious Morality (1991) by Raymond L. Weiss, pp. 4-5:
    Maimonides himself uses the expression ["philosophic ethics"]. It is even possible that he was the first to do so; at any rate, to my knowledge, he has no predecessor in this matter.
    "To my knowledge." It is rare to see a scholarly author acknowledge that a "there is no" statement reflects the extent of their knowledge. And as Weiss notes, a statement about "the first" is a negative statement--it means that there was none earlier. Similarly any statement about "the only," "the largest," "the whateverest"--these are equivalent to saying that there is no other, no larger, no whateverer.

    I truly got pleasure from this statement of Weiss's. And after typing up the preceding paragraph, I realized what a hypocritical droplet of whiteout I am. On the occasion once every several blue moons when I come across a parenthetical "to the best of my knowledge," I query the author about it. "This statement about the best of your knowledge could be made about many negative statements in your manuscript," I write. "Why does this one in particular call for the disclaimer?" The question isn't sarcastic, although authors may take it that way. At any rate, they always delete the qualifier.

    So why am I pleased by Weiss's statement even though I query it in my own work? I don't know. Maybe it seems more organic in Weiss's case and more thrown in in the others; Weiss's statement, after all, is tentative: "It is even possible that he was the first to do so." I think that's probably it. And what would I have done if I had worked on Weiss’s manuscript? I might have queried it. Maybe, maybe not. A trainload of such tentative statements, each of them carrying the disclaimer, it would make tedious even the most engaging work.

    Anyhow, I admire Weiss’s honesty, and that of the other authors who make such a disclaimer, even though I attempt to wave a hatchet at it when it appears on my virtual desk. Go figure.

    Thursday, August 12, 2010

    Verbal Stuff That I Like: Claudia Schmidt Edition

    Decades ago, literal decades, when I was just a young ramshackle, I was a fan of Claudia Schmidt, a musician who frequently venued in the greater metropolitan region I then lived in (I mean, it wasn't greater then than it is now, but it is greater than other metro regions). I live there still. A few years ago, I went to hear her when she came on tour through these parts once again. In the intro to a song titled "Banana Moon," she said something about most of our moonage. I like "moonage," and in fact it may be because of similar utterances that I was a fan of hers. In part. The music is good too.

    Did she say most of our moonage is nonfull? I'm not sure; in a dream, perhaps.

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010

    Verbal Stuff That I Like: Tech Edition

    This (with some redactivity to keep the identity of my employer[s] unknown) is from an e-mail from the tech guy at work.

    During the maintenance periods, well-behaved servers will queue messages that are bound for unavailable Wherever email systems.

    No clue what it means, but I like it. But hey!, I do have some speculation about what "well-behaved servers" means. In The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed., in chapter 5 ("Grammar and Usage" by Bryan A. Garner), in "Glossary of Troublesome Expressions" (sec. 5.202), the entry for gentleman reads
    This word is a vulgarism when used as a synonym for man. When used in reference to a cultured, refined man, it is susceptible to some of the same objections as those leveled against lady. Use it cautiously. Cf. lady.
    This is the only place in the manual where Garner uses vulgarism; nowhere does he define it. (Although he does implicitly define a "cultured, refined" person throughout the chapter; it seems to mean somebody who writes and talks the way Garner wants them to.) But it's likely that vulgarisms are a subset (whether proper or improper, I don't know--we disapprove of impropriety, but if the set is a set of improprieties, is a proper subset itself improper?), and where was I anyway? Right, I remember now. Vulgarisms are probably a subset of those usages that Garner dislikes. So maybe, taking a cue (and/or queue) from Garner, would a well-behaved server be one who says to a cultured, refined male patron "Would Monsieur like an extra shot of horseradish juice?" instead of "Would The Gentleman like an extra shot of horseradish juice?"?

    Or whatever. One of these years, I'm going to post my review of Garner's chapter. When I get around to it.

    Friday, August 6, 2010

    Verbal Stuff That I Like: A New Feature

    I gripe too much. Too much negativity. "Jeepolas!, we're all doomed!, somebody said 'therefore' with insufficient support. Yiiiiighhhh!" Well, I guess a flimsy "therefore" can potentially doom us under some circs (and is "potentially" redundant here, or does it provide some needed emphasis? beats me).

    Point is, I really do bellyache too much. So I'm going to make a point of posting about verbal or logical stuff that I like. Some of it may be trivial. (But more importantly, I began this graf with "Point is" and then I began the next sentence with "So I'm going to make a point of." Sad.)

    So here it is. This blog, as you probably know by now, has no opinion on this article by Jonathan Chait with the title "Deficit Commission Is Harshing My Mellow." But the blog does love that title.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010

    Let's get marginal

    Can you find the probable error (as opposed to statement that you disagree with) in this?

    The most recent NBC/WSJ poll... show[s] a plurality (45-43) preferring a Republican-controlled Congress.

    --Jonathan Chait, "Republican Health Care Fratricide," New Republic, posted June 30, 2010
    OK. What does it mean to talk about "a plurality (45-43)" in a random sample? In this case, it probably means 45 percent of the sample prefer a Republican-controlled Congress and 43 percent prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress. And if we look at the poll Chait links to, that is in fact what it means. But when polling numbers are this close, we need to look at the margin of error. In the linked-to poll it says from the start that the margin of error is ±3.1 percentage points. But the difference between the percentage that prefer Congress (R.) to Congress (D.) is less than the margin of error. Which means that the poll shows no plurality here. This is what some correctly call a statistical dead heat or a statistical tie. Chait is mistaken when he says the poll shows a plurality.

    This is something you see a lot of. Consumers (and writers) of news need to watch out for this. As do you and I, my colleagues.

    Thursday, June 10, 2010


    The New Republic is currently running a stupid and inane series called "Dispatches from the Blago Trial" by Margo Howard. In the third installment, Howard makes fun of Mike Ettinger, the attorney for Robert Blagojevich, Rod's brother:
    Robert gained top military clearance because he was involved with Persian missiles and in charge of three "nucular" warheads (this pronunciation no doubt a tip of the hat to George W. Bush, this Blagojevich being a Republican).
    Howard impresses here with witty commentary about "nucular." But what about those Persian missiles? What involvement did this U.S. military guy have with Iranian weaponry? Why didn't a journalist like Howard find this odd? Why didn't her editors at The New Republic?

    Here's my guess about what happened. In Chicago, 39th Street is also (and primarily) known as Pershing Road. The Chicago pronunciation of the street's name is "Perzhing." Whether that's the pronunciation of Gen. "Black Jack" Pershing's name, or of Pershing missiles, I don't know. But my guess is that Ettinger applied the Chicago pronunciation of the street name to the missiles, and Howard didn't notice. Maybe she didn't know about Pershing Road or its pronunciation, maybe she didn't know about Pershing missiles. Whatever.

    The point for readers of this editorial blog is that if we see something that seems very odd, such as a U.S. military person who works with Persian missiles, we need to query it. Another lesson, for all of us, is that if you're going to make fun of someone's pronunciations, you should try to look nonignorant when you're doing it. The best bet might be to not make fun of other people's pronunciations.

    Wednesday, June 9, 2010

    Says who?

    Geoffrey K. Pullum at Language Log surmises that The New Yorker has a policy against putting said and the like before the subject, no matter the length of the subject. Says Pullum,

    The New Yorker apparently has a house-style prohibition on (if I may use the technical terms employed in The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language) subject postposing in a parenthetical report frame for directly reported speech, even when the quoted speech is preposed.
    He cites this quotation, which I haven't verified:
    "He used to have this great, dignified passion to him," Christopher Hitchens, who, until his own political change of heart, defended Chomsky, says. (Larissa MacFarquhar, "The devil's accountant", The New Yorker, March 31, 2003, p.67, column 2.)
    Obviously--so obviously that I feel silly pointing it out--this sentence could be made into a much easier read. As Pullum points out
    the New Yorker's fierce and unyielding house style code will not allow the subject to be postposed, to yield what could have been a perfectly acceptable sentence:
    "He used to have this great, dignified passion to him," says Christopher Hitchens, who, until his own political change of heart, defended Chomsky.
    (Here I note that Pullum is inconsistent on whether "the" should be treated as part of the title of the magazine. In work, I need to notice this stuff, but in real life I passionately don't care about it. I mention it for the sake of my professional cred.)

    I bring this whole thing up for a few reasons. First, it's interesting (if you're interested in this stuff, which I am). Second, obviously, if we come across this sort of antipostpositional nonsense in our work, we need to correct it (not that it's incorrect--it's just nonreadable). The third thing is less obvious and much more important. Early on, Pullum says the magazine "apparently has a house-style prohibition on...subject postposing." Later, he says the mag's "fierce and unyielding house style code will not allow the subject to be postposed." This is very seriously non-OK, and it happens a lot in the scholarly stuff we edit. Some new information is suggestive of something or other blah blah yuck yuck, and therefore whatever. We need to protest when the author of a work we're editing magically goes from suggestivity and apparentness to a solid "therefore," or, as in this case, forgets that something is merely apparent. I mean, right, we should make the protest look like a query. And they may say, incorrectly, that it's fine. But we need to do our job.

    I realize Pullum may have been quasi-jokey when writing about the "fierce and unyielding house style code." But in editing scholarly books, this is a joke we need to be humorless about.

    Well, of course what Pullum did was probably OK. My point was that we need to be vigilant about maybe's that morph into defintely's. I actually do think that Pullum's was better than harmless--it was downright OK. But it would be non-OK for someone in our trade to not notice it and not at least be given pause by it.
    Note two of the phrases in the previous paragraph. "What Pullum did was probably OK...I actually do think that Pullum's was better than harmless--it was downright OK." I noticed this in reviewing the paragraph and decided to keep it as an object lesson. It's hard not to fall into this trap, but we editors of scholarly material need to be on the lookout for it. And any of my colleagues who didn't notice what I did should consider finding honest work instead of what we do.

    Friday, May 28, 2010

    Frog crisis in Greece

    Language Log is often interesting. I'm linking to this post because there's a comment by me, dated this morning. It's about the kind of stuff that makes you go "whaa?"

    Thursday, May 13, 2010


    Today I was working on a book with a quotation from a nineteenth-century Englishman; the quotation had infallible as an adverb. So I looked infallible up in the OED to see whether it was used as an adverb at the time. It wasn't, but it was obsoletely used as a verb long ago. My favorite exemplary quotation is from The Golden Law (1656), by S. H. (Samuel Harsnett):

    We will next pursue it with right Reason which will selfly infallible it.

    No big deal. I just liked it and wanted to share it.

    Wednesday, May 5, 2010

    You know you're in trouble when "proverbial" appears twice in one paragraph

    Lots of iterativity here: me reprinting a Jonathan Chait item that cites someone who Chait claims is Nico Pitney (at the end of the cited column, several names appear including Pitney's) quoting and making fun of Eric Alterman. Says Chait:

    "Finding all the cliches and mixed metaphors in this Eric Alterman paragraph is like cutting fish in a barrel with a butter knife," writes Nico Pitney. After reading the paragraph in question, I think he understates:
    And yet even with all its proverbial ducks lined up—a populist crusade is just what the doctor ordered for a divided and dispirited party going into perilous midterm elections—the administration and its lieutenants in Congress are still shooting as many blanks as real bullets at the bad guys. It’s not that their bills are all bullshit, as the Republicans’ clearly are. They contain many worthy measures that would, as almost any fair-minded economist will tell you, provide a proverbial “step [or two] in the right direction.” But somewhere along the line, whether in Obama’s White House, Tim Geithner’s Treasury Department, Barney Frank’s House Banking Committee or Christopher Dodd’s Senate side, a decision was made to let the big fish get away.

    Jonathan Chait, "Like Teaching an Old Dog That Didn't Bark to Herd Cats," New Republic, posted May 4, 2010

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010

    Worthless grammar edicts from Harvard

    Specifically, from economist Greg Mankiw. This post by Geoffrey K. Pullum is well worth reading. (Even though he doesn't know how to spell "Jeffrey.")

    Friday, April 9, 2010

    The danger of pouring the derogatory language on too thick


    [Conservatives] have a general hostility to government and proposals formulated by Democrats, and since they reject the overwhelming majority of actual health care experts on ideological grounds, they have relied on a tiny handful of self-styled conservative pseudo-wonks to fill in the details for them. [emphasis added]

    --Jonathan Chait, "The Conservative Misinformation Feedback Loop, Cont'd," New Republic

    So here's the conversation:

    "So, tell me a little about yourself."

    [With smug, satisfied smile] "Well, I like to think of myself as a pseudo-wonk."


    Yes, stuff like this does sometimes appear in the scholarly stuff that we edit.

    Sunday, February 21, 2010

    Addendum to last post

    I was so excited when I wrote the last post that I sent it without including an anecdote about my old pal. He used to sing, and this really cracked me up, he used to sing, "Hey, little Donna/You still wanna?/You said that I should ring you up when I was in Tiranë."

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    What He's Been Up To Lately

    Well, I hadn't heard from him much lately, but yesterday I got an e-mail from my old pal Enver Hoxha. Enver, like so many who send me e-mails, is in the pharmaceuticals biz. Writes he,

    Weither it's Viagra or Vicodin, we carry it all at the lowest price around.Anxiety, Sex Stims, Pain Killers, and more with no need for a doctor!Overnight Shipping100% money back Gaurentee Find our store @ [whatever].

    Sorry. You're probably not interested in what my old friends are up to. This is becoming a downright blog.

    Sunday, January 31, 2010

    Inconsistency, Ad Hominem, and Straw Man

    No, that's not the name of an accounting firm. It's the title that the Fallacy Files gave to a little something that I wrote (wrote very badly, if I may say so) some years ago, before this blog existed. I hope you find it worthwhile. If you want to read it, you can go to the link and scroll down to "Inconsistency, Ad Hominem, and Straw Man."