Novel Medical Treatments
People with serious health problems are often subject to novel treatments. But that shouldn’t mean being treated like they’re in a novel. Health problems are human problems, and they can be important stories about real things affecting real people. But often, in telling them, we create another problem, because we make the story conform to […]
Digital Enhancement for Numbers (Go Figures!)
At the ACES conference in Providence, Rhode Island, in late March, the Associated Press announced changes to their recommendations for handling numbers and debated some others. About sixty percent of those present gasped when one of the recommendations was made — in fact, it might have been 70 percent. No, I’m going with 80% of […]
Yeet Citationality: Yippie-ki-yay!
The voting is in, and the American Dialect Society’s Slang Word of the Year is… yeet. Yeet is not so well known to oldsters, but it is in vogue among the youth. Its popularity demonstrates a central fact of how vocabulary spreads. It also leads us to Bugs Bunny, Clark Gable and Judith Butler. People […]
Eye Rhymes and iRhymes
Or: Can You Rhyme Emoji? An eye rhyme is when two words that only look like they rhyme are used for a rhyme. This was an early annoyance from my childhood, when elementary poems rhymed good with food. Another famous one is from Shakespeare: If this be error and upon me prov’d I never writ, […]
The Roots of Disagreement
It was one of those crises that end up in the parentheses of memoranda; it concerned the geneses of several referenda among alumni (and alumnæ) about addenda to their indices: the criteria for the termini of Greek- and Latin-derived words. By what formulæ should we choose, for instance, schemata or schemas? The competing sides saw […]
Do you want to use a Germanic feature, or do you prefer using a Celtic one?
Learning other languages is fun. And to learn another language is to learn more about your own language — especially when it takes on the aspect of learning more about your family tree. You’ve probably had the experience of meeting new relatives or learning about ancestors and thinking, “Oh, that explains something.” Well, consider this: […]
Does Verbing Impact the Language?
A favourite crank for language cranks to crank is the demon of verbing. It wrecks our language, they protest! They target such usages as impacted and referenced in business-speak and medalled in broadcasting. While liberal-minded linguists may see these words as just more of the odd flowers that bloom in the spring (and spring up […]
A Macaronic Feather in Our Cap
English is gloriously macaronic. I don’t mean that it’s like a big bowl of elbow noodles, not exactly. But I also don’t mean that it’s like a macaron — well, maybe I do, but that’s not what the word means. Macaronic, linguistically, refers to something that’s a mixture of languages. Macaronic poetry, for instance, may […]
Currying Favour With Your Readers
Editing and writing have a lot in common with cooking. For one thing, people come to a text, as to a restaurant, with certain expectations and ideals, and you should satisfy them. You don’t have to give them something completely predictable — especially if you’re in a line more artistic than industrial — but you do want […]
The Hardest Language
What language is the hardest to learn? The hardest for whom to learn? The world has many languages of many different kinds, but one thing they all have in common is that kids grow up speaking them fluently and think of them as the natural way to say things. Some languages have many inflections — […]
Calling Them What They Want
We’re all professionally attentive to detail, so I’m sure we all appreciate that, having earned a PhD, I am technically Dr. Harbeck, and it could be rude to call me Mr. Harbeck. My wife, having a master’s, is Ms. Arro — not Miss Arro, because she’s married, and not Mrs. Arro, let alone Mrs. Harbeck. […]
The Ongoing Demise of English
English just isn’t spoken as well as it used to be. As people who have to deal every day with the abuses of common users, we will surely all agree with this sentiment: “our unfortunate ears are doomed not only to excruciate in the torments of bad grammar, but to agonize under the torture of […]
Omitting Periods? It’s About Genres.
“Period. Full Stop. Point. Whatever It’s Called, It’s Going Out of Style,” declared a New York Times headline. Noted linguist David Crystal had made some comments observing that the period is not requisite in text messages, and as such is used only “to show irony, syntactic snark, insincerity, even aggression,” as article author Dan Bilefsky […]
A Whole Nother Thing
As editors, we pay attention to the written form of our language. Its relation to the spoken form is a whole other thing. The spelling is odd, we know. But even our hyphenation doesn’t really break according to pronunciation. Consider the word breaking. Where do you hyphenate it? Break-ing. But where does the syllable break […]
More Honoured in the Breach or the Observance?
It is tempting to say that getting classical quotations right is more honoured in the breach than the observance. But if we did, we’d be guilty too. In the original, Hamlet is telling Horatio about the tradition of drinking sprees in the Danish court; he says it makes Danes look bad to other nations. So […]
Wherefore Pleaseth Archaic English?
“O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low.” Are these not beautiful […]
Be on the Ball With the Origins of Phrases | Linguistics, Frankly
My topic today may seem a bit ribald, but I’m sure you’ll have a ball with it. It’s about monkey business with the origins of phrases, and how to make sure you stay on the ball and don’t hit a wall. People love stories about the origins of words and phrases, but many of them […]
Who Let That Word Into the Dictionary? | Linguistics, Frankly
Every so often, Oxford or Merriam-Webster will release a list of words recently added to one of their dictionaries, and many people become grouchy at what they see as awful — or even fake — intrusions that have somehow been bootlegged into the hallowed halls of the official lexicon. You may even agree that they […]
Plough Through Enough Dough to Make You Cough or Hiccough | Linguistics, Frankly
You want some tough spelling for an English learner to plough through? Head to ough. There are six different ways it can be said at the end of a word, as in plough, through, dough, enough, cough and (for those who spell it that way) hiccough. (Never mind the versions with another letter after it!) […]
Whom Do You Believe? | Linguistics, Frankly
First of all: If you can avoid using whom, you should. Any but the most formal texts are better off without it; it’s a foreign word for most users, as evidenced by the general inability of even many language professionals to use it quite correctly all the time. Sometimes, however, you have to use it. […]
What’s English? | Linguistics, Frankly
Here’s a quick quiz. Tell me which of the following are English and which aren’t. For each one, say why it is or isn’t English and, if it’s not, what language it is. There’s no place to plug your car in in the parkade. A wha dat dey dem people deh nyam ih smell sweet. […]
Seriously, What’s the Problem With Sentence Adverbs? | Linguistics, Frankly
The English language is a very complex and powerful thing, capable of many nuances and quite resistant to simplistic attempts at tidying it up. Sadly, not everyone realizes that. Worse still, many people take very narrow and inconsistent views, focusing on pet peeves while letting parallel instances of usage pass unnoticed. It’s as though a […]
There’s No Way to Truly Split an Infinitive | Linguistics, Frankly
You can’t split an infinitive. I don’t mean I don’t want you to. I don’t mean it’s not proper to. I mean it’s not possible to. This is for the same reason that I haven’t just broken one off three times, at the ends of the three preceding sentences. The English infinitive is one word. […]
I Only Wanted to Explain This | Linguistics, Frankly
Adverbs are a problematic and much-maligned class of words. Linguists often have trouble explaining exactly why they go where they go. Some sorts of adverbs are baselessly despised (hopefully, people will eventually get over those hangups, but I’m not hopeful). Some people think adverbs should be excised from writing altogether. I’d like to cover all […]