Words we hate because, well, they AREN'T WORDS!

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Words we hate because, well, they AREN'T WORDS!

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feb 24, 2009, 4:06pm

My pet peeve is the use of the word "irregardless," in the place of "regardless."

And if you will be with me "momentarily" that's unfortunate, because it will take more than a moment to dispose of the business on account of which I am here. I would much prefer if you were simply with me "in a moment."


Redigeret: feb 24, 2009, 4:31pm

I've actually never heard anybody use "irregardless" unless they were making a joke. As far as I can tell, the "irregardless" controversy is stoked by people decrying the usage and not by people actually - umm - using it. I could be wrong about this; maybe it's regionally more common where you are. But I live in the southern United States, the source, if this group is to be believed, of all offenses against grammar and usage, so I'd expect to have heard it, if it is indeed floating around out there.

And just a quick trip over to dictionary.com will show you that "momentarily" can mean either "for a moment" or "in a moment."

*edit: Actually, I take that last bit back. Dictionary.com contains a usage note that 59% of some panel finds that extending "momentarily" to mean "in a moment" is unacceptable. Interesting news, but I doubt I'm going to start using "imminently" instead.

Redigeret: feb 24, 2009, 4:42pm

Irregardless, in my experience, is most frequently used by those likely to win at a game of "Business Buzzword Bingo." It is often found in vocabularies that include frequent use of "synergy," "outside the box," or "paradigm." By, in other words, those who, like me, fancy themselves intellectuals but who, unlike me, don't bother to figure out what sesquipedalian utterances do and do not belong to the English language.

And momentarily has only come to mean "in a moment" over the last ten years, and has done so through the same mechanism by which all new words come into being (for instance, the use of the word 'google' in a verb form). "Momentarily," meaning "for a moment", was used incorrectly so frequently, and a critical mass of English speakers were so ignorant of the correct usage, that the very meaning of the word changed to include the incorrect usage.

So yes, I concede that "momentarily" now also means "in a moment," because a language is defined by common conceptualization of ideas, and it is conceptualized by enough people that it was assimilated. In other words, it only means "in a moment" because the stoopid peepul overwhelmed the very language itself.

But that doesn't mean I have to stop being pissy about it.

feb 24, 2009, 5:11pm

>3 linedog1848:

It seems like I get into this argument every week in this group. Among a group of so many smart, well-informed people, who, to judge from the group's name, share an interest in the history of languages and how they CHANGE, it is absolutely baffling how many of our members consider it a righteous calling to stop the meanings of words from changing any further.

I won't vouch for the IQ of each and every person who misuses your beloved "momentarily," but you're being presumptuous, classless, and insulting to place them summarily and categorically beneath you in a class of "stoopid peepul." The rules of usage are not imposed by an oligarchy of the intellectual elite; if you'd prefer that they were, go learn Esperanto and leave the English language alone.

feb 24, 2009, 6:01pm

>4 polutropon:

feb 24, 2009, 6:18pm

Well said, polutropon. I can't help but laugh when someone implies (or often outright states) that a change like this is "destruction" of the language. I can hardly believe how many otherwise intelligent and logical people accept that language changes in the abstract, but balk in the face of the actual changes that lead to linguistic evolution.

feb 24, 2009, 9:13pm

Oh, linedog was joking. Language changes, and we all know that. That language changes through solecisms doesn't excuse the error of the new usage until the change is complete.

My mother could use queer to mean peculiar and gay to mean jolly, roughly; I cannot, but I have other words.

Misuse has taken away my use of the word literal. Until it is replaced, I will protest its loss.


feb 24, 2009, 9:40pm

I guess then someday it will be standard usage to write, "for all intensive purposes."


Redigeret: feb 24, 2009, 11:24pm

>4 polutropon:

Thanks for that. For some reason a group purportedly about linguistics spends a lot of time moaning about usage.

And on the subject, I can only direct people to Mr. Stephen Fry's reformed views: http://www.stephenfry.com/blog/2008/11/04/don%E2%80%99t-mind-your-language%E2%80...

feb 24, 2009, 10:51pm

>7 Mr.Durick:

I don't care if linedog was joking. I was objecting as much to his incivility as I was to his position. If anybody wants to have a civil discourse about the relative merits of prescriptivism and descriptivism, I'm all for it. But if instead all we want to do is make mockeries and engage in name-calling about people who use words in ways that we ourselves would not, then we deserve to be brusquely admonished.

Redigeret: feb 24, 2009, 11:31pm

>7 Mr.Durick:

With that out of my system, I'll respond to the substance of what you wrote, Robert. The problem I have with the idea that a linguistic innovation remains an error "until the change is complete," is that it's confoundingly difficult to determine when the change is, in fact, complete. In practice, it seems like we consider the change incomplete until such time as the prescriptivists stop carping about it, which often feels like an eternity. E.g., there's been a recent thread in this group bemoaning the loss of the supposed distinction between "like" and "as": a distinction, I might add, that has probably not been respected in spoken English for a century or more, if it ever was.

I prefer to avoid drawing such a line (between complete and incomplete language changes) altogether, and cling instead to the notion that, in language, anything goes, as long as what you've said expresses what you meant in as clear a manner as you had intended.


*edited for typo

feb 24, 2009, 11:39pm

My pet peeve is when people use the word 'pacifically' instead of specifically.

I used to work next to someone who said that every day.
I wanted to grab her and say "Precisely which ocean are you referring people to?"

feb 25, 2009, 12:15am

I hate how people use 'somethink' instead of something or 'everythink' instead of everything.

feb 25, 2009, 8:51am

Don't you think a lot of the objections we see here are as much to the class of people who use language in a particular way as they are to the changes themselves?
Language changing is only 'bad' when it's other people doing it...we all change language either consciously or unconsciously to respond to changing contexts, describe new phenomena, or simply prioritize one meaning over another. You can't have a completely static language unless you live in a completely static world.
That said, I'm terribly interested in the way we perceive these changes or 'mistakes' and how they influence our opinions of the people using them. And I think it's probably important as speakers to be aware of the effect our words have on others. (The hapless user of 'irrespective', for example, is probably unaware that he's just alienated half his audience who objects to the term. If he were, he might choose to use a different word – not because it's 'wrong', but because we use words to communicate, and in this case it's not doing him any favors.)

feb 25, 2009, 8:56am

>14 monarchi:

Yes, definitely, classism and racism and other -isms are without a doubt factors.

feb 25, 2009, 9:14am

Has any English speaker anywhere ever been even momentarily confused as to what someone meant who said "irregardless"?

feb 25, 2009, 9:23am

16> I'd imagine that from the context it would be clear. Still, it might make me pause for a second as my brain processed the double negative and decided it wasn't actually, probably because it's not one I've heard.

Of course, the alternative is that it's so blindingly obvious in context that I've never even noticed it.

feb 25, 2009, 9:24am

I think "irregardless" is less confusing than irritating.

One that irritates me more than that is the loss of the verb "orient". How often do you hear/read it used? No one seems to orient him/herself any more; it's usually "orientate", which not that long ago did not exist as a word.

I also mourn the loss of the word "gay". There is NOT a good substitute. And "fairy" has become touchy as well.

feb 25, 2009, 9:49am

It may be true that a language change is "complete" when the prescriptivists stop caring about it. "Momentarily" used as "in a moment" is gaining ground in North America to the point that it will probably be considered "standard" in less than a generation.

I don't know if the OP is correct in his assertion that "momentarily" as "in a moment" has only emerged in the last 10 years, but I don't remember ever--aside from in books and movies--hearing anyone use the "correct" term "presently." If I did, I'd probably assume they were putting on airs or had just returned from an extended stay in the UK.

On a side note: Many people will pull their hair out and run screaming into the night when they open their dictionaries and see an entry for...

fun adj

feb 25, 2009, 10:03am

"Momentarily" meaning "in a moment" is considered standard English (by Merriam-Webster, at least). "Momentarily" meaning "for a moment" was itself a rarity until the turn of the 20th century; the second, equally appropriate meaning, followed shortly on its heels. From Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Usage (emphasis mine):

"The evidence, scanty as it is, suggests that at the beginning of the 20th century momentarily and momently were uncommon words that were used more or less interchangeably in several senses. In the years since, momently has continued to be uncommon, while momentarily has come into frequent use, first in its sense "for a moment" and soon afterward in its sense "at any moment; in a moment." These two senses have coexisted in American English for many decades (in British English, "at any moment" is rare). Neither one is inherently superior to the other, and neither one detracts in any way from the other. The meaning of each is always made clear by the context in which it occurs."

M-W acknowledges that a small but inexorable group continues to protest the "in a moment" usage, but states: "We hope, though, that they will consider a trip to the nearest library, where any number of good dictionaries will tell them that the "in a moment" meaning is standard English."

feb 25, 2009, 10:49am

Now that would make an excellent thread. Picking apart prescriptivist claims and showing the when, where and who of their origin and what the sociolinguistic implications might be.

For example, here's MW on the disinterested/uninterested distinction (via John Hodgeman yesterday, actually): http://books.google.com/books?id=2yJusP0vrdgC&pg=PA352&lpg=PA350&dq=...

feb 25, 2009, 10:54am

#18: erilarlo 'No one seems to orient him/herself any more; it's usually "orientate"'

I still use orient rather than orientate: Omit Needless Syllables! Though when I use it, I don't usually want to know which way is east, so language purity fanatics can still accuse me of corrupting the language and encouraging the downfall of civilisation as we know it.

feb 25, 2009, 10:59am

#21: bjza "Picking apart prescriptivist claims and showing ..."

If you don't know it already, try Language Log, especially Prescriptivist Poppycock.

feb 25, 2009, 11:36am

>18 erilarlo:, 22

"Orientate" is another one that I've never heard used except humorously. According to Wiktionary, though, it's perfectly standard UK English: "Widely used in the UK, but widely considered an error in American English, where orient is preferred. American English prescriptivists criticize it as a backformation from orientation (compare interpretate from interpretation); it is attested since the mid-19th century."

It just seems a waste to spend so much time complaining about how others speak, when it's perfectly obvious that there are plenty of "correct" ways to use language, and how one chooses to use it is informed by where he is, where he's from, and to whom he's speaking.

feb 25, 2009, 2:54pm

Incorrect language is the reason I love language.

I live in a farm town, but come from a family of city-born intellectuals. (Most of my friends were the first people in their families to graduate college. Some, high school. Meanwhile, my mom has a Master's, and my dad has a PhD. Unheard of!)

Anyway, I was taught to speak "properly." But my very favorite thing is hearing the language of the people around me. "Brung" is the thing that comes to mind - there are so many weird verb conjugations they use - and the accent, everything, I LOVE it. And it's not because I feel superior. I actually feel inferior sometimes. After all, who doesn't know the phrase "Knee-high by the Fourth of July"?! I can't believe you've never heard that! - you get that enough, and you start to realize it's you who doesn't speak the right language.

feb 25, 2009, 3:10pm

Denne meddelelse er blevet slettet af dens forfatter.

feb 25, 2009, 3:58pm

#25: I can't agree more. A lot of times these "errors" are actually making up for deficiencies in the language. For example, English really could use a plural pronoun, so we end up with "y'all", "you guys", and all the other regional variants. I love it!

feb 25, 2009, 4:04pm

Prescription & description both have their place. While it's appropriate for linguists to describe a language as it is and as it was, it's also appropriate for publishers to prescribe how language is to be used in their publications. At the same time, style manuals change with time to reflect the changes in language.

I have to take issue with the contention that there are words that are not words. A word may be clumsy, ugly, unclear, or illogical. Its use may be frowned upon from all quarters. "Irregardless" is ugly, it's illogical, and many people don't like it, but it is a word and has been since its first use. In elementary school I often heard "Ain't ain't in the dictionary because ain't ain't a word." Of course were it really not a word, that sentence wouldn't make sense because it would lack meaning. Besides, ain't has been in every English language dictionary I've tried to find it in.

feb 25, 2009, 5:30pm

One who continually bemoans the ‘loss’ of the word ‘gay’ to the English language, even though they had never used the word in any context at all until they started complaining that they couldn’t use it any more. -- Douglas Adams & John Lloyd, The Deeper Meaning of Liff

feb 25, 2009, 8:10pm

"Irregardless" is used incessantly by newscasters and sports figures.

Also, there is no such thing as "incorrect" or "non-standard" English. This is because there is no such thing as "Standard English". StE is only a concept, not a reality. So, "ya'll" and "yunz" and "youse guys" (sp?) are unconventional forms of English (i.e., do not comply with conventional written English), but are not "incorrect".
(There are languages, however, where there is a "right" and "wrong" form. Germany (& Austria? & Switzerland?) has (have) officially standardized spellings and grammar, and so the dialectal forms are no longer "correct".)

feb 26, 2009, 9:56am

"Ain't" is one word that I seldom hear, today, whereas it was all too commonly used in my youth.

Is it primarily used today for humour: "She ain't what she used to be.", or for emphasis: "That just ain't so!", or has it become part of a purely regional dialect.

Redigeret: feb 27, 2009, 1:43am


First of all, I never said I was smart or well-informed, so don't go accusing me of that! I just said I LIKE TO THINK THAT I'm smart. There's an enormous difference.

In fact, if you talked to people who know me, I think you'd find that your second characterization, "presumptuous, classless, and insulting," to be much more plausible.

And of course languages evolve. And of course that occurs in ways that mutate usage and form. And of course even a language like the loosely defined "Black American English," though vastly different than the equally loosely defined "Standard American English," abide by strict, though different, syntactic and grammatical rules just as the mother language does or did.

But the idiosyncrasies of personality that lead to the innovation and use of words such as "gription" to describe what tires get by contacting a road are the same type of idiosyncrasies that lead others of us to cringe when we hear them, and both are worthy of mockery and ridicule, but neither is worthy of getting one's feathers ruffled, sport.

So I consider myself "brusquely admonished" for my incivility at calling names, but please don't mistake this to mean that you (or I, for that matter) are necessarily not a big doodie-head.

Oh, and "acclimatize" instead of "acclimate." Once again, yes, I do know it's a real word in real dictionaries. It still bugs me.

Dictionary.com these gems:*
Acclimate: to grow accustomed to changing environment, etc. . .
Acclimatize: to acclimate

I mean, come on! That's just dumb, man!

* Yes, I just used "dictionary.com" as an imperative verb, and yes, I do appreciate the irony of my own hypocrisy, and no, I'm still not sorry for calling other people stupid for doing things which I am aware I also do. At least I have the thick skin to be able to make fun of myself. I used to think I had the ego-strength to handle criticism in an anonymous forum by a person who, in all likelihood, I will never meet, but seeing as I wrote a response to that criticism. . .hmmm. . .well, I guess not.

feb 27, 2009, 9:39am

I'm glad you came back, linedog. You started an interesting thread.

There are words that I hate even though they are real words, including many that end in "cious," especially those that contain an "l"--"delicious" I find abominable even though it's been around a long time and it probably isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

I personally think someone should start an actual grammar/usage group. I've spent hours reading newsgroups and forums where Germans argue about word choice and syntax, and sometimes the conversations can get pretty heated. I'd much rather read heated arguments about words and grammar than about politics.

Something I've noticed about the German groups is that when someone posts a usage question or a "how do I say" question, people will often respond by correcting the grammar in the original post without actually answering the original poster's question.

feb 27, 2009, 9:48am

Supposably is not a word but I hear it all the time.

Regarding irregardless, there is a restaurant in Raleigh NC called The Irregardless Cafe and I just can't bring myself to go there.

My 15-year old daughter has started using "gi-normous" lately. Moderately irritating but not the end ofthe world.

feb 27, 2009, 10:03am

Here's one that really makes me crazy ... has anyone else noticed people starting to write "walla" when they mean "voila"?
(Sorry, I don't know how to indicate an accent mark on LT.)

I have a sneaking suspicion that more and more people are using the former when they speak, too, but I had been giving the benefit of the doubt until I started seeing the latter in e-mails, etc.

feb 27, 2009, 10:31am

#35: KromesTomes "(Sorry, I don't know how to indicate an accent mark on LT.)"

You would find this page useful, "HTML Codes - Characters and symbols".

Redigeret: feb 27, 2009, 10:41am

To me there is a big difference between using irregardless and using ginormous. One is a confusion about the very meaning of the word intended, and the other is a purposeful combination of words.

One shows ignorance, the other shows creativity.

edited for nasty typoo

feb 27, 2009, 10:35am

>35 KromesTomes:,36: I've found the easiest way to reproduce accents and tildes and whatnot is to google it, copy it, and paste it.

feb 27, 2009, 10:36am

German has books of rules about language. Not all of the rules are always followed, but "according to Duden" is the final word 8-) English, however, not only has no one final authority, it doesn't have much in the way of actual rules, just strong tendencies 8-)

feb 27, 2009, 10:41am

>35 KromesTomes:, Now that ("walla") would drive me crazy, at least if it's written rather than spoken. In conversation I might never notice it, but I don't think I would ever think to pronounce the letters w-a-l-l-a as anything other than "wall-uh." I can see myself reading and re-reading the email, trying to figure out what it meant: "wallow"? "waller" (is that a word, as in, "one who constructs walls"?).

I guess the problem is that "walla" looks like English, so I would never think to apply the very French "ah" to the final syllable instead of the very English "uh." It's definitely a case where the error hopelessly obscures the meaning of the word.

Redigeret: feb 27, 2009, 10:47am

>37 Collectorator:, I'm not convinced that use of "irregardless" shows ignorance of the meaning of the word "regardless." Nobody says that users of "unravel" are ignorant of the meaning of "ravel."


feb 27, 2009, 10:47am

I have been known to type Viola! and I like it and I won't stop.

feb 27, 2009, 10:48am

#36: I just saved that page for the next time I do some changes on my web page, thanks 8-) So now the question is, what happens here when I use some of these the way I normally type them?
ä ü ö ß

feb 27, 2009, 10:51am

Thanks for the tip, jimroberts.

feb 27, 2009, 12:02pm

And I suppose users of the noun "finger" are not entirely ignorant of the verb "to fing"?

feb 27, 2009, 12:31pm

I was ignorant of the verb "to fing" until I read your message and decided to look it up. There are many definitions for "fing," not all verbs, at urbandictionary.com. It's a very nice word.

feb 27, 2009, 12:47pm

>45 linedog1848:, Clever enough, I guess, but not exactly responsive. "Unravel" and "irregardless" are exactly parallel constructions, in which the root word takes on an additional negation marker, and in both instances the negated form is used with the same meaning as the non-negated form. My point is that if "unravel" doesn't mark the user as ignorant, why exactly should "irregardless"?

Redigeret: feb 27, 2009, 1:15pm

Maybe because "unravel" is about 300 years older than irregardless, which has only been used (as far as we currently know) for a little under 100 years. I've only ever seen "ravel" used in poetry.

feb 27, 2009, 1:20pm

47: Not the expert linguist here, but "unravel" and "irregardless" don't look parallel to me ... isn't the root word in the latter simply "regard"?

That's the problem, IMHO ... "regardless" already has one negation marker ("-less") so it doesn't need the second "ir-."

feb 27, 2009, 1:22pm

One of my friends uses "walla" sometimes on Livejournal and every time I see it, I have no idea what he means... and then... "Noooooo!"

People think I'm absolutely insane because I keep my computer set to the International Spanish Keyboard (ISO). But I can do é and ë and è without having to think - plus I have a ç and an ñ. But man, people sit down to my computer and they whine, whine, whine. "Maria, where's the quotation mark?" "Oh, where the @ symbol is." "Maria, where's the question mark?" "Where the _ is."

feb 27, 2009, 1:24pm

>47 polutropon: They seem to be parallel constructions, but they aren't, and the double negative is grammatically incorrect. Use indicates that the speaker is unaware (AKA ignorant {unknowing/with out knowledge}) of the double negative of "ir-regard-less".

An almost absolute parallel construction (meanings and intentions are different with the negations) of "ravel" and "regard" would be either:

"ravel" > "unravel"
"regard" > "disregard"


"ravel" > "ravel-less" !?
"regard" > "regardless"

Yay! for inflectional morphology!

Also "gi-normous" is an example of splicing.

Also, I say incorrect up above (regarding the double negation), because one of the underlying rules of English structure (most varieties, any way) is that double negatives are incorrect.

feb 27, 2009, 1:40pm

yue's post brings up something interesting (?) I read regarding the use of double negatives in English ... namely that when people complain about others doing it, the criticism is really elitist in nature ... the criticism is almost always aimed at the "uneducated" for saying things such as "I don't have no milk in my fridge" ... it's almost never aimed at someone in the business world who says "That solution is not impossible to implement."

feb 27, 2009, 2:05pm

>51 yue:, While I wouldn't use double negatives in my formal or business writing, I think that their colloquial use is universally understood by everybody who speaks English, and not just by people who employ them. Really, I think that fully grasping the English language includes understanding that colloquial double negations convey emphatic singular negation rather than double logical negation.

For instance, if you met someone who in good faith thought that the sentence, "You don't know nothing," meant the same thing as "You do know something," you would probably assume that such a person had not yet mastered the English language. You certainly would not say to yourself, "That man understands English perfectly."

I don't think that a double negation is incorrect or ungrammatical; I think it's just informal.

Redigeret: feb 27, 2009, 3:12pm

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think that objecting to a double negation is motivated by a native desire for language to be "regular." That is, people want "not" to mean "not," no matter the context in which it appears. The fact is though that English isn't regular.

We have weird, and perfectly grammatical constructions like the double genitive: "That dog of yours" means the same thing as "your dog." Why not "That dog of you"? If language were regular, you would expect the object of the preposition "of" to come in the objective case ("you"), but instead it comes as genitive ("yours").

And singular subjects take singular verbs, except in the case of a conditional clause, where they take plural verbs. It's "If I were you..." not "If I was you..." Again, if English were regular, and words worked the same way no matter what words came around them, singular subjects would take singular verbs even in a conditional clause.

*edited for grammar, funnily enough.

feb 27, 2009, 4:46pm

A double negative used to express the antithesis of an antithesis is not wrong. It may mean something different than what the hearer expects. One can properly compound negatives as long as one has breath. A double negative as emphatic negative is used only in very casual speech, speech more casual than I practically ever use.

The 'were' in the conditional clause is not a plural, it is a subjunctive, a not quite dead mode in English. I still like to use it but shy away from contructions like 'if it be...' where a philistine holds the purse strings.


feb 27, 2009, 4:47pm

@52 - The differences is that when someone says something is "not impossible to implement," they mean exactly that: It's possible to implement. When someone says "I ain't got no milk" they mean they don't have any milk, not that they don't not have milk.

feb 27, 2009, 5:19pm

On reflection, Robert, you're certainly right that "were" in a conditional clause is subjunctive-singular, not indicative-plural. But isn't it correct to say that the subjunctive conjugation in English is made up entirely of verb forms that also appear in the indicative conjugation?

I'm actually not sure about this, and that's why I ask. I can't think of any subjunctive verb form that doesn't occur (with a different meaning) as an indicative. And I'm absolutely sure that when I was in high school, the rule I learned was "Use a plural verb form with singular subjects in conditional clauses." A gross simplifcation, as you point out, but I can never recall it having steered me wrong.

Redigeret: feb 27, 2009, 5:46pm

Several things . . . One, "Business English", where nouns are adjectives, and adjectives nouns, and whatever else (see: Buzz words), is not what what I am talking about.

Two, the emphasized double negation (I just made up that term) , i.e "That is not impossible to implement", is also not what I was talking about. To negate an action, the under-lying grammatical structure of English uses merely one negating element, whether a particle ("not"), or an inflection ("-less", "un-", "-im", etc.). Note that I said most varieties.

Three, I dislike tying certain forms ("You don't know nothin(g)" vs. "You know nothing" or "You don't know anything") to class. Language is certainly affected by social interaction, but I feel that home-life is just as important. Some people, regardless of status, use . . . "non-standard English" (keeping in mind that there is no standard). It is ingrained in their speech center to use certain forms, and that is unaffected by class/status.
This then applies to education, which one person in my class on Pidgins and Creoles rightly objected to using as a replacement for "class" given that, like class, education does not necessarily affect speech.
I think that a speaker of the more conventional (not the "standard") variety are more likely to place a higher value on education, but this is not always true.

Four, subjunctive is fun. And screws with most people. (What? I were?)

Five, "That dog of yours" is not necessarily a double-genitive construction.
Note: "die Mutter" (the mother) and "der Mann" (the man)
"Roberts Mutter" (Robert's mother)(possessive construction) (I changed this per post #60) but "die Mutter des Mannes" (genitive construction)
(I am allowed to use German since English is considered a Germanic language.)
There are other residual German elements in English, so this isn't an unreasonable connection. (Other connections: German has verbs with separable prefixes, and English has verbs with attached "prepositions" without any prepositional phrase "I will not put up with that". Also, our infinitive constructions are similar.)

>52 KromesTomes: See three, above, and know that I do not mean it in the same manner. Also, know that the very people who criticize others for lack of education are themselves uneducated in language formation, etc.

>53 polutropon: The informal vs. formal argument is blah. I understand that some people change their language drastically given the situation, but I do not.

Another thought came as I was checking this post for clarity/accuracy/etc. was that one possible definition for a "higher" (see "Hochdeutsch") or more "standard" form (when there is no standard form) is the variety most easily understood by all speakers of a particular language community. "Standard English" doesn't exist, but most, if not all, speakers would understand a speaker of a variety close to Conventional English (which is closely tied to writing). Going back to German, Hochdeutsch is determined by Duden, but all Germans understand Hochdeutsch. Not all Germans, however, even partially understand certain dialects, Bayerische especially (Bayerische is Bavarian German).

Edited to fix an unfinished thought.
Edited for German grammar.

feb 27, 2009, 5:32pm

>57 polutropon: English just happens to have a reduced morphology, thus a highly reduced subjunctive conjugation. Take a look at Spanish or German - they have very . . . complete subjunctives.

feb 27, 2009, 5:37pm

@58 -

On your "the man's mother" example: In German it would be "Des Mannes Mutter" or "Die Mutter des Mannes," but never "Der Manns Mutter."

feb 27, 2009, 5:44pm

Sorry, not thinking completely in German at the moment. I meant something more like "Lisas Mutter starb" or whatever. The possessive was the main focus. I will go edit that.

On a side note, Des Mannes Mutter is not a nice construction. I shall forever avoid it.

Redigeret: feb 27, 2009, 5:51pm

You're right. It's quite ugly. And archaic.

Redigeret: feb 27, 2009, 6:03pm

>58 yue:, I'm not sure exactly what you mean when you say that "That dog of yours" is not necessarily a double genitive construction. Grammarians *call* it a double genitive construction, but I guess that's beside the point.

In any case, you all have done a reasonably good job of refuting the periphery of my argument from #54, but not the fundamental point I argued in #53. If you were teaching someone English as a second language, and he understood (to borrow KromesTomes' example) "I don't have no milk," to mean, "I have some milk," would you applaud his understanding of the the *logic* of double negation, or would you gently correct him as to what this sequence of words means when used together? I submit that it would be outright mean to let the poor guy go along thinking that people were saying the opposite of what they were actually saying.


Redigeret: feb 27, 2009, 6:07pm

#63 - I would applaud his understanding of the logic of double negation then let him know what the speaker actually meant.

Redigeret: feb 27, 2009, 6:13pm

>63 polutropon: You are assuming that the learner comes from a language where only one element of negation is used. Also, how did you learn what people meant when they used a double negative? Most likely by rote, or someone told you. Varieties of a language are allowed to have different rules. Also, code-switching may be prevalent in the learner's mother tongue, so he may understand the difference between certain double negative constructions and other double negative constructions (i.e. between logical positives and actual negatives).

An example of code-switching (from Black American English):
"He a bad nigga" (isn't this lovely?) - "He is a bad person"
"He a ba-ad nigga" - "He is a wonderful person" (from the original example, the speaker was talking about a runaway slave)
The spoken difference is slight primarily voice inflection, and to those unused to such distinctions the phrases are exactly the same.
(By the bye, the BAE examples above are old examples, from many years ago.)

Code-switching can also be adopting phrases from another language/culture in order to perhaps identify with that culture.

feb 27, 2009, 6:13pm

I don't know how old "unravel" is, but I suspect it's been around a long time. After all, we've had both "flammable" and "inflammable" for a looooooooooong time.

Redigeret: feb 27, 2009, 6:18pm

According to Merriam Webster the first known use of "unravel" dates to the early 17th century. The first known use of inflammable came around the same time (1605), and flammable didn't show up on the scene until the early 19th century.

feb 27, 2009, 6:15pm

OK, keyboard shortcuts for German work. Now I'm curious about others. Ð ? Ø ? I suspect PopChar may be translating them for me, though.

feb 27, 2009, 6:23pm

Hi, yue! It's nice to see someone else who likes to use German to explain English 8-) I used to do something in that vein in my German classes, as in "we have things like that in English, too!" and had the occasional student with an "aha!" moment of understanding his/her native grammar better. (Part of this was due to the fact that we had a couple English teachers in the school who didn't teach grammar at all.)

feb 27, 2009, 8:56pm

>65 yue:, Maybe I misunderstand what you mean when you say I'm assuming "that the learner comes from a language where only one element of negation is used." It sounds like you think I'm assuming that the double negative can't be used as an emphatic single negation in his native language. If that's what you mean, I don't think I'm assuming that at all.

Double negations *are* tricky enough that they can fool you in other languages even if they exist in your own. Just anecdotally, when I was learning Greek, we were reading a passage of Herodotus (I think it was) in which a double negation was used for emphasis. Everyone in the class mistranslated it as a logical double negation, even though we were familiar with the English emphatic double negative.

Furthermore, I'd be really surprised if the way I learned to distinguish logical double negatives from emphatic double negatives had anything to do with either rote memory or instruction. It seems to me that this is just one of those things that children learn by osmosis as they absorb the rest of their native grammar.

feb 27, 2009, 10:15pm

I commend to you an excellent psycholinguistic explanation of the non-negating form of a seeming double negative offered by Steven Pinker in The Language Instinct. It seems that not all double appearances of negating words necessarily create a double negative.

feb 27, 2009, 10:21pm

I guess the problem is that "walla" looks like English

In fact, it is English - but not with that meaning.

Redigeret: feb 28, 2009, 4:56pm

#3 "it only means "in a moment" because the stoopid peepul overwhelmed the very language itself."

I see what you're getting at but isn't that the foundation of evolution? That whatever changes serve the greater good of the greater number survive, go forth and multiply?

(Just read #4 after writing this;basically says the same thing (I think)).

feb 28, 2009, 5:19pm

Just joined what looks to be a very interesting group so forgive me if this has already been through the wash cycle.

Ther is one 'word' that is constantly misuded and has been since I was at school, then through tertiary and past.

Given there is an "orientate". Given there is an "orienteer". What on Earth, someone pray tell, is "oriention" - someone turning Japanese, perhaps?

I have seen this in places and heard it from people who should know far better, including dry-as-dust academic tomes, respected (and, obviously, not-so-respected) newsreaders, lecturers...aaahhhhhh!

And I must admit I'm not entirely happy with the use "orienting" but its use has become far more widespread and familiarity, when it doesn't breed contempt, often engenders contentment, does it not?

Redigeret: feb 28, 2009, 5:25pm

Apropos of absolutely nothing, I spotted this at the Troynovant site:

"PC feminism is the politics of rage that depicts men as political enemies of women. It replaces reasoned argument with ad hominem onslaught and has sparked a hate-filled backlash at the fringes of the Men's Rights Movement, where women are hated as a class in tit-for-tat fashion."

Smirk, giggle, giggle (dare I say "titter"). Sorry, straight face, this is serious.

Redigeret: feb 28, 2009, 5:48pm

#9 Mr. Fry asks "... is there a “higher language”, a purer language, a proper language, a right language?"

I believe, in certain situations, there is. Humans, as with most, if not all 'higher' animals, resort to non-verbals in times of physical, emotional and intellectual stress.

In Freudian terms, the body is largely freed from the constraints of socially-dictated mores of the superego and the self-aggrandisement of the ego; instinct largely takes over.

This, it seems to me, is the most 'honest', most 'correct' language.

Redigeret: mar 1, 2009, 4:12am

Quite possibly apropos of nothing again (except the broad sweep which goes by the name "English language"), I read quite some time ago (in an engaging book explorting English, the title of which eludes me) that split infinitives like "To boldly go..." is considered wrong, wrong, wrong is boringly pedestrian and has nothing to do with the English tongue per se.

It is simply because it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for infinitives to be split in the language of nobs and scholars who dictated its rules up to and including Dr. Johnson - Latin.

Talk about a hangover!

As a codicil to this whinge, what kind of genii insist on grafting Latin grammatics on a language composed of borrowings & shavings from German, Scandinavian, Italian, Hindi, Chinese and Greek, not to mention geek (as in computerese, legalese, etc.). ?

feb 28, 2009, 8:31pm

Oh, orienting oneself is a traditional use of the verb "orient". The problematic usage that irritates me is the back-formation from "orientation" that stops halfway at "orientate". Why invent a longer version of a perfectly good word?

Redigeret: mar 1, 2009, 4:17am

# 52 & 55 Words like "not impossible" aren't double negatives in the usually accepted, critical sense. It's actually a common and well-accepted poetic device called litotes.
Wikipedia exemplars the Bible( "… no ordinary city." Acts 21:39 (NIV), as well as common usage ("I couldn't disagree less." (double litotes) and, "He was not unfamiliar with the work.").

apr 3, 2009, 8:56am

Not _quite_ on topic, but a question for all - which do you say?
Each to his own
To each his own

I say the latter, my sister says the former and we argue about it regularly (not acrimoniously, it nearly always ends with each of us saying ours and shrugging). I'm wondering if there are regional (US/UK? Regional US?) differences in the usage, or time differences, or one of us just made it up, or what.

Yes, my sister and I could have regional differences in speech. We grew up traveling around the world, with as many British teachers as American, and our parents are East Coast and Midwest (New Jersey and Michigan, specifically). We've got a lot of differences in word choice and accents depending on what we picked up from who.

There is a meaning difference if you look at the actual words. The usage is identical.

Opinions? (like I need to ask, here.)

apr 3, 2009, 9:08am

>80 jjmcgaffey:
I say the latter. Never heard the former.

(NW Indiana - Chicagoland)

apr 3, 2009, 10:10am

I also say the latter and didn't know the former. (NW England)

apr 3, 2009, 10:35am

Ditto to 81 and 82, only say the latter, never heard the former. I grew up in California to parents from Indiana and now live in Chicago.

apr 3, 2009, 11:04am

To each his own.
(Texan w/Yankee mother)

Redigeret: apr 3, 2009, 5:34pm

Google results:

"each to his own" - 485,000
"to each his own" - 990,000

"each to their own" - 452,000
"to each their own" - 361,000

"each to her own" - 25,500
"to each her own" - 39,300

I've never heard the "each to X own" variety before (or never paid attention to it). My first thought is that it might be more flexible within a syntactic context, whereas "to each X own" is mostly used an independent sentence. But this doesn't seem to be a determining factor in the Google results, even for the differently-gendered variants. This impression may just be an artifact of Google ranking: "Each to his own" appears to be a popular title for op-eds.

apr 3, 2009, 5:35pm

Thanks, bjza - at last an approach to objective evidence!

apr 3, 2009, 6:28pm

To each his own is the only version I recall ever hearing--and I'm 74 8-)

apr 4, 2009, 6:14pm


Made up by second grade teachers because they think their students are too dumb to know what "estimate" means.

Guess. Estimate. One or the other, not both.

apr 4, 2009, 7:14pm

Oh, I don't know. I think there is a difference between guess and estimate with estimate implying more precision. Thus guesstimate means that the number in question is less precise than an estimate but more precise than a mere guess.

apr 6, 2009, 11:54am

Back to "To each his own," vs. "Each to his own."

I've both heard and used the latter (Southern United States). I'm aware that the former is the more common, idiomatic version, but as >80 jjmcgaffey: pointed out, the two versions connote subtly different things, and the variation can be useful.

"To each his own," means something like, "Each person should be given what he wants."

"Each to his own," means something like, "Each person should go get what he wants."

I'm not so naive as to think that every person who uses, "Each to his own," recognizes this distinction, or that he may have missed the idiom he was reaching for. On the other hand, I don't find it particularly troubling, even if it is used in error, since--unlike "I could care less" in place of "I couldn't care less"--the purported mal-usage doesn't result in a person saying the precise opposite of what he means.

apr 6, 2009, 2:40pm

In my experience, "to each his own" is used when a disagreement has been hashed through without reaching a conclusion and one of the participants wants to end it. Sort of like "let's agree to disagree" or "Whatever".

apr 8, 2009, 11:11am

The only place I've heard "each to his own" was in David Bowie's song Teenage Wildlife. I always took it as a phrase that meant both "to each his own" and "birds of a feather..."

Redigeret: apr 9, 2009, 3:30am

As the 'Each to his own' conflict rages, perhaps we should seek advice from those who understand the nuances of the sentiment in other languages.

Presumably 'Chacun a son Gout' is the French equivalent. Any helpful nuances there?

maj 26, 2009, 4:32pm

Taken in word-order, that would hint at "Each to his own", but more directly it would mean "Each has his taste" (being that in food or fashion or the like).

It is interesting that the French neglects the "own" ... by which i mean that the phase isn't "Chacun a son propre gout" - "Each has his own taste". This doesn't exactly pertain to the matter at hand, but it is interesting to note the lack of possessive.

maj 27, 2009, 1:22pm

Ah, but there's «à chacun son goût» too.

maj 28, 2009, 6:11pm

regarding the lack of plural for 'you' - in hiberno english 'ye' is still in everyday use (how charming!)

#80 and others - never heard of 'to each his own' in the approximate meaning of "do as you like"/"whatever", although I think the phrase is 'each to their own (liking?)' anyway. in case that was unclear, i might say "each to their own.." and roll my eyes if someone chose to put tomato ketcup in their cappuccino. I'm not sure if this is the meaning everyone is after. Oh and I represent the English view to the matter, so perhaps the isogloss lies in the atlantic.

i'm not sure what the intended point of the google comparison (#85) was, but I disapprove of its use to prove the correctness of anything at all: at best you can find out that X is indeed a common misconception. For instance, I have witnessed a lecturer doing a GoogleFight to see which was correct, "different from", "different to" or "different than", seemingly unaware that different variants are used in different parts of the world, and the American variant is likely to win a GoogleFight. That made my blood boil. It is true, though, that if your suggestion doesn't have any results, it's probably wrong!

maj 29, 2009, 5:45am

#96: haidiw "google comparison (#85)"

In this instance, Google showed that "to each" are "each to" are both frequently used. That's useful information in the context of this discussion, it reminds us that "I never heard it said that way" isn't a good reason to say that something is wrong.

maj 30, 2009, 5:41pm

93 In German, the phrase "Jedem das Seine" (literally "each-DATIVE the his/hers") has been in use for centuries, but acquired dark overtones in the last century, after it was cynically inscribed on the gates of an Austrian concentration camp.

This year some advertisers got in trouble by unthinkingly using a version of the phrase to peddle coffee products. http://is.gd/K92n

That probably has nothing to do with the English "to each his own," except indirectly, as a reminder that historical events can color the meaning of words and phrases.