Category Archives: Grammar Gripery

This Is the Hill I Die On (Or Mast, Or Whatever)

Thanks to the global pandemic sea shanties are suddenly popular, which fine, great – it’s about time something good came out of all this death and disease. But the rise of sea shanties has meant a corresponding rise in people talking about sea shanties, which has highlighted one of the greatest horrors of the modern age:

People saying “aaargh” when they want to sound like a pirate or old-timey sailor, instead of “aaarrr”.

“Aaarrr” is clearly correct, though people of good conscience can disagree about the precise numbers of “a”s and “r”s. I will also accept “yaaaar”, as Horatio McCallister uses to start every sentence.

High Quality Simpsons sea captain Blank Meme Template
Oh, you didn’t know that “Horatio McCallister” was his real name? Well, obviously I’m more of an expert on this stuff than you, then

But “arrgh” is clearly an expression of distress, much like “augh”

PEANUTS on Twitter: "Football starts today, Charlie Brown...  http://t.co/5KMFELlxLt"
Not the least bit piratical

Can I pirate say “argh”? Sure, I guess, if the pirate in question had stubbed his toe or his parrot had pecked him in the ear or something, but so can a non-pirate, and more to the point this putative pirate wouldn’t start every sentence with “argh” like he would with “arrr”. And more importantly, we can all agree that only sea-faring types would ever say “arrr”. So let’s all agree to socially condemn people who do it wrong.

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Filed under Grammar Gripery, Words Mean Things, Dammit

I Just Can’t Stand This

In case you aren’t familiar with it for some reason, the classic show Parking Wars is a reality show that airs on A&E. The last new episode was filmed back in 2012, but it shows in reruns to this day, because who doesn’t enjoy watching people yell angrily about parking tickets?

As great as the show is, though, one thing about it has always bothered me. In approximately half the episodes, someone will get a ticket for parking in a no standing zone and argue to the beleaguered parking enforcement officer that they “were parking, not standing”. Sometimes, they will buttress their argument by pointing out that they are not from Philadelphia/Detroit/Staten Island/whatever, and that’s why they don’t know about this peculiar regional parking rule.

Throughout all the arguments that inevitably follow, though, the representative of parking authority, no matter who they are or what city that work for, never seems to think of explain what the difference between parking and standing (when it comes to automotive rules), actually is.

Now, the readers of this blog are all the sort of people who would thoroughly learn all traffic rules and regulations before getting behind the wheel of a car. But for the benefit of those readers who don’t drive, the difference is this: Parking is stopping a vehicle for any purpose other than loading and unloading people or stuff, while standing is stopping temporarily to pick up or drop off passengers (as in, what you might do at a taxi stand).

It’s not that difficult to understand – basically you just need to lay out the “No Stopping” > “No Standing” > “No Parking” hierarchy – but for some reason no one bothers with the definition. They just go in circles, with one person saying “you can’t park in a no standing zone” and the other saying “If I wasn’t allowed to park here, the singn would say ‘No Parking'”. It makes (sort of) good television, but it seems odd.

Unless it is because the parking enforcement person knows about the loophole in some municipalities that make parking and standing mutually exclusive. Which, it could be argued, allows you to park in a No Standing zone, so long as no one but the driver leaves…

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Black and Blue

I don’t know why this is such a difficult thing for people to understand, but Blackbeard was the famous pirate.  Bluebeard was just a serial murderer of wives.  I’m not sure why either murderous criminal would be considered a good corporate symbol.  But if, for instance, a company that sells hair care products wanted to use Bluebeard as a mascot, going for some kind of jolly roger motif is way off base.  Bluebeard’s whole thing was keys, so might I suggest his use by a lock manufacturer?

This guy wouldn’t last a day at sea

At least Edward Teach had a certain amount of flair (come to think of it, a beard products company that had Blackbeard as their mascot could try to bring back his striking fashion statement of wearing a bunch of lighted slow-burning matches in his beard – it’s hard to find beard matches these days).

Pirate Edward Teach Corsair - Free vector graphic on Pixabay

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You Know What They Say

It is kind of horrifying how precisely the main character in this Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal strip matches my own opinions.

It’s like they were collecting data points at one of my dinner parties.

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Shedding Some Light on This Situation (Get It?)

There’s been a lot of talk about airborne lidar recently, because it has once again been used to find archaeological ruins in a jungle, as opposed to the standard topographic mapping it gets used for day in and day out.  It has even gotten into the pages of the comics, ever the spot for cutting-edge news and science, in the form of Mark Trail:

The professor here makes a common error, and we need to push back on it.  Lidar is not an acronym, it is a portmanteau of “light” and “radar” (or RADAR, if you prefer, RADAR actually being an acronym for RAdio Detection And Ranging or RAdio Direction And Ranging).  Of course, people writing papers in the academic and business world can’t bring themselves to talk about portmanteaux, so they engaged in some revisionist history to turn the word into an acronym so they could just stick that into parentheses after the first use and move on with their lives.  Like radar, there was disagreement about exactly which words went into this putative acronym (“LIght Detection And Ranging” or “Laser Imaging Detection And Ranging”) but unlike radar they don’t both have that awkward way of using two letters from one word, so convention has it that the former acronym is expressed as “LiDAR” with a lower-case i to differentiate it.

So shame on you, Mark Trail, for perpetuating the myth that lidar is an acronym, and an extra “tsk” for, having made that error, not picking the version that would fit with your all-caps font.

We’ll save the thrilling discussion of why no one bothers using all caps for certain acronyms like radar and scuba for another day. Also, maybe we’ll get to why that kid Rusty looks like Ted Cruz now.

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Language Quantification

quantifyI spend a lot of time in my day job quantifying things, and apparently this falls under one of the many things I do that other people think is cool, because, as with Global Positioning System work and wearing wrap-around sunglasses, I often find people doing it in inappropriate contexts.  Today I find yet another in a long line of people desperately trying to score language and grammar.  This time, it’s in the New York Times, and involves trying to figure out which works of literature the speeches of various politicians are most similar to.  The method of comparison uses axes of “complexity” and “positivity” to classify both books and speeches.  I could delve into why these things are hard to quantify in language, and why it might not work, but we don’t really need to get into all that.  Besides, Language Log is better at that than I’ll every be.  But there’s no need to get all clever about it; there are two much simpler ways to examine this whole thing.

First, let’s look at the results.  Are Ted Cruz’s speeches similar, in any meaningful or useful way, to Beowulf?  Has anyone ever listened to Bernie Sanders speak and thought it sounded like James Joyce’s Ulysses?  No.  The answer is no.  So the final results don’t help much.

But heck, let’s also look at the axes of the graph.  Is Peter Pan really characterized by it’s relentlessly negative language?  Is the language in Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat really simple?  Again, maybe in some sense, but from a purely practical sense, is that a useful sense?  No.  So apparently the scoring system doesn’t really work, either.

So there we go.  Back to counting personal pronouns.

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Filed under General Writing Things, Grammar Gripery

Parts of Speech

BuildingAlaska1_16x9_1920x1080I don’t expect much from television stations, Lord knows.  But Scripps Interactive seems to fancy themselves something of an owner of educational programming (Food Network, Travel Channel, etc.), not that horrible brain-rotting stuff that encourages coarse behavior and lack of socialization that you hear about.  Still, even educational programming can be cut a bit of slack, and I don’t demand detailed knowledge of fiddly arcana.

But come on, DIY network, this new ad is too much.  The ad I refer to is for “Building Alaska” (there was a law passed recently that at least 20% of new reality shows have to be set in Alaska, I believe).  It features someone defining words one might hear on a building site in Alaska for the benefit of residents of the lower 48 (and I presume Hawaii – I don’t know why Alaskans always ignore that state).  Some of the words aren’t really regional Alaskanisms, but we’ll let that pass.  What bothers me is when the guy gets to the word “snoozle”, which, hell, might be only used in Alaska for all I know.  Anyway, he points out that it is both a noun and a verb – to be precise it can mean either “something to poke with” or “a type of movement”.

Now, my readers are no doubt all shouting “Hah!  What a maroon!  Those are both nouns, the way he said it!  Or maybe that second one is an adverb!  I’m not really sure!”.  But the fellow was speaking extemporaneously (or pretending to), and anyway, he actually meant verb for the second, because the example he gave was “snoozle on over there”.  No, the real problem is with the knucklehead who wrote the copy for the words that are printed under him while he talks.  When he says “Any kind of poking device”, the text reads “Snoozle = (n.) To poke” – identifying a verb form that the guy didn’t even mention as a noun.  Then, when he says “type of movement”, the text reads “Snoozle = (v.) Movement or go to fetch” – which, sheesh, I don’t know, just throws in a noun and some random clause and calls it a verb.

This is all part and parcel with people mis-identifying “passive voice” of course – the vague notion that the function of a word has something to do with its grammatical definition, so if something is vaguely related to motion, it must be a verb or whatever.  But you know, the person responsible for that copy is like, a writer.

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An Observation

microsoftGoogleMy word processor does not believe in contracting “it is”.  My phone does not believe that “it” can ever take a possessive.  I assume this is a manifestation of some kind of battle between Microsoft and Google, but it would be nice if they’d loosen up and take less absolutist stances, vis-a-vis autocorrect.  Oh, and MS Word?  “And then” is worse than “and” or “then” 99.99% of the time.  Cut it out.

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Pragmatism

This here not only perfectly captures my feelings on linguistics, but gymnastics as well!Maroney

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Literally Flabbergasted

SluggoHat2I was listening to the news the other day, and heard someone say that they were “literally flabbergasted” at something.  I don’t recall what had caused the flabbergastation, or anything in particular about the news story, but it got me thinking.  Is there any other way to be flabbergasted?

I mean, I’m not here to rehash the old “literal versus figurative” thing, though I tend to abandon my normal descriptivist leanings and come across all prescriptivist about that particular topic.  Obviously, it doesn’t make sense to tack “literally” onto “flabbergasted” if one is using literally properly.  Flabbergasting doesn’t really have a concrete sense, so there’s no need to explain to everyone that you aren’t, in this particular case, talking about being figuratively flabbergasted (what would figuratively flabbergasted look like?).

But see here, even if we allow improper use of literally as a generic intensifier, it doesn’t make much sense here.  “Flabbergasted” is a pretty damn intense word already.  Intensifying it is kind of gilding the lily, isn’t it?  It’s sort of the ne plus ultra of surprise already, folks.  Leave it alone.

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