Thursday, December 23, 2004

My latest Tribune language column:
The Top 10 Books on Language of 2004.
temp link/perm.preview

Here's an example of how trying to avoid splitting an auxiliary from its verb ("will be tainted") sounds really weird. (And what's up with "apparently" in an objective news story?)

"Barry Bonds' legendary career apparently forever will be tainted."

Other questions that come up when you read the papers:

Can renew be intransitive?

"Fighting renews in Fallujah" x

Why the sentence fragments? (Um, I mean, Why are there sentence fragments?)

Danger and drama as Prime Minister sweeps into Iraq x

• Among the church signs spotted at

"Forbidden fruits create many jams"

• In- is Latin; un- is Old English--I think, after looking it up in AHD.

• Just about done with your last-minute Christmas cattle raid? From AHD's WHM:

A spending spree seems a far cry from a cattle raid, yet etymologists have suggested that the word spree comes from the Scots word spreath, "cattle raid." The word spree is first recorded in a poem in Scots dialect in 1804 in the sense of "a lively outing." This sense is closely connected with a sense recorded soon afterward (in 1811), "a drinking bout," while the familiar sense "an overindulgence in an activity," as in a spending spree, is recorded in 1849. Scots and Irish dialects also have a sense "a fight," which may help connect the word and the sense "lively outing" with the Scots word spreath, meaning variously, "booty," "cattle taken as spoils," "a herd of cattle taken in a raid," and "cattle raid." The Scots word comes from Irish and Scottish Gaelic spréidh, "cattle," which in turn ultimately comes from Latin praeda, "booty." This last link reveals both the importance of the Latin language to Gaelic and a connection between cattle and plunder in earlier Irish and Scottish societies.

• Geoff Pullum puts this sentence under a magnifying glass at LL:

"We are world champions at lawmaking," Christine Ockrent, who has anchored the evening news on two channels, run the weekly L'Express, and, as she says, "seen everything," told me a few days after the law was signed.

Sez he:

That's a preposed direct quote ("We are world champions at lawmaking") followed by the rest of a clause headed by the verb tell (Christine Ockrent told me ___). The clause has an additional adjunct at the end a~few days after the law was signed): a preposition phrase headed by after, containing a pre-head measure adjunct noun phrase (a~few days) ...

• I kid you not: a video and study kit called "Sex as God's Gift" in a Christian catalog offers "Reproducible student worksheets."

• I saw an ad for a product and an "accessory." I thought that was what Bill Walsh in Elephants of Style calls a "false singular"--he cites "school supply." But the dictionaries have this as a true singular, in part because of the word's definition as accomplice to a crime.

• Invented adverbs in my inbox recently:

"I'll peruse them more in depthly when I get back."

"Thanks muchly."

One of these writers apologized to me for the unorthodox construction. No need--I'm a descriptivist! If you're communicating the meaning you intend, who cares if it conforms to your stuffy English teacher's liking?

• "Justice oughta be fair." George W. Bush at recent economic summit.

I don't disagree.

• From Erin McKean's MWWW:

Sabaism [SAY-bay-iz-um]
the worship and adoration of the stars. From a Hebrew word meaning 'host'.

• From Richard Wilbur's "Some Words Inside of Words" earlier this year in the Atlantic:

At heart, ambassadors are always sad.
Why? Because world affairs are always bad,
So that they're always having to express
"Regret," and "grave concern," and "deep distress."

The barnacle is found in salty seas,
Clinging to rocks in crusty colonies;
And salt, which chemists call NaCl,
Is found inside the barnacle as well. ...

If a carp is in your carport, go find out
Whether the living room is full of trout
And eels and salamanders, and if there's
A snapping turtle paddling up the stairs.
If that's what's going on, your house (beyond
A doubt) is at the bottom of a pond.

Some snakes are nice to handle, but an asp
Is not the kind to take within your grasp.
That is what Cleopatra did, I fear,
And, as you know, she is no longer here.

Previous column and inflections

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