The sixth link of Christmas: Inclusive language

More than inclusive, really. Respectful. How should we talk about people not like ourselves, in order to avoid “othering” them?

This collection began with links about sexist language and has expanded to include (ha! “inclusive includes” — I kill myself sometimes) racist, ableist, and other -ist languages as well. I’ll suggest following Conscious Style Guide (on Twitter, @consciousstyles) for more on this. I don’t repost everything from them, y’know?

The fifth link of Christmas: REEEEEEE-GION-AL SPEECH! (Did you sing it?)

This collection doesn’t get as much business or traffic as some, but what’s here is worthwhile, I think. I started with the idea of focusing solely on AmE and BrE differences, but I’ve expanded that to regionalisms as well.

There are some great blogs out there with a focus on AmE/BrE differences, chief among which is the one from Lynne Murphy.

I didn’t catch that: Idiomatic speech

“It’s raining cats and dogs.”

“He’s all washed up.”

“That’s straight from the horse’s mouth.”

At least two of those statements are always idiomatic in nature. That is, their meaning is not readily understood by the words composing them. Cats and dogs are not falling from the sky. Horses don’t speak human speech, and nothing I care much about comes directly from a horse’s mouth. (Horse saliva? Thanks, I got mine already.)

But what about “He’s all washed up” as an idiom? He could be ready to eat, and has washed his hands and face prior to coming to the table; he’s all washed up. There, it’s more of a regional speech than an idiom. The words mean (almost) what they look like they’d mean.

Now, what if he’s been given a task to complete on pain of losing his position in something (the workplace, a sports team, the HOA landscaping committee), and he’s failed to do so? We could say “he’s all washed up,” meaning “he failed,” “he’s done for” (an idiom in itself), “he’s finished” (ditto, especially if he’s washed up because he didn’t finish!).

And “I didn’t catch that” means “I didn’t hear you,” usually. Nothing’s been literally thrown, so it can’t be literally caught.

“For N o’clock” or “by N o’clock?”

When you have an appointment, do you say you need to be there “for” or “by” the scheduled time?

I have always said “by.” I need to be at the office by nine o’clock.

My husband, however, has always said “for.” He needs to be at the office for eight o’clock.

The first time I heard it, I mentally stopped, stock still. “For?” Surely you mean “by,” right? I didn’t ask, though. I just made a note and kept listening. Sure enough, that’s the phrasing he always uses. He was born in MA and grew up in RI. He’s not British, which this usage would seem to suggest (it’s “exclusively” BrE, according to Algeo’s British or American English?”: A handbook of word and grammar patterns).

I’ll suggest it may be less “exclusive” than his research led him to report. He states “0 iptmw in CIC texts” for AmE. In English (AmE, precisely), that means zero instances per ten million words in the Cambridge International Corpus. I can swear to the existence of three American English native speakers (my husband and his two daughters) who use “for” where I use “by” in this particular construction. Is it a spoken AmE thing, but not a written AmE thing?

I’d love to hear from linguists who have experience with this wording. Is it as “exclusive” as Algeo says? Or are there other AmE speakers (perhaps from New England, or perhaps only in that little bit of MA and RI) who use this? I’m a corn-fed Midwestern gal of Frisian extraction. This British thing . . . I didn’t grow up with this.

You want me to use WHAT?

Substitute or replace?

A few years ago I’d have wondered why this is even a question. At the time (let’s say, ten years ago or thereabouts) I had yet to see them used the way I do now, with what is to me alarming regularity.

I even checked Garner’s Modern American Usage (3rd Edition) to see if there was an entry with a language-change index rating. There is not.

Then I pulled out my dog-eared Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage (copyright 1989, a full 20 years earlier than Garner’s 3rd), and lo. An entry. At the time I purchased this book, I had never encountered the usage discussed.

And I should probably tell you what that usage is, shouldn’t I. I get so discombobulated when I see it, I have trouble being clear. It makes me verklempt, I tell you. Continue reading “You want me to use WHAT?”

Superannuated Syntax: For Such Fell Purpose

“Fell” needs to be resurrected in the adjectival sense, for my money. It’s a wonderful word used in that manner. I’ll wager you know the phrase “one fell swoop,” meaning “a swift and deadly stroke” (and if you don’t know it, you can read about it here). Unsurprisingly, that phrase comes from Shakespeare. Macbeth, actually. But I digress. Continue reading “Superannuated Syntax: For Such Fell Purpose”

Superannuated Syntax: Fast Might Not Mean Quick

“Tight Times at Ridgemont High”?

“The Tight and the Furious”?

Karen, what in tarnation are you on about now? Those titles make no sense.

Nope, they don’t. I’m playing with words to introduce today’s topic: “fast,” in the sense of “tight” or “secure.” As in “hold fast,” or “steadfast,” or even “a fastener.” Continue reading “Superannuated Syntax: Fast Might Not Mean Quick”

Superannuated Syntax: Say what, now?

In the last week or so I’ve had conversations around the ‘net with people about syntax, word choices, and usages that confound many “modern” readers and writers and speakers of English (native and otherwise). One such usage is “suffer” in the sense of “allow.” “Suffer the children” does not mean “the children are suffering.” It means “allow the children” (“suffer the children, and forbid them not, to come unto me,” in context as attributed to Christ in Matthew 9:14, KJV). Anyone who says otherwise has fallen victim to superannuated syntax.

I deliberately avoided calling this series “Outmoded Syntax” because that’s associated with programming, and this ain’t that.

In any case, this series is meant to talk about phrasing we don’t hear much anymore and wording that confuses “modern readers,” and maybe even to provide some tips and suggestions for strengthening historical fiction by using appropriately outdated choices (in appropriate ways, of course). I’ve not yet decided on that part of it, but know I’m thinking about it.

To kick things off, here’s a link to a post at Vocabulary.com from 2012 about the language of Christmas carols. Chock full of superannuated syntax/usage/vocabulary!

More thoughts on “singular they”

This time, I have backup from none other than John McWhorter, linguist, author, and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. That backup comes from his book Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English.

Early on in Chapter Two (“A Lesson from the Celtic Impact: The ‘Grammatical Errors’ Epidemic Is a Hoax”), he discusses the bias against the usage of “they” to mean “one of an indeterminate gender.” Of course, he points out its appearance as early as the 15th century in the phrase “Iche mon in thayre degree” (each man in their degree) in the Sir Amadace tale. Then he names Shakespeare, of course, and Thackeray, too (“A person can’t help their birth,” from Vanity Fair). And yes, I hear the grumblings and see the head-shakings that “just because the Bard did it doesn’t make it right.” Well . . . I disagree, you see. He did it because it was being done. All over. By many, many people. The 19th-century grammarians and their blind insistence on making English conform to Latin grammar took issue, but that’s because . . . well, they meant well, but didn’t understand much about linguistics back then. Continue reading “More thoughts on “singular they””