ALL IN ALL.

Mark Liberman made a Log post a while back in which he discussed the phrase “all in all”:

It’s not syntactically or semantically transparent — we don’t say “some in all” or “some in some” or anything else remotely close. The fact that “in all” also exists helps a bit, but it’s still pretty opaque. And when I looked it up in the OED, I discovered that the only meaning offered there for all in all is “All things in all respects, all things altogether in one”…

He distinguishes three senses of the phrase, exemplified by the quotes “Is God my all in all?,” “He was a man, take him for all in all,” and “It was, all in all, the most ubiquitous feature of the landscape,” and tracks their changes in relative frequency over time, finding (unsurprisingly) that the first two declined steadily over the first half of the twentieth century while the third shot up like a rocket. His conclusion:

So “all in all”, in the meaning “Generally, all things considered”, increased just about as rapidly as “at the end of the day” did, a century later. The result is arguably ungrammatical and illogical except as an idiom. It displaced an older, arguably useful version of the same phrase meaning “all things to a person, or all things desired”. But as far as I can tell, no one ever complained. Go figure.

I think it’s worth emphasizing that last bit: no peevers have arisen to smite this new, illogical distortion of a fine old phrase, hallowed by usage. The inescapable conclusion? Peevery is personal and random. If Fowler or Strunk had happened to notice the phrase, think about it, and decide to attack it in print, it would be as “skunked” as sentence adverbial hopefully and all the other dreary shibboleths. But the lightning struck (or strunk) elsewhere, and we all use it without fear.

Comments

  1. Peevery is personal and random.
    Each idiolect eschews certain usages. All in all, well and good. There is no Academy of the English Language, allegedly due to the respect given Dr Johnson, who declared that we are free to use the language as we wish, as long as we learn it well.
    As we know he was opinionated, as was Dr Fowler, and we enjoy their opinions because they were witty people. But most of us express our opinions peevishly, childishly, because we feel personally attacked. It takes a long time for North Americans to grow up. (Dearieme’s remark about Doge was very witty, and I was quite surprised that no-one chose to attack it, or him. Or did I misread that?)
    So I agree that peevishness is personal, but I think it only appears to be random because it is misunderstood.

  2. I don’t understand. Wherein lay the wit? Doge is just Venetian for ‘duke’.

  3. I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at with the expression “peevery is personal and random”. Peevishness is a disposition or tendency to complain about peanuts, a kind of irritability in persons. It is by definition personal.
    Peevishness can be transient, but there are people who are peevish pretty much all the time. So it seems that it could be institutionalized without a contradiction in terms: the American Association of Practicing Peeves.
    This might dispose of the charge of randomness, if the Association took its work seriously. That is your main peeve, I suspect: that peevish people don’t systematically address everything that could be peeved about, for example of a linguistic kind. But is this a feature of peeves only, and is it fair to present it as a failing ?
    Do scientists systematically address everything they could be scientific about ? I would have thought that there are simply too many things that one could be scientific about, and not enough scientists to go around. Even garbage collectors pick up only the garbage that is on their route.
    Merely because peeves don’t peeve day and night at every candidate for complaint, does not justify accusing them of random behavior. All of us, most of the time, must wait for opportunity to knock.
    This comment itself may ring your bell.

  4. Also, pointing out on your widely-read blog that “all in all” is something that could be peeved about, is liable to start a wave of peeving about just that expression. By publicly complaining that peeves have missed that one, you have directed their attention to it, and given opportunity a knock upside the head.

  5. the quidnunc kid says:

    I wholeheartedly support the neologism “strunked”.
    — “Yeah, I said I’m gonna ‘boldly go where no man has gone before’. Don’t strunk me, Bro.”

  6. I didn’t read “peevery is […] random” as an accusation.
    And surely “peevery” (at least as used here) is not a synonym for “peevishness”.

  7. My reading of the other day (oh yes, I did check) was careful to point out to me that “Doge” wasn’t Venetian for “Duke”. As for wittiness; some hit, some miss.
    Anyhoo, “all in all”. It’s reasonably euphonious, whereas “at the end of the day” is broken glass to the ear. And so bloody slow – how can anyone bear to wait to the end of “at the end of the day”? (Or rather to the “day” of “at the end of the day”?) Especially in its extended form “Wot I seye, mite, is that at the end of the deye, tyking one fink wiv annuvar, by an’ large, …”: it’s a snoreathon of a cliche.
    Morebloodyover, it has a simple, literal meaning that frequently clashes with the figurative meaning, so leaving the listener with the impression that the speaker is a cloth-eared chump.

  8. But I really dislike “Go figure”, as Hat doubtless hoped some reader would.

  9. I wholeheartedly support the neologism “strunked”.
    I’m glad, but my neologism was an irregular verb strink, strank, strunk. I was quite pleased with it, but I must admit “to strunk” would be more likely to catch on.
    I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at with the expression “peevery is personal and random”.
    I mean what I say and I say what I mean. What is the difficulty in that apparently straightforward sentence?
    Do scientists systematically address everything they could be scientific about ?
    Uh… yes?

  10. May I peeve a bit about ‘random’? Randomness is actually quite a subtle business and shouldn’t be just tossed into an argument without any misgivings:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Random_number_generation
    http://brannigan.emporia.edu/projects/hardwareRNG/TRNG/leebThesis.pdf

  11. AJP Crown says:

    Not as good at strink, but I like peeve, I am peeving, as a verb. Peeve, pave, pove.
    By the way, has anyone read W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz? I can’t see it mentioned by Language anywhere. I’m reading it with a new, helpful introduction by James Wood. There’s quite a lot about old photographs and monumental buildings that I’m interested in.

  12. Yeah, Matt, I have been known to tell people off when they’ve said “random” when they’ve meant “haphazard”. Remarkably few have thanked me for this free instruction.
    On a different point: when I attended a freshman Statistics course, I enquired of the lecturer why he used “random” in three different senses. He was flummoxed – it hadn’t occurred to him. It was part of the process by which I came to realised that the bulk of the difficulty that students suffer with introductory statistics courses is caused not by the intrinsic difficulty of the subject matter, but by the culture of rotten teaching that is associated with it.

  13. the bulk of the difficulty that students suffer with introductory statistics courses is caused not by the intrinsic difficulty of the subject matter, but by the culture of rotten teaching that is associated with it.
    Right on, dearie !

  14. I mean what I say and I say what I mean. What is the difficulty in that apparently straightforward sentence?
    It can be hard to understand someone who says what he means, and means what he says, but is reluctant to elaborate on either when a hearer isn’t knocked over by them in round one.

  15. OK, I’ll grant that “random” can be a difficult word. How about “peevery is personal and depends entirely on what bits of language a given peever has happened to see, think about, and decide was ungrammatical, illogical, or unnecessary”?

  16. Gr’u: I think the reader has a certain responsibility too. For one thing, he said ‘peevery’ and then you quibbled about ‘peevishness’. It certainly seems obvious to me that they are not the same thing: peevery is not a personal trait, it is a practice, or even an institution. My interpretation of what he said and meant: What gets peeved at, first by individuals and then by the peeving classes, is selected by personal irritation with random targets and not by any systematic application of criteria like logic, clarity, or educated usage. (Which is not to deny that logic and clarity may be invoked post hoc, sometimes even with justification.) Or, more briefly but just as clearly, peevery is personal and random. (Did I get it right, Hat?)

  17. You did, Treesong!
    (In my previous comment, read “were” for “was.”)

  18. the quidnunc kid says:

    >>I’m glad, but my neologism was an irregular verb strink, strank, strunk.
    Aw man – I just got strank for using “strunk”. That strinks.

  19. Gosh, those are nice distinctions among peeve (peevish person), peevishness (what a peevish person is in), peeve (what a peeve is on about), and peevery (a tendency to peeve without necessarily being peevish). There appear to be semantic gulfs between them.
    My claims still seem to be valid: 1) to say that peevery is personal is tautologous , 2) to say that peevery is “random” is misleading. Ad 1): only persons can peeve. Ad 2): nobody can address everything at once, but only a selection. Each peeve may well have non-“random” reasons for his/her selection, we just don’t know them in each case. Peeves in general are a predictable lot, though – one can, by definition, rely on them to peeve.
    As MattF and dearie pointed out, one is free to adopt the useful distinction between random and haphazard. In the unlikely event of thanks being proferred for this free instruction, please direct them to dearie.

  20. What would a society be like in which peevery was not “personal” ? Wouldn’t organized, rule-based, impersonal peevery be a contradiction among terms ?

  21. AJP: I see by the Wikientry that Austerlitz is ‘notable because of its lack of paragraphing, a digressive style, the blending of fact and fiction, very long and complex sentences (one sentence is about 9 pages long)’.
    Since I had trouble reading (and bookmarking) a copy of the original edition of Robinson Crusoe, which the above description fits beautifully, and I’m not even sure I finished it, how the hell are you managing to slog on?

  22. I see my first sentence lacks something. Feel free to insert whatever you please.

  23. peeve (peevish person), peevishness (what a peevish person is in), peeve (what a peeve is on about), and peevery (a tendency to peeve without necessarily being peevish)
    Stu, this is not how I would break it down. For me, peeve is the thing someone complains about, peevishness is either a character trait or a temporary state of mind, and the person who complains is a peever.
    I think that the word “peevery” is a recent coinage, maybe not even in dictionaries yet. As I understand it it denotes a kind of behavior, a kind of complaining about the use of language. It doesn’t mean a tendency toward such behavior. It doesn’t mean the state of mind that you are in when you behave that way. It doesn’t mean the thing that someone is complaining about. It’s shorthand for something like “that awful ignorant prescriptivist complaining that is so irritating to right-thinking people”.
    Maybe you’re right that Hat’s statement about it is nearly tautological; I wouldn’t think that any right-thinking person who understands what is meant by peevery ever thought that it could be, as you put it, “organized, rule-based, impersonal”.
    Yet I found his observation about “all in all” worthwhile. It got my attention, make me think a little, and enabled a new little feeling of superiority over the peevers. I mean the observation that, although it is just the sort of expression that this would happen to, “all in all” has not become the target of that sort of complaint. No doubt there are countless peevers who use it freely, but who would turn around and denounce if fed the right sort of prompt from one of their leaders.

  24. Hat, I’ve just thought of something that might reduce irritability here. You present the statement “peevery is personal and random” as a conclusion or realization:

    I think it’s worth emphasizing that last bit: no peevers have arisen to smite this new, illogical distortion of a fine old phrase, hallowed by usage. The inescapable conclusion? Peevery is personal and random.

    What did you think peevery was before it occurred to you that it is “personal and random” ? Perhaps you had merely never thought much about the matter. At any rate, if I understood the before, I might be in a better position to understand the after. After all, we agree on the “personal” bit, the only difference being that I hold it to be tautologous.

  25. empty: Yet I found his observation about “all in all” worthwhile.
    Me too.
    It got my attention, make me think a little …
    Me too.
    … and enabled a new little feeling of superiority over the peevers.
    Me no too. Unless this is just a particular instance of: “to feel superior to those who feel superior”. In that case, we are in perfect harmony of opinion.

  26. By the way, empty, I just got an email from Walter Neumann that he and Anne will be in Germany next week, and particularly in Oberwolfach week after next.

  27. Actually after reading the comment thread, I think something else was meant than literally personal (discredited as tautologous) and random (discredited as imprecise). In context, it meant something more like, that the author has come to realize that peeves are prompted by something more than what they ostensibly seem to be prompted by – that some (“hopefully”) constructs elicit peeve and others (“all in all”) do not, despite that both have what previously was thought to be the reason for the peeve (banal redundant meaning coming to outnumber previous useful less commonplace meaning, and probably the former to drive the latter out of existence). But as the new cause is as yet unknown, the words personal (in the sense of subjective) and random (in the sense of chance-influenced) stand in for it.

  28. An idiom that makes no logical or grammatical sense whatsoever?! Noooo! Not in my English! That never happens!
    😛
    (I’m saying, of course, that I’ve realized thanks to conversations with many people learning English as a second language that English has a TON of idioms and expressions that on their face make absolutely NO sense whatsoever and are really stupid when you think about them)
    Cheers,
    Andrew

  29. Oi, Andrew, that’s a tonne. We’re half metric here.

  30. AJP Crown says:

    iakon, the wikipeople must just be trying to put everybody off reading it. The actual book’s got a very good explanatory introduction by James Wood, and after reading it you’ll be just dying to get at the actual text, because it makes a lot more sense than the Wiki. For instance,

    Sebald deliberately layers and recesses his narrative, so that Austerlitz [the character] is difficult to get close to. He tells his story to the narrator, who then tells his story to us, thus producing the book’s distinctive repetitive tagging, a kind of parody of the source attribution we encounter in a newspaper: almost every page has a ‘said Austerlitz’ on it, and sometimes the layers of narration are thicker still, as in the following phrase, which reports a story of Maximillian, via Vera Rysanova via Austerlitz, and collapses the three names: ‘From time to time, so Vera recollected, said Austerlitz, Maximillian would tell the tale of how once, after a trade union meeting in Treplitz in the early summer of 1933…’ Sebald borrowed this habit of repetitive attribution from the Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard, who also influenced Sebald’s diction of extremism…

  31. Sebald borrowed this habit of repetitive attribution from the Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard, who also influenced Sebald’s diction of extremism…
    Heh. Maybe Sebald’s style contains “dictions of extremism”, but for Bernhard “extremes of diction” is more like it. Having just reread most of my Bernhard novels for the third time, I can assure you that only an ingenuous reader would find “extremism” there – someone who can’t laugh at the death of Little Nell.
    I suddenly remember reading Schwindel. Gefühle in the early ’90s. It was strange, I’ve forgotten everything specific, but I liked it. It was a volume from Enzensberger’s Die andere Bibliothek operation – fairly expensive, specially designed books with a bound-in place-marker ribbon. It’s the only one of them I ever acquired.

  32. Schwindel. Gefühle is by Sebald, I didn’t make that clear.

  33. AJP Crown says:

    Well have you read Sebald too, Stu? I bet Bernhard didn’t use photographs in his novels. Sebald’s pictures are great, quite scary.*
    *My phrase, not James Wood’s, obviously, but I’m trying to encourage more writers to use photographs & drawings. Sadly, I doubt that very many would be able to do it as effectively as Sebald. I was just looking at the graphic novels at Foyles today, and they’re just so BORINGLY illustrated – they’re only done like nostalgic comics and cartoons. God knows what the text is like.

  34. the bulk of the difficulty that students suffer with introductory statistics courses is caused not by the intrinsic difficulty of the subject matter, but by the culture of rotten teaching that is associated with it.
    Surely a role must be ascribed to genetically induced innumeracy.

  35. “Surely a role must be ascribed to genetically induced innumeracy.” Fair point; I was thinking of the extra difficulty that students often have with Probability and Statistics as compared with, say, Linear Algebra or Numerical Analysis. That “extra” is (in part) because of an ignoble tradition of bad teaching. Or so I suspect.

  36. What did you think peevery was before it occurred to you that it is “personal and random” ? Perhaps you had merely never thought much about the matter.
    For god’s sake, it didn’t just occur to me; I’ve thought that most of my life, and this is just another example. I find it hard to believe you’ve been reading LH for years and are capable of seriously proposing I had “never thought much about the matter.” But then I’m forgetting you’re never serious about anything, except perhaps Luhmann. Still, it gets annoying, this constant picking at things that seem to be clear to everyone but you.

  37. Garrigus Carraig says:

    Thank you, AJP Kaifeng, for encouraging me to take another look at Sebald. I read Vertigo years ago and didn’t really like it. But Austerlitz sounds like my kind of book. So I’m going to add it to my list of books-to-be-read, most of which I look forward to bequeathing to my heirs.

  38. No, I believe that humans are genetically inclined to false ideas about probability and statistics.

  39. superiority over the peevers
    I should have left that bit out. Emotional honesty at the expense of logical confusion.

  40. empty: I don’t see any logical confusion in “feeling superior to those who feel superior” – if that’s what you mean. What I meant by it could be described as – what’s the word – “ironic”. I was simply reminding myself that peeving about peevers, as a particular instance of Xing about Xers, is still peeving.
    Another example would be picking on the pickers, one way to console oneself for a feeling that one is being picked on. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I don’t see that it escapes pickyness. Circularity in behavior is as unavoidable as circularity in arguments. Even though you’re in the same place when the circle comes round, there is the new fact that you have gone round it again – so you’re not in the same place after all if and when you think about and capitalize on it. What a consolation !
    My own experience is that feelings of superiority spoil so quickly that it’s not worthwhile buying them in large quantity.

  41. AJP Kaifeng says:

    Garrigus, Kaifeng – I ought to have mentioned that the story (though not so much the book) is about Austerlitz’s background, having been sent, as a Jew, via a Kindertransport, to Wales in 1939. I recommend getting the new edition with James Wood’s foreword but don’t resign yourself to not reading it, you may find it hard to put down.
    Stu, I’m sorry I didn’t read or rather misunderstood the bit about how you’d read Schwindel. Gefuehle (Vertigo in the English version) before I asked whether you’d read anything by WG Sebald.

  42. Remember our discussion about the very different meanings of Schwindel, here or at A Bad Guide ? No wonder the English translator cut Sebald’s title right down the middle. It means both “Vertigo. Feelings” and “Fraud. Feelings”.

  43. It if’s legit to reduce the number of words in a book title, it should be legit to increase it – though why anyone should care about the cardinality at all is unclear. I suggest that Sebald’s title Schwindel. Gefühle could be suitably rendered as “Vertigo. Fraud. Feelings”.

  44. What I meant to say is that cardinality is not automatically the cardinal issue.

  45. My favourite find on the web this week: a blogger (or commenter) saying that something or other was reminiscent of the three witches in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
    Ha, said my wife, he must be American.
    How did she know?

  46. Because Americans often think in Hollywood terms ? The witches are shown hamming it up, so they must live in a hamlet.

  47. if that’s what you mean
    When I mentioned “right-thinking people” I was being a wee bit ironic, suggesting that groupthink has a role in all this.
    My mention of the pleasure of feeling superior was in this vein again, mocking myself a little for taking much the same kind of pleasure in sneering at usage peevers that I once took from sneering at “wrong” usage.
    Both of those would have been easy to misinterpret, partly because it seems that the “tone” of anything in this medium can be easy to misinterpret, and partly because they involved a switch from making another more straightforward point.
    What did I mean when I later wrote something about “logical confusion”? “Logical” is not the best word there. I meant that I had muddied my post, and muddled you, by inserting these faintly self-mocking and inadequately expressed side bits.

  48. Kevin AJP Ayres says:

    dearie, why do you have it in for USians (I don’t think it’s Canadians)? Stupidity and ignorance aren’t any more prevalent in the US than in Britain, it’s just that theirs is more widely broadcast. I find British stupidity (also smugness) much more provocative and irritating (probably because I very, very occasionally see it in myself).
    Stu, I found that Vertigo translation to be very odd, but I’m more put out by Sebald’s ‘.’, which seems to screw up any sentence that includes the whole German title. The more I read of Austerlitz the better and more diverting it is. It has long digressions that turn out not to be digressions at all. I’m tempted to type out a brilliant one about fortifications, but you’ll all just have to buy the book.

  49. My claims still seem to be valid: 1) to say that peevery is personal is tautologous , 2) to say that peevery is “random” is misleading. Ad 1): only persons can peeve. Ad 2): nobody can address everything at once, but only a selection.
    Ad 1): so what? The point is that the (initial) choices of what to peeve at are determined by quirks of personal taste rather than extrapersonal criteria. ‘Mathematics is personal because only people can do mathematics.’ Ad 2): peevery as an institution, the accumulated peeves of the peeving classes, could address everything in due time. But the choice of targets is to a significant extent haphazard rather than rulebound. Apart from the rule ‘unfamiliar is evil’.
    Going back to the subject phrase: is ‘all in all’ what Fowler would call a ‘sturdy indefensible’?

  50. Treesong: ‘Mathematics is personal because only people can do mathematics.’
    Quite right, the comparison with peevery is apt. If only peevers would specialize and agree on methodologies, they could set up their own faculties, conferences and Medals, and then claim to have transcended the personal.
    All in all, I now suppose that our host may previously have imagined that language peevers went about their work more methodically than they actually do. The notion of a “peeve” seems to have created the discord here. To me it is almost “by definition” someone who complains about this and that, but not systematically.

  51. I have been using the word “peeve” for what others call “peever” or “peevish person”. That may be because I am thinking along the lines of the noun “scold” (instead of “scolder”).

  52. If only peevers would specialize and agree on methodologies, they could set up their own faculties, conferences and Medals, and then claim to have transcended the personal.
    The more righteous than thou (to not say right-thinking) crowd has been working at just that sort of thing for decades now. Mrs. Hortense McGillicuddy was peeved about the piles of dog excrement she encountered on her way to a weekly bunion removal treatment. Soon she had her prim companions at The Order of the Eastern Star lodge concurring about the same horrid public nuisance. Before you could say Jack Russell, the city fathers were issuing Certificates of Merdit to our lucky ladies. Taken all for all, peevishness is personal but collectivized peevishness is arguably much worse.

  53. Weekly bunion removal? I fear that Mrs. McGillicuddy was a prey to the worst sort of pseudopodiatry. If she was as gullible as that, then the City Fathers might have gotten away with just telling her that excrement is good for the feet.

  54. If only peevers would specialize and agree on methodologies, they could set up their own faculties, conferences and Medals, and then claim to have transcended the personal.
    Or Academies.

  55. pea·vey   /ˈpivi/ noun, plural pea·veys.
    a cant hook with a sharply pointed end, used in handling logs.
    I’m not sure this is relevant….

  56. “why do you have it in for USians”: I don’t. You’re assuming the answer and you’re assuming wrongly. Circular reasoning.

  57. Mr AJP MacGillicuddy (no relation) says:

    Empty: Mrs. McGillicuddy was a prey to the worst sort of pseudopodiatry
    This is why there’s a Bunion Union.

  58. I’ll give you a clue, AJP. It’s not his confusing Hamlet with Macbeth – anyone could do that. Maybe he was tired, distracted, had the flu.

  59. AJP McGillicuddy (husband of Mrs McGillicuddy) says:

    Well that’s a relief, dearie.

  60. AJP Crown says:

    What is this… “Macbeth”?

  61. the city fathers were issuing Certificates of Merdit to our lucky ladies.
    Excellent !

  62. Weekly bunion removal?
    Preferable to my pedestrian ailment; foot in mouth disease!

  63. Is it because he called it “Shakespeare’s Hamlet” instead of simply “Hamlet”?

  64. Bingo! Yes, Ø, my wife said that it seemed to her rather American to assume that one’s own countrymen need to be told who wrote Hamlet, or, perhaps, to have the innate courtesy to tell them that: could it be because high immigration rates often have meant that it is a proper courtesy to fellow Americans?
    Anyway, it seemed to her distinctly American to do so, whatever the reason may be.
    Her view is rather Hamlet-specific: she wouldn’t, she said, have raised an eyebrow at “Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet” – after all, it might have been Prokofiev’s or Tchaikovsky’s, so that any sort of readership might want the writer to be specific.

  65. Certificates of Merdit
    I guess that means that if Arthur relieves himself, we’d be witnessing La merde d’Arthur.

  66. AJP Crown says:

    Hamlet used to be a brand of small cigars. Well done Empty. But dearie, in that case you ought to have put “the three witches in Shakespeare’s Hamlet” like that, in quotations, or else how am I supposed to know it’s not you who added the Shakespeare’s (except that you aren’t from the US)? Oh, never mind.

  67. Hmmm. “All in all,” in its present sense, seems quite descriptive to me, but in it’s supposed former sense, seems like nonsense.

  68. On this blog ‘peeve’ seems to have become shorthand for ‘grammatical peeve’. Has it become so in the wider world, too? I always thought peeves (or pet peeves) could be about anything, like the dogshit example.
    Having a peeve means letting something get under your skin so that you feel you have to introduce it into all your conversations, no matter what the context. It goes with a tendency to see the world as it should be, not as it is. It also tends to relate to small things that may be acknowledged by other people but don’t worry them to the same degree, if at all. All of this is applicable to grammatical pedantry, but when you come down to it, complaining about grammatical pedantry (or prescriptivism) is something of a peeve in itself 🙂

  69. On this blog ‘peeve’ seems to have become shorthand for ‘grammatical peeve’. Has it become so in the wider world, too? I always thought peeves (or pet peeves) could be about anything, like the dogshit example.
    No, it can be about anything, but in the context of a discussion of English usage on a language blog, I would think it would be clear what was meant without further clarification.
    when you come down to it, complaining about grammatical pedantry (or prescriptivism) is something of a peeve in itself
    Do you have the same plague-on-both-your-houses attitude toward scientists complaining about climate-change deniers or creationists?

  70. I think that by now it is a cliché that the impulse to complain about ignorant language pedantry is somewhat akin to the impulse behind language pedantry itself. I have revived that cliché in this thread, and maybe I should be sorry or maybe not.
    I firmly believe that the two impulses are related. I used to pounce on “errors”–some of which I now am now quite relaxed about, some of which I still find very irritating but try to be tolerant about, even if I avoid them myself. I feel like I know the other side of this. I like the subtitle of Jan Freeman’s blog: “Notes from a recovering nitpicker”, which points the same way. (Jan, would you by any chance want to weigh in here?)
    I do not mean that ignorant language pedantry is morally or intellectually equivalent to opposition to ignorant language pedantry. Emotionally akin, but not equivalent.

  71. Shakespeare’s Hamlet strikes me as rather AmE grammatically anyway, like Florida’s governor for the governor of Florida. It’s true that Tom Stoppard entitled two of his plays Dogg’s Hamlet and Cahoot’s Macbeth (normally performed together), but he’s really Tomáš Straüssler, so he may not know any better.

  72. Do you have the same plague-on-both-your-houses attitude toward scientists complaining about climate-change deniers or creationists?
    In recent years Richard Dawkins has distinguished himself as a big-time peever about religion. That could be a bit problematic for the consensus here that scientists are impersonal. One solution would be to define the problem away – Dawkins does not count as a scientist when he falls into peevery.
    Perhaps we need finer distinctions here. The blanket term “peevery” risks being stretched over several different bedfellows, for instance crankiness and obsessiveness in addition to peevery. Dawkins has become more cranky than peevish.
    I would say peevery suggests intermittent griping about things people think are not important. Crankiness implies a more sustained, though possibly less gripey preoccupation with the same kinds of thing. Obsessiveness is full-time crankiness concentrated on a very restricted number of those things.
    In order to apply any of these terms, a group of persons called “people” must be imagined as having satisfactorily marked out what is to count as important and unimportant. This group is imagined also to have determined the amounts of time which can be devoted to unimportant things, and still count as reasonable. Everyone who doesn’t play by these rules is then assigned to one of the three categories.
    This is a useful mechanism for structuring social interaction. It helps one to decide, for example, what kind of Christmas card to send – the cheap postcard with a sequined Santa, the more tasteful version in an envelope, or the A4 full monty with a group picture of the family members and a narrative of their reasonable activities over the year.

  73. According to a young chum of mine, the cure for admiring Dawkins’ stuff is to go to hear him speak.

  74. Give us a hint: does he ramble ? Does he rave ?

  75. The thing I hate about the A4(-ish) full monty is that the things reported on are invariably disgustingly self-congratulatory.

  76. Cranks are often self-congratulatory, I think it’s safe to say. That personality trait is the fons et oreo of kookie people.

  77. Creationists reject modern physics and cosmology in favor of fig newtons.

  78. “Give us a hint: does he ramble ? Does he rave ?”
    Her first criticism was that his voice was light, a little high-pitched, and tiring to listen to. Her second was that what he had to say was read straight out of the book he was launching, and had not been adapted to suit an oral presentation. Her third was (paradoxically) he shut up too soon and had his wife give the rest of the talk, a woman who (in the view of my chum) was, em, ah, not up to the task. And then they didn’t take questions and vanished. Pabloodythetic.

  79. I firmly believe that the two impulses are related.
    I strongly disagree, and frankly that attitude seems to me part and parcel of the general modern attitude I lump under the label “postmodernism” (and if that annoys postmodernists, they can lump it). To favor truth over bullshit is not the same as to favor bullshit over truth. And don’t give me that “what is truth?” crap; I say it’s postmodernism, and I say the hell with it. The fact that we don’t know everything about everything doesn’t mean we don’t know anything about anything.

  80. Hat, believe me, I favor bullshit over truth.
    I can only speak for myself about “impulses”. I find that, in addition to caring about the truth, I am also capable of being very pleased with myself, smug even, about being one of those people who know the truth, and about not being one of those poor wretches, or laughable fools, who are wrong. This seamy side of what it _feels_ like to be right is present when I am explaining that split infinitives are _not_ ungrammatical, just as it was there in the old days when I might remind someone that split infinitives _are_ ungrammatical.

  81. So I am indulging not in postmodernism but in that other degenerative disease of twentieth-century culture: psychological navel-gazing.

  82. Did I really write “I favor bullshit over truth”? I meant the opposite.

  83. I think of “Florida’s governor” as a US journalist thing, not a US thing.
    Google Ngram Viewer indicates that the frequency of “Shakespeare’s Hamlet” is about the same in British and American English, and that its all-time high in British was in the 1940s, and that its (slightly lower) all-time high in American was in the 1950s.

  84. Did I really write “I favor bullshit over truth”? I meant the opposite.
    So it’s a good thing I waited before responding to that. I wanted to welcome you into the world of annoyingly paradoxical statements and self-referential motorcycle maintenance, but you might have been in your novitiate and could still reconsider.
    I also wanted to suggest a water glass as your new Wappen. Depending on how you look at it (from day to day, not just once), sometimes you are only half full of yourself, and at other times completely empty.

  85. Stu, I would think Werkzeug rather than Wappen, if it’s about maintaining my Motorr&aumltsel. And maybe a looking glass rather than a water glass.
    No doubt there was some truth in my backwards statement.

  86. Did I really write “I favor bullshit over truth”? I meant the opposite.
    This gave me a hearty laugh, so the whole thing was worth it!

  87. Thanks, Ø, but what we need to test my wife’s intuition is the ratio of “Shakespeare’s Hamlet” to “Hamlet” alone, used in referring to the play (as distinct from the character or the cigar).

  88. marie-lucie says:

    dearieme: … a young chum of mine … – Her first … her second … her third …
    The pronouns leave no doubt that the “young chum” must be female. To me, a “chum” is undisputably male (in current Canadian French, it means “boyfriend”). Or do you have two young friends of opposite sexes who heard Dawkins’ speech?

  89. In a 2011 article in The Atlantic, a “Shakespeare’s Hamlet” type of expression was recognized as something that at least one particular American would not have written. A journalist reports on the hijacking of his wife’s gmail account. The hijacker sent spam messages to her friends starting in this way:

    now this might come as a suprise to you,but I made a quick trip to Madrid in Spain and was mugged.My bag,valuables,credit cards and passport all gone.The embassy has cooperated by issuing a temporary passport.I need funds to settle outstanding hotel bills,ticket and other expenses.

    The journalist comments on this:

    Who hadn’t seen countless messages like this before? Which of her friends would really think that Deb would capitalize “Money,” type a paragraph’s worth of sentences with no spaces separating them, or say that she had gone to “Madrid in Spain”?

    It’s a good thing we all have styles of speaking and writing that bear ths marks of our education, socio-economic status, place of origin etc. Educated people can recognize “uneducated” and, vice versa, uneducated people can recognize “Texas intellectual”.
    Neither the phenomenon itself, not knowledge that it exists, is new. But it’s interesting how useful, indeed sometimes crucially important (as in the case reported on), these social markings are – although I imagine many people would want to brand them as anti-democratic.
    An email hijacker who was also a split-infinitive peever would not be able to formulate genuine-sounding spam mail. His unsplit infinitives would give him away.

  90. I have female chums too, m-l. Broad-minded, me.

  91. I don’t use the word “chum” that I’m aware of, but I use, e.g., “pal” for both male and female friends, so I suspect I’d use “chum” similarly if I used it.

  92. “Chum.” “Pal.” How archaic these all sound to me. I have friends, and I don’t mean in the Facebook sense.

  93. There ought perhaps to be more use of “chum” or “pal” of a man’s women friends in an era when “friend” might be mistaken for mistress.
    (P.S. I watched an episode of the rather baroque ‘tec series “Lewis” the other evening and was much amused when a feminist professor character told off one of the rozzers for referring to an adult woman as a “girl”; she then referred, during the same conversation, to an adult male as “the American boy”. Full marks to the scriptwriter.)

  94. Baroque it is, but love it, I do! I look forward to that episode’s appearance here.

  95. Mrs. Hat and I are also huge fans of Lewis and are eagerly awaiting the new season.

  96. So “LH” really stands for Lewis Hathaway. Your code is penetrated.

  97. How archaic these all sound to me.
    Might I suggest a subscription to Superannuators Weekly. You’ll be up to outdated snuff in no time. In the meanwhile, if it’s cutting-edge you’re looking for, there’s always chumming for sharks off the west coast of Australia.

  98. The magazine The Oldie may be the answer.
    http://www.theoldie.co.uk

  99. The magazine The Oldie may be the answer.
    http://www.theoldie.co.uk

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