AS A RULE.

For those of you who have been wondering where Language Log went, it’s back at a new URL — http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/ — and with new content management software (WordPress 2.5). Adjust your blogrolls and bookmarks accordingly (and prepare yourself to get used to the New Look).
Heidi Harley was “the first to post using the swanky new system,” and she came up with a doozy: Keep related words, as a rule, together. That’s a summary of a self-negating quote from the bible of those who want to sneer at other people’s use of language without bothering to actually learn something about it themselves, Strunknwhite: “The subject of a sentence and the principal verb should not, as a rule, be separated by a phrase or clause that can be transferred to the beginning.” As Heidi says:

I was afraid someone was playing a joke on me. But no, that’s really it!
I was so amazed, of course, because the statement of the rule violates itself. In the sentence, the verb be is the ‘principal verb’. The parenthetical as a rule could be transferred to the beginning. The subject of the sentence is the NP The subject of the sentence and the principal verb. So the rule breaks itself; to be true of itself, it should say, As a rule, the subject of a sentence and the principal verb should not be separated by a phrase or clause that can be transferred to the beginning.

She goes on to analyze the rest of the section, and concludes: “So out of eleven sentences about keeping related words together, in which one key tip is to keep any parentheticals which can be sentence-initial in sentence-initial position, five of them counterexemplify the point.” Delightful!

Comments

  1. I’ve only given the book the briefest of skimmings, but I thought bits like this’n here were meant to be humorous. Aren’t they all more or less intended as rules of thumb?

  2. dearieme says:

    Missing a joke is like using a cliche. It should be avoided like the plague.

  3. Anatoly says:

    I’m sorry I can’t share your enthusiasm about Heidi Harley’s post, nor about Language Log’s migration.
    No comments, just as before.
    No full-content RSS feed, just as before.
    Sloppy, just as before. Strunk&White’s rule may well be silly, but its statement doesn’t violate itself, because they do not consider “as a rule” to be “a phrase or a clause” (as is clearly seen by looking at the examples they provide).

  4. John Emerson says:

    Elsewhere someone told a story about a law review editor who (following the S&W no passive rule) asked that every single “be” or “being” in a paper be changed, including several that were not passives at all.
    Law Review editors are normally second-year law students. Apparently law-review intellectual standards are about on a par with lawyers’ ethical standards. Law reviews are not peer-reviewed at all, I found out.

  5. John Emerson says:

    Elsewhere someone told a story about a law review editor who (following the S&W no passive rule) asked that every single “be” or “being” in a paper be changed, including several that were not passives at all.
    Law Review editors are normally second-year law students. Apparently law-review intellectual standards are about on a par with lawyers’ ethical standards. Law reviews are not peer-reviewed at all, I found out.

  6. I’m only a pieriansipist, and I think that might be why I’ve always preferred this hat to that log. I like the fact that the kids can ask the grown-ups questions here, and learn stuff without feeling like they’ve been preached to from an inaccessible mountaintop. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of blogs, but having one and then hiding from interaction with its readers seems kinda pointless, as I understand the point of blogs. Thanks for the open door and the welcome mat, LH!

  7. SnowLeopard says:

    I don’t see what the topic has to do with attorney ethics or intellectual integrity, despite Mr. Emerson’s comments — and I assume he isn’t specifically targeting those of us among Mr. Hat’s readership when he makes them. For my part, I’ve never used Strunk & White as anything but a collection of stylistic pointers (per its title), intended to guide the writer’s ear but not replace it. Considering how ineffectively many lawyers write, it’s often a useful starting point.

  8. No comments, just as before.
    Yes, that pisses me off as well. And I wasn’t expressing enthusiasm about the new LL, just noting its reappearance.

  9. John Emerson says:

    I was citing someone who told a story about bed editing on a law review WRT passives and S&W. The same person added other information about low intellectual standards on low reviews, which I relayed. I added my own opinion about legal ethics, and actually I could have added a citation from the same thread on that too.

  10. John Emerson says:

    I was citing someone who told a story about bed editing on a law review WRT passives and S&W. The same person added other information about low intellectual standards on low reviews, which I relayed. I added my own opinion about legal ethics, and actually I could have added a citation from the same thread on that too.

  11. mollymooly says:

    @Anatoly: I don’t see how S&W could define “phrase” in such a way as to exclude the phrase “as a rule”.
    That said, given that “as a rule” means “usually”, its insertion does not render the statement self-refuting, but merely makes it one of the implied exceptions. A similar joke from the short-lived sitcom “Valerie”:
    Friend: That was very unique.
    Valerie: Never qualify an absolute!
    Friend: Never?!
    Valerie: Almost never.
    S&W is a hotchpotch of tips: some useful in many cases; some useful so rarely or with so many exceptions as not to be worth mentioning; some just plain potty (e.g. which-hunting). Tips inform an author but don’t override the author’s good judgement. Using a book of tips as a rulebook is preposterous.

  12. The irony is that despite all the bad advice it gives, I think S&W is actually well written; it’s like a non-smoker misguidedly urging its kids to smoke. Or perhaps it’s not misguided at all: perhaps it knowingly uses its siren-style to tempt sailor-students on to the rocks of poor prose. 😛

  13. In mild defense of LL, they’ve repeatedly explained why they don’t have and don’t want comments. They may breach blogging conventions, in that regards, but then arguably they don’t really want a blog as such. And if you do want to ask something or to offer a comment by email they are always (in my experience) courteous and responsive.

  14. The so-called “blog” of the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar (http://spogg.org/) takes the cake.
    No opportunity for comments here, please and thank you! We’re too busy sneering at petty typos and prole spelling mistakes.
    Related to S&W, I bought a hilarious little book a week ago. It’s “The Most Common Mistakes in English Usage” by T.E. Berry (originally printed in 1971). Not intentionally hilarious but, oh my, the things he comes up with:
    “Vague: I am sick of all this paper work.
    Better: I have grown to dislike all this paper work.”
    Indeed. I have grown to dislike so many of these descriptivist notions.

  15. In mild defense of LL, they’ve repeatedly explained why they don’t have and don’t want comments.
    They had a bad experience early on when some asshat started posting long senseless rants and they got tired of dealing with him. Which is unfortunate, but they could have simply banned his IP address. Instead they took it as an occasion to give up on the whole idea of comments, probably with a sigh of relief.
    I’m sorry to have to say this, because I like the Loggers, but I’ve known a lot of professors—I’ve even been a professor, for a brief inglorious season—and the fact is that professors are accustomed to a considerable degree of deference and an artificially imposed decorum in discussions. Students defer to them, colleagues at least pretend to respect them. They are not used to, and do not like, the free-for-all of bloggery, where unknown persons drop by to say things you may not like or approve of, and all you can do is ignore them or take them on their own terms. Personally, I think having to deal with comments would do wonders for the somewhat inbred atmosphere at LL, but I understand their choice.
    Indeed. I have grown to dislike so many of these descriptivist notions.
    Er, did you mean “prescriptivist”?

  16. jamessal says:

    Well put, Steve. The sentiment is almost as wonderful as “asshat.”

  17. “Er, did you mean ‘prescriptivist’?”
    Yup.
    That will certainly teach me not to write comments in the morning when I’m preoccupied with getting out the door and on my way!

  18. outeast:
    In mild defense of LL, they’ve repeatedly explained why they don’t have and don’t want comments. They may breach blogging conventions, in that regards, but then arguably they don’t really want a blog as such.
    I don’t have a problem with a blog without comments. I think there are blogs where this format is appropriate. But the thing is, LanguageLog authors frequently speak out on matters in which they’re not really experts – they write about language in general or some language-related news or discussions or trivia, not necessarily something that has to do with their academic activity and expertise. Again, that’s also fine. But in that role, they’re sometimes wrong, controversial, or just offering arguments that could benefit from healthy debate. By not allowing this, they’re projecting a voice of stronger authority than they’re actually entitled for, so to speak.
    I don’t want to be in a situation where from time to time I’m thinking “wait, but what about….?” or “yes, and here’s another great example of this:”, and the only way for me to suggest an argument is to – nevermind the lack of comments! – go google for the author’s email which isn’t even provided on the blog. So I don’t read LL regularly. It’s a pity, because sometimes they’re very good.
    And if you do want to ask something or to offer a comment by email they are always (in my experience) courteous and responsive.
    I have a very small sample here, but my experience would be “sometimes, not always”. Recently I was amused by a curt note in reply from one LL blogger which said something like “I was wrong, as you and a hundred other people noticed, and I deleted the entry”. Nevermind the lack of basic courtesy of thanking me for explaining the (rather embarrassing) mistake; I was more troubled with the “delete it and pretend it never happened” approach. Of course, a blogger has every right to delete their own posts, but I prefer to cheerfully admit to my own inevitable mistakes once they’ve been publicly posted.

  19. LanguageLog authors frequently speak out on matters in which they’re not really experts – they write about language in general or some language-related news or discussions or trivia, not necessarily something that has to do with their academic activity and expertise. … By not allowing [healthy debate], they’re projecting a voice of stronger authority than they’re actually entitled for, so to speak.
    Very well said.
    Recently I was amused by a curt note in reply from one LL blogger which said something like “I was wrong, as you and a hundred other people noticed, and I deleted the entry”. … Of course, a blogger has every right to delete their own posts, but I prefer to cheerfully admit to my own inevitable mistakes once they’ve been publicly posted.
    As do I, and again I think this has to do with the mindset of the professoriat. In my experience, even people who are by nature easy-going and unpretentious develop something of an impatient, martinet personality once they achieve tenure. Power corrupts. I enjoyed a good deal of my grad school experience, but I’m glad I bailed out.

  20. Anatoly, the RSS & Atom feeds both look full-content to me. Am I missing something?

  21. I must also say that I’ve emailed various Loggers and never gotten anything but a courteous and prompt response. Also, many of them do add what is emailed to them to the posts in question.

  22. Yes, I should hastily add that I too have had nothing but courteous and prompt responses. Don’t want to sound too grumpy!

  23. Tim: no, I was! Turns out those feeds contain both a truncated description and full content (in description and encoded-content tags respectively). Firefox only showed me truncated descriptions when I clicked on the feed, so I assumed it wasn’t full as before. Thanks a lot for drawing my attention to this, Google Reader shows me full content of LL now.

  24. marie-lucie says:

    even people who are by nature easy-going and unpretentious develop something of an impatient, martinet personality once they achieve tenure
    Good heavens! I have been an impatient martinet personality all these years and did not know it!! Thank you, LH, for putting up with me.

  25. No, no, present company excepted! Don’t mind me, I’m just blowing off steam left over from grad school.

  26. marie-lucie says:

    Just kidding, LH!

  27. David Marjanović says:

    Personally, I think having to deal with comments would do wonders for the somewhat inbred atmosphere at LL, but I understand their choice.

    I, too, understand it: it was made out of ignorance and a general lack of thinking things through. I get the impression they don’t read a lot of blogs themselves.
    – They don’t want stupid comments — so they get them by e-mail, and not just once. Perhaps worse yet, they probably get most constructive comments about 100 times each (as mentioned above), cluttering up their inboxes and wasting their time, when they could have a single comment instead. (The main page links to the authors’ homepages, which contain the e-mail addresses; they aren’t difficult to find out without googling.)
    – Not surprisingly, because they get so much e-mail, they don’t reply to each e-mail, as I can attest from experience. Well, let some commenter reply to them…
    – I don’t know if that matters for them, but the amount of page views would increase drastically if comments were allowed: so far, I read each article (at most) once, because I know it won’t change, and no new information will be added to it. (I don’t usually come so early that the author still adds stuff from e-mails.)
    – Yes, there are crazy people out there. They can, however, be banned.

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