Evergreen Standards.

A TLS back-page roundup (from March 18, 2016) mentions Philip Furia and Laurie J. Patterson’s The American Song Book: The Tin Pan Alley Era and says:

“We call them ‘standards’”, say the American authors, while “the British, who love them as much as we do, call them ‘evergreens’”. Do they? We love them too, but never have we heard a standard called an evergreen.

Since there are a fair number of UK Hatters (or Hattics, as you prefer), I thought I’d check: do you?

Comments

  1. Brit here: From the Great American Song Book? I call them “standards”. Always have, ever since I discovered Jazz. So have all the Jazz cats I’ve ever known in the UK.

    “Evergreens” sounds absurdly old-fashioned. I suppose I’d understand the word if somebody was talking about ever-popular songs (like ‘Greensleeves’ or some of the music-hall favourites like ‘My Old Man’). But that’s definitely not Jazz.

  2. J.W. Brewer says:

    It’s a new one on me but I’m not a BrEng speaker, although I do know that BrEng for “Tin Pan Alley is or at least used to be “Denmark Street.”

    Google books reveals a book by Dennis Sinott (apparently a Brit) called “Masters of Songwriting,” that says things like “Songwriters aiming for a “Standard” or “Evergreen” should pay particular attention to the words,” and uses “evergreen” in several other places as if synonymous with “standard” – but often in the combination “standard(s) or evergreen(s),” as if his readers might not understand it as a freestanding word?

    And a book by Suggs (alias Graham McPherson) contains the sentence “English composer Fred Heatherton trumped them, I feel, with his evergreen and marvelously English standard ‘I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts’.” But that’s evergreen as an adjective in a way that’s not incomprehensible to the AmEng ear.

  3. J.W. Brewer says:

    Who would be a British singer well-known for singing what AmEng would call “standards”? I thought of the crooner Al Bowlly (sort of like Bing Crosby, if Bing had been born in Mozambique and then killed by the Luftwaffe raid on London), but one recent bio of him (by an author I take to be a Brit) uses “standards” a few times in the AmEng sense and “evergreen” only in ways that are at best ambiguous, not unlike the Suggs’ usage I quoted above.

  4. “Evergreens” sounds absurdly old-fashioned.

    But saying “jazz cats” is hip and groovy?

  5. Brit here: From the Great American Song Book? I call them “standards”. Always have, ever since I discovered Jazz. So have all the Jazz cats I’ve ever known in the UK.

    “Evergreens” sounds absurdly old-fashioned. I suppose I’d understand the word if somebody was talking about ever-popular songs (like ‘Greensleeves’ or some of the music-hall favourites like ‘My Old Man’). But that’s definitely not Jazz.

    Thanks! Sounds like the American authors were, unsurprisingly, wrong about British usage.

  6. On Australian radio they are called standards.

    In Croatia: evergrin.

  7. Who would be a British singer well-known for singing what AmEng would call “standards”?

    Off the top of my head: Cleo Laine/John Dankworth. (Although they also composed and sang plenty of other stuff, esp bebop.) wp has an entry on ‘British Jazz’. Any Jazz singer must have the “standards” in their repertoire to be allowed into Ronnie Scott’s, I would have thought. (Maybe not the dixie throwbacks like George Melley, Humphrey Lyttelton’s bands.)

    But saying “jazz cats” is hip and groovy?

    😉 It was at the time I discovered Jazz/”standards”. And then I discovered Blossom Dearie: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=EMB5CzzWXMQ

  8. It occurs to me that “evergreens” might also be applied to those cross-generation pop songs/ballads that get rolled out at the end of wedding parties, etc: Beatles hits; Abba hits; “Sweet Caroline”; “Amarillo”; “My Way”. They’re not called “standards”.

    Everybody can at least sing the chorus. pay particular attention to the words maybe not so much.

    I have heard some of the early Blues numbers called “standards”: Lead Belly (his wp entry uses the word)/Howlin Wolf; “Li’l Red Rooster”, for example.

  9. On Australian radio they are called standards.

    But in New Zealand they call them stindids.

  10. 70-y-o Briton here (as an aside, and as a computer developer, let me mention that in hexadecimal my age is 46; and that’s sooooo much better sounding).
    I associate the term ‘Evergreens’ with the Beeb’s The Black and White Minstrel Show* or Sing Something Simple, and pretty-much nothing else.

    ____________________
    * My God! Yes, that was a thing, and I believe right through the 60’s!!!!

  11. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    Jazz standards are jazz standards, but I don’t have a native word for the kind of pop/rock songs that every covers band plays, or the kind of folk songs everyone knows a bit of.

    The OED has an entry for ‘evergreen’ as a general noun, but it’s not specifically musical – ‘A person or thing that endures from one season to the next; a person or thing of enduring freshness, success, or popularity.’
    ‘Standard’ in the musical sense is ‘A tune or song of established popularity, esp. in Jazz’.

  12. To me, in Serbian, ‘džez standard’ and ‘evergrin’ are not exactly the same thing. Jen above explains the difference well.

  13. This isn’t for music but Alma Classics, a UK publisher, uses the term “evergreens” for a line of classic books. (https://almabooks.com/product-category/evergreens/)

  14. I’ve also heard them called chestnuts, though I think this word means that they are standards and they are played over and over.

  15. David Eddyshaw says:

    I’d understand “evergreen” in this sense all right, but it sounds not so much old-fashioned as absurdly precious to me.

    Glad to see an honourable mention above for “I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts.” Only bit I actually enjoyed from “The Lion King” … My children plead with me not to sing it whenever the matter of that movie comes up. For some reason. De gustibus …

  16. The phrase “rock standard” used to appear in the Wikipedia entry for “Forever Young.”

  17. J.W. Brewer says:

    One can peeve about exact boundaries and the scope of each article etc but wikipedia helpfully (I’m not going to link anything here to avoid the problems of multiple-links-in-single-comment) has an article titled Pop Standards (ok, technically one titled Traditional Pop Music that that redirects to) that overlaps substantially with the Great American Songbook article but is imho usefully distinct from the Jazz Standards article. Those GAS numbers are overwhelmingly not jazz-as-such (although many were written when a bit of jazz inflection was floating around the mainstream, just as there are obvious bits of rock-music influence in virtually all mainstream pop music of the 1970’s even the stuff that’s hard to call rock-as-such), but those GAS numbers were one important source of potential material adaptable for actual jazz-as-such use. “Standard” as a jazz-jargon word is a bit ambiguous because it can either mean GAS-origin material as so adapted or can mean any composition that has become core jazz repertoire played by lots of different artists over lots of different decades, including things like e.g. St. Louis Blues or Round Midnight or Goodbye Pork Pie Hat or Watermelon Man that really don’t fit the GAS template.

    I’m not sure that there’s a conventional word for early/simple rock-music “evergreens” that every self-respecting garage band might traditionally have been expected to know (Louie Louie and Gloria and Wild Thing and Wipeout and one or two numbers each from the if-you-can-play-one-you-can-play-’em-all canons of Chuck Berry / Little Richard / Bo Diddley etc). “Standard(s)” doesn’t quite fit.

  18. Those GAS numbers are overwhelmingly not jazz-as-such […] but […] were one important source of potential material adaptable for actual jazz-as-such use. “Standard” as a jazz-jargon word is a bit ambiguous because it can either mean GAS-origin material as so adapted or can mean any composition that has become core jazz repertoire played by lots of different artists over lots of different decades, including things like e.g. St. Louis Blues or Round Midnight or Goodbye Pork Pie Hat or Watermelon Man that really don’t fit the GAS template.

    Well put; that’s how I see it as well.

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this thread, it’s that there’s a Croatian word evergrin.

  19. I think there’s a difference between jazz standards and Great American Songbook. GAS songs mostly come from Broadway or Hollywood, but have been adopted by jazz musicians. I think in many cases the reason is that they have interesting chord progressions that lend themselves to improvisation. But there are GAS songs that originate in jazz, such as songs recorded by people like Duke Ellington–“Sophisticated Lady” or “I’ve Got it Bad and That Ain’t Good”. And there are GAS songs that are not jazz standards, such as “Baby It’s Cold Outside” or “Singin’ in the Rain”.

    On the other hand there are jazz standards that every jazz musician would know that are not GAS songs, for example the compositions of Charlie Parker, Thelonius Monk or Miles Davis.

    The two categories overlap quite a bit but not totally.

    I’ve never heard the term “evergreen” even though I often listen to Radio 2, which seems to me where you would hear it if people actually used it. But perhaps I’m wrong about that.

  20. In Germany, Evergreen is a somewhat old-fashioned way to refer to popular songs that stayed popular for decades and that used to be part of any entertainer’s repertoire. Songs like “My Way” or “All of me”. Rock or after mid-60s Pop doesn’t qualify.

  21. Trond Engen says:

    Same in Norway. Exactly the same. To me it’s the songs that my grandmother would hum to when they were sung on TV in the seventies. Usually performed with a hint of old-fashioned diction and in a not too jazzy arrangement.

  22. J.W. Brewer says:

    richardelguru mentioned a BBC show I’d never heard of before titled Sing Something Simple. I believe this is a (Dutch-pressing) LP by the vocal group featured on that show titled “Eighteen Evergreens,” many of which (e.g. Home On the Range, My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean) fall outside the scope of the GAS sort of standards. https://www.discogs.com/Adam-Singers-The-Sing-Something-Simple-Eighteen-Evergreens/release/4930527

  23. Jonathan Gitlin says:

    KING.org – Seattle’s classical station, has four on-line channels; classical, symphony, second inversion (modern/experimental) and Evergreen. Evergreen is sentimental, easy to listen to, often baroque, and usually familiar. The Seattle classical community is a little pretentious and highly preoccupied with Wagner.

    Keep us the good work Languagehat – put a good crease in that fedora!

  24. The Seattle classical community is a little pretentious and highly preoccupied with Wagner.

    I’m not going to complain, since I was able to get a “Fafner and Fasolt: General Contractors” sweatshirt in Seattle.

  25. If you can play one, you cannot play ’em all.

  26. It is by no means sure that you can “play ’em all,” just because you can play one of ’em. At least right.

  27. “Standard” has the same meaning for me as all for other commenters thus far.

    For me, “evergreen” is a somewhat patronising label for a song that remains popular even though the style of music that spawned it was never cool and is now historical.

    and I believe right through the 60’s!!!!

    Wiki says 1978. In my childhood I had no idea that minstrels and golliwogs were intended to caricature Africans; they were just clowns with a different makeup colour-scheme.

  28. I’ve also heard them called chestnuts

    “Chestnut”, I think, is derogatory – rather like “cliche”. It’s a joke or remark that everyone has heard already, or a song that everyone’s sick of, or an argument that has long since been superseded.

  29. @ ajay: As with many topics, chestnut has already been discussed at the hattery.

  30. “Prescriptivist” is also patronizing and derogatory.

  31. Oh, come now. Prescriptivists prescribe how language should be used; how is that patronizing and derogatory? I’ve seen people describe themselves that way. What should one say, “brave upholder of the truth”?

  32. Disingenuous is a word that comes to mind.

  33. Could you explain further? Because I really don’t see it.

  34. When I want to be patronizing and derogatory, I say “peever.” “Prescriptivist” seems to me purely, well, descriptive.

  35. The whole previously non-existent dichotomy is a back-formation expressly invented in order to derogate marginalize, and stigmatize the side the inventors don’t like–in this case, prescriptivists. As are most such back-formation dichotomies (cf. “snail mail”). Claims to academic objectivity, I believe, are usually a pretense. Words have connotations. Most all of them.

    A fortiori. The tone and context of your initial response subverts your thesis. I daresay the OED would readily accept the passage as a solid citation in support of “derogatory” as a connotation commonly attaching to “prescriptivist.” “When I’m mad at prescriptivists I call them peevers”? Lexicographers tend to take note of such proximities. Not so much linguists.

  36. Judging from examples in the OED at least, prescriptiv-ism, -ist was usually derogatory to begin with. Nowadays, as Hat says, it is used by the people it refers to, and has become more neutral.

    What term do you suggest for someone who says that ain’t isn’t a word, or that it is wrong to end a sentence with a preposition?

  37. Regardless of whether it is or not, how is that relevant to anything in this comment thread?

  38. ə de vivre says:

    I guess we could just call a spade a spade and call prescriptivists “classists,” “racists,” or “ignoramopodes.”

  39. I would call them realists.

    And a realist would not say “ain’t” ain’t a word. He would say people will think certain things of you when you use it. No matter how you “describe” it.

    And if you pronounce the “t” in often, people will think you are acting too big for your britches, trying to snow other people into thinking you are smarter than you are. Which you will be. If you pronounce the “t” in often.

    Both of which observations are true. And “descriptive.”

    I’ve seen some really impressive knowledgeable posts on this website. Not in the current responses at this particular juncture, however.

  40. What you’re describing is exactly what descriptivists do; specifically, sociolinguists.

    What started this conversation?

  41. And if you pronounce the “t” in often, people will think you are acting too big for your britches, trying to snow other people into thinking you are smarter than you are. Which you will be. If you pronounce the “t” in often.

    This is utterly absurd, and exactly why descriptivists (aka people who know how language works) are often patronizing to prescriptivists (who overwhelmingly don’t, as you have just demonstrated).

  42. David Eddyshaw says:

    As it happens, my impression of (at least) UK usage with this particular word is the exact opposite: Young People Today, whether posh or not, mostly pronounce the t in “often”, and the historically “correct” version without “t” is characteristic of old (and fairly upmarket) fogeys like me, and possibly the Queen. (She used to say “orphan”, but I think this pronunciation is now extinct.)

    What next with these horrid spelling pronunciations, I wonder? “Vurtyoo” instead of “varchoo”? “Univursity” instead of “univarsity”? Where will it end?

  43. Don’t confuse T. I. Silar with facts, he knows what he knows.

  44. David Eddyshaw says:

    In fairness, my data are consistent with TIS’s hypothesis, given the further assumption that either

    I (and the Queen) are not smart

    or

    I (and the Queen) are so secure in our smartness that we feel no need to advertise it by pronouncing the t in “often.”

    Patriotism naturally forbids me from entertaining the first alternative. The second, well – perhaps. I cannot speak for Her Majesty, at least on this matter. These are difficult times for the Monarchy.

  45. Who said anything about smart? The queen is simply acting too big for her britches. Or actually, too little, because she is not pronouncing “t”. Or maybe she is secretly American. Or (as you’ve mentioned and this is the last resort of prescr…realists) she is allowed to, because exception. But the rest of us should talk as we are told.

  46. Allow me to be the devil’s advocate here, and claim my right to peeve when I want to — one’s feelings about one’s native language are sometimes beyond the reach of rational thought, and if something sounds wrong, it sounds wrong.

    Prescriptivism, on the other hand, basically maintains that a certain prestige variant of the language, curiously enough the one preferred by the people with most power in society, is in itself better than all others and deserves its position — and thus serves, by a sort of silent (reverse) proxy argument, to confirm that the people who have mastered that variant deserve their position in society, to the exclusion of others. (“But we aren’t allowed to say that in this country now, are we?”)

  47. J.W. Brewer says:

    I’m trying to figure out how to get a prescriptivist sub-movement going that will deprecate the boobs and rubes who don’t pronounce the final -t in “acrosst.” Omitting it (because the word is conventionally spelled “across” because English orthography is weird) is probably one of those slavish spelling-pronunciation errors that shows you weren’t brought up properly, innit? (Not sure if this vintage LL discussion ever quite definitively sorted out who did and didn’t pronounce the word the correct way: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2495)

  48. Allow me to be the devil’s advocate here, and claim my right to peeve when I want to — one’s feelings about one’s native language are sometimes beyond the reach of rational thought, and if something sounds wrong, it sounds wrong.

    Oh, we all have that inalienable right! I peeve to my wife frequently about misusages (by my standards) I encounter in print or on the radio. The point is not that we should all accept anything anybody says without question, it’s that we should realize that our sense of language, while right and proper for us, is not a universal mandate, and to chastise others in public for not following our own particular shibboleths is to be a sanctimonious fool.

  49. David Marjanović says:

    What next with these horrid spelling pronunciations, I wonder? “Vurtyoo” instead of “varchoo”? “Univursity” instead of “univarsity”? Where will it end?

    Already there are those who pronounce issue with a loud and clear [sj].

    (…while others abbreviate it as ish even in writing.)

  50. This is really funny.

    I love how people who are so brilliant at things like sussing out the etymology of “oiking” turn into childlike emotionalists on this particular topos. Really. Read your own writing. Childlike. Emotional. I mean objective. And academic.

    And just btw, what “facts”? I haven’t seen any yet. Except from me.

  51. “Pet Peeve” is derogatory, minimalizing, peripheralizing, condescending, and patronizing.

    Oh, yeah. And objective and academic.

    And “absurd” is a technical term.

    How absurd to suggest that people will laugh at you if you pronounce the “t” in often. Even if they do.

  52. The Queen does not speak the Queen’s English, as anyone knows.

  53. Incidentally, your observation about the Queen’s pronunciation (not absurd or anything), obviates your (ideological and not objective or academic) contentions about prescriptivism. Think about it.

    Most of what has been said here, except for what I have said, is based on, what do they call them, hidebound academic paradigms, I guess. In other words, you all think alike and you cannot and will not take a minute to even understand what I am saying, but instead indulge in name-calling.

  54. David Eddyshaw says:

    Does President Rump pronounce the “t”? That would surely settle the matter once and for all.

  55. …Childlike. Emotional…
    hidebound…you all think alike…
    …indulge in name-calling.

    Like, are you for real?

  56. ə de vivre says:

    Allow me to be the devil’s advocate here, and claim my right to peeve when I want to — one’s feelings about one’s native language are sometimes beyond the reach of rational thought, and if something sounds wrong, it sounds wrong.

    As many mental health professionals have attempted to impress on me, no one needs to be ashamed of their thoughts or feelings, no matter how troubling they are. We are however, responsible for which of those thoughts and feelings we choose to act on.

  57. Once upon a time, an academic revealed the truth about a whole lot of mysteries to me when he informed me that it is a proven fact that, whatever their IQ, the average emotional age of academics is 5.

    It is also a proven fact that 90% of the argumentation of citizens of England consists of name-calling.

  58. And what? So you think I’m stupid? Do I write stupidly? Is my syntax poor, my style ungracious, my vocabulary stunted, my diction infelicitous?

    Of course not. In fact, I write very well. As you can well see. And you are either lying or ignorant of the English language if you say I don’t.

    And if I write well, I must not be stupid then.

    Then how is it that somebody not stupid could be saying things that scan-do-lize you so?

    That professors stop learning new things the day they get their diplomas is a rumor that refuses to die.

    Maybe if you got down off your high horses I could larn you something.

    Fat chance.

  59. https://tedsilar.wordpress.com cannot be found. What are you trying to put over on us, T. I. Silar?

  60. Oh, and by the way. I know what slanting is. And thank you for using it to so felicitously characterize my serious and sincere observations.

  61. What are you looking me up for? I don’t look you up.

  62. “What are you looking me up for?”

    Don’t be so defensive. I just want to find what other gems of wisdom you might have to share with the world.

    What is your emotional age, again?

  63. “And a realist would not say “ain’t” ain’t a word. He would say people will think certain things of you when you use it. No matter how you “describe” it.”

    I agree with this. This is actually descriptive linguistics.

    But that is not how a presciptivist would describe it. And that is the problem with “prescriptivism”, whether you regard that term as pejorative or neutral.

    Descriptivism includes prescriptivism within its embrace. The descriptivist notes what prescriptivists say. The descriptivist says that “ain’t” is disapproved of by many speakers, although it is commonly used in some varieties and contexts (such as the lyrics of popular music). That is an objective description of the situation.

    But only the prescriptivist would say that it is just “wrong”, full stop. Only the prescriptivist would attempt to make out that disapproved usages are wrong (morally, intellectually, logically, objectively wrong) in any circumstances, speech or writing, boudoir or public rostrum. That is bullshit and descriptivists are right for calling people out on such attitudes.

  64. The link works for me.

    I am almost sure we are not dealing with Poe’s law here, but the logical chain:
    I am writing in standard dialect well -> I am smart -> what I say is true
    is almost too good to be real.

  65. Ah. But then I also say that if you have never seen a person get all hoity-toity and simultaneously pronounce the “t” in often, then you are probably not a native speaker, or else surpassing unobservant.

    I not only am realistic about how people think of people speaking (as with my thoughts on that old evergreen chestnut, “ain’t”). I am realistic about how people speaking think about themselves.

    What I am getting at is that a lot of “language,” whatever that is (that thing I supposedly don’t know how it “works”), is performative (and I don’t mean the technical meaning of that term). People say words, not as much to impart information, as to perform, to show us the cut of their jib, the content of their character, just how wise and wonderful and excellent at pronunciation they are.

    Example 2: I wouldn’t say people who pronounce good old English words like homage and niche and soprano all frenchy-like are wrong. I would say they are risible. Ludicrous. Ab-frogging-surd.

    I am obviously a very bad guy.

    At least you give a respectful answer rather than attempting and failing at lame jokes about the Queen and Trump.

    And just incidentally, I think your characterization of “prescriptivists” is just wrong, period (not that other thing, what ever that is.)

    No, in all seriousness what I really mean is that it is dismissive, un-insightful, un-helpful, marginalizing, peripheralizing, did I say dismissive? Oh, I know the word I want. Straw Man. Simplified Stereotype. Nobody is like that. You may remember this all started with me observing that “prescriptivist” is a pejorative. An epithet. An insult. Not some objective description–ah–of reality. Nobody is like your Straw Man. Real realists tend to be as eminently complex as self-defined descriptivists. Descriptivism, you know, I am convinced, has all sorts of ideological, non-objective, non-scientific or -statistical, or even -logical paraphernalia hanging all about it (much as it would like to sweep all of it under the rug). Descriptivism does not exist in some kind of universal absolute Platonic vacuum, merely “describing” reality the way God’s hand moves over the waters. It is acquainted with the dust and the dusk and the detritus and the same gutters we all crawl, and subject to their constraints and vicissitudes.

    I’m on a roll here, so let me finish by positing that descriptivism is a prescription.

    I know. I hate two-bit deconstruction as much as the next guy. Especially when it’s true.

    But let’s qualify that. Descriptivists have as many prescriptions as prescriptivists. Just different ones.

  66. SFReader says:

    Deconstructivist performatism of prescriptivists is peripheralizing.

  67. More slanting from DO. Do you know what slanting means?

    I did not in the least say what you said I said. And you are not a very good reader if you honestly think I did.

    OK. And I say you said your mother wears army boots. Now you didn’t say that. But I say you did. In a short little post. Making me right. Just like you.

    You imply you don’t understand what I am getting at. Yes, in the modern era, it is a well-known phenomenon that people see everything flatly. They cannot see connotation, association, irony, etc. It is very obvious what I am getting at and how I am using and ordering my connotations, associations, ironies. I prescribe reading class. That is not ironic.

    My tone? You don’t like my tone? Listen to your own.

    Guy makes fun of good writing with bad writing. Ironic.

  68. to chastise others in public for not following our own particular shibboleths is to be a sanctimonious fool

    That is true. Done right, complaining about usage should be like complaining about the weather or the eternal unreliability of public transport. A victimless vice shared with friends or strangers and quickly forgotten.

    And I agree with Ted Silar on one thing, using ‘pet peeve’ to describe somebody’s deeply felt conviction that the civilized world is going to hell in a handbasket because of sloppy usage is patronizing (and all the other things he said). Even if we personally think that western civilization will survive the pronunciation of the t in often, there is no reason not to apply the golden rule to people of a different opinion.

  69. dainichi says:

    To be honest, to me “prescriptivism” often feels like a straw man. Sure, saying that infinitives shouldn’t be split is silly, but I feel like people are spending much more time ridiculing such obviously silly statements than discussing more interesting questions like:

    * To what extent is a standard language necessary?
    * What should be the nature of such a standard? How, if at all, can such a standard be chosen/constructed in a relatively fair way? To what extent/in which situations should adhesion to the standard be required/encouraged?
    * How can we teach a standard without inadvertently creating an impression that the standard is somehow superior to non-standard varieties?

  70. But then I also say that if you have never seen a person get all hoity-toity and simultaneously pronounce the “t” in often, then you are probably not a native speaker, or else surpassing unobservant.

    Because you have traveled to every corner of the English-speaking world and are fully conversant with the several dozen varieties of English found in the United Kingdom alone, no doubt.

    Prescriptivists object to the word “prescriptivist” for precisely the same reason that Saudi Sunnis object to the term “Wahhabist.” It implies that they are sectarian followers of a long-dead high cleric instead of upholders of the One True Faith. Except in this case the long-dead high clerics are Strunk & White.

  71. Well, since the “standard is superior” side seems to try for and get media exposure much more than the descriptivist side, it’s hard to keep from discussing them. But you are right, there is not really much meat on those bones any more.

    If you want my opinion, quasi-standard languages will always exist, including ones that signify membership of a privileged class, and actually codifying an official standard might make it easier to gain access to that. Of course you can make it explicit that exam answers, dissertations and job applications are must adhere to that standard to be taken at full value, but I think people are well aware of that without being told.

    But trying to construct a standard that does not closely follow the prestige variant of the language seems to me to be a recipe for failure — even if you could define what fairness is in this regard, the privileged users of the prestige variant will not see any advantage in changing to the new standard, and since other people are well aware that those are ones marking and evaluating exam answers, dissertations and job applications, they will still feel they need to learn the prestige variant.

    Lastly, if the educational system concentrates on teaching the standard form of the language — which it has to because of resource constraints — I don’t think you can avoid giving the impression that it’s better.

  72. You must be kidding. Descriptivist uber alles is the call and watchword au courant. Where on earth did you get the idea that prescriptivism, which is really realism, is anything but a berated rat skulking from alley to alley seeking shelter? Typical. Co-optation. Dialectic. Reversal. Pot calling kettle black.

    But you are all getting better at getting into the swing of things. Grow up and say things vaguely intelligent. Instead of emotionally defending descriptivism as if it was the word of god. And yes I said was.

  73. Here’s the thing.

    Have you no panache? Have you no elan? Have you no savoir faire? Have you no joie de vivre? And other pretentious Frenchiscisms?

    Do you not love the English language? And all its ineffable permutations?

    Why don’t you show your erudition?

    I got on here because I loved, yes, loved, your explications of how the Estonian derivation of “fracking” affected the Uralic pronunciation of “duh.”

    I admire your ability to find the proto-Lithuanian roots of some arcane dialectical Ruthenian usage.

    I have no idea what you are talking about when you do things like that and my jaw drops in awe.

    And that ain’t irony.

    But when you talk meaning and usage in English with me, you have not yet hit the mark. Macte, I believe (do correct me) en Latin.

    Why do you waste time trying to be funny.

    Refute me with phonetics and etymology. I don’t care if I’m wrong. I just am disappointed with the ways in which my wrongness is pointed out. I could get these comments in a bar.

    I am listening to Vivaldii’s Violin Concertos as I type. Popular Music. And Ernest Tubb. Classical Music.

  74. Ted, could you please indicate which of the many diverse contributors to this thread that comment (EDIT: the 5:19 one) is intended to engage with? I for one am off riding my own hobby horses and not trying to change your mind about anything, but seeing your comment right after mine makes me unsure whether we agree about that.

  75. Dainichi and Lars, thank you for showing respect. And more or less Bathrobe too. Respect is what I crave. As do you. As does anybody. But never craven respect.

  76. Sorry Lars. I write what I write when I write it. But I appreciate your comments. And please be just as erudite as you possibly can, because that is what I like.

  77. David Marjanović says:

    Most of what has been said here, except for what I have said, is based on, what do they call them, hidebound academic paradigms, I guess. In other words, you all think alike and you cannot and will not take a minute to even understand what I am saying, but instead indulge in name-calling.

    Maybe if you took a moment to explain what you’re saying, instead of assuming every detail about what everyone here knows and how everyone here thinks, we’d get somewhere.

    And if I write well, I must not be stupid then.

    Indeed I don’t think you’re stupid, but that has different reasons. There is no inverse correlation between stupidity and writing quality at all; I’ve seen amazingly stupid things expressed in superb writing.

    [T. I. Silar’s blog] cannot be found.

    Is it blocked in China? I have no trouble accessing it.

    But let’s qualify that. Descriptivists have as many prescriptions as prescriptivists. Just different ones.

    Like what, for example? That’s an honest question, not a rhetorical one.

    It is very obvious what I am getting at

    When I started writing scientific papers, the first thing my thesis supervisor said to me was to the effect of: “you will be misunderstood – by someone, at some point, for some reason –, and therefore it is your responsibility to leave as few opportunities for this to happen as possible”.

    No, it is not obvious what you’re getting at. Please explain yourself better.

    * How can we teach a standard without inadvertently creating an impression that the standard is somehow superior to non-standard varieties?

    That seems to come naturally in a diglossia situation, though we may be looking at a chicken-and-egg problem here.

    You must be kidding. Descriptivist uber alles is the call and watchword au courant. Where on earth did you get the idea that prescriptivism, which is really realism, is anything but a berated rat skulking from alley to alley seeking shelter? Typical. Co-optation. Dialectic. Reversal. Pot calling kettle black.

    I’m afraid this sounds like you’re living in a bubble. I recommend scrolling through a few pages of this and just the headlines about what people are saying about AAVE, to pick just one example.

  78. David Marjanović says:

    Why don’t you show your erudition?

    Why bother? It’ll come out inevitably when the opportunity arises. Most threads on this blog, in fact, consist of little but everyone showing their erudition – not as an end in itself, but simply as part of the discussion on some topic or other.

  79. By the way. I believe that the Southern dialect of the American English language (including its AAVE variation, which was much closer to the general Southron black/white standard a century ago) was superior a century or more ago. More poetic. More rich. More expressive. More varied. More beautiful. The writers in dialect of the period are denigrated now for their political incorrectness. (Correctness is a prescriptivist concept.) I personally think that this language is exquisite, I don’t care who writes it or what their agenda is, and I know it is as dead and as lost as Hittite, but still, thank goodness, accessible because of its affinity with standard.

    You could argue that modern AAVE or Southron is better. Maybe you could do a word count and find that its vocabulary was larger. But large is not aesthetics. I have a hundred arguments defending the old AAVE and Southron, close to the earth, and the world, and with human relations, in comparison with the new.. It would involve citing mind-bogglingly artful locutions by the wagon-load. But that would be prescriptivist.

    I fear I am a prescriptivist. I prescribe the dialect tales of the old south.

  80. David,

    Thank you for sincere responses.

    I cannot answer all of them.

    I could say this. Jacques Barzun wrote a great book. Wait a minute, I’ll look it up. Nahh, I can’t figure out which one it is. In it, at any rate, he says that intellectual conversation is fast, allusive, mutual. In other words, everybody knows what everybody is talking about, and so everybody can talk in shorthand, and it makes for a very satisfying intercourse. This in reaction to his editors insisting he explain every dam thing he writes. Part and parcel of this “flattening” of modern ways of reading, incited I understand by the internet, where people can’t read into what writers of the past (who were often allusive, multi-vocal, ironic) were up to.

    I guess Barzun is bad though. I figure he’s on the out list. He’s not all free and everything.

  81. David Marjanović says:

    More beautiful.

    You’re aware how diverse people’s tastes are, right?

    (Me, you can chase me with strawberries. Their stench is really disgusting.)

  82. David Marjanović says:

    intellectual conversation is fast, allusive, mutual. In other words, everybody knows what everybody is talking about, and so everybody can talk in shorthand, and it makes for a very satisfying intercourse.

    All that is true within very narrow fields. As soon as we encounter someone from outside our little specialty, we have to add explanations, or we aren’t understood anymore.

  83. T.I., you seem like a good sort of fellow, and I have nothing against you personally, just against your tiresomely predictable ideas. (Seriously, you are not some brave, lonely, embattled fighter for the Truth, you are one of a vast horde of people lamenting the degeneration of language — laudatores temporis acti, since you like the Latin — and thinking their appreciation of well-used English gives them some sort of unique insight into the Truth about language.) Please think about it for a minute: does it not enter your head that you might not be the world’s expert on a subject you have never studied? I promise you that if you took an intro linguistics class (and paid attention, and didn’t drop out because it offended your beliefs) you would wind up understanding that no forms of language are “better” than others (although of course people are better or worse at using them), that languages are constantly changing and no phase is better than any other, and that you find certain forms especially pleasing either because you grew up with them or because they happen to resonate with you, not because they are inherently superior.

    Look, pretty much everyone starts out thinking the way you do; it’s the natural untutored view, just as it’s natural to think the sun goes around the earth (you can see it happening every day, for Pete’s sake). I have a good friend who espoused your views for a long time, but he had an open enough mind to realize he might have things to learn, and he’s come around to a scientific (“descriptivist”) view of language and defends it eloquently. I hope you lower your defenses and come to the same conclusion, because you’re pretty eloquent yourself and I enjoy your expounding of your views even though I reject the views themselves.

  84. T.I., read this Stan Carey post, if you would, and see if it affects your views. Can you identify at all with the Finnish family in Sweden, their attachment to their language, and the narrator’s finding safety in silence (“Everything was so much easier now that I had stopped speaking. I never had to worry about saying the wrong thing”)?

  85. Bathrobe says:

    When I tried to open the site I got this:

    Your connection is not private
    Attackers might be trying to steal your information from tedsilar.wordpress.com (for example, passwords, messages, or credit cards). Learn more
    NET::ERR_CERT_AUTHORITY_INVALID

    The problem seems to be an invalid certificate. At any rate, Google, or someone, doesn’t want me to get through.

  86. @Bathrobe, that is a strange error, when I check right now wordpress.com is using a venerable GoDaddy root certificate that should be deployed in all modern browsers. Either wordpress.com had a glitch when you tried, or you have a man in the middle in your network.

    There is a small problem with pictures loaded from images.cdbaby.com with HTTP instead of HTTPS, that’s what prevents the site from getting the green padlock icon in Chrome (and other browsers, presumably).

  87. David Eddyshaw says:

    From evidently disgruntled references to the Queen (Gawd bless ‘er) I suspect I am the main culprit in having produced TIS’ unfortunate impression of our lack of civility. Hoping to make amends:

    @TIS:

    I used to work for an altogether superb German aid organisation, which (apart from its fine actual work) could have been designed as a showcase of why God made Germans. Always well-disposed to German moral earnestness, and delighted that I am myself frequently mistaken for a German (three people stopped to ask me directions – in German – when I was last in Berlin), I was abundantly confirmed in my free-floating bias in favour of the most European of all Europeans.

    However, I made a significant discovery. It is absolutely false (as the more regrettable of my fellow-countrymen sometimes maintain) that Germans have no sense of humour. Nothing could be farther from the truth. However, there actually is a reason why some Brits have come to this ludicrous misapprehension: Germans do not expect you to deploy your doubtless fine sense of humour in serious contexts (like work) and tend to make wrong assumptions about you if you do (my actual employers were professionally used to strange cultures and were a definite exception.)

    Subsequent work with people from all over the world confirmed that it is Germans who are mainstream in this respect, along with practically everybody else apart from the Irish. In particular, in this as in many other respects, Americans are more like Germans than Brits.

    Hat’s site is, like my former employers, understanding of this quirk. However, perhaps I should have been more careful to make it clear that my objection to your thesis in no way implies a low opinion of your own intellect, and my deployment of traditional British juvenile humour did not mean that I was not making an actual factual point, viz. your feeling that pronouncing the “t” in “often” is generally (not just by you) stigmatised as a hypercorrection or the like: in the UK, at least, this is just not so.

    I agree with Hat that it would be a pity if you were lost to us …
    By the way, I am not an academic. Do not think ill of them on my account.

  88. I too am not an academic. (And I enjoy traditional British juvenile humor.)

  89. But we are encouraged to use connotation, association, irony, etc. (also, litotes) And I think it was me who was flat and rude. And I am not even English, I have no excuse.

    Also, let’s rename “prescriptivists” as “proscriptivists”. Because that’s what they ofTen do. Or “perspectivists”, because they think that their language intuition must be a universal truth.

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