READING WAR AND PEACE WITH LIZOK.

Lisa Hayden of Lizok’s Bookshelf has started her promised blogging of her fourth (!) reading of War and Peace; she’s reading it in Russian, but her discussion so far isn’t language-specific and should be interesting to anyone who’s read the novel (or wants to start and read along with her). Here‘s her first post, on the opening soirée (when she said “don’t panic if you don’t love the soirée scenes: I never have, either,” I was reminded of the endless such scenes in Proust), and here is a page with all posts she’s tagged “War and Peace”—you can visit it any time to see where she’s gotten to. Myself, I’m almost finished with the first half (I’m at the scene where Natasha goes to the opera and “sees through” its “artificiality”—I must say, I’ve never found it as effective as so many critics do, because it seems to me a case where Tolstoy is blatantly pushing his own point of view using a character as his mouthpiece, and frankly the whole Salingeresque “people are such hypocrites, man” approach to life palled on me once I graduated from adolescence); I would have been farther along by now except that I keep taking breaks when I find myself too put off by the bad behavior of some of the characters. Really, old Prince Nikolai (father of gloomy Andrei and poor unattractive Marya) is a complete bastard!
Incidentally, long-time LH readers will know that I read books to my wife at night; I’ve discussed our experiences with Doughty and Proust, and some of you may have idly wondered what we’ve been reading since last April. The answer is the Cairo Trilogy of Naguib Mahfouz. I had been looking forward to reading it (having owned it for years and years); alas, we were both very disappointed. You can read a highly favorable discussion at The Complete Review (they give it an A-), and Mahfouz got the Nobel presumably to a large extent for the trilogy, so obviously a lot of people like it better than we did, but we found the translation unbearably clunky (nobody uses English the way these people are made to) and the novelistic technique run-of-the-mill family saga, without anything much in the way of insight into humanity. We kept going to find out what would happen to the characters, and it was interesting to learn about Egyptian society in the period he describes (1917 through WWII), but as a novel I’m afraid it didn’t impress us.
We finished it the other night, and to follow it up my wife, on the spur of the moment, pulled off the shelf Georges Perec‘s Life: A User’s Manual. The translator, David Bellos, produces a lively English that is a pleasure to read, and although we don’t have the faintest idea what’s going on yet (he’s describing various rooms in an apartment building), we’re enjoying it. (By the way, Perec is the Polish spelling of the name usually anglicized as Peretz; Wikipedia says “He was a distant relative of the Yiddish writer I.L. Peretz.” But of course once the family moved to France it became /perek/.)

Comments

  1. “Life” is really a masterpiece–the most substantial work of literature to come out of that milieu, in my opinion–and much more translatable (for obvious reasons) than Perec’s other great book, “La disparation”.

  2. But of course once the family moved to France it became /perek/
    Any clue how the Argentine author Sergio Chejfec would pronounce his name? I am assuming he is of Eastern European Jewish immigrant stock and have been pronouncing it roughly “Chayfetz” but that’s a guess. I’m going to hear him read tonight (from his novel “Mis dos Mundos” which has just appeared in English, his first work in translation) so I guess I’ll find out.

  3. David Marjanović says:

    /perek/

    Well, in French, you have to distinguish even at the phonemic level. What you wrote would be Péréc. What you mean is /pɛrɛk/.
    Does anyone know why the IPA vowel symbols have this counterintuitive arrangement? Was someone basing them on isiZulu, or what?

  4. Bill Walderman says:

    “Really, old Prince Nikolai (father of gloomy Andrei and poor unattractive Marya) is a complete bastard!”
    He becomes a more sympathetic and touching character as the book progresses. Tolstoy makes it clear that his apparent cruelty towards Marya is really a paradoxical manifestation of his deep love for her, which he is pathetically unable to express in any other way. Read on!
    “Any clue how the Argentine author Sergio Chejfec would pronounce his name?”
    Isn’t this name a Polish spelling of “Heifetz” (as in Jascha)?

  5. If I remember the novel correctly, you might not get a clear idea of what’s going on at all, to the very end of it.

  6. Tolstoy makes it clear that his apparent cruelty towards Marya is really a paradoxical manifestation of his deep love for her, which he is pathetically unable to express in any other way.
    Yes, he says that, but I frankly don’t believe him. Again, it seems like special pleading (especially now that I know how crappily Tolstoy treated his own family). People who beat their wife and kids often say (and get the abused wife and kids to believe) that they love them.
    “Any clue how the Argentine author Sergio Chejfec would pronounce his name?”
    Isn’t this name a Polish spelling of “Heifetz” (as in Jascha)?
    Yes, but the question is how he, being Argentine, pronounces it, not how his ancestors in the old country did. (I once asked Bernard Malamud about the same issue; you can read the result here.) Do let us know what you learn, Jeremy!

  7. Bill Walderman says:

    “Yes, he says that, but I frankly don’t believe him. Again, it seems like special pleading (especially now that I know how crappily Tolstoy treated his own family). People who beat their wife and kids often say (and get the abused wife and kids to believe) that they love them.”
    I think you need to read the book through to the end. You have to accept what Tolstoy says about his characters. Yes, Tolstoy deliberately makes old Prince Nikolai out to be gratuitously harsh to Marya. But I think that in the end this relationship is one of the most powerful examples of Tolstoy’s ability to embrace all of humanity’s complexity–however he may have behaved in his own private life–and to make all of his major characters complex living human beings.

  8. This hopscotchery from Tolstoy to Mahfouz to Perec tickles my fancy, like getting off Metro stations at random, 1st stop repressed Russian aristos, 2nd stop depressed Arab intellectuals & 3rd stop, wild-haired French file-clerks — yikes, the first two are subsets of Perec’s Oulipian masterpiece!
    In place of Mahfouz, might I recommend Gamal al-Ghitani’s superb political masterpiece: Zayni Barakat? More baroque, more bookish, more “verbal”

  9. Bill Walderman says:

    I’m not sure I take to Nikolai Rozanov very well. In the end he turns out to be something of a reactionary. But Tolstoy too, despite his anti-Tsarism and pacifism, had a reactionary side and Nikolai is maybe a reflection of that side of him–a landowner who treated his serfs like children and while he looked after their best interests, as he saw them, seems not to have felt embarrassed by their subservient status before or after liberation. Am I wrong about this?

  10. I once had recommended to me very enthusiastically Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet. I couldn’t find it and the person who recommended it to me was obviously having some trouble with a twelve-step program, so I thought it was bogus, but later I ran across the book. Haven’t tried to read it yet, maybe because the guy was such a jerk.

  11. My lordy, I feel so much better about disliking Mahfouz now.
    I read The Harafish and found it a thorough bore, although I don’t remember the English translation being all that bad at least.

  12. What’s the story with Perec’s punctuation? I had seen the title quoted as “Life a user’s manual” (no colon). Wikipedia handily lists both, but unhandily doesn’t give any reasons. The French is without the colon but with some perhaps helpful capitalisation: “La Vie mode d’emploi” — is that as odd in French as the unpunctuated version is in English?
    It must be Perec awareness month. I just started his biography (by Bellos), and tor.com recently posted appreciations of A Void and The Exeter Text. (Tor.com is a site for sf/fantasy fans and authors, I’ve no idea how they got Perec fever. The posts are respectively under- and oversupplied with ‘e’, of course.)

  13. marie-lucie says:

    The Alexandria Quartet consists of four separate books where the same basic characters appear, but the focus of each book is on a different person. I read them many years ago (in the 60′s I think). One of the books, Mountolive, could be read on its own as it follows a standard novel form more than the others. My recollection of the series is of some very beautiful descriptions of the Egyptian landscape together with details of the personal lives of some not terribly interesting characters (unless you are very interested in people’s neuroses – including the author’s), but it probably gives a good impression of the cosmopolitan life of Alexandria at a time before Nasser expelled the Europeans from Egypt (a mix of types from those related to the Egyptian upper class to assorted hangers-on and drifters).

  14. I also remember the description of the countryside (a Coptic area). There’s a lot about political intrigue. “Justine”, the first volume, might not be the place to start; it’s a clueless young man’s turgid psychoanalytic ruminations about a mysterious woman he’s in love with (Justine). It helps to know that it’s characterization and not the author’s own voice — i.e., that you needn’t take it too seriously.
    I thought that it was a wonderful portrait of a unique and doomed community. Non-Coptic Arabs are scarcely in the book at all, as background, and it’s old school colonial racist.
    One of Durrell’s uniquenesses is that he really had no nationality — he grew up in Colonial India as a member of a civil servant family of Irish descent. He had English papers but didn’t feel at all at home there, or anywhere really, though he loved the Mediterranean.

  15. I also remember the description of the countryside (a Coptic area). There’s a lot about political intrigue. “Justine”, the first volume, might not be the place to start; it’s a clueless young man’s turgid psychoanalytic ruminations about a mysterious woman he’s in love with (Justine). It helps to know that it’s characterization and not the author’s own voice — i.e., that you needn’t take it too seriously.
    I thought that it was a wonderful portrait of a unique and doomed community. Non-Coptic Arabs are scarcely in the book at all, as background, and it’s old school colonial racist.
    One of Durrell’s uniquenesses is that he really had no nationality — he grew up in Colonial India as a member of a civil servant family of Irish descent. He had English papers but didn’t feel at all at home there, or anywhere really, though he loved the Mediterranean.

  16. marie-lucie says:

    I think that when I read the works I was a little too young and inexperienced to appreciate the “wonderful portrait of a unique and doomed community”, as you say, JE, and I did notice the virtual absence of Arabs, but “a clueless young [English] man’s turgid psychoanalytic ruminations” permeating one of the books sounds about right (I did not quite confuse the character with the author).
    Lawrence Durrell also spent some time on the island of Corfu, but he was already an adult when his younger brother Gerald was having a wonderful time growing up there, as recollected in My family and other animals.

  17. I’ve read the whole Alexandria Quartet twice, and bits of it more often; I enjoy it a lot, despite the various oddities. (I complained about an impossible bit of wordplay here and about spelling here.) The characters are certainly neurotic, but I did not find them in the least uninteresting.
    What’s the story with Perec’s punctuation?
    It’s just a title and subtitle, the latter placed below the former in smaller type; the normal convention in English is to separate them by a colon (Life: A User’s Manual).
    My lordy, I feel so much better about disliking Mahfouz now.
    Heh. And here I was expecting to be taken to task by outraged Mahfouz-lovers!

  18. marie-lucie says:

    /perek/
    Well, in French, you have to distinguish even at the phonemic level. What you wrote would be Péréc. What you mean is /pɛrɛk/.

    In French, it is Georges Pérec, pronounced (at least by me and the people I know) /perɛk/. I did not know until I read the comments above that his name was not French.
    I think I read (quite a while ago) the book in question: I read one book by GP and it was about an apartment building. I thought it was Les Choses but it must have been La vie mode d’emploi (note the lack of punctuation in the French title, unlike its English translation). A wonderful book.

  19. I will do the obligatory Conrad here and remark that Durrell’s better books are his little known Tunc and Nunquam, blessed (especially the former) with a prose style you could spot a mile away.

  20. The local color and anecdotes in the Alexandria Quartet are just fantastic. It approaches Don Quixote or Gothic tales at times. Not unrealistic, but extremely vivid storytelling.

  21. The local color and anecdotes in the Alexandria Quartet are just fantastic. It approaches Don Quixote or Gothic tales at times. Not unrealistic, but extremely vivid storytelling.

  22. I see you guys were really busy before I even got here. Okay, I’ll try the Durrell again, as soon as I finish Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night and find out who dun it. It looks like the trick is to start with anything EXCEPT the first book.

  23. Do let us know what you learn, Jeremy!
    It is “Chayfek”; accent is on the first syllable and the consonant at the end is kind of swallowed.

  24. Nijma, you can probably tell by the comments of others that the Alexandria Quartet is worth reading. I read the first book (Justine) as an assigned text in eleventh grade, and liked it enough to read the other three on my own.
    Prince Nikolai is not at all a bad person, once you’ve read through W&P: he struggles to express his love for his children, but can’t figure out how to–the exception being Andrei’s first wife, to whom he really is tender. He’s also a soldier, with an ethos formed by military stoicism, and he educated his children to share that ethos—doing a better job of it with his daughter than his son, although that doesn’t come out until near the end of the book. (And which would you rather have as a father–the blunt Prince Nikolai or the oily Prince Vasili?)

  25. Gaudy Night is both my favorite (because of the Oxford atmosphere) and my least favorite (because of how Sayers constructed the story) of the Wimsey stories. But it’s the one in which not only does Harriet bloom, but Viscount St. George comes into his own as an intelligent and likeable character (just as Bunter does in Busman’s Honeymoon).
    And of course, how many novels end with a marriage proposal (and acceptance) that’s in Latin?

  26. Siganus Sutor says:

    Marie-Lucie: In French, it is Georges Pérec
    As far as I know, just like Grevisse or Clemenceau, his name is written without the acute accent: Perec, pronounced “pérèque”.
    (Regarding the grammarian some say we should pronounce “greuvice”, but this must be a hoax.)

  27. Kishnevi!!
    Plot Spoiler!!!
    Not.
    Good.
    I loved the part where the professor burned the anonymous note telling her she was going to hell so the note could proceed her to her destination. There were a few other giggles too, mostly with Britishisms. I haven’t stopped to google the Latin though. Maybe I should. I know how much I enjoy the little jokes in books where I do understand the second language.

  28. marie-lucie says:

    his name is written without the acute accent: Perec
    Siganus, nothing escapes you, you are right.
    … pronounced “pérèque”.
    This is what is meant by the phonetic spelling /perɛk/.

  29. Siganus has the rare antipodal wisdom.

  30. Siganus has the rare antipodal wisdom.

  31. Bill Walderman says:

    “Prince Nikolai is not at all a bad person, once you’ve read through W&P: he struggles to express his love for his children, but can’t figure out how to–the exception being Andrei’s first wife, to whom he really is tender.”
    Yes, you’re right. He’s really not a bad person. And in the end I really don’t dislike him. He doesn’t much like young prince Nikolai Bolkonski, though. I’m much more like Pierre–thoroughly impractical. Can’t change a light bulb on my own. But I think the friendship between the two opposites, Nikolai and Pierre, is one of the finest things in the book.

  32. Siganus Sutor says:

    M.-L.: This is what is meant by the phonetic spelling /perɛk/.
    Oops, sorry I missed that. (But for me there’s just an empty white box in place of the second -e.)
     
     
    JE*, I suppose you mean that I’m rarely wise. Quite right, quite right. I wonder how you guessed.
    It must have something to do with the heat I presume. It’s not as bad as for Noetica (while she is cheering a sweating Federer) but, my God, what a summer it has been so far! I hope it’s warming up somewhat on your side of things, so we could at least breathe a wee bit here.
     
     
     
    * “JE est un autre”: you know who’s said that, don’t you?

  33. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Damn right, nothing escapes him. He’s a structural engineer.

  34. Siganus Sutor says:

    Incidentally, Marie-Lucie, have you noticed how French people have decided that for them Roger’s surname was to be pronounced “fédérère” and not “feudeurère”, “fait de raire”, “fédéré” or what not? One can only wonder what the Bon usage would have had to say about that.

  35. Siganus Sutor says:

    Lévi-Strauss is not dead and I still believe in structuralism.

  36. If I could only send you a huge draft of -20 degree air, Siganus, I’d gladly do so. Alas.

  37. If I could only send you a huge draft of -20 degree air, Siganus, I’d gladly do so. Alas.

  38. A.J.P. Crown, Mrs says:

    It’s not as bad as for Noetica (while she is cheering a sweating Federer)
    So is, in fact, Noetica a woman? She claimed to be a man recently and Language refers to her as ‘he’. I must say I’d always assumed he was a ‘she’, just as I always assumed that Nij was a boy until somebody told me he wasn’t.

  39. I’m almost as sure that Noetica is a man as I am that David Marjanović is lying about his age.

  40. I can’t believe you linked “refers.”

  41. Noetica is, in fact, a man.
    Prince Nikolai is not at all a bad person
    I judge badness not by people’s interior states or by their self-presentation but by their actions. Perhaps you’ve forgotten to what extent he made his daughter’s life a living hell, and the consequences of his willful and pointless insistence that his son not marry the woman he loved. Sure, to himself he was just a guy doing the right thing as he saw it, but that’s true of all of us, including [insert name of favorite historical villain here].
    As for the Quartet, I’ve always started with Justine (which is still probably my favorite), but it doesn’t really matter, since the individual volumes are from different points of view rather than different time periods. You’ll just get a very different series of revelations depending on where you start and what preconceptions that gives you.

  42. Why not? That seems like proper linking style to me — the link is on the verb that describes the content of the link. It would not be proper to link “LanguageHat” since that is the name of the whole site, not the name of the particular reference.

  43. Thank you for the mention of my reading and blogging, Languagehat.
    I share your frustration with Prince Nikolai’s behavior, Languagehat, but can’t help but agree with Kishnevski and Bill Walderman that he’s a product of his environment and not, at heart, a bad person. I finished Part I last night, where he sees Prince Andrei off to war: “что-то дрогнуло в нижней части лица старого князя” (“something quivered in the lower part of the face of the old prince”). After that involuntary show of emotion, of course, he yells at Andrei to get moving! These contrasts, which seem so common, are part of what keeps me coming back to the book.
    One day I’ll need to try the Alexandria Quartet again…

  44. Why not? That seems like proper linking style to me — the link is on the verb that describes the content of the link. It would not be proper to link “LanguageHat” since that is the name of the whole site, not the name of the particular reference.
    It’s perfectly proper linking style — that’s what I found funny: it seemed a lot of diligence for such a casual/personal inquiry. I meant it as lightheartedly as can be, though (as I’m sure Crown knows).

  45. Maybe if I had more linking facility (i.e., didn’t have to find an old post where Hat explained how to link within text every time I wanted to do it) I wouldn’t even have noticed it. (The post was about cricket.)

  46. marie-lucie says:

    I’m almost as sure that Noetica is a man as I am that David Marjanović is lying about his age.
    David is (or was) a child prodigy.

  47. Bill Walderman says:

    “I judge badness not by people’s interior states or by their self-presentation but by their actions.”
    Well, I suspect none of us will measure up.

  48. A.J.P. Crown (Mrs) says:

    Jeremy Osner, that’s a fine first name you you have. I couldn’t have put it better myself. I’m referring all questions to you from now on. You’ll be receiving 5% of my LH (net) income.
    Jamessal, I write the links in afterwards, rather than as I go along, so then I put them where I think they look best (but it’s an intuitive decision) …
    I see Jamessal has a new website.
    I agree that David’s lying about his age. Even if he skipped two grades at the konglige Realschule, with the PhD he’d be at least …I don’t know …eighteen? Way over twelve, at any rate. Besides, twelve-year-olds don’t go around telling everybody they hate jam and cakes, twelve-year-olds need to fit in.

  49. Did David happen to meet Hitler or Wittgenstein in his school?

  50. Did David happen to meet Hitler or Wittgenstein in his school?

  51. I see Jamessal has a new website.
    Aargh — you were SO not supposed to link to that! It’s old, from when my book fist came out, but I’d never got around to putting it up (or rather asking my more net-savvy uncle to put it up for me); I only did so now because a reporter who recently interviewed me said she’d had a hard time finding me, and I’m too broke to ignore attention.
    Looking the site over, I see the excerpts section couldn’t be more random — that’s a bit of rough writing that I don’t think even made it into the book. How embarrassing! Now I’m gonna have to start working on this thing!
    Cruel King of Mars, I shall never question your links again!

  52. A.J.P. Crown (Mrs) says:

    He was two grades ahead of Wittgenstein, even though they all started out togetrhether. Together.

  53. David is (or was) a child prodigy.
    David and I are — OSTENSIBLY — two years apart in age. I’ll believe the child prodigy line in a few days. Right now I’m in denial.

  54. A.J.P. Crown (Mrs) says:

    you were SO not supposed
    Now everyone’s going to rush over and see what all the fuss is about. Actually the picture makes you look nearly as young as David Marjanovic`.

  55. Yeah, I like it when professional photographers do my photos (note the ambiguity of “do”): http://www.krobbinsphoto.com/

  56. A.J.P. Crown (Mrs) says:

    What do you have to be in denial about? You’re a NY Times bestselling writer, for god’s sake. It’s us lot who are over thirty who should be in denial.

  57. Bestselling? No. My bank account would slap me if I let that go unchallenged.
    Yes, my book was reviewed favorably in The Times, and that’s a nice conversation starter. But seriously, as far as accomplishments, I wrote a freakin’ meth memoir. I’d rather KNOW some stuff.
    (I’ll bet I can bench more than David, though…)

  58. that’s a fine name you you have
    Why thanks Mrs. Crown! I’m rather attached to it.
    when my book fist came out
    An unusual sort of fist…

  59. A.J.P. Crown says:

    You know everyone’s going to look at today’s post at LH and see that it’s got, like, 300 comments — hmm, this must be interesting — only to find it’s about which commenter can bench press the most.

  60. Siganus Sutor says:

    Noetica is, in fact, a man.
    To be so factual you must have managed to lay your hands onto the (absolute) proof of the pudding. Wow!
    I have seen a picture once that may suggest that Noetica is no so much of a you-man, you know. And in any case it gave me permission to call her he/she/it, as I pleased. However, I don’t know if caducity has come into the picture somehow.
     
     
    John E., this morning, some time before dawn, supposedly at the “coldest” hour of the night, it was 28ºC in the house. These days just typing a comment on Language Hat makes you sweat like a pig* — something which happens in winter too, though.
     
     
    * “transpirer comme un bœuf” in Französisch, which suggests that a pig = an ox = an egg

  61. I have inlaws in Hawaii, where it never gets hot and never gets cold. “Bad weather” means a strong wind.

  62. I have inlaws in Hawaii, where it never gets hot and never gets cold. “Bad weather” means a strong wind.

  63. Siganus Sutor says:

    We can therefore guess that none of your in-laws work at the Keck or the CFH, no?

  64. jamessal’s photo
    If you notice, the photo on Jamessal’s home page is much poorer quality than the one on the photographer’s webpage. I don’t know anything about digital photography but it is noticeable even to me. If you right click on both photos you can see why. The one on Jamessal’s home page is 160px × 240px but it is sized to 271px × 394px–scaled up instead of down, and it loses focus in the process. On the photographer’s webpage the small one is 200px X 300px but if you click on it you will get a larger one that is 667px × 1000px. You can’t help but look at the eyes. This is the one that should be used on the website (right click on photo then “save image as”). For my blog I usually size photos to a width of 500 pixels but when it is that close I just leave it and adjust it in the WordPress html editor. Anything above that doesn’t really fit on my blog format, and you can’t see the difference in quality anyhow–it just takes a huge amount of time for the picture to load. I like the “Jimmy Talks” one on his girlfriend’s website too.

  65. Wow… hard to jump in here. Question for all — in Gaudy Night the women undergrads refer to each other as Brother So-and-So. I always wondered about that. Invented by Sayers? Typical of that time period? Typical of British university “co-eds”? (Sorry, can’t write “co-ed” with a straight face.)
    Hat, I liked the first Mafouz and couldn’t wait to read the rest, and then was surprised at myself for losing interest. I feel vindicated.
    Possible minority position: I read the AQ in high school and loved it. When I picked it again 30 years later, I couldn’t muster the interest. I mentally categorized it as “a book you love when you are a teenager.”
    Hat, I know the Count was pretty awful personally (reading the Countess’ diaries is like a 19th century reality show-cum-group-therapy session). But try to forget about him as you’re reading.

  66. This is off-topic, but knowing that our learned host and some other contributors know a lot more Russian than I do, I thoughtr I’d quote this, from another group that I frequent:
    Noteworthy in connection with all of this is the Russian ‘-a’ suffix denoting the wife, like husband ‘Fadeev,’ wife ‘Fadeeva.’ But it has seemed to me, without scholarly support, that the ‘-a’ could originally have been a genitive ending suggesting that the wife was a possession of the husband. There is a genitive ‘-a’ in Russian, but there’s also a feminine ‘-a.’
    My reaction to this was that it was total claptrap, as it never occurred to me that that -a in women’s surnames was other than the normal feminine form of a noun. Am I wrong? Is there any truth in what this guy says?

  67. I don’t mean to be complaining all the time, it just seems like when jamessal’s got a photo that makes people forget to breathe for just an instant, it’s a shame not to use it. But no hand in the picture, huh. Why do the dustjackets always have a picture of the author with a hand in the picture, usually awkwardly placed?

  68. in Gaudy Night the women undergrads refer to each other as Brother So-and-So
    what? I don’t remember seeing that.

  69. Athel, I don’t think there is anything to it… for one, female surnames are declined just like the corresponding female adjectives. The ubiquitous -ov-/-ev- and -in- in female (and male) surnames and patronymics, however, do indicate possession.

  70. marie-lucie says:

    it never occurred to me that that -a in women’s surnames was other than the normal feminine form of a noun
    In Latin, married women’s names were formed by removing the masculine ending from the husband’s name and replacing it with the feminine ending, as in the marriage formula Ubi tu Gaius, ego Gaia “where you [are known as] Gaius, I [am/will be known as] Gaia”. There is no reason to think that the Russian system is different in principle: the feminine ending is added to the husband’s family name (shared with his relatives), since she is becoming part of that family, and her new name is not exclusive to her but shared by the other women of the family.

  71. marie-lucie says:

    The ubiquitous -ov-/-ev- and -in- in female (and male) surnames and patronymics, however, do indicate possession.
    “Possession” as a grammatical term is not necessarily the same as ownership, it can merely indicate a relationship, as with family terms.

  72. Yes… “Belonging” would probably be a better term.

  73. Oh no, ACB, that’s claptrap. Russian surnames and patronymics were not codified until relatively recently; there are even cases of matronymics. The -a at the end is just a gender marker.

  74. It’s “Brother Flaxman” in the scene where Harriet gets together with the students.

  75. My reaction to this was that it was total claptrap
    Your reaction was correct.

  76. Siganus: My inlaws are salt of the earth Hawaiians who don’t mess with science. Pineapples, real estate, maybe gambling. But I imagine that t’s a bit colder up on the mountain.

  77. Siganus: My inlaws are salt of the earth Hawaiians who don’t mess with science. Pineapples, real estate, maybe gambling. But I imagine that t’s a bit colder up on the mountain.

  78. A.J.P. Crown says:

    “transpirer comme un œuf”
    How hot does it get during the daytime, Sig? Here it’s -6c. Even our goats are shivering.

  79. A.J.P. Crown says:

    a hand in the picture
    I’m glad to see someone else has noticed that. Notice it’s never done with an interesting or good-looking face. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a comment from the photographer that this subject was SO plain that a device was needed to distract the viewer from looking too closely at the face.

  80. The subtleties of “possession” were nicely adumbrated by ol’ Ronnie-boy (again, from The Flower Beneath the Foot).


    Meanwhile Count Cabinet was seated with rod-and-line at an open window
    idly ogling a swan. Owing to the reluctance of tradespeople to call for orders,
    the banished stateman was often obliged to supplement the larder himself.
    But hardly had he been angling ten minutes to-day, when lo! a distinguished mauvish fish
    with vivid scarlet spots. Pondering on the mysteries of the deep, and of the
    subtle variety there is in Nature, the veteran ex-minister lit a cigar. Among the more
    orthodox types that stocked the lake, such as carp, cod, tench, eels, sprats, shrimps etc.,
    this exceptional fish must have known its trials and persecutions, it hours of
    superior difficulty … and the Count, with a stoic smile recalled his own. Musing on
    the advantages and disadvantages of personality, of “party” viewpoints, and of
    morals in general, the Count was soon too self-absorbed to observe the approach of
    his “useful” secretary and amanuensis, Peter Passer.
    More valet perhaps than secretary, and more errand-boy than either, the former chorister of the Blue Jesus had followed the fallen stateman into exile at a moment when the Authorities of Pisuerga were making minute enquiries for sundry missing articles [1] from the Trésor of the Cathedral …
    [1] The missing articles were: -
          5 chasubles.
          A relic-casket in lapis and diamonds, containing the
          Tongue of St. Thelma
          4 3/4 yards of black lace, said to have “belonged” to the
          Madonna

  81. mistyped “statesman” twice, dammit

  82. I’ve actually read Tunc – the cover intrigued me.
    I still have little clue just what the hell it was about, and it took me ages to get into.
    Yet when it was over I missed it and wanted more.
    Unfortunately I’ve never come across Nunquam – I guess that’s one of the issues with getting books from thriftshops.

  83. I don’t mean to be complaining all the time, it just seems like when jamessal’s got a photo that makes people forget to breathe for just an instant, it’s a shame not to use it.
    Hey, that kind of complaining I can deal with — thanks so much!
    I’ve really spent very little time on the site; when I do finally sit down to work on it, I’ll ask my uncle (the photographer) about the photo quality.
    That was funny about the hand in author photos, too.

  84. Noetica is, in fact, a man.
    So he told me quite recently. Originally I decided he was a 30-something male, after he descended in a whirlwind, breathlessly announcing he had been away for a while in I think China. Then reluctantly I decided female because of the -a ending of the nickname, but last week or so he said no, Noetica is a neuter Greek word, meaning some abstract quality I’ve forgotten (not related to noel=song). At least he didn’t find the question offensive. More recently I think it has been revealed he is 50-ish.
    It shouldn’t matter, but why does the mind search for these clues?
    Why did Kron think I was male? A while back, a computer program analyzed my blog as being male too.
    I always thought the hand in the author picture was supposed to be an indication of genre–so far, I’m remembering religion and romance authors I’ve seen photographed like that. I’m guessing its an editor’s choice. I know some actors have a sheet with a whole bunch of photos on it as part of their resume to indicate the roles they can play. Maybe Hat knows.
    Jamessal’s uncle has some interesting photos. Most of the subjects don’t have faces that would be considered classically beautiful or handsome, but they look like interesting, animated people you would want to talk to.

  85. David Marjanović says:

    I’m almost as sure that Noetica is a man as I am that David Marjanović is lying about his age.

    Well, I’m 26, which is why I only started to publish in 2007. Or why do you think I didn’t cite myself in the 2007 paper? :-)
    In fact, I tend to be surprised that not everyone on teh intarwebz is in my generation. Every few months it happens that a blog commenter I thought I was cyber-familiar with suddenly blurts out “yeah, and when I was in Vietnam…” or “WTF, that’s the worst I’ve ever seen since Nixon said…” or “yeah, and last ice age my pals and I…”

    I agree that David’s lying about his age. Even if he skipped two grades at the konglige Realschule, with the PhD he’d be at least …

    I ain’t got no PhD yet. Officially I haven’t even started (…probably I’ll have finished the work before the unspeakable French bureaucracy will have caught up).

    Besides, twelve-year-olds don’t go around telling everybody they hate jam and cakes, twelve-year-olds need to fit in.

    They need, perhaps, but I never bothered. Why should I suffer just to fit in? I prefer suffering through someone else’s fault over suffering through mine.
    (Ten or so years later, I saw a description of “Asperger’s syndrome” in New Scientist. I have a few of the symptoms.)

    Did David happen to meet Hitler or Wittgenstein in his school?

    Darüber muß ich schweigen. :-Þ

    Actually the picture makes you look nearly as young as David Marjanovic`.

    I’ll have to check out if you’re right, because there is no photo of me anywhere in teh intart00bz… except the photo collections of a few fossil digs that no search engine is going to find…
    <clickety-click>
    Oh yeah. That one does look like just above my age. (I, on the other hand, look younger than I am, fitting my overall childishness…)

  86. Siganus Sutor says:

    Language Hats: but as a novel I’m afraid it didn’t impress us.
    Once upon a time I thought it was one of the great books I’ve read in my short life. However, having given my copy of the trilogie cairote to read to a few friends, they often gave it back to me after a while, unfinished. I was blaming the fact that the single volume is 1381 pages long, but maybe there was something else to it.
    I must reckon that Mahfouz can be fairly uneven. And not later than three days ago if I managed to finish Dérives sur le Nil (Tharthara fawq al Nil) I did so only because it was not longer than 190 pages. Quite a deception (for the person who offered it to me as well). Some of his other novels are good in my view (Vienne la nuit — nothing to do with Wien’s nightlife —, La Belle du Caire), but beside some nice shots there is indeed some gloubi boulga.
    Regarding novels set in Egyptian society, there are two funny books — funny and a bit nostalgic altogether — by Egyptian-born Robert Solé, who is from a Greek Catholic family: Le Tarbouche and Le Sémaphore d’Alexandrie. I don’t know if they’ve been translated into English though.

  87. I don’t know if they’ve been translated into English though.
    If I am not mistaken:
    La Mamelouka = The Photographer’s Wife.
    Le Tarbouche = Birds of Passage.
    Le Semaphore d’Alexandrie = The Alexandria Semaphore.

  88. Siganus Sutor says:

    Have you read them, MMcM? If yes, how were they in an English translation?
     
     
    Mahendra: In place of Mahfouz, might I recommend Gamal al-Ghitani’s superb political masterpiece: Zayni Barakat?
    Yes, you might, and I might try this one.
    A few years ago I was offered L’immeuble Yacoubian (Imrat Ya’qubyan, 2002), by Alaa El Aswany, and if you were given that book to read without being informed about its author’s name, you could very easily think that you were reading Mahfouz.

  89. If you want Arabs, Fadia Faqir’s Pillars of Salt was an easy read, in the sense of the reading but not the characters. The settings are very pastoral, near the Dead Sea and in Amman, and the women carry on lives that are difficult to figure out from the western standpoint. I also remember reading a couple very intriguing short essays by Fatima Mernissi when I was staying with someone, but I don’t remember the title of the book anymore. Mernissi is at the other end of the Islamic world, Morroco I think–she is less narrative and more analytical, but again the insider’s view is fascinating.

  90. Siganus Sutor says:

    Marie-Lucie: My family and other animals (Gerald Durrell)
    When it comes to finding a good title some people do seem to have a special gift. Just like the Canard enchaîné.
    This Gerald was the man who created the wildlife association we have here. He wrote a book named Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons which takes place on Mars. Nowadays the once endangered bats are sometimes filling the sky at dusk, and every evening there are two of them which hang themselves to the tree in front of our kitchen door. Some of those who grow litchis and other fruits don’t always think it’s cute to have them around, but we do, especially when the one which always chooses the same lower branch moves around the tree like a little monkey.

  91. A.J.P. Crown says:

    I love bats too. We see them outside the house at dusk, flying around the garden, eating mosquitos, but only in summer. I wonder where bats go in winter?

  92. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Does everyone know that pastrami originated in Turkey? Its background is interesting. It is sold at this restaurant chain in LA.

  93. The link says the word is

    likely of Turkish origin, spread during the period of the Ottoman domination of the region…. pastirma … An analogous dish is known as basturma in Armenian cuisine and as basterma in the Arab World. Early references in English spelled “pastrama”, while its current form is associated with a Jewish store selling “pastrami” in New York City in 1887. It is likely that this spelling was introduced to sound related to the Italian salami.

    I found out about it when some friends once brought me a cookbook from Cairo in English, at a time when I was very into coriander in all its forms (still am). You can get it at some Turkish markets in Cologne, but most Germans have never heard of it. They consume enormous quantities of Döner instead. People have told me that pastirma was Arabic. But then, when you consider “why it’s made”, you may reach the conclusion that it could come from anywhere dry and hot, like West Texas:

    As with corned beef, pastrami was created as a method for preserving meat from spoilage in an age before modern refrigeration methods.

  94. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Stuart Grumbly, note that the other LH coriander devotee is Jamessal, associate of fellow coriander nut, gourmet -girlfriend Robin.
    I want to make a pastrami, even though smoking is way beyond my culinary training. No doubt it’s impossible unless I were to built a brick smoking-thing — oven? –this summer.

  95. Odd – I thought I’d left second comment here yesterday since oodles of stuff had been added while I typed. Musta pressed “preview” or summat. Ah well.
    Dottore Marjanović is even younger than I thought. At least that makes it pretty certain that I’ve never met him. What year were you at the ChemOlymp?
    I’m pretty sure I don’t have Asperger’s to any degree. I’m too lazy. I just happen to be fairly unsocial. In fact, do Aspies even suffer envy? Cuz there are several commenters here whose brains I want to eat.
    By the way, pigs don’t sweat. No glands for it the poor things. Hence the mud.

  96. marie-lucie says:

    Siganus: Quite a deception (for the person who offered it to me as well)
    I think you mean “quite a disappointment … for the person who gave it to me as a gift”. Those words are very deceptive faux amis.
    L’immeuble Yacoubian … you could very easily think that you were reading Mahfouz.
    Given the various comments about Mahfouz above, is this a recommendation or not?

  97. in Gaudy Night the women undergrads refer to each other as Brother So-and-So…
    It’s “Brother Flaxman” in the scene where Harriet gets together with the students.

    I haven’t found it yet, maybe a typo that was corrected later? p 101 “Hall was an embarrassed meal at the high Table…The undergraduates babbled noisily…” Harriet speaking to the Dean: “Is that Miss Cattermole at the table on the right?”…Harriet again: “Where is the all-conquering Miss Flaxman?”

  98. I want to make a pastrami

    JJ, why would you want to put it in a smoking-thing, or bake it? Sounds like a germ-nervous American tendency. My fellow citizens won’t eat Mett (raw pork with salt, pepper, onions) even in Germany, where every pig has its own protocologist. In the US of A you probably get trichinosis or worse, but that’s there.
    That Egyptian cookbook described the procedure wie folgt (I tried it myself twice): get a good cut of meat without too much fat, and not too thick. Cover it with butcher’s salt, lay it on something that will allow drainage, and place a heavy weight on top. Leave in a dark, dry place for 1-2 days, to get most of the liquid out. Then cover it with ground coriander pods, pepper – and anything else you might want to experiment with, like garlic or one of the paprikas, put the weight back on and let the whole sit for a few days more. Then scrape off the coating, slice the meat thin, and dredge the slices briefly in hot oil.
    It wouldn’t hurt to smoke it, of course, and would add to the taste. I suppose that’s basically another way of removing the liquid – but what do I know? I just now got some pastirma from a Turkish butcher – and, just as I remembered, it doesn’t really taste much like American pastrami, but more like my home experiments. The butcher said he himself doesn’t eat pastirma, because the taste is too strong for him.

  99. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Wow, thanks Grumbly Stuart. I know what you mean about the smoking. I prefer gravet laks to smoked salmon and I’m not sure that smoking is any better for salmon than it is for man. This porque tartare, Mett, does sound like it’s probably delicious; that’s a marvelous health system they must have with all those proctocologists. Funny that my spellchecker doesn’t like proctocologist, but doesn’t object to urologist.
    In this house I’m not the squeamish one, it’s the wife & kid, especially kid. ‘This is past its sell-buy date’ is her middle name. I’ll make it in secret. I’ll try it with brisket, first, if I can find it, and I would be very interested to try a pork version too.

  100. I’ve grown rather fond of smoked stuff. Just bought a side of fatty bacon, today, and 70% off.
    I hope it’s the same batch as I got last week, because the fried to a perfect crispness for the omelet last night. First time in … almost a decade I think, that it’s been just right the way I recall it from my childhood, when we got to salt it ourselves before having it smoked.

  101. why would you want to put it in a smoking-thing, or bake it?
    Technically, or so my favorite charcuterie book tells me, pastrami only differs from corned beef in that it’s smoked and rubbed with coriander and black pepper.
    No doubt it’s impossible unless I were to built a brick smoking-thing
    It’s very possible and even easy, if you have a charcoal grill. Pastrami is usually cold-smoked (at a temperature under 100 degrees F in a smoker) and then hot-smoked (at a temperature of 150 degrees F) but if you don’t have a smoker, you can put a few coals in your grill (preferably in a pan of hickory sawdust), put the beef on the rack, cover the grill and make sure that it stays relatively cool–you want the internal temp of the pastrami to stay under 150 degrees F for a few hours (adding a few coals if they go out) because once it gets there, you should stop smoking.
    Before you smoke, you’ll need to brine your beef in a salt and sugar brine of about 1 gallon water to 1.5 cups of salt and 1 cup of sugar (and some pickling spices, honey, and garlic if you like), for about 3 days. Then you dry it off and encrust it with crushed coriander seed and black peppercorn.
    After you smoke, you’ll need to put the smoked beef in a stockpot with about an inch of water, bring that to a simmer, then cook covered in a 275 degree F oven for 2 or 3 hours.
    See… totally easy.

  102. JJ, do you know, I think Codfish is onto sumpin. The reasons why the Turkish stuff is different from the Deli kind may be (apart from the smoking) that it hasn’t been simmer-stewed. The Deli stuff, as I recall (my God, it’s been at least 30 years), is loose-textured, like a flour dumpling, and steamy-juicy. I’m going to pot the rest of the pastirma and see what’s what.


    For Watt now found himself in the midst of things which, if they consented to be named, did so as it were with reluctance. And the state in which Watt found himself resisted formulation in a way no state had ever done, in which Watt had ever found himself, and Watt had found himself in a great many states, in his day. Looking at a pot, for example, or thinking of a pot, at one of Mr. Knott’s pots, of one of Mr. Knott’s pots, it was in vain that Watt said, Pot, pot. Well, perhaps not quite in vain, but very nearly. For it was not a pot, the more he looked, the more he reflected, the more he felt sure of that, that it was not a pot at all. It resembled a pot, it was almost a pot, but it was not a pot of which one could say, Pot, pot, and be comforted. It was in vain that it answered, with unexceptionable adequacy, all the purposes, and performed all the offices, of a pot, it was not a pot. And it was just this hairbreadth departure from the nature of a true pot that so excruciated Watt. For if the approximation had been less close, then Watt would have been less anguished. For then he would not have said, This is a pot, and yet not a pot, no, but then he would have said, This is something of which I do not know the name.

  103. That Beckett passage reminds me so much of some things in Joyce and some things in O’Brien’s “The Third Policeman”. I don’t normally lump them, even though the two later authors both were familiar with Joyce.

  104. That Beckett passage reminds me so much of some things in Joyce and some things in O’Brien’s “The Third Policeman”. I don’t normally lump them, even though the two later authors both were familiar with Joyce.

  105. David Marjanović says:

    I wonder where bats go in winter?

    Nowhere. They fall into torpor.

    What year were you at the ChemOlymp?

    I never got into the international one.

    I’m pretty sure I don’t have Asperger’s to any degree. I’m too lazy.

    WTF? You think I’m not lazy? :-o

    In fact, do Aspies even suffer envy?

    The more hardcore ones maybe don’t, but I do. language hat casually remarking he needs to brush up his Georgian? bulbul speaking fucking everything in Eurasia except Chinese and (I think) Georgian? Want.

    Cuz there are several commenters here whose brains I want to eat.

    In case you’re alluding to the famous experiment with the flatworms, I’ve heard it was nothing but fraud…

    By the way, pigs don’t sweat.

    Maybe, but in the interest of pedantry I feel compelled to point out that dogs have sweat glands only on the soles of their feet. Maybe it’s similar with pigs. In fact… the third of the 102,000 ghits says they “do have a few sweat glands”, though it doesn’t tell where, and I can’t be bothered to keep searching.
    And stop calling me Dr. for a while. Titles are a state affair in Austria. There was a major scandal a few years ago when it turned out that some government hack was not, as she had claimed, an MA and had therefore received a salary that was too high; was all over the news. Etymological speculations about her name (Ute Fabel) immediately followed.

    Funny that my spellchecker doesn’t like proctocologist, but doesn’t object to urologist.

    Try proctologist.

  106. It was a joke, David. A protocologist studies protocols, a proctologist also gets to the bottom of things.

  107. JE, I read The Third Policeman and At Swim-Two-Birds, many years ago. I remember a soused po-faced extravagance that is also to be found in parts of Ulysses. In his early stuff (i.e. in English) Beckett is a dry, morosely lyrical old sweetheart, and I love it. What were you thinking of in particular?

  108. I wonder where bats go in winter?
    We used to have them in the psyche ward building. They lived in the attic (belfrey?) and once in a while one would get confused and come down through the trap door stairway into the building at night and fly around a bit.
    In fact, do Aspies even suffer envy?
    Yup. In our family at least if you bring something for one kid, you have to bring something for them all.

  109. David Marjanović says:

    A protocologist studies protocols

    That should be a protocollologist.
    And yes, I know there’s a LOL in there.

  110. David Schneider has written two books about what it’s like to be an Aspie. I recommend the one I’ve read and am planning to buy the other. The second one describes how he found a way to live the good life as an Aspie. He includes not entirely flattering descriptions of so-called normal people from an Aspie point of view.

  111. David Schneider has written two books about what it’s like to be an Aspie. I recommend the one I’ve read and am planning to buy the other. The second one describes how he found a way to live the good life as an Aspie. He includes not entirely flattering descriptions of so-called normal people from an Aspie point of view.

  112. Siganus Sutor says:

    Marie-Lucie: I think you mean “quite a disappointment … for the person who gave it to me as a gift”. Those words are very deceptive faux amis.
    You are quite right, and I must confess that I have never noticed these false friends. Deception means “tromperie” says the Harrap’s. Hmmm, I was definitely misled, if not fooled (trompé), by some sort of native tongue.
    I wonder if there is another language than French in which there would be more words that look similar to English words but with a different meaning.
     
     
    [L'immeuble Yacoubian] Given the various comments about Mahfouz above, is this a recommendation or not?
    I wouldn’t say that it is a masterpiece — though it has apparently been particularly popular in some Arab countries and has been screenplayed —, but it is certainly a pleasant read.

  113. JE, David Schneider/asperger is not coming up either on google or on amazon. Do you have something more specific?

  114. Nigma, the brother comment is in Chapter VII, page 139 of my Harper’s paperback.
    For mystery addicts, Michael Pearce’s series set in Egypt in the 1920s is very amusing.
    I also like Ahdaf Souief’s Eye of the Storm and Map of Love.
    And I really like basturma, which is what we call that smoked beef here in Russia. It’s very compacted and tough. You have to practically shave off pieces in order to be able to eat them. And the good stuff has a kind of crust of spices.

  115. the brother comment is in Chapter VII, page 139 of my Harper’s paperback.
    In that case, it’s a printing error. Mine says:

    Bother Flaxman,” said the dark girl, shortly.

    It’s British slang, but I think it means something like “never mind Flaxman” or “Flaxman irritates (bothers) me” or “Flaxman is not important”.
    There is another “brother” comment in the same paragraph, “Goodness knows, I don’t want any of this business of being my brother‘s keeper…” a reference to the story of Cain and Abel in the Bible.

  116. Nijma, my, that’s interesting. Are we — well, are you — sure that the typo is in my edition? I ask because I think the TV film version of the book has the students refering to each other as Brother. So either the filmmakers picked up the typo and went with it, or some over-zealous copy editor “fixed” it. Anyone have an older hard-cover edition?
    Or has anyone ever come across other cases in which women (university students or otherwise) refer to each other as “brother” or other nouns commonly associated with men?
    I’m interested in this because I’m mildly obsessed with Russian usage by which men are addressed by feminine gender words and women addressed as masculine gender words as a way of intensifying affection (paradoxically). I’ve been looking for something similar in English.

  117. Sorry, David.
    I picked it up from a Rome correspondent’s column years ago. Everyone at his local called him dottore as a mark of honour despite his embarrassment and insistence that he was not an academic.
    Flatworms? Actually, I think I remember hearing about that. I think I was more referring to primitive beliefs about absorbing the attributes of one’s enemies. And, hey, if it doesn’t work, at least you won’t have them anymore!
    And I’m lazier than thou. Flunked uni and only sesquilingual, remember. (Did get into the ChemOlymp, though. And PhysOlymp, but had to choose. Didn’t even qualify for the Maths. So of course that’s the subject I do wish I were better at.
    Ah well.

  118. Edgar Schneider. Got his name wrong.
    I just found out about his second book, “Living the Good Life With Autism”, and I’m ordering it.

  119. Edgar Schneider. Got his name wrong.
    I just found out about his second book, “Living the Good Life With Autism”, and I’m ordering it.

  120. At LH I guess I should add: there’s a linguist named Edgar Schneider too, but he’s a different person.

  121. At LH I guess I should add: there’s a linguist named Edgar Schneider too, but he’s a different person.

  122. I’m mildly obsessed with Russian usage by which men are addressed by feminine gender words and women addressed as masculine gender words as a way of intensifying affection
    Huh, I thought it was only Mandelstam who did that! Interesting to find out it’s a broader cultural thing.

  123. old Prince Nikolai (father of gloomy Andrei and poor unattractive Marya)
    all three are my favourite characters in W&P plus PB
    Rostovs, Nikolai and Natasha, always seemed like a bit shallow, animalistic in their behaviour and impulses, too lively
    other characters are just like gallery of some regular people who leave one indifferent whether they exist or not

  124. A.J.P. Crown says:

    “Bother Flaxman,” said the dark girl, shortly.
    It’s British slang, but I think it means something like “never mind Flaxman” or “Flaxman irritates (bothers) me”

    No. ‘Bother Flaxman’ is a euphemism (current from 1900 to 1950s, I would guess) for ‘Bugger Flaxman’; but one that would only ever have been used by earnest Christian ladies like Dorothy Sayers. Nowadays one would say ‘Fuck Flaxman’, or as you said, ‘Flaxman is not important’.

  125. Krunuu is a Finn. How could he know these things?

  126. Krunuu is a Finn. How could he know these things?

  127. Oddly, my North Dakota sister in law also uses “bother” as a euphemism, as in “He’s so drunk every night that he never bothers his wife any more”. It gave be a whole new angle on Winnie the Poo.

  128. Oddly, my North Dakota sister in law also uses “bother” as a euphemism, as in “He’s so drunk every night that he never bothers his wife any more”. It gave be a whole new angle on Winnie the Poo.

  129. A.J.P. Bugger says:

    a whole new angle on Winnie the Poo.
    Funnily enough, Poo was the first thing that came to my mind with ‘bother’. I’m not sure if it’s because of early indoctrination or just that it’s such a rarely used word in this sense, even in Finland.

  130. Contenance, gentleman! It hard enough to follow these threads, without you blurring the distinction between scatology and negligence. The bear in question has a terminal “h” in his name. There is no “poo” to play with.
    On another thread the question was posed as to what “foutre” means. I gave a mealy-mouthed answer, because I didn’t want to fall foul of any prigtease that might be listening in.
    But in connection with “bother!” in the adumbrated sense, think of all those radio amateurs shouting “roger!” at each other on public frequencies. The mind reels.

  131. It hard enough to follow these threads, without you blurring the distinction between scatology and negligence. The bear in question has a terminal “h” in his name. There is no “poo” to play with.
    I’m pretty sure that was deliberate—what we call a joke, my Grumbly friend.
    And foutre doesn’t mean what it used to (that sense has transferred to baiser), it’s just a slangy equivalent of faire or donner.

  132. A.J.P. Crown says:

    I’m quite sure Emerson war joking. I’ll own up that I totally missed his clever double entendre. I knew there was something wrong with poo… but thanks, both of you, you’ve saved me years of analysis figuring out what it was.

  133. Obviously it was a joke, Hat, as was my immediate follow-up about Jolly Rogers!

    And foutre doesn’t mean what it used to

    My original reply was motivated by Noetica’s comment about Burton making foutre into futter, whereupon Nijma asked what it meant. We’re in the middle of the 19th century there, so I gave a correspondingly timed answer. I learned the word from de Sade, as I remember.
    I know that foutre today doesn’t mean what it used to. However, to my sense of French, to use the word in certain contexts is still a bit vulgar and/or drastic (though none the worse for that, as far as it goes), and unwelcome in very polite society except when used deliberately for effect: « Les Américains se foutent qu’on continue à crever dans les camps » (Beauvoir). Of course, you really have to know what you’re doing – so, believe it or not, I tend to hold my tongue. In case of doubt, for instance, it appears that you can often use forms of ficher to cover up for forms of foutre. I’ve always imagined it’s like the American “screw” instead of “fuck” in that respect (screw off, I got screwed by that car dealer etc).
    I don’t know if marie-lucie, or perhaps Himself, might care to set me straight on this if I’m wrong? To be on the safe side, I never use any form of foutre except in places where there’s beer on the floor.

  134. In case of doubt, for instance, it appears that you can often use forms of ficher to cover up for forms of foutre. I’ve always imagined it’s like the American “screw” instead of “fuck” in that respect
    My impression is that such used to be the case, when foutre carried significant oomph, but that for some time now it’s been anodyne enough to be avoided only by the French equivalent of vicars and that ficher has gone the way of English heck. I could well be wrong, however, and I will be curious to see what marie-lucie and other better-informed respondents have to say.

  135. marie-lucie says:

    LH, we discussed this very distinction in an earlier thread, the name of which I don’t remember. Do you think you can identify it and refer the curious to it?

  136. I got JE’s scatological reference, but didn’t Poo Bear also like to say “Oh bother” a lot? To add to JE’s use of “bother” it is also sometimes used in the midwest to describe pedophilia or soliciting minors: “He left town after rumors that he was bothering young boys.” The word “molest” would be used in a newspaper account, which after all might be seen by children.

  137. Found it at languagelog.
    Thanks, marie-lucie!

  138. Sorry, that’s here

  139. The foutre/joder/cunt discussion reminded me of the brief obituary in the Sunday Times “Intl Culture” a few years back, of an American philosopher, Hans ?. It related an anecdote about his being accosted by a policeman for doing something or other. During a mild argument, the policeman said to the philosopher “You shouldn’t do that, you know. Just imagine if everyone acted like that!”. The philosopher replied testily:

    Who do you think I am, Kant?

    at which he was hustled off to the precinct station and charged with offending an officer.

  140. David Marjanović says:

    The by far most common contemporary uses of foutre are il s’en fout “he doesn’t give a shit” and on s’en fout “we’ll just ignore it”.

  141. marie-lucie says:

    This is also the meaning in the quotation above:
    « Les Américains se foutent qu’on continue à crever dans les camps » (Beauvoir)
    “The Americans couldn’t give a [insert favourite expletive here] that we’re still dying in the [concentration] camps”.
    (The word crever here, literally “to burst”, is a strong slang word for “to die”. I am not quite sure what a slangy English equivalent would be, but crever de faim “to be starving” is a common expression, so perhaps “we’re still starving to death” would be more appropriate, though not slangy.)
    David, the conjugation of the verb se foutre (de …) is not limited to the third person, you can say je m’en fous “I don’t give a…”, or tu te fous de moi (somewhat stronger than English “you’re pulling my leg”, implying “what do you take me for?”). For a less strong, more generally acceptable equivalent, se fiche(r) (de …) is preferred. That is what I, a respectable lady who grew up in another generation, would mostly use in my own speech unless the occasion really demanded something stronger.

  142. This is very pertinent to LH’s current thread about “[a claim] that ‘a completely uneducated monolingual Finnish speaker’ knows better how to say Sibelius’s name than the composer himself.” I wanted marie-lucie’s opinion of course not to “set myself straight” about some matter of fact, but rather as an eagle feather of distinction for my box of headwear accessories, so I can turn out more elegantly at the next French Easter parade.
    As vanya says there:

    When it comes to pronunciation, it’s clearly the ordinary untutored folk who learn the rules more deeply and follow them more accurately. Yet in grammar, for no apparent reason, it is typically assumed that the ordinary folk have no idea how to deploy their language correctly. Doesn’t seem quite right, does it?
    Yes, it does. An important part of human language use is demonstrating one’s social status vis-a-vis other people. Geoff, and other descriptivists, often seem blind to this fact. … (vanya)

  143. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Grumbly Stu: … “Who do you think I am, Kant?”…
    This brilliant story — which only really works if Hans had a German, or something accent — is in the best tradition of Monty Python. I wonder who it was?

  144. I have searched unsuccessfully in the internet. For years the clipping was pinned up in my previous apartment. Since everything is still in storage, maybe it will turn up one day. I have a tragic suspicion that I tossed it in the can.
    The whole thing, including this “tragic suspicion”, sounds very suspicious. The story is so good that it may be intellectual urban legend – but who cares? It sounds very Monty Python, as you say.
    The name, I think, was “Hans B..[vowels, consonants]…er”. It was a German name, too – all the more suspicious, yet the story only works with a slight German accent! The Sunday Times is not yet in the Timesonline archives.

  145. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Yes, exactly. Who cares if it happened, it certainly ought to have.

  146. marie-lucie says:

    Grumbly Stu quoting: When it comes to pronunciation, it’s clearly the ordinary untutored folk who learn the rules more deeply and follow them more accurately. Yet in grammar, for no apparent reason, it is typically assumed that the ordinary folk have no idea how to deploy their language correctly. Doesn’t seem quite right, does it?
    – Yes, it does. An important part of human language use is demonstrating one’s social status vis-a-vis other people. Geoff, and other descriptivists, often seem blind to this fact. … (vanya)

    “Untutored folk” are using the (unwritten) rules of their language that they have internalized (learned unconsciously) in childhood and apply them across the board when speaking (unself-consciously). But educated people have also learned sometimes artificial rules that they work hard to apply consciously (the “never split an infinitive”, “never end a sentence with a preposition” examples are notorious). Thus educated people have often been taught to resist the general structure and historical drift of their own language, and they are proud of it!. On top of these factors, “untutored folk” might have some different rules in their own speech that are typical of a certain area or social class (and therefore perfectly regular and “grammatical” for that type of speech) but are frowned upon (because of being regional or lower class markers) by the more educated. An example is English ain’t, which derives from a pronunciation of the now non-existent amn’t. Hearing such things, educated people think that the uneducated speak “any old way”, “without grammar” or “using bad grammar”, rather than that they use alternate forms of their own grammar. These alternate forms or unwritten rules are not necessarily simpler, as those who try to imitate them (eg in writing “dialect”) without being thoroughly familiar with them sometimes discover to their discomfiture.
    Pullum is one of the authors of a massive (about 1300+ pages) grammar of English, but he is not a phonologist (expert in how sounds function in a language), and his comment shows that he does not seem to see that the same principle holds for the use of sounds as for the use of words: the “untutored” Finns adapt the name Sibelius completely to the (unwritten) rules of their own language, while the ones who have learned Swedish pronounce the name according to the rules of Swedish, which they have learned consciously, separately from those of their own language. A similar example (this time about word forms) in English is the use Latin plurals (eg bacteria as the plural of bacterium, or cacti as the plural of cactus) instead of just adding an -s to a Latin singular.
    As for Vanya’s comment, to me it is not so much that Geoff Pullum is a descriptivist but that he is not a sociolinguist (studying language variation through society) or a phonologist (a specialist in the sounds of language). There are just so many specialties in linguistics right now (reflecting the multiple aspects of language) that it is easy to just stay within one’s own little niche and not know much about the others.

  147. Hans Blumenberg?

  148. Hans Blumenberg?

  149. No, this obituary was only a few years ago – but thanks, JE! Blumenberg died around 1996, and was probably a bit too serious a guy to get involved in something like that. That other philosopher was called something like Blumenthaler or Morgenthaler.
    Blumenberg is another one of my blue-eyed boys, I have to say. Here’s a favorite from my German site: Der unvermeidliche Rückgang aufs Anthropomorphe (The inevitable recourse to anthropomorphism), from Die Vollzähligkeit der Sterne. In any case, Die Sorge geht über den Fluß (Sorrow crossing the river) is up your alley, I’m pretty sure. Do you know it?

  150. Well, you are one cool conspectus lady, marie-lucie! Again, with a handful of reasonable remarks, you have given me angles from which to look, from the outside, at something I don’t understand in detail, namely linguistics. La reine de ce pays, c’est vous!

  151. A.J.P. Crown says:

    You don’t grumble very much, Grumbly Stu.

  152. I’ve read a couple Blumenberg essays and remember thinking that I’d like to read more.
    Here is a Blumenberg blog, which seems dormant. Here is Osmer’s other blog — Jeremy occasionally comments here.

  153. I’ve read a couple Blumenberg essays and remember thinking that I’d like to read more.
    Here is a Blumenberg blog, which seems dormant. Here is Osmer’s other blog — Jeremy occasionally comments here.

  154. Hi John — yep, I got distracted from that blog for a while and then when I wanted to take it up again, I found I had mislaid my copy of Höhlenausgänge — It is a fascinating book, what little of it I’ve managed to process. Some notes I wrote about it several years back are linked here. I find it perplexing and frustrating that that book is not available in translation.

  155. You don’t grumble very much, Grumbly Stu.

    I am doggo at the moment, waiting for some nip-worthy butt to pass by. Alors, c’est Grumbly qui se dresse contre l’infâme.
    Also, I today learned that I have a new project in two weeks, so I won’t miss a day’s work. That has me feeling like patting children kindly on the head. The financial crisis is biting here in Germany.

  156. Some notes I wrote about it several years back are linked here

    Jeremy, I was just now looking at your map.html, when your site (or its server) went down. <pause>Now it’s back. How did you come to choose Höhlenausgänge? I haven’t read it, but almost anything by Blumenberg is extremely dense in style and content, i.e. Teutonic to a degree. I have to be in the right, sustained mood to read him.

  157. Well I had this correspondence with a German guy whom I met on the Pynchon listserv, and we got to talking about mysticism and Nietzsche. And he told me, you might really like this book of Blumenberg’s. (I’m sorry now, thinking about him; he got very bitter about the Iraq war and cut off contact with Americans in 2003. So I have not talked with him in a while.) I found the other books of Blumenberg’s that I tried to read utterly impenetrable (and they are in translation!).

  158. il s’en fout “he doesn’t give a shit” and on s’en fout “we’ll just ignore it”.

    Now you’ve made me wonder if my Astérix books are supposed to contain a double entendre? “Ils sont fous ces romains”
    Wikipedia informs me that the Italian translation uses “Sono pazzi questi Romani”. Cute.

  159. marie-lucie says:

    Not So Grumbly Stu:
    Thank you for locating my previous comments on French slang, and for your approval of my explanations re Geoff Pullum, but please don’t overdo it! that has the opposite effect on me. I have been teaching introductory linguistics for 20-odd years, so I hope I can state the gist of a few concepts in a not too technical manner.

  160. marie-lucie says:

    … wonder if my Astérix books are supposed to contain a double entendre? “Ils sont fous ces romains”
    Most likely not. Just “Those Romans are crazy!”

  161. but please don’t overdo it! that has the opposite effect on me. I have been teaching introductory linguistics for 20-odd years

    Alors … An effect opposite to what? I over-iced precisely in order to avoid exaggeration. But I find it hard to strike a mean – you know how I usually enter the scene here. As an introductory linguistics person who is not even a student, what you do is just what I can appreciate. Voilà tout.

  162. cut off contact with Americans in 2003

    Oh my, one of those German intellectual prig-o-crats – Outraged of Bingen-Am-Rhein. At least they’re now thinner on the ground than they used to be in the 70′s.
    This Dichter und Denker business is something I only gradually came to appreciate – heck, even to experience – after 25 years of speaking and reading German almost exclusively. I originally wanted to be able to read Hegel, Heidegger and Kant – didn’t touch them for 30 years. Then, Heidegger clicked, and Blumenberg etc. The point is, these two guys (to name but two) write in a tradition of intricacy – Heidegger with conceptual poetry , Blumenberg with multiple dimensions of content-resonance (like Sloterdijk, who is much easier to read, however). It is almost impossible to separate content from style, so they’re difficult to translate. Heidegger in English is complete gibberish.
    Sometimes they do separate, but suddenly, like failed mayonnaise. After wallowing in tons of Thomas Mann, I remember the idea popping up: Wait a minute, this is all 17-year-old smarty-pants stylistic posturing, there is absolutely no content here worth dwelling on. Haven’t read him again since, except for Lotte in Weimar (let us pray). The same thing happened to me with Saul Bellow and Max Frisch, except that my image was of 40-year-old smarty-pants lounge lizards. For almost 10 years I read only female writers: Gaskell, George Eliot, Alice Munro, Eudora Welty, Fay Weldon and so on. Then I overdosed on the female tendency. So now I just lay in wait and bite.

  163. lie in wait

  164. Wrong, Stu! That was a prescriptivist apology. Not accepted! Furthermore, an additional apology for apologizing is now required. (No, we will not accept the incorrect apology in lieu of the valid one.)

  165. Wrong, Stu! That was a prescriptivist apology. Not accepted! Furthermore, an additional apology for apologizing is now required. (No, we will not accept the incorrect apology in lieu of the valid one.)

  166. “This is a non-prescriptivist apology tendered under prescriptive duress”
    Is that sentence true or false? Valid or invalid? Self-referential, prescriptive, descriptive, or all four? Can it answer your question, or meet your demands? Quis sentat ipsas sententias?

  167. sentiat

  168. like Sloterdijk, who is much easier to read, however
    Do tell!

  169. Well, I must ‘fess up to being a down-home Radical Constructivist who likes to sit under the Realist spreading chestnut tree.
    I don’t believe there are such things as “reason”, “understanding” that “exist” outside different languages, cultures, individual heads. What does exist is not there, unless some group of people keeps it going. Different groups don’t understand each other easily, and needn’t force themselves to try, beyond a point. Life is livable without Sloterdijk. I’ll never be able to appreciate Proust, or Baudelaire. Translation can only be creation, or digestion – what comes out is not what went in.

  170. I like the belligerent modesty exhibited by all and sundry in these parts. No, I am unworthy!

  171. <bust a gut>

  172. Belligerent modesty is more comely than pacific overweening.

  173. Prescriptivism is proscribed here. There are a few “wet”, non-committal, unaggressive descriptivists here, but they are wrong.

  174. Prescriptivism is proscribed here. There are a few “wet”, non-committal, unaggressive descriptivists here, but they are wrong.

  175. What I want to know is when prescriptivism became a moral failing. It’s like smoking — it’s not just a bad habit, it’s a sign of stupidity, arrogance, egotism, and lack of moral fiber. There is sometimes a very unpleasant, to my mind, edge of ridicule in the anti-prescriptivist arguments.

  176. There is sometimes a very unpleasant, to my mind, edge of ridicule in the anti-prescriptivist arguments.

    It’s just that John Emerson tendering bait. Ah, you won’t catch me in that trap again, no sirree bobtail!

  177. There is sometimes a very unpleasant, to my mind, edge of ridicule in the anti-prescriptivist arguments.
    It’s not hard to understand why. Open your average prescriptivist usage guide, flip to any page, and you’ll find bad advice peppered with insults like “illiterate” for those who don’t follow it. Prescriptivists are not only profoundly wrong but obnoxious and even pernicious (classism, etc.). Arguing against them, you not only have a very easy argument to make (hard not to slam dunk on a break) but a genuinely good reason for making it. You feel (or at least I do sometimes) a little righteous, and righteousness, even with a good cause, can in turn be obnoxious. A little self awareness always helps, I guess. But that doesn’t mean we have to pretend the prescriptivist point of view is legitimate, a difference of opinion, blah, blah, blah, and that it doesn”t deserve a bit of ridicule.

  178. I smoke, by the way. But only when I’m drunk. Just to show off my lack of moral fiber.

  179. What’s with all the smoking talk all of a sudden? I had a dream that I actually had a cigarette in my mouth and took it out, broke it in half, and scattered the tobacco on the ground. It’s been at least three years since I quit and have never had a smoking dream before. Dorothy Sayers has her character smoking–I’m sure that was it. Yesterday I brought home a Brother Cadfael mystery from the thrift store. I am sure this 12th century monk won’t smoke and I will be troubled by no more dreams.

  180. Jamessal, yes, I see that about prescriptivism, really I do. The thing is, when you are learning a foreign language or speaking it, you need a good dose of prescriptivism. It doesn’t need to be stupid, but foreign speakers need to be more conservative in their usage than native speakers. Example: I know a lot of people say “me and my friends were hanging out at the bar last night.” But try saying that with a thick, pick-any-language, accent. You sound like a jerk.
    Yes, yes, yes. I know you’ll all say “but descriptivism doesn’t disregard rules” and all the rest. I know that. But I sometimes get the sense that if you ask for a rule, you are scorned like some obscurantist ninny. If a ninny could be obscurantist. I think this aspect of language use and language acquisition is not sufficiently accounted for in the descriptivist lit (at least what I’ve read).

  181. I agree with you mab. Clearly Prescriptivists have disgraced themselves in the past, but it seems like the pendulum has swung too far the other way. When you have people like Pullum actively cheering on the disappearance of “whom” or mocking educated Finns for pronouncing Sibelius the same way Sibelius would have pronounced it, things may be getting a little out of hand. I think descriptivists, like economists, also tend to become too enamored with their own models of deep structure, so that any deviations from the “underlying structure” of the language are condemned as “artifical.” But why, really? For some people those “artificial” rules are an essential element of their personal language, they don’t necessarily feel “artificial” to the people who use them. For some people, like me, languages with abstruse and ridiculous rules, e.g. English, French, Classical Latin, have their own special charms that, say, Indonesian or modern Turkish might not. Sort of the way dissonant notes can add flavor to a piece of music.
    On a separate note – why are we ignoring the obvious possible pun in “ils sont fous, ces Romains?” Wasn’t Asterix written in French originally? Just because the pun is lost in translation doesn’t prove anything.

  182. It looks like we’re going to have to have another purge around here.

  183. It looks like we’re going to have to have another purge around here.

  184. It looks like we’re going to have to have another purge around here.
    And for good reason. Have you seen the latest TLS? The piece isn’t online, but apparently Stalin’s coming back in style too.
    I agree with you mab.
    Me too. Sort of. But you take it much further.
    Clearly Prescriptivists have disgraced themselves in the past
    The disgraceful prescriptivist ideology is still prominent in the newspapers and intellectual magazines most people read (Language Log ain’t the The Times); see any of the reviews of Roy Blount’s Alphabet Juice, including, unfortunately, one in the NY Review.
    it seems like the pendulum has swung too far the other way. When you have people like Pullum
    Pullum? C’mon. Who do you think is better known, Pullum or Safire? The pendulum has a long way to sawing, whether or not Geoff Pullum occasionally gets a little overzealous.
    I think descriptivists, like economists, also tend to become too enamored with their own models of deep structure
    I think so too. But your next point doesn’t follow. Prescriptivist rules aren’t part of a separate coherent system, or even just glimpses of another way of viewing things — they’re nonsensical, as had been demonstrated here and over at Log again and again and again.
    For some people those “artificial” rules are an essential element of their personal language
    Good for them. That doesn’t give them the right to abuse people who don’t follow their rules.

  185. An important part of human language use is demonstrating one’s social status vis-a-vis other people.
    Your bigger point, that prescriptivism has a social function, I’m just not sure what it’s supposed to tell us. We’re social creatures. That doesn’t mean everything we do is right.

  186. Jamessal, yes, I see that about prescriptivism, really I do. The thing is, when you are learning a foreign language or speaking it, you need a good dose of prescriptivism.
    No, you need a set of rules to follow. The two are not at all the same, and I think this is at the root of a lot of misunderstanding. Prescriptivism is not the acknowledgment that languages have rules, because descriptivists are all about describing those rules. Prescriptivism is taking the position that one set of “rules” (many of them nonexistent except in the minds of the prescriptivists) are binding on all speakers and for all occasions, and anyone who violates them is wrong and illiterate and (if they’ve had exposure to the “rules” and knowingly violate them) probably a bad person to boot. Prescriptivism is to language what fundamentalism is to religion.
    Nobody has a problem with foreign-language learners being told “these are the forms you should use for maximum acceptability; you may hear or read these other forms but should not attempt them yourself unless and until you are quite fluent in the language.” That is not prescriptivism, that is good sense.

  187. Exactly. I’m beginning to suspect that the people who defend prescriptivism here and over at the log have spent so much time here and at the log that they’ve forgotten what prescriptivism in practice actually looks like:http://nationalgrammarday.com/

  188. marie-lucie says:

    when you are learning a foreign language or speaking it, you need a good dose of prescriptivism.
    When you are learning a foreign language, you need to learn the common, largely unwritten rules for speaking that language, especially those which differ from the ones in your own. For instance, you need to learn to recognize and produce “What are you talking about?”, not “About what are you talking?” which some prescriptivists would say is the only way to talk, in order not to end a sentence with a preposition, in spite of the fact that most of those same prescriptivists would not obey the so-called rule in their own, normal conversation. A French speaker beginning to learn English would tend to say “About what you talk?” which is definitely not in line with any rules of English as it would never be said by a native English speaker in normal conversation, so that no teacher of English in English-language schools feels the need to warn students against saying it.
    The majority of prescriptive rules in English are artificial ones drilled into students as something they should say and write, while those same students have no trouble speaking their own language as everyone else speaks it. When even the chair of an English department needs to apologize for splitting an infinitive, something that many of “the best writers” have done throughout English history, that so-called rule cannot be said to be a natural part of English grammar. (There have been several discussions of this and similar artificial rules, with numerous examples of such rules being “broken” by some of the most eminent English writers, on Language Log).

  189. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Jamessal:C’mon. Who do you think is better known, Pullum or Safire?
    You’ve right of course, but some people may not be aware that the great Geoff Pullum was first known in the Sixties as the keyboard player in (Gino Washington &) The Ram Jam Band. You can see him in this video. They were VERY popular in England when I was a teenager.

  190. Wow, they were terrific—thanks very much for that link! (And I have even higher regard for Geoff Pullum now.)

  191. Yeah, that’s awesome — I had no idea!

  192. Well, I knew I’d get flamed. It gets lonely over here in Moscow, and it’s cold and snowing. I needed a bit of heat.
    I don’t disagree with a word you write. The problem for me is that your sane argument is not always the argument I read/hear from some descriptivists. I’ve been at conferences when as soon as you say “that’s not right–” you get attacked by a bunch of people screaming about how language changes and there aren’t rules about this and besides we know you eat puppies for breakfast. Hat, I think the “good” descriptivists describe the “real rules” and vote for clarity of expression. But the bad ones act like a preference for using myriad as an adjective is a sign of reactionary politics and moral degredation.
    I know I’m speaking from my own weird little world over here, but as someone said, there is more to language use than just language use. Over here language use has a really strong political dimension. So there are phenomena — like the wholesale borrowing of English — that are, on the one hand, a natural, albeit extreme, part of language development. But if three quarters of the population is ready to beat the crap out of the first English-speaker they see for “invading their language” with words they can’t understand, you want a dose of rule-making — even unreasonable rule-making — to stop it.
    It’s the same thing with textbooks. Yes, of course they must describe the language the way it is spoken. But you missed my point. At first foreign language speakers need to speak a bit more conservatively — more prescriptively, if you will – than native speakers. Otherwise we sound like assholes.
    Oh gosh, I just know you’re all going to yell at me again.

  193. Some people may not be aware that the great Geoff Pullum was first known in the Sixties as the keyboard player in (Gino Washington &) The Ram Jam Band. You can see him in this video.
    In fact, I’m not sure that I’m aware of that even now.

  194. Some people may not be aware that the great Geoff Pullum was first known in the Sixties as the keyboard player in (Gino Washington &) The Ram Jam Band. You can see him in this video.
    In fact, I’m not sure that I’m aware of that even now.

  195. Oh and another thing…
    Over here in Russia it’s a very prescriptivist language culture. I think the other Russian speakers tuning in will agree that it’s very hard to “write well” in Russian and that “writing well” is a very important sign of status. I have a bookcase or two filled with handy little books that clarify, for example, “one word or two” (when words get combined and when they don’t). To a great extent, the distinction is important, but in some cases it probably isn’t.
    At the same time, publishing houses have stopped using editors and copyeditors, so the quality of the printed material is dreadful, filled with typos and egregious mistakes, like msculine nouns with feminine adjectives.
    So the descriptivist wave that has descended upon us feels like a cultural imposition. Sure, it would be a good idea to take another look at the rule book and weed out the duds. Sure, language changes and if people want to say ZVON-it instead of zvon-IT — God bless ‘em. Ain’t no rule says they can’t. And if they want to sell trendi purses at a shoping-mol, why not?
    But there are extra-lingual (?) factors, and in this environment and at this time, maybe folks want to stick with the rules, even if some of them are silly.
    So yes, go for it in America in 2009 with English speakers. But what is right there may not be right everywhere at all times and for all speakers.
    End of impassioned plea for international understanding.

  196. marie-lucie says:

    Mab, I sympathize with your comments about Russian as I find French in France swamped by (poorly known) English, by spelling mistakes, etc. I console myself by reflecting that this may not be permanent, as the pendulum is bound to swing the other way at some point, as in politics.
    More generally, some people might be wrapping themselves in the mantle of “descriptivism” without really understanding what it is about, thus giving a bad name to true descriptivists, who as you know are serious scholars, not to be confused with the “anything goes” school.

  197. marie-lucie says:

    Vanya: why are we ignoring the obvious possible pun in “ils sont fous, ces Romains?” Wasn’t Astérix written in French originally? Just because the pun is lost in translation doesn’t prove anything.
    The “possible pun” may be obvious to you, but Ils sont fous, ces Romains does not strike the ordinary French person as meaning anything else than “Those Romans are crazy!”. Perhaps the vowels of sont and of s’en in a possible Ils s’en foutent, ces Romains (“Those Romans don’t give a [whatever] about it”) sound similar to you? but they are quite different to French speakers. Besides, the original Astérix quote is just a comment on the Romans, but the other sentence would have to refer to the Romans’ own reactions to something specific mentioned earlier, as indicated by the pronoun en, so the two sentences could not be said in the same contexts.
    Putting the two sentences in the singular would result in il s’en fout “he doesn’t give a … about it” vs il est fou “he’s crazy”. The repetition of the sound sequence fou is not enough to make people hearing one of these sentences think of the other one. Putting the two sentences in the feminine destroys the ressemblance: Elles sont folles vs Elles s’en foutent.
    There are enough genuine puns and plays on words in the Astérix series that there is no need to see them where they are not. You might as well say that for an anglophone, “Sit here” is an obvious possible candidate for a double-entendre with “Shit here”! The words resemble each other, yes, but that does not mean that the “possible pun” is likely to come readily to most people’s minds.

  198. I’ve been at conferences when as soon as you say “that’s not right–” you get attacked by a bunch of people screaming about how language changes and there aren’t rules about this and besides we know you eat puppies for breakfast.
    Really? My dream has come true! No, seriously, you amaze me—I thought (mainly from Anatoly) that in Russia, even the linguists were prescriptivists. And in fact you go on to say “Over here in Russia it’s a very prescriptivist language culture,” so where are these crazed descriptivists coming from? Anyway, now that I understand the situation you’re talking about, I sympathize. But we’re not like those bad descriptivists! I renounce them!
    why are we ignoring the obvious possible pun in “ils sont fous, ces Romains?”
    Because, like marie-lucie says, it’s not obvious to actual French speakers.

  199. Hat, descriptivism has arrived here in as “the new cool thing.” That’s part of my complaint. Descriptivism is associated with progressive politics, conservationism, and liberal attitudes towards people of various sexual orientations. It’s the cool thing to be so we all jump on board even if we don’t really know what it is.
    Technically, folks, a prescriptivist approach is neutrally any approach that tells you how to write or speak. “Letterwriting for All Occassions” is a prescriptivist book. It doesn’t have to be a stupid book full of dumb rules. But it isn’t a descriptivist account of letterwriting habits today.
    This reminds me of a blog fight I once had on translation. Someone wrote, “A good Russian translator will translate better into English than a bad English translator.” Well,yeah. You guys keep citing the bad, arrogant, stupid prescriptivists.
    But I also maintain that descriptivism as an approach might be just fine in the US. But what about those other cultures where writing in a certain way is a high cultural value? Should we impose our approach on them? In Russia right now they want to draw a prescriptivist line in the sand. The country is really and truly in a political, social and economic mess, fast-forwarding who-knows-where. Who’s to say that old-fashioned, rulebook approach isn’t “right” for them now?

  200. “Letterwriting for All Occassions” is a prescriptivist book. It doesn’t have to be a stupid book full of dumb rules. But it isn’t a descriptivist account of letterwriting habits today.
    At one time this was probably a descriptivist book of current successful practices. Otherwise, where would it have come from? It was probably also meant to standardize letter writing and improve communication. There are probably all kinds of current practices that if you were to merely describe them, would not improve your letter writing technique at all, because you would be copying bad practices/practices that do not work. I get the idea the linguists just want to be observers and describe what is going on without making a value judgment. But people have to make a value judgments all the time when they choose how to communicate.
    In times of social stress, people often like go back to things that have worked in the past that make them feel more secure. But then you miss out on a lot of fun and LOL’s. Would you write “LOL” in a business letter? Probably not, but it’s interesting to know how people are using it.

  201. long-time LH readers will know that I read books to my wife at night
    Languagehat, what a wonderful wife you have!

  202. But I also maintain that descriptivism as an approach might be just fine in the US. But what about those other cultures where writing in a certain way is a high cultural value?
    Writing in a certain way is a high cultural value everywhere, as far as I know, and descriptivism has nothing to say about that. Descriptivism is not an insistence that everyone use bad grammar at all times. Descriptivism says there are different forms of language available for different occasions, just as we have different clothes for different occasions. You will note that I write (unless I’m being funny or making a point) in perfectly “correct” standard English; I enjoy writing that way and I enjoy reading such English. The whole point of prescriptivism is to prescribe a certain form of language as eternally valid for all speakers in all situations; you don’t ask in what context somebody said “ain’t” or “ложить,” you just condemn it out of hand and call them illiterate or worse.
    “Letterwriting for All Occassions” is not a prescriptivist book, it is a book that tells you “if you want to write a thank-you letter to your boss, here’s a good model to follow.” If someone went around reading people’s letters, e-mails, and notes passed in class and condemned them for not following the right model, that would be prescriptivism.

  203. Languagehat, what a wonderful wife you have!
    She is wonderful, but are you saying that because she puts up with my reading to her?

  204. A fun thing to do to prescriptivists is to find errors (i.e. “errors”) in the great classics, even into the nineteenth century. Prescriptive rules weren’t enforced much or at all before Dr. Johnson or thereabouts, and only gradually came to be generally enforced in the schools, and many of them can be shown to be recent inventions by rather undistinguished people.
    A second fun thing to do is to give prescriptivists the choice between a horribly written book following the rules and a well-written book not following the rules quite as well.

  205. A fun thing to do to prescriptivists is to find errors (i.e. “errors”) in the great classics, even into the nineteenth century. Prescriptive rules weren’t enforced much or at all before Dr. Johnson or thereabouts, and only gradually came to be generally enforced in the schools, and many of them can be shown to be recent inventions by rather undistinguished people.
    A second fun thing to do is to give prescriptivists the choice between a horribly written book following the rules and a well-written book not following the rules quite as well.

  206. An even more fun thing to do is to show prescriptivists that they themselves violate their own rules; the folks at the Log do this with glee. But it’s not all that effective, because the prescriptivists just sigh and say “Yes, we are sinners all,” and vow to do better.

  207. It’s the cool thing to be so we all jump on board even if we don’t really know what it is. Technically, folks, a prescriptivist approach is neutrally any approach that tells you how to write or speak.
    And technically communism is just a fair way to distribute wealth, and political conservatism has more to do with the philosophy of Michael Oakeshott than Bill Frist. To start defending prescriptivism against the big ol’ mean descriptivists only to announce halfway through that you’re talking about some idealized form of prescriptivism — less John Simon, more benign advice on letter writing — reads to me, I’m sorry to say, like a classic bait and switch. Why would we even need an “ist” under which to file “sensible advice on using language”? And, more importantly, if you’re going to insist that is a legitimate definition of prescriptivism, why would Hat and the linguists at the Log spend so much time railing against it? (I know you’ve said that you think of them as different from the BAD descriptivists they have in Russia, but that’s not a distinction you made when you started this conversation, and now you’re trying to tell us what prescriptivism technically is, even after Hat already clearly defined it.)
    Not to beat up on you, though ;-) ;-) ;-) ;-) ;-) ;-) ;-) ;-) ;-)
    I enjoyed hearing about those rabid descriptivist linguists over in Russia, and don’t pretend to have any understanding about the situation over there. I’m sure your venting is well-warranted.

  208. A.J.P. Crown says:

    I agree, that’s a peculiar compliment Dressing Gown. I’d be delighted to have someone read to me. I’ll bet Language is a jolly good reader, too.

  209. A.J.P. Crown says:

    fun thing to do is to give prescriptivists the choice between a horribly written book following the rules and a well-written book not following the rules quite as well.
    That only works if you can show a connection between the horrible writing and the following of the rules. I know they exist, but I think the examples ought to be archived somewhere where I can easily find them. I appoint you, John, to carry out the work.
    I like the clothing metaphor. There are rules for all clothing: trousers go on the legs, left and right gloves on the hands, etc. You can put trousers on your head, but no more than once unless you’re trying to drive everyone mad. And there are similar rules for constructing language. I’m more doubtful about the ‘certain clothes being appropriate for certain occasions’ metaphor, though. I mean it’s comparable to ‘appropriate’ use of language; I just can’t imagine Language or any of the hard-line descriptivists ever objecting to someone’s clothing — ‘Kindly leave my property, we don’t wear white pants after Labor Day in Minnesota’ — any more than they’d object to my use of an apostrophe.

  210. Hat, I love you madly, but don’t agree with you. Here’s Bill Posner’s definition of prescriptivism:
    So, what is prescriptivism? The term can actually be used in two senses, only one of which carries any value judgment. At one level, we can distinguish between descriptive linguistics, whose goal is to describe as accurately as possible what people actually do, and prescriptive linguistics, whose goal is to tell people what do. As I point out below, there are circumstances in which linguistic prescription is perfectly appropriate, but most of the time the term prescriptivism is used in a second sense, one that carries with it a negative value judgment.
    I may be guilty of bait-and-switch (I found this really great, cheap South African Merlot the other night…) and perhaps I am mixing up categories. But I still don’t like the “only descriptivism is cool” business. And I think you are turning all prescriptivism into bad prescriptivism.
    Also, I don’t agree that all cultures place a high value on speaking and writing well. I mean, come on, Hat, remember the Bush boys? They were friggin’ presidents! Here in Russia one of the nails in Gorbachev’s popularity coffin was his “poor” language — the folksy accent and mixed up verb forms. People like that Putin and Medvedev speak “well” and “properly” in public speeches (they also like Putin’s off the cuff crudeness). I am not sure of this (no research), but I’d bet you could get away being a lousy writer as a US, say, manager, than you could in Russia (tho that is changing).
    I can’t actually remember the case I made, but whatever it was, I stick to it.

  211. Hat, prescriptivists don’t respond to reason. I tried to tell you. A firm hand is required.

  212. Hat, prescriptivists don’t respond to reason. I tried to tell you. A firm hand is required.

  213. The whole point of prescriptivism is to prescribe a certain form of language as eternally valid for all speakers in all situations; you don’t ask in what context somebody said “ain’t” or “ложить,” you just condemn it out of hand and call them illiterate or worse.
    I think almost anyone reading this blog agrees with you on that point. But I don’t think that’s what the Language Loggers are really attacking most of the time. Pullum, seems to me, is really out to attack the Whorfians at every opportunity. Prescriptivists tend to believe that “language conditions thought” in an especially crude and mockable way so attacking them is an easy way to mock Whorfians.

  214. True.

  215. David Marjanović says:

    David, the conjugation of the verb se foutre (de …) is not limited to the third person, you can say je m’en fous “I don’t give a…”

    Yes, I originally wanted to cite that as “the most common usage”, but then I thought that saying it about someone else is probably more common. Thanks for confirming that second-person usage also exists, however!

    Wikipedia informs me that the Italian translation uses “Sono pazzi questi Romani”. Cute.

    Due to a sudden attack of nostalgia (and/or fascism, maybe), the gully lids and park benches in Rome say SPQR. Guess how the rest of Italy interprets that.

  216. marie-lucie says:

    I’m more doubtful about the ‘certain clothes being appropriate for certain occasions’ metaphor, though. I mean it’s comparable to ‘appropriate’ use of language; I just can’t imagine Language or any of the hard-line descriptivists ever objecting to someone’s clothing — ‘Kindly leave my property, we don’t wear white pants after Labor Day in Minnesota’
    The clothing metaphor is a well-used one in teaching sociolinguistics, and it was discussed in LH perhaps a couple of years ago. The wording “appropriate for certain occasions” is not so restricted as your (wonderful) example suggests: for instance, reciting the old-fashioned wedding formula goes along with wearing a wedding dress (both theoretically only once in one’s life), being interviewed for a job on Wall Street requires both dressing and speaking for the part, and the clothes and speech required are not at all the same as for a job let’s say in construction, etc., and on weekends or at the beach people will relax their standards in both clothing and language, which will be different for teen-agers and their parents or grandparents.

  217. marie-lucie says:

    the gully lids and park benches in Rome say SPQR.
    “gully lids”??

  218. Actually, my pedigree as a descriptivist is pretty clean. I write a weekly column on language, culture and translation which is purely “descriptivist.” I just note what people are writing and saying and try to explain/translate it. Very occasionally I’ll write “you should say” — but that is in the context of “if you want to be extremely polite” or “if your mother-in-law is not in the room.” (I’m the Queen of Qualification.) But it’s really Russian as it is Spoke (think of Mark Twain).
    I just think that prescriptivism has its place in small, intelligent doses.
    I also think that the general notion of “descriptivism” as the wave of the future for everyone is a cultural imposition. It’s not only that Russians, in the current mess of rapid, chaotic change, might want to cling to some “correct” version of their language. To bring this back to Tolstoy :)))) have you ever wondered why his novels keep getting retranslated? (Other than because classics are about the only Russian lit that sells in the US). Everyone says, “The old translations are outdated.” But why should that be? Sometimes the style of translation is outdated, but the first translations were done during Tolstoy’s life or soon after, so theoretically the English should match the Russian.
    But it doesn’t. Except for aspects of life that have disappeared (like that hunting stuff, Hat), the Russian doesn’t sound old-fashioned. In particular, the dialogs could be said today. My theory is that English has changed more quickly than Russian has, which is why the Maude and Garnett translations sound so “out of date.”
    So maybe Russians, as a culture, are very conservative as far as language change goes.

  219. A.J.P. Crown says:

    maybe Russians, as a culture, are very conservative as far as language change goes.
    Is language really changed by will? Isn’t one of the things about prescriptivism that it’s like King Canute trying to stop the tide from coming in?

  220. A.J.P. Crown says:

    m-l, your wedding example is the best, for me. Only the most misanthropic grump could object to the form of the language (as opposed to the actual words) being complied with on that occasion; whereas many have trouble with the the styles used on Wall St so they’re less likely to sympathise with that version of conformity.

  221. AJPC
    I don’t know. On the one hand — yes, a whole bunch of English words have been popped into Russian and over the next 50 years we’ll see which stay and which don’t. There’s not much else you can do about it, even if you don’t like it.
    But I don’t know how to explain the differences (if I am right and those differences exist) in speed of language change. I can explain a lot by historical events and policies, but I don’t think they explain it all. But let’s say that language change has been “slowed” here because of the collective acceptance of perscriptivism in the sense of advocating for an already obsolete form of the language. Isn’t the “insistence” by a largely Anglo-American (? not sure that’s right) group of linguists representing one school of linguistics (?possibly a mis-statement) that “you can’t stop the tide of language change and shouldn’t try to” an imposition of a value?

  222. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Yes, it probably is imposing a value. For myself, I find it less stressful and less depressing if I try not to worry about other people’s use of language or try to change it; it’s better for my heart rate simply to observe it. I might feel differently if I lived in Russia, though.

  223. I also think that the general notion of “descriptivism” as the wave of the future for everyone is a cultural imposition.
    That’s what some people say about the painfully slow spread of freedom and democracy. “You do not understand Asian people [or whatever]: we have our own ways and our own forms of government, and we do not accept your so-called democracy!” Except that when the people actually get the chance to exercise it (as in, say, Taiwan), they do so enthusiastically and as effectively as anywhere else. To my mind, descriptivism is on a par with freedom and democracy; in fact, it’s another facet of the same thing—letting people speak and act for themselves rather than letting elites make their decisions for them.
    the Russian doesn’t sound old-fashioned. In particular, the dialogs could be said today. My theory is that English has changed more quickly than Russian has, which is why the Maude and Garnett translations sound so “out of date.”
    Emily Dickinson doesn’t sound old-fashioned either. Language doesn’t change that much in less than 150 years. What does change is conventional style, and conventions in translation change much more rapidly than language itself. If you could have gotten the equivalent of Nabokov to translate Tolstoy at the time, a brilliant stylist who knew both languages extremely well, the translations would still sound modern and be read with pleasure. Alas, poor Maude and Garnett, whatever their virtues, were no Nabokov or Tolstoy, and their versions of translatorese had definite sell-by dates. And dialog is the single hardest thing to translate in prose; even when I’m reading a novel in translation, I try to read at least some of the dialog in the original if it’s a language I can read at all.
    So maybe Russians, as a culture, are very conservative as far as language change goes.
    If so, then they wouldn’t need prescriptivists, would they? They just wouldn’t change their language. But I think when you say “Russians, as a culture,” what you’re referring to is the kul’turny stratum, the same bunch that try to keep the lower orders in their place everywhere. And restricting public use of a language to some idealized/conservative form cuts the living roots away and carries a terrible cultural price: the imposition of katharevousa nearly killed Greek literature for over a century. If the prescriptivists had their way, you’d never have had Platonov, Venedikt Erofeev, or Sorokin, to pick three names at random. Let those who prefer fancy dress wear it, say I, but let everybody else wear what they feel comfortable in. The world and society will survive just fine.

  224. Hat, I don’t agree about the translations. Some of it is explained by the conventions of translation and style, but not all.
    But now I see why any form of prescriptivism is associated with reactionary politics. Interesting point of view.
    I would say this: in the past 8 years Russians have consented to having their democratic rights curtailed; as a nation, enough of them have been willing to have the guys on top decide things for them. So maybe letting the guys on top decide their language use is also just fine with them.
    Sorry, I still think it’s cultural imperialism to want to export descriptivism to them. Let them come to it when and how they will.

  225. *cheers from the sideline*

  226. Dammit, I cheered the wrong team.

  227. in the past 8 years Russians have consented to having their democratic rights curtailed; as a nation, enough of them have been willing to have the guys on top decide things for them. So maybe letting the guys on top decide their language use is also just fine with them.
    Both true and unutterably sad. Believe me, I have no desire to impose “horrible, horrible freedom” on anyone; they’ll just have to find their own way to it. But I persist in my belief that the only civilized way to live is for everyone to choose how they prefer to speak, love, and live, and for no one else to have the power (or, ideally, even the desire) to restrict them in that choice.

  228. marie-lucie says:

    About mab’s comments, I would stress again that the word “descriptivism” seems to be being bandied about without a genuine understanding of its meaning in linguistic terms, that is a scholarly approach to the description of a language reflecting actual use (something which is applicable to all languages, whereas “prescriptivism” only occurs in long-literate cultures). Noting that certain words are borrowings or that certain syntactic features reflect the influence of another language, and that these developments are proceeding at an accelerated pace in some segments of the population (especially in a country undergoing rapid socio-economic change and upheavals) is not the same as advising people to speak and write thoughtlessly whatever the circumstances, which as mab noted is actually another instance of “prescriptivism”.

  229. But I persist in my belief that the only civilized way to live is for everyone to choose how they prefer to speak, love, and live, and for no one else to have the power (or, ideally, even the desire) to restrict them in that choice.
    I agree in principle, and very nice posts btw, but sadly it seems there are many, many people in many cultures who don’t want the burden/responsibility of making choices and are quite happy to trade their freedom away for security. I imagine many people embrace prescriptivism for the same reason – it’s much easier to write, and imagine you’re writing passably well, if you just follow a set of rules rather than take the time to listen to language and try to find a real voice.

  230. The whole descriptivist/prescriptivist argument seems so silly to me. Why on earth should people not play with the language? And why on earth would other people not attempt to standardize the language and weed out the changes that are not worth keeping? Language needs a tension between the two groups.
    I am reminded of the story of when Turkey decided to control the influence of other cultural groups by purging the language of words from Arabic and Persian. According to the story (in my URL), they lost words for colors, like orange.

  231. weed out the changes that are not worth keeping
    “Worth keeping” according to whom? There’s the rub. The changes that are worth keeping are by definition kept, those that aren’t aren’t, and no authority is needed to interfere.

  232. This may be boring the pants off the majority of the readers, but it’s very interesting to me. I think that we are closer to agreement than it may seem; part of the problem is our use of terms.
    I’m going to think about this.
    But one of the issues for me is that in non-linguistic fields, I’ve seen how “donor-driven” interests have inserted in Russia issues that the culture really isn’t ready to deal with. One of them is domestic violence. DON’T GET ME WRONG. I would love it if Russians would deal with the fact that men kill about 12,000 women a year. But the culture itself has to say, “Look, this is terrible.” when the impetus to stop it comes from abroad in the form of grants, it’s leap-frogging development in some way I can’t put my finger on. The result is a mess.
    Perhaps I am wrong (always a good possibility). But I think of some of the insistence on “descriptivism is the wave of the future” in the same light. And BTW, Sorokin et al generally use the grammar that’s in Rozental’.
    I sure wish Marie-Lucie would coment on the Academy. Why am I a hopeless retrograde when THEY have a whole friggin’ academy making the rules?

  233. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Language: ‘… the only civilized way to live is for everyone to choose how they prefer to speak, love, and live…’
    Is prescriptivism (almost) a freedom of speech issue to you, then, Language? I don’t think it can be though, now I think about it. Surely the prescriptivists ought to have the right to pressure people verbally, so long as they aren’t being threatening?
    Language: ‘… To my mind, descriptivism is on a par with freedom and democracy; in fact, it’s another facet of the same thing—letting people speak and act for themselves rather than letting elites make their decisions for them.’
    Elites make your decisions for you, Language. You’re confusing modern democracy with government by referendum.

  234. I’ve seen how “donor-driven” interests have inserted in Russia issues that the culture really isn’t ready to deal with. One of them is domestic violence. DON’T GET ME WRONG. I would love it if Russians would deal with the fact that men kill about 12,000 women a year. But the culture itself has to say, “Look, this is terrible.” when the impetus to stop it comes from abroad in the form of grants, it’s leap-frogging development in some way I can’t put my finger on. The result is a mess.
    This is an topic that interests me very much. What is someone’s “culture” and when is it okay or not okay to intervene in something your own culture considers to be criminal or undesirable? In the American south, was it okay for the KKK to kill volunteers who came from the northern states to register black voters? Were these merely pesky northern outsiders that were interfering in southern “culture”? What about dealing with Hitler’s Germany? Was is okay to oppose the killing of Jews and eastern Europeans as undesirable racial types? What about the “honor” killings of women in the middle east? What about requirements for permitting labor unions attached to AID money? Or what about corporal punishment in schools all over the world?
    What is culture? Is killing women part of a culture? Probably not everyone in Russian thinks so. But why hasn’t it been stopped internally? Probably because the people who wish to see it changed lack political power or fear those who are in power, and those who wish to perpetuate it (or don’t have the energy to do anything about it) have political power. There are good reasons and there are real reasons. Sometimes the “good” reason–that there will be no money distributed unless the policy changes–is an easier route to take. The new American Secretary of State has said “it’s not culture, it’s criminal” so we can pretty much guess the direction of future American foreign policy.
    But why is “the result a mess”? Is is better for Russia to have all of these women dead?

  235. This (pre/des)criptivism argument is similar to the one about how children should be brought up. In both cases, the outcome tends to be an acrimonious standoff if you regard the matter as requiring an either/or choice.
    When you take into account the passage of time, however, a solution appears. First apply a certain amount of prescription, so enabling the recipients to learn how they can do and describe things for themselves.
    “Being a role model” is important, but not sufficient – why would anyone want to emulate a role model, if they don’t know what a role or a model is? I think you can’t get people started without prescription – but if you’re successful, they’ll take the prescribing into their own hands as time goes own. That’s my idea of success.

  236. Hat: no authority is needed to interfere
    And what about INTERNET SHOUTING IN ALL CAPS? IS THIS NOT BAD FORM? IS THIS NOT IMPOLITE INTERNET ETIQUETTE? YEAH, IT’S RUDE. BUT I HAVE JUST DECIDED THAT LOWER CASE IS FOR EVIL ELITISTS BECAUSE I SAW IT ON ANOTHER BLOG AND DECIDED THE LANGUAGE WAS CHANGING ALL BY ITSELF. LIKE THE OCEAN. SO WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO? GET ALL PRESCRIPTIVIST AND START TELLING PEOPLE NOT TO WRITE LIKE THAT? NO. PRACTICALLY EVERYONE HERE IS A DESCRIPTIVIST AND WILL MERELY NOTICE WITHOUT PASSING JUDGMENT.

  237. Surely the prescriptivists ought to have the right to pressure people verbally, so long as they aren’t being threatening?
    Of course. No one’s talking about taking away anyone’s rights. The prescriptivists are just wrong and unpleasant.
    What is someone’s “culture” and when is it okay or not okay to intervene in something your own culture considers to be criminal or undesirable?
    I find that a very interesting question myself.
    This (pre/des)criptivism argument is similar to the one about how children should be brought up… first apply a certain amount of prescription, so enabling the recipients to learn how they can do and describe things for themselves..
    Really, no. Prescriptivism, in the relevant sense, the sense Hat and the loggers are often arguing against, has almost nothing to do with offering reasonable advice on speech and writing. It is “the position that one set of ‘rules’ (many of them nonexistent except in the minds of the prescriptivists) are binding on all speakers and for all occasions, and anyone who violates them is wrong and illiterate and (if they’ve had exposure to the ‘rules’ and knowingly violate them) probably a bad person to boot.” There is a whole body of literature evincing this ideology. A lot of people don’t realize this when they jump into the debate. They seem to think they can look at the words “descriptivism” and “prescriptivism” and figure it all out.

  238. dear sirs and madams,
    please be advised that I am member and legal representative of the miniscule branch of american letters. it has been brought to our attention that one nidgema has made public statements on your site of an inflammatory nature, and tending to encourage a dangerous tendency to increased point-size. at least one of our members has been so affonted that the onset of cursive is imminent. we are considering legal action, pending further developments.
    yours tortfully,

  239. marie-lucie says:

    I sure wish Marie-Lucie would coment on the Academy. Why am I a hopeless retrograde when THEY have a whole friggin’ academy making the rules?
    mab, I suppose you mean the French Academy, l’Académie Française, an institution that was created by government fiat in the 17th century. The Academy was supposed to publish a grammar and a dictionary, which would be reference works for eternity (although new words could be added if deemed suitable). The 40 members are often referred to as les Immortels, and they still meet once a week to work on the dictionary: new editions are needed from time to time as at that leisurely rate it takes so many years to complete a dictionary that they have to start working on a new one as soon as the previous one is out. And the grammar of the language has changed significantly in 350-odd years.
    Few people pay much attention to the pronouncements of the Academy, and membership in that august if anachronistic body is considered as the consecration of a literary career more than anything else (but the members also have to include a general and a member of the high clergy – this was originally to keep an eye on the members and sniff out potential political subversiveness).
    The inspiration for the Academy was the Italian Accademia della Crusca, which had been founded as a spontaneous association of writers in order to agree on the features of the literary language, without the political implications of government sponsorship as in the French body. But the Real Academia Espan~ola (sorry about the tilde) was modeled on the French one. In the Protestant countries there was not such a push for an official body, but for instance Jonathan Swift called for one in England, in order to preserve the English language in the state of perfection it had already achieved (he did use words to that effect).
    In France the real, prescriptivist influences on the teaching of the (written) language are the pronouncements from the Ministry of Education, which prescribes rules of spelling and grammar which have to be taught in all schools. However, outside of schools and of major publishing houses, there is not that much attention paid to these rules, especially in casual speaking and writing as in blogs, but also in articles written in respected national newspapers. But many people are interested in the vagaries of French spelling (which is not quite as “vagrant” as English spelling but has many quirks and quarks). As in Russian, there is a lot of (American) English influence, both in vocabulary and (what I find more upsetting) in syntax (I hate the feeling that I am reading poor translations from English-language articles rather than texts written directly in French). So the existence of an Academy is not really the answer.

  240. the position that one set of ‘rules’ … are binding on all speakers and for all occasions, and anyone who violates them is wrong and illiterate and (if they’ve had exposure to the ‘rules’ and knowingly violate them) probably a bad person to boot…. There is a whole body of literature evincing this ideology

    jamessal: an example or two, on the internet? Please give me a chance to judge for myself whether you’re exaggerating wildly – which is what I think, based on the formulations “wrong and illiterate”, “knowingly violate”, “probably a bad person to boot”.
    In a number of cultures and literatures I’m no spring chicken, and have never encountered anything remotely like what you describe. Perhaps this behavior is a secret vice of linguists, practiced only behind the doors of their learned journals?

  241. I call an old friend of mine in Texas maybe once a year. Each time he finds occasion to bring up politics, and froths at the mouth, on and on, about the iniquities of “Republicans” – until I tell him to shut up because he says the same thing every time and he’s boring me.
    On election night, I happened to see a brief interview with Gore Vidal doing the Gore Vidal thing. He said something like “Republicanism is not a set of reasoned political views, it’s a state of mind”.
    We are talking about prescriptivists here, I assume, and not politomaniacs?

  242. marie-lucie says:

    Stu,
    I think that you are conflating two positions, one from LH (quoted between quote marks by jamessal) and another from J himself.
    Also, you might try to take a look at some linguistics journals. If you are anywhere near a university you will see some of these journals displayed openly on shelves, not locked up where no one else can see them. Probably the most accessible ones (in terms of not using too much technical vocabulary) would be those on sociolinguistics (with “social” or “society” in the titles). You might be surprised at what kinds of “secret vices” are demonstrated in such journals.

  243. an example or two, on the internet?
    Sure. To start I’ll just pull from the high (nybooks.com) and the low (nationalgrammarday.com).
    The bloggers for nationalgrammarday.com actually go around and take pictures of people’s personal, hand-written signs and post them on the internet for other prescriptivists to ridicule the “grammar.” I’ll let you check that out for yourself, but this comment from a post about using “less” to modify count nouns (*rolls eyes*) is to me very representative of prescriptivist thought:
    “I’m reading the critically-acclaimed “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell, and because I’m enjoying it, I was willing to forgive the first dangling participle I encountered, assuming it would be a one-off. The second one not twenty pages later gave me some cause for concern, so I read more warily. The third had me howling with laughter and reaching gleefully for the blue pencil.
    Here it is, on page 101. Luisa Rey is driving across the bridge towards a nuclear plant when Mitchell flings out this classic whopper:
    ‘Crossing the long, long bridge, the Swanneke B plant emerges from behind the older, greyer cooling towers of Swanneke A.’
    They don’t come much better than this, do they?”
    [Back to me]
    Imagine reading a novel like that? Looking for “mistakes”?
    The NY Review just published a review (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/22184) of Roy Blount’s “Alphabet Juice.” Check out this nonsense:
    “Blount wants to be easygoing but he also wants to be stern. He sits on that usage panel, after all. He will not surrender to people who mispronounce zoology or misuse hopefully—people, he says, “who think of themselves as realistic latitudinarians.” He will have no truck with thusly. Equally as makes him cringe. He insists on taking care with hyphens, in old words and in new, as in e-mail, for example. As a purist, he generally objects to the tackiness of disguising profanity with hyphens or asterisks, “which must cause children to ask, ‘Mommy, what does ” s minus minus t ” spell?’”; yet he will make exceptions on aesthetic grounds, as in ” f*rt does have an expressive look to it.” These are tough times for perfectionists. If you Google “straightlaced,” you get twice as many hits as for “straitlaced,” but you should know that the mob is wrong, unless you are a realistic latitudinarian.”
    [Back to me again]
    “Hopefully”? “The mob”? Fucking “zoology”? Read the whole piece — it’s astonishing that someone writing about language, for the NY Review (of all places!), could know so little about it.
    There are also tons of prescriptivist books. Edwin Newman, John Simon, Theodore Bernstein — they all give terrible advice and call people who don’t follow it “illiterate.”
    Two books worth reading on the subject: 1) Jim Quinn’s “American Tongue and Cheek”; 2) David Crystal’s “The Fight for English: How Language Pundits Ate, Shot, and Left.” (I’d provide links, but if I don’t get off the computer now Robin’s gonna kill me.)

  244. marie-lucie says:

    “makes me cringe”
    A while ago I was taken to task for using “cringe” when (I was told) I should have used “wince”. “cringe” was described to me as implying a social attitude associated with the repellent Uriah Heep!
    Since then I have read the word “cringe” a number of times, used in situations where there was no suggestion of social interaction. I think that there must be a regional difference: it seems to me that “cringe” in North America describes a reaction which can occur when facing various unpleasant phenomena, not one which requires the presence of another person towards whom one makes an exaggerated display of subservience.

  245. This may be boring the pants off the majority of the readers, but it’s very interesting to me.
    Me too, and hey, if anyone’s bored, they don’t have to read it.
    I think that we are closer to agreement than it may seem; part of the problem is our use of terms.
    I agree, and let me say that it’s a pleasure discussing this stuff with someone who’s willing to assume good faith and tries to find common ground!
    in non-linguistic fields, I’ve seen how “donor-driven” interests have inserted in Russia issues that the culture really isn’t ready to deal with.
    Yeah, this is a big problem, and not just in Russia; the attempt to do away with female circumcision in West Africa was a failure until the do-gooders started realizing they had to work with the locals and let them make decisions instead of simply lecturing them. But I’m not sure how it applies here. I thought you were talking about Russian descriptivists who had picked up on what they perceived as the latest fad from the West (as their ancestors 200 years ago latched onto Freemasonry and Schelling); are you saying that foreign descriptivists are trying to push descriptivism onto Russians along with currency reform and Coca-Cola? I’m confused.
    I’m no spring chicken, and have never encountered anything remotely like what you describe.
    You’ve led a sheltered life (or perhaps have repressed the trauma). Seriously, this stuff is ubiquitous, more so than, say, creationism; why do you think linguists get so exercised about it? If it were some recondite crackpot cult, no one would care.

  246. marie-lucie,
    I have quoted only what jamessal posted as his opinion. If anything like the behavior he describes is explicitly and literally displayed, then it’s just hysterical hogwash, and the journal may aspire to be a scholarly one but isn’t. I myself, as a member of whatever profession, would choose not to take seriously such a journal of my profession. If that is all that’s involved, I’m surprised that people here spend so much time arguing about it.
    In German sociological and philosophical journals, which I peruse occasionally, there are many different positions in which different people are firmly entrenched, but only rarely is there a slightly sarcastic or malicious sentence in the discussions. There’s a lot of outrage and anger in the “alternative” publications which harbor old Marxist-Leninist die-hards, but that stuff is boring so I pass it by.
    On the internet you get the occasional ranting professional mathematician or two (Doron Zeilberger and Alexander Zenkin, three years ago) who want to convince everybody of the “fatal nonsense” of “believing there is such a thing as actual infinity”, and that modern set theory is “a pathological incident in the history of mathematics at which future generations will be horrified” (Brouwer).
    <pause to read jamessal’s examples >
    Thanks, J! Well I’ll be damned! So it’s an American phenomenon. In 40 years I’ve been back in the States only a few times, and I had no idea. On the other hand, why should I be surprised? Americans have always loved telling other people how to run their lives. Accordingly, Grumbly sez: Be advised, fellow citizens! You’re living in the backwaters of the world, but you shouldn’t be!

  247. marie-lucie says:

    Stu, I did not say that you would find such “hysterical hogwash” in linguistics journals, I suggested that you go see for yourself what there is in linguistics journals.

  248. it seems to me that “cringe” in North America describes a reaction which can occur when facing various unpleasant phenomena, not one which requires the presence of another person towards whom one makes an exaggerated display of subservience.
    Very true, and I had no problem with your initial use of “cringe.”

  249. David Marjanović says:

    “gully lids”??

    Oops. I remembered that strange word used somewhere up in Germany, thought it must be English, and most importantly it was way too late at night. Canalisation lids.

    it’s astonishing that someone writing about language, for the NY Review (of all places!), could know so little about it.

    Lots and lots of people believe they’re experts on language. After all, they speak one.
    Same cause as for creationism: people who don’t know how much knowledge there is out there.

  250. cringe/wince
    Both to me are physical movements, cringing a movement of head and shoulders as if to soften the impact of an anticipated blow, wincing is more of a wrinkling of eye/nose movement accompanying something physically unpleasant. You might wince when pulling out a sliver or pulling out a tooth. You might cringe if a building was about to fall on you and you couldn’t get out of the way fast enough or if you saw a dentist moving towards you. I would say it is possible to have a physical reaction to something non-physical, like words.

  251. ‘Crossing the long, long bridge, the Swanneke B plant emerges from behind the older, greyer cooling towers of Swanneke A.’
    I don’t understand the objection to this or nationalgrammarday.com. It seems like they are doing the same thing that would be done in a university level English composition class, passing around examples of real writing examples in order to learn from them. Rather than being elitist, as you might argue anyone who can afford education might be, it is bringing the information to the level of anyone with access to the intertoobs. That particular example of a dangling participle is a very awkward sentence, and hard to understand because of it. If you are reading a book, it’s not a good thing when the lack of editing is so obvious that it interferes with your enjoyment of the book. The website, as far as I can tell by just glancing at it, explains grammar in a common sense manner, saying it is okay to end a sentence with a preposition, and discussing when a certain grammar form should be reserved for conversation and not used in more formal writing. The goal is clearer communication. I’m sure that’s exactly the kind of stuff an editor has to know in order to edit, so what is the objection? That that type of information is now accessible to the unwashed masses for $12.98 instead of locked up behind the ivory towers?

  252. marie-lucie says:

    It is not so much the information per se (if it is appropriate) but the hostile, sneering manner in which the writing samples are criticized that is grating (and unlikely to be welcomed with gratitude by “the unwashed masses”). A useful, constructive criticism would explain what seems to be objectionable and suggest an alternative (but sometimes “correct” alternatives lack some of the power of the “incorrect” ones, or are even “incorrect” themselves).
    As to the dangling participle example, it is not ambiguous or hard to understand since common sense makes it obvious that it is not the nuclear energy plant that is crossing the bridge, but the person who has been described driving in a previous sentence.

  253. Nijma – the campaigns against DV here became a mess because a counter-campaign arose denouncing the first organizers as dupes of American imperialism, come to Russia to destroy the native culture, kill all the people, and conquer them as their first step to world domination. No, it made no sense, but none of this really does. People here are wildly anti-American and believe that everything bad here has happened because of the Grand Conspiracy of the US (or sometimes the 12 banks of the Federal Reserve) to take over the world. They’ve been watching too many James Bond movies. But, as Stu wrote, “Americans have always loved telling other people how to run their lives.” People really don’t like that, and I don’t blame them.
    I spent about 3 hours talking about this with a Russian human rights guy I’ve worked with over the years, trying to define “the line” and “the circumstances” in which meddling in another country’s affair is okay. Really, it’s a hugely complicated issue.
    I think this is a bit relevant here. Hat, some Russians have grabbed on silly descriptivism, but it seems that you would, well, not exactly foist it on them – you’re not a foister – but you would, say, strongly encourage them to take this path because it is the path of greater democracy (in the big sense of the word). That makes me nervous because, as with the example of the DV campaigns, anything that comes here from abroad (as opposed to arising here in and of itself), is eventually resented and denounced. And also because I think that “good descriptivism” as a linguistic/social value has arisen in Anglo-American culture. By “good” I mean not the “everything goes” business, but the notion that the speakers of the language get to decide what it “acceptable” or not. They vote with their mouths and their pens (or computer keyboards). If enough of them say it or write it, it eventually enters the language and no one should say they are “wrong.” I think that this kind of approach to language probably accelerates language change. Why did it arise in the US? (Actually, stop me from saying that if it’s wrong – I’ve just assumed this is a primarily US school.) In the US we don’t have one federally determined education curriculum. We have thousands of parochial schools with their own textbooks. We have thousands if not millions of kids being home-schooled. Compared to the rest of the world, this is pretty weird. It suggests to me that we have a high tolerance for diversity, including in language. We more or less accept as our own people of vastly different cultural and religious beliefs. And we think many kinds of change are good things. We tend to be forward-looking and not backward-looking.
    But other countries might not share those assumptions about language, change, and culture. Vanya is right that in the extreme case, many people are happy to have someone else decide for them what “good language” is. But from what Marie-Lucie writes, and from what I gather about other countries, many other cultures accept/think it is important/want to grant a group of people the right to determine some/most/many aspects of “correct language use.” Why should a bunch of Americans tell them to do otherwise?

  254. Oh and another thing…
    What bothers me about the zeal of the descriptivist crowd is that it paints resistance to change with a moral brush. That is, people who resist “impact” as a verb are reactionary, elitist and exclusive. But this is incredibly unsympathetic and uncharitable. Here in Russia two of the main sources of new words and phrases are English and Russian camp/criminal slang. In the latter case words that were once only used among hard-core criminals have entered everyday language, usually becoming “tamed” in the process. So that kinut’, which once meant to con someone, is now used in everyday language to mean “to stand someone up,” “to fail to pay someone unintentionally.” There are dozens of words like this. Since I am not a native speaker, I don’t “feel” the original meanings. For me, they are just neat new words and phrases. I enjoy observing how the original meanings (that I dig up in my camp slang books) mutate as they enter the language. But imagine a 60-year-old watching the TV news. High elected officials are speaking in a blend of Englishisms and criminal slang. It would be like Americans hearing Obama speak like a Guys and Dolls character with a bunch of Russian thrown in. It is very uncomfortable for them. In Russian you say rezhet ukho – it cuts the ear. I think we have to have sympathy for these people. They aren’t standing in the way of progress or trying to legislate language use to keep it the bastion of the educated elite. They are just physically uncomfortable hearing nearly obscene words — once used only by the kind of guys who have spent 19 of the 20 years since graduating from high school in prison — bandied about professors and their grandchildren and their leaders.

  255. A.J.P. Crown says:

    m-l, that was an interesting piece about the Académie Française. I never knew that about Swift. I own up to being the one who dangled Uriah Heep in front of you and I stick to my guns on ‘cringe’ and ‘wince’.
    I’m lucky I’m surrounded by descriptivists or I’d go directly to mixed-metaphor jail.

  256. A.J.P. Crown says:

    As I remember it you said, m-l, that my having written something in French (I can’t remember what) was wrong and made you cringe. I said that wince would be a better word in the circumstances, because it doesn’t mean shrinking back in fear, or displaying the mock subjugation that Heep is famous for. I wouldn’t have corrected you if you’d been a native speaker of English, but in the spirit of your correcting my French, I thought you’d appreciate the tip.

  257. A.J.P. Crown says:

    mab: I think we have to have sympathy for these people.
    We have to have sympathy for those people who keep getting their language corrected by prescriptivists, too. How do we solve it: the side with the highest number of unhappy people wins?

  258. marie-lucie says:

    mab,
    I forgot to mention that there is in France a government body called Office de la Langue Française which is more influential than the Académie, and it must be the one that the Ministry of Education relies on for advice, but its suggestions about alternatives to English words don’t have much support. There is a similar Office in Québec, where the influence of English on the vocabulary is not a faddish matter as in France (where people are eager to display their knowledge of English, even if that is minimal) but something people surrounded by a sea of English are very conscious of and try to avoid, so the Office does have a more significant role in suggesting French alternatives (and also in some matters of spelling and (I think) also pronunciation).
    The problem with such bodies is that they don’t necessarily have much influence on how people speak. You think that the locally-controlled model of public education in the US (and in English-speaking countries in general) accelerates change, but I doubt that the scattered educational agencies and the home-school movement would take the initiative in implementing local reforms of English spelling, for instance, and the evolution of pronunciation has very little to do with learning “proper” (= conventional) spelling. Historical and sociolinguistic studies all support the interpretation that rapid language change goes together with rapid social change under conditions of social/political/economic instability, something which seems particularly obvious in Russia nowadays. As you say, some people will embrace change for change’s sake, shocking their elders along the way, while others will resist change as much as possible, finding a scapegoat (here, the US in all its aspects) on which to project their frustrations (at least here the scapegoat is outside the country, not a minority population). But as I wrote earlier, the present chaotic situation in language may be a passing phase – as the general situation in the country stabilizes (as it is bound to do at some point) some of the current practices will remain in the language, but some of them will also be discarded. What is impossible to predict is which ones will be kept or discarded, and a government body such as an Academy charged with imposing linguistic standards is unlikely to have much effect. And I repeat that the word “descriptivism” for what is affecting the changes in the Russian language is being used with a distorted meaning having little to do with its technical one (but that often happens when a technical word passes into general use).
    AJP: cringe vs wince
    AJP, I did appreciate the tip, but it made me notice the word cringe more than I did before, and I realized that none of the North American examples I ran into (oral and written) fitted your description, that’s why I think that there must be a difference in usage between North American and British English. LH wrote that he agreed with me, and Nijma gives examples of the two words as physical reactions to non-human occurrences. So nobody is “wrong”, it must be just a regional difference. I am ready to change my mind if I find more examples which contradict my present opinion. (This is a descriptivist attitude for you).

  259. Hat, some Russians have grabbed on silly descriptivism, but it seems that you would, well, not exactly foist it on them – you’re not a foister – but you would, say, strongly encourage them to take this path because it is the path of greater democracy (in the big sense of the word). That makes me nervous because, as with the example of the DV campaigns, anything that comes here from abroad (as opposed to arising here in and of itself), is eventually resented and denounced.
    I find this impossible to parse. What does “not exactly foist it on them” mean? Either you foist something or you don’t. I am pretty sure I have never foisted anything on anyone in my life, and I don’t intend to start any time soon. Then you say “you would, say, strongly encourage them to take this path” as if that were somehow a gentler or sneakier form of foisting. Am I going to Russia and handing people pro-descriptivism pamphlets and making speeches in Red Square (using all the tricks of persuasion developed by the American advertising industry) trying to inveigle the poor suffering Russian people into adopting my unsuitable Western ways? No, I am not. When I find a Russian, like Anatoly, who understands how language works and makes fun of prescriptivist nonsense in the same way I would, yes, I applaud and encourage him. Is this somehow infringing on national sensibility and culture? Should I tell him sternly “Excuse me, but you are Russian and should stick to the prescriptivist ways of your people”?
    I think that this kind of approach to language probably accelerates language change.
    Extremely doubtful (and in any case untestable). For one thing, language seems to change on its own schedule, regardless of what linguists and style mavens say or do. For another, “this kind of approach to language” is held by a tiny minority everywhere; you seem to be assuming “Anglo-American culture” is rife with descriptivist tendencies, when in fact the opposite is the case: trying to convince English-speakers of the most basic facts of linguistics (the arbitrary nature of the sign, the way dialects and standard languages interact, the differences between speech and writing, the nature and inevitability of language change) is like trying to push Sisyphus’s boulder up the hill. People everywhere are ignorant about language and conservative in their beliefs, which means prescriptivism is the default, just as people everywhere believed the sun revolved around the earth until patient education convinced them otherwise.
    Why did it arise in the US? (Actually, stop me from saying that if it’s wrong – I’ve just assumed this is a primarily US school.)
    It didn’t. The development of modern (structural/descriptive) linguistics was a multinational affair. The man usually considered the father of modern linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure, was Swiss. Leonard Bloomfield was American, Louis Hjelmslev Danish, Alf Sommerfelt Norwegian, Antoine Meillet and Émile Benveniste French. And it’s not as though Russia was left out of the loop; Roman Jakobson and Nikolai Trubetzkoy were Russian (though both had to leave after the Revolution), and the wonderful Korney Chukovsky mocked prescriptivism and hanging on to old forms of language with vigor and humor in Russia itself (see this LH post).
    But other countries might not share those assumptions about language, change, and culture. … many other cultures accept/think it is important/want to grant a group of people the right to determine some/most/many aspects of “correct language use.” Why should a bunch of Americans tell them to do otherwise?
    You’re making the very common error of mistaking a large group of people for an entire country or culture. Yes, there are a lot of Russians who believe in order and authority and the immutable rules of language; there are also a lot of Americans who do. In fact, there are a lot of people like that everywhere. And who is this “bunch of Americans” who is telling them to be descriptivists? I’m still not clear on how this terrible hegemonic pressure is supposed to work. Americans are pushing Coke, capitalism, and Kanye West on them, sure, but who exactly is pushing descriptivism, something the vast majority of people, especially people of power and influence, have never heard of? Where’s the percentage, who’s profiting? I just don’t see it.
    I think we have to have sympathy for these people.
    Well, sure, who said otherwise? Hell, we are these people if we listen to our gut; I’ve written many times about how much I dislike certain developments in English (see here, for example). We can’t help having emotions, and the older we get the more we tend to dislike the new: the slang, clothes, and manners of “kids these days” (“You call that ‘music’?”). But gut reactions are not normally equated with truth by sensible people, and I know you’re a sensible person. Of course I have sympathy for people run over by history in an increasingly frightening world, and I don’t blame them for looking for scapegoats. But don’t ask me to agree with them! Their next-door neighbor is not a witch, [insert ethnic/religious group here] are not secretly running the world, and language is not some immutable gift of the gods whose degeneration (caused by some unholy combination of Kids Today and Hegemonic Americans) is going to destroy everything we hold dear. That’s crazy talk. And blaming convenient but irrelevant targets keeps people from focusing on and trying to do something about the forces that really are ruining their lives. Sorry, but I intend to keep aiding and abetting descriptivists, Darwinists, round-earthers, and other scourges of retrograde thinking.

  260. A.J.P. Crown says:

    I believe the earth is donut shaped, with me at the centre, and that when Kennedy said ‘ich bin ein Berliner’ he was giving us a secret warning because the Berliner has no hole. That’s why they had to shoot him, of course.

  261. mab is not Russian as i kinda thought
    he sounded like Nikita Mikhalkov with his monarchism, that Russians need a strong tzar-otets in order to keep order and culture intact
    though i admire him very much, of course, always
    i sometimes also thought that we needed socialism and still maybe need it at this stage of development as a nation, it’s better than the wild wild capitalism which we experience now, both for the nation’s conscience and people’s life
    before it was a slogan ‘skipping capitalism, from feudalism to socialism’ that worked, now we are back to it, capitalism, that like always happens to us, jumping all over history :), the peculiarity of the national character as if
    but then i realized that there can’t be any ‘back to North Korea’ slogan to inspire people, so the train is gone already

  262. Ssh! You’ll get us all in trouble!

  263. Thanks, J!
    No problem! I don’t imagine I’ll have many opportunities to show your grumbly self what a sheltered life you’ve had!

  264. I don’t understand the objection to this or nationalgrammarday.com….The goal is clearer communication.
    The goal of usage advice should indeed be clearer communication, and yes, it can be useful to know what a dangling participle is, so that when you encounter one that’s causing genuine ambiguity you can identify it. Not all dangling participles cause ambiguity, however. Often the context makes clear what the participle is modifying. It does in the case singled out by the commenter on National Grammar Day (as ML pointed out). “Scanning my books right now, it seems clear that…” See? Perfectly clear. To treat dangling participles as mistakes in and of themselves is to turn a useful tool into the object of some bizarre, captious game that has nothing do with using language well. It is to let the tail wag the dog. That is one tiny part of my problem with the bloggers at National Grammar Dar and with prescriptivists in general.

  265. The Loggers have talked a lot about this flaw in prescriptivist thought.

  266. Just to clarify: my “Ssh! You’ll get us all in trouble!” was to AJP, in regard to his incautious revelation about the donut-shaped earth.

  267. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Ok. Good job you clarified that, though. I was about to … never mind.

  268. “donut-shaped earth”
    The earth is square. Look at the mountain ranges. Rockies, Himalayas, Urals, Appalachians, it’s a total cube.

  269. Maybe even a Time Cube.

  270. marie-lucie says:

    Does a language need an academy to “reach perfection”?
    - read this comment on Language Log (“Madagasc+”) posted this very day by Mark Liberman, about Malagasy, the (main) language of Madagascar:
    Courtesy of Google Books, you can read David Griffith’s 1854 Grammar of the Malagasy Language, which begins with this charming discussion:
    The Malagasy Language, abounding with vowels, is so mellifluous and soft, that it might be called the Italian of the Southern Hemisphere. Its character is so peculiar, philosophical, and original, as to render it truly amazing that uneducated, and semi-civilized people, should have preserved it in such perfection. They have no literature; the language has therefore reached its present state of excellence merely by ordinary conversation, speeches in the public assemblies, and pleadings in the courts of justice.

  271. i find it interesting how one can say with such ease and almost grace ‘uneducated and semi-civilised’ about other culture

  272. marie-lucie says:

    read, did you see the date of the grammar in question? 1854 – such things were said in those days which would not be said today.

  273. oh, i got fooled by the font, sorry

  274. Time Cube
    You gotta love someone whose Horology Site link leads straight to Lyle Zapato, whose work with the Aluminum Foil Deflector Beanie I have studied with great interest.

  275. A.J.P. Crown says:

    “Without Financial Support, I May Shut Down. ”
    I know how you feel.

  276. Oh, dear. I’m not a prescriptivist, or a monarchist, or a believer in the “firm hand” form of government. Or even a man. Almost all of my writing about Russian is descriptivist (below see the exception). I have fought nearly bloody battles with stupid editors (I recall one who insisted that a sentence could not begin with “However,”). I cheered when the first studies were done on AA English showing that it was a consistent, alternative English rather than bad and “ungrammatical” English. I’m not for an Academy or language body that would set standards. I’m on the same side as you. BUT sometimes when people go off on rants, my hackles go up. Really what I’m trying to do is figure out why. I think there is some inconsistency or some something that bothers me, and I can’t figure out what it is.
    Okay, I see that I’m wrong about the predominance of descriptivism in US mainstream thought; I’ve been deceived by the fact that I frequent descriptivist blogs.
    I see that I’ve bungled my argument about foisting. And I totally forgot the history of linguistics, for which I should be thrashed (especially since I wrote my college thesis on the formalists). My bad.
    How about this: In the case of camp/criminal slang in Russian, it’s really two groups: the Innovators and the Traditionalists. The Innovators think that there is nothing wrong with using these words. To push their case, they use the words, say them in interviews, let their kids say them without comment, buy books that use them, insert them in ads and articles and literature. To push their case, the Traditionalists never use the words, scold their children for using them, go to the school administrators to ask them to ban these words from use, write letters to TV stations and newspaper editors, and support censorship – ie a list of inappropriate words – for all mass media.
    It seems to me – and scream at me if I’m making the wrong assumption – that most/all of you folks would support the actions of the Innovators and condemn some of the actions of the Traditionalists. But language is at once highly individual and absolutely collective. The Traditionalists “own” it as much as the Innovators do. I always think of language change as spaghetti thrown on the wall. After a few years, some of it is sticking to the wall and some of it has fallen to the floor and turned to dust. But it’s not an automatic process. It’s conducted by the people who “own” the language, who collectively, through arguments, through negotiation, through fights, and finally through usage decide what sticks and what doesn’t. It seems to me that we descriptivists usually/almost always tell the Traditionalists that they might as well give up the battle. That language will change whether they like it or not. That a million words that once had unsavory meanings, or were considered obscene, or came from other languages, or had different associations have already entered the language and the same will happen with kinut’ or impact as a verb. That’s what I say. It’s absolutely true. I can support it with a long list of Russian words that have mutated and evolved over the centuries. I can also come up with some words that were in vogue at some point and disappeared. (There are of course Sovietisms or phrases that reflected Soviet reality that are no longer used and that kids don’t understand.)
    Anyway, this is what I’m struggling with.
    The US/Russia thing I’m struggling with – It seems to me – although Hat will surely point out that I’m wrong, wrong, wrong – is that in the US, this battle against the prescriptivists is being fought against ridiculous rules that have no basis in the language and classism. Here in Russia, the subject of the discussion and the historical/social/political situation is entirely different. We descriptivists (see how I’m trying to remind you of my affiliation? Subtle, huh?) tend to support to the Innovators – not always, as Hat writes, but usually. But in different historical/social/political situations you might find yourself on the side of the Traditionalists. I would never insist that a corner grocery store always be called a convenience store and never a bodega. But in Russian, I try to use Russian words and encourage other English-speakers to use Russian words instead of Englishisms whenever possible, because the Englishisms are perceived by many Russians as an imposition from the West, a form of cultural imperialism. It’s wrong; we don’t “make” Russian TV stations call a documentary “Kidnaping.” We don’t “make” Russian leaders say “transparantnost’” instead of “prozrachnost.” But it drives Russians crazy; they don’t understand half of it; and they think we are forcing them to use English (as the first step to our military occupation of the country). In this case, in this particular time and place, I am trying to slow language change and innovation. I’m trying to regulate what people say. I think you all have a knee-jerk reaction to howl and throw old grammar books at me for that. And you are certainly jumping to the conclusion that I’m an old-fashioned, politically reactionary control-freak — and a man, to boot!
    So maybe that’s what I’m troubled by (note the preposition at the end of the sentence).

  277. Dear mab, I love you too, and nobody’s going to throw books at you! (I can hear my mother saying “Books are your friends, treat them as such!”) I know perfectly well your instincts are descriptivist, and I too am trying to figure out why your hackles went up. I think it’s a combination of two things: 1) the perfectly natural and human attachment to the things (including forms of language) we’re used to, an attachment that persists even when we “know better” intellectually, and 2) your position as a foreigner in Russia, respectful of the Russians and laudably trying not to step on their toes or abet those they perceive to be stepping on their toes. You write, “in Russian, I try to use Russian words and encourage other English-speakers to use Russian words instead of Englishisms whenever possible, because the Englishisms are perceived by many Russians as an imposition from the West,” and that’s perfectly understandable; I’d do it too. But here’s where you go wrong:
    Here in Russia, the subject of the discussion and the historical/social/political situation is entirely different.
    Russians have always had a deep conviction that Russia is “different,” and I think you’ve gone native to the extent of assimilating that conviction. Russia is different in the sense that every country and culture is different from every other, but it’s not some special, unique historical entity, and in this case it’s particularly unspecial. Every country with a significant literary tradition worries about “corruption” of their “beautiful, expressive” language and literature; the details vary from one to the next, but the impulse is the same, and these days, for perfectly understandable reasons, English is the villain of choice around the world. And of course when a country has gone through what Russia has in the last couple of decades, there’s plenty of free-floating angst to attach itself to such things (and, frankly, better it should attach itself to language than to other things that tend to get people killed).
    I guess what I’m saying is it’s totally understandable that you sympathize with the Russians, and it’s fine to try to use their language in a way that doesn’t make them even more paranoid than they already are, but try to remember that they’re going through a bad patch of history and are not at their most rational. As you say, the fact that “Englishisms are perceived by many Russians as an imposition from the West” doesn’t make it true. And “trying to slow language change and innovation” is a mug’s game; all you can do is use language in the best way you know how, and resign yourself to the fact that in a century both your language and theirs would grate horribly on the ears of everyone around today if they were still around then… and yet will be perfectly normal and pleasing to the people who grow up with it, who will then try to defend that “beautiful, expressive” language from “corruption.”
    I took my first linguistics course almost forty years ago, and it literally took me decades to assimilate it, by which I mean getting to the point that I could say, and believe, “I hate [some particular form of language change] and will probably never accept it emotionally, but I accept intellectually that it’s just another language change, and I hate it only because I didn’t grow up with it; objectively, it’s no better and no worse than any other form of language.” I don’t expect anyone to arrive at that overnight, and I don’t expect anyone to ever feel perfectly comfortable with all linguistic usage—that would take a Vulcan degree of detachment. What I’m trying to do with this blog (and my presence in other online venues) is to try to pry people’s minds open enough that they can at least see the scientific (linguistic) point of view and not automatically and unthinkingly assume that their gut reaction is eternal truth. I know you’re on the side of the angels there, and believe me, I appreciate it!

  278. (Man, you just never know what post is going to get over 250 comments…)

  279. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Well said, Language. You ought to paste that someplace where everyone will read it.
    I think, mab, as a foreigner you don’t need to side with either theInnovators or the Traditionalists. You don’t compromise your position as a descriptivist by not using the English expressions the Innovators use.
    It’s too bad that no Russians seem to be reading and commenting on this exchange.

  280. No, no, Hat. I’m not at all saying that Russia is in general some particular case. Actually I get slammed all the time by Russians who insist on the uniqueness of all that is Russian and posit a kind of homogeneity about everyone else. I’m the one jumping up and down saying that Russia is a country like any other, and if you want a list of, say, former empires, get out your pad of paper and start writing.
    I’m saying that right now they are going through a period of rapid social/political/language change. People always cite borrowings into English as “similar” to English borrowings into Russian. But the scale is totally different. I don’t say that this is a unique phenomenon; it’s happened to many countries at different times. I’m just saying that right now the Russian language is undergoing enormous changes under the influence of English, camp/criminal slang, political/social/economic changes that require new words, advertising, new technologies (SMS and internet), and probably more that I can’t remember right now. All of those changes have happened, say, in English, but they were staggered and took centuries. This is all going on in one 25-year period.
    But that’s not my point. I’m using those examples because they are particuarly vivid and because they may be more distant, and less fraught, than American English examples.
    The point that bothers me is the point you didn’t address, which I think is an internal contradiction. If language belongs to everyone, and if it is ultimately arbitrary, why is it than in these discussions, the Innovators always win out over the Traditionalists? In cases where the traditionalists are advocating something that never existed in the language or makes no sense (or no difference), and the Innovators are pushing for something that has precedent in the language, breaks no rules that are consistently applied to similar cases — it’s an “easy call.” Eg, when traditionalists insist that a sentence may never be ended with a preposition — it’s obviously stupid. Or when innovators insist that impact can become a verb — why not?. Here we all nod and say, yup, guess so. Or I like that and I think I’ll use that. Or I don’t like that and won’t use it, but sure, other people can. I would understand what it means. (Or we talk about corporate speech, or neologisms, etc.)
    But I think there is a blanket, universal prejudice for the ultimate rightness of innovation and the ultimate wrongness of tradition. And a tendency to paint all those advocating a position of tradition (whatever the particulars of the case, whatever the particulars of the culture, etc.) with the brush of classism, or elitism, or historicism. There are, after all, bits of spaghetti that don’t stick to the wall. There are language innovations that are ultimately NOT accepted by the population at large, that appear and disappear.
    I also tend to like my belief systems to be consistent. If A, then B, if B then C… until I get to Z and still agree with it. I feel like I get not to Z but to another planet with this stuff. I can’t figure out if it’s because I don’t get something, or because I don’t agree with something.
    That’s why I’m being a pain in the butt.

  281. the Innovators and the Traditionalists.
    I don’t about in Russia (though it is a pleasure to see you and Hat discussing the linguistic situation over there), but I think it’s worth pointing out that in the U.S. those labels are misleading. Jim Quinn spends a lot of time in American Tongue and Cheek demonstrating that the prescriptivists are so often wrong about linguistic history (often taken by the recency illusion) that they’re better described as radicals.

  282. “transparantnost’” instead of “prozrachnost.”
    transparantnost’ is a very useful word to be used often, but if to translate it as it is like prozrachnost’, it would mean the opposite of its meaning i guess in Russian, for example ‘deistviya pravitel’stva or whatever buli prozrachnumi’ would mean not transparent, but invisible and perhaps corrupt, so the same transparantnost’ meaning would be more, like, apt to translate with the word yasnost’, no?
    “deistviya buli yasnumi, chistumi, ponyatnumi”, clear, clean, understandable, visible
    i mean sometimes there are no any directly matching, exact translating words, so people just have to use englishisms to not lose the meaning of what they wanted to say, perhaps

  283. Hat, you’re gonna wanna check out this link.

  284. @jamessal, your link snubbed me:

    Sorry—that full-sized image of the page is only available to Harper’s Magazine subscribers.

  285. But I think there is a blanket, universal prejudice for the ultimate rightness of innovation and the ultimate wrongness of tradition.
    I don’t agree with your premise, but for the sake of argument I’ll point out that this “universal prejudice,” as you perceive it, could have something to do with the fact that even in your description of the situation it’s only the “traditionalists” who are foisting their preferences on others, asking to have words banned and whatnot.

  286. The point that bothers me is the point you didn’t address, which I think is an internal contradiction. If language belongs to everyone, and if it is ultimately arbitrary, why is it than in these discussions, the Innovators always win out over the Traditionalists?
    But they don’t, and I’m not entirely clear what you mean. Descriptivism is not about promoting the new over the old, and I don’t know anyone who thinks the new is automatically better and the old should be chucked overboard (though a century ago the Futurists claimed to believe this). Some of the spaghetti sticks and some doesn’t, and descriptivists (aka linguists) say “hmm, that’s interesting, let’s take notes.” Descriptivism has literally nothing to say about what’s better or worse, any more than physics has anything to say about what physical processes are better or worse. “Should” belongs to the discourse of emotions, not science.
    I’m not sure where you’re getting this idea that descriptivism promotes change (let alone the idea that descriptivism represents “a blanket, universal prejudice”!). Descriptivism describes. It says “here’s what’s going on in language; make of it what you will.” You don’t go to your doctor for an impassioned denunciation of a disease, you go for a diagnosis; you don’t ask a botanist to denounce weeds, or a biologist to condemn cuckoos. A linguist, like anyone else, can have prejudices about particular usages (and frankly, at the Log they bend too far over backwards to accommodate those prejudices, blurring the line between their professional judgment and their individual likes and dislikes), but as a linguist can only describe. If a Russian or anyone else wants to deplore borrowings from abroad or criminal argot, they can use the linguist’s findings to bolster their case, but they shouldn’t expect the linguist to join them in their crusade. That’s not part of the job description.

  287. @jamessal, your link snubbed me:
    Sorry, Grumbly — I didn’t realize I was signed in to Harper’s. The piece is a 1982 review of “American Tongue and Cheek” by Hugh Kenner. (Also see: AMEISIS.) It’s not a must-read or anything; I just linked to it because of the names involved.

  288. Grumbly: Shoot me an email if you’re really curious.

  289. It seems like the objection to the grammar websites pointed out above (the example was a dangling participle) was that they exist at all. The “descriptivists” here are not just describing language change, they are yelling STFU to anyone who wants to analyze usage and make judgments. And yet when they themselves use language, they do pay attention to what is regarded as correct usage.

  290. A.J.P. Crown says:

    You don’t go to your doctor for an impassioned denunciation of a disease,
    You can and, believe me, it’s well worth every penny. They’re called psychiatrists.

  291. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Ha! That’s a lovely article, Jim. Thanks.
    (It’s Jamessal’s birthday tomorrow!)

  292. The “descriptivists” here are not just describing language change, they are yelling STFU to anyone who wants to analyze usage and make judgments.
    That’s not true, and I’ll thank you to give me an example.

  293. I understand all too well the feelings that mab writes about, and Nijma has just made a point that, ex contrario, makes my own position clearer to myself. Although I had forgotten about this <Grumbly is about to ‘fess up again, folks, so have your hankies at the ready>, I am actually

    a peregrine prescriptivist

    Instead of trying to correct people’s speech and spelling, which I am wont to do at the drop of a headwear, I go where I don’t have occasion to do it, and stay there. For the most part I find American writing, and public speaking, to be an abomination of sloppiness, hype, pretension, misused words … <huffing and puffing>. I’ve read the TLS for 40 years, and I still find myself thinking, when I start reading an article with sentences which grate on me: “I bet this is by an American”, and check the mini-bios. Most of the time I’m right. After listening to the way politicans and public folks speak on British, French, Spanish and German television, I find it downright embarassing to tune in to CNBC and hear American politicians stumbling over their syntax.
    But you’re not going to get anywhere by whingeing at people for allowing their participles to dangle, and such-like. It took me years to learn that you can’t run other people’s speech – and that was not for lack of trying. There’s nothing to be done except to practice what you preach, but without preaching As Nijma says, the “descriptivists here … when they themselves use language, … do pay attention to what is regarded as correct usage”. That’s why I feel in place among folks on this site. No haranguing, no sloppiness, but instead creativity and awareness of our traditions.
    Nowadays I have a dubious reputation for learnedly correcting the German of friends of mine. They take this in good part, because I’m an American, for Chrissake. But it’s probably time to move on to Mexico.

  294. Yes, Hat, you are right that I’m using “descriptivists” incorrectly. As I think people are using the term prescriptivists incorrectly. Sorry for that confusion. Although way back at about posting 168 I did try to clarify that using Bill Posner’s definition.
    jamessal wrote: “it’s only the “traditionalists” who are foisting their preferences on others, asking to have words banned and whatnot.” But no, not “only” — both sides are doing it. The Innovators are also foisting their preferences by using them and encouraging their use in print and in the media. That’s what I’m trying to say: both sides are foisting their position using different means to do it.
    read: can you give an example of prozrachnost’ used to mean invisible or corrupt? I’ve never seen it used that way.

  295. they are yelling STFU to anyone who wants to analyze usage and make judgments.

    There’s nothing wrong with that (although the “making judgments” part is not really the linguist’s job, that is up to the language’s users). Prescriptivists (as I define them) pass judgment without analyzing the current usage correctly and thoroughly.
    I wouldn’t say the “traditionalists” in mab’s situation take a prescriptivist position. They recognize (correctly) that they and most of their peers would never use slang words except in very informal contexts. Therefore, the casual use of those words on TV, or in written material, strikes them as wrong… and it is, according to their personal grammar. The same is true for the (faux?) Anglicisms. One could only call them prescriptivists if they had to make a conscious effort in order to use (or avoid using) those words according to the rules they claim to follow.

  296. prozrachnui
    i so love Master and Margarita
    it seems to me prozrachnui means more invisible than visible in Russian, prazrachnui vozdux, den’, can you say transparent day, air? in English
    though sure people say that the processes were prozrachnu, transparent, still it seems to me that to the person not familiar with the concept it would mean more invisibility than visibility

  297. LH: I’ll thank you to give me an example.
    Well, actually I was thinking of jamessal, but I didn’t want to say so because I have a feeling he might be bigger than me. Anyhow it’s not just him, it’s an example of what I sense as a trend.
    The example he gave was the website nationalgrammarday.com ‘Crossing the long, long bridge, the Swanneke B plant emerges from behind the older, greyer cooling towers of Swanneke A.’
    This is explained as being the third dangling participle encountered in the book as it was being read.
    I didn’t find the sentence on the website myself so I can’t judge whether it makes sense in some kind of context, as jamessal seems to think, but it doesn’t look to me like a very clearly written sentence at all. This seems to be the argument being made here:

    Prescriptivism, in the relevant sense, the sense Hat and the loggers are often arguing against, has almost nothing to do with offering reasonable advice on speech and writing. It is “the position that one set of ‘rules’ (many of them nonexistent except in the minds of the prescriptivists) are binding on all speakers and for all occasions, and anyone who violates them is wrong and illiterate and (if they’ve had exposure to the ‘rules’ and knowingly violate them) probably a bad person to boot.”

    I didn’t see anything like that on the website, in fact they like prepositions at the ends of sentences and give practical advice that seems to be fairly friendly in tone–I didn’t see any snarking. I;’m beginning to think this whold descriptivist/prescirptivist thing is so subtle that you have to be a card-carrying linguist to know it when you see it.
    There’s more I want to say, but my sinuses have swollen so much they have pushed my brains up around my ears, and the thermometer says my fever is over 107˚F, which as I recall is always fatal. For a dead person I can type pretty well, and even use excruciating correct grammar, but I’m not able to process a lot of information at one time. If someone wants to respond to that I will try my best to understand what they are saying, and in fact I’m sure the descriptionists will be all too willing to direct judgments towards me that they are unwilling to direct towards grammar analysis, but until the clinic opens I’m not going to be up to a protracted flame war. :~)

  298. prozrachnu, transparent, still it seems to me that to the person not familiar with the concept it would mean more invisibility than visibility

    In computer science areas, English as well as German, “transparent” has come to have two different meanings, depending on the context – or depending on whether you think they’re misusing the word for no good reason. You can say that a format conversion program works transparently, meaning you don’t notice that it’s working. There is also the expression “das Argument ist transparent”, meaning 1) the argument is clear, or less commonly (more traditionally) 2) you can see through the argument (invisible) to what the “real” motivations for it are (visible, as in “that’s transparently false”).

  299. excruciating correct grammar

    You really do need a prescription, Nijma. Hurry up and recover!

  300. I didn’t see any snarking.
    The very first post from the very first “blog partner” (The Society For the Promotion of Good Grammar):
    “This is from Miley Cyrus’s blog, via Wonderwall. She’s talking about a photograph where she’s shown making slanty eyes with a group of friends:
    ‘If that would of [sic] been anyone else, it would of been overlooked! I definitely feel like the press is trying to make me out as the new ‘BAD GIRL’! … I feel like now that Britney is back on top of her game again, they need someone to pick on.’
    We think the professional virgin might be saving conjugation for marriage. Someone should tell her conjugal and conjugation aren’t quite the same thing.”

  301. Jeez, Nijma, lie in a bath tub of very cold water until your temperature goes down!!!!!
    Screw language change!

  302. Too subtle for you?

  303. LH: I’ll thank you to give me an example…Well, actually I was thinking of jamessal
    After you’ve rested I wouldn’t mind an example myself. What I said about the dangling participle example, if that’s what you’re talking about, can hardly be described as telling anyone to shut the fuck up. I was simply illustrating Hat’s point that “prescriptivism…is the position that one set of ‘rules’ (many of them nonexistent except in the minds of the prescriptivists) are binding on all speakers and for all occasions…”; the commenter seemed to believe the obvious absurdity that dangling a participle is always some sort of mistake, even in a novel.

  304. Sorry about the “too subtle” snark — skimming I missed the 107. Go to bed. Or, if you think your thermometer is right, the hospital.

  305. If my fever was that high I would be dead, therefore the thermometer is wrong, but just in case I really am dead, I’m googling walk in clinics.

  306. That’s what I’m trying to say: both sides are foisting their position using different means to do it.
    This is just a bland, overly philosophical way of describing any conflict. There will always be sides, positions, means. That doesn’t mean everyone is equally right. In this case, if one side wants to speak how they please (their position), and does so (their means), I think they’re behaving pretty reasonably. Trying to control the way others speak is very different.

  307. Sorry to hear you have a fever, Nijma. Get well soon. But nobody told anybody to shut the fuck up, and it doesn’t improve the discourse when you talk as if they did.

  308. prozrachnui
    i so love Master and Margarita
    I love it too, but I’m not sure what your link is intended to prove. I presume you linked there because they quote the famous sentence from the beginning of the book: “И тут знойный воздух сгустился перед ним, и соткался из этого воздуха прозрачный гражданин престранного вида.” In the Burgin/O’Connor translation I have at hand, this reads “And then the hot air congealed in front of him, and out of it materialized a transparent man of most bizarre appearance.” This is not a normal use of прозрачный in Russian, but it’s perfectly well rendered by “transparent”; I don’t see what it has to do with government processes. If you’ll take a look at these Google results, I think you’ll find the use of прозрачный with процесс in Russian is pretty much exactly like that of “transparent” with “process” in English; it certainly doesn’t mean “invisible and perhaps corrupt.”

  309. the fever is now under control, thanks to whatever was in my medicine cabinet and I have a walkin appointment.l Maybe I phrased it a little dramatically, but it does seem the position many here are taking is that language change should happen “like the ocean” and there is no point in discussing specific usages or trying to guide ht process…. “no authority need to enforce” something like that was how Hat phrased it.

  310. (Not a good translation, by the way; знойный is “sultry,” not “hot,” соткался is “wove himself” or “was woven,” not “materialized,” and гражданин is “citizen,” not “man”—it can be used in a more general sense than “citizen,” and I can see rendering it “person,” but “man” is just too colorless, and if there’s one thing Bulgakov is not, it’s colorless.)

  311. from the googled results
    Дело темное, зато процесс “прозрачный”
    that’s how lay people would read anything about ‘transparent governmental processes’
    with suspicion

  312. Manuscripts don’t burn. They just get butchered in translation.

  313. that’s how lay people would read anything about ‘transparent governmental processes’
    with suspicion

    Yes, but that’s a function of society, not language.

  314. marie-lucie says:

    Because governments may promise “transparency” but offer anything but. This is not the fault of the word “transparency”.

  315. Hat, I think you’ll approve more of Pevear and Volokhonsky’s version (I wish I knew Russian):
    “And here the sweltering air thickened before him, and a transparent citizen of the strangest appearance wove himself out of it.”

  316. because they would associate the word prozrachnui with invisibility, not visibility, that’s what i’m trying to explain
    if people thought ‘delo yasnoe’, then there is no any suspicion, everything is clear, whether the processes are governmental or not, because the word conveys that meaning, of clear vision, but prozrachnost’ can be read two ways, if the processes are held behind the curtains and the curtains, the shield, are transparent, then the processes are visible, if the processes themselves are transparent, they are invisible and could be rising suspicions

  317. Well, I’d have thought that my comment (farther up) revealing that I’m a migratory prescriptivist would have earned me at least an excommunication.

  318. Why else do you think nobody responded to you?

  319. Man,I’m exhausted. Stu, where do you live? I’ll use my frequent flyer miles to come and buy you a beer. Jamessal, I’ll buy you a beer too. I also had a grandmother I called Baba. Mine was Lemko — what was yours?
    Hell, I’ll buy everyone a beer.
    I’m guilty of misuse of terminology. I suggest that Hat provide a terminology guide so that we all know what we are talking about.
    As for all the other stuff…

  320. A.J.P. Crown says:

    I would like to recommend the essay by Robert Slutsky and Colin Rowe ‘Transparency: Literal and Phenomenal’, but WARNING it is only about non-metaphorical, VISUAL transparency, so not something for all of you lot, but it is fantastically worthwhile reading. It’s about perception of depth and intersecting space in cubism and modern architecture.

  321. A.J.P. Crown says:

    For 300 comments that’s one beer between everyone?

  322. A.J.P. Crown says:

    I’ll buy everyone a beer of their own! That’s capitalism for you.

  323. Mab: Yeah, I’m about there too. I have no idea whether my last response to you was even remotely on point. A beer sounds just about right… (on me if you ever pass through New Jersey).

  324. Crown: As you know, it’s scotch for you and me.

  325. Good idea all around. Mab, plan in a few minutes where we can step aside from the smart set, and wring our hands unobtrusively over the state of language. Then back to carousing.
    My father’s mother was Nana.

  326. Hot damn. Nothing like the mere mention of alcohol to soothe the savage prescriptivist/descriptivist/traditionalist/innvoational beast.
    Just goes to show you that there ARE universal human values.

  327. David Marjanović says:

    transparantnost’

    Hey, but look at that. It indicates a French origin, and that means the word came in the 18th century or so.
    The recency illusion has already been mentioned.

  328. excruciating correct grammar
    Egad, did I type that? excruciatingly correct grammar
    Now that I have antibiotics I can feel my Proofreading Powers slowly returning. It’s just an ear infection but I’m supposed to lay low for a couple of days. That should give me some more time to puzzle out what these descriptivists are jumping up and down about. In the meantime the medicine bottle says “avoid alcohol”…curious wordchoice, that. You notice it doesn’t say not to use it at all. So I shall join you in a very wee dram of hot brandy. Some day I should like to try one of jamessal’s single malt scotches, which I have never tried.
    You realize this is what Valhalla is like. Battle all day, then at night all wounds are healed and the mead comes out.

  329. On the way back from the clinic tonight, I just happened to be going past the irresistible Powell’s Books on 57th Street on the U of C campus. Thinking of marie-lucie’s advice, I picked up R.A. Hudson’s Sociolinguistics. It’s also available on google books.

  330. Does anybody remember the French minister of culture Jacques Toubon? In the midnineties, he published a whole list of French words to replace the hated franglais and all he got for his pains was to be called Allgood by the mocking populace.

  331. Doesn’t “Allgood” sound a lot like “STFU”?
    I remember when a major paper in Amman announced they would stop accepting ads that were not couched in the proper Modern Standard Arabic. Words like “yalla” had begun to creep into the advertising section. How I loathe MSA.

  332. I just came across this Robert Hass poem, which (perhaps strangely) provides me a little more empathy for the prescriptivists. Anyway, I think it’s a lovely poem:
    MEDITATIONS AT LAGUNITAS
    All the new thinking is about loss.
    In this it resembles all the old thinking.
    The idea, for example, that each particular erases
    the luminous clarity of a general idea. That the clown-
    faced woodpecker probing the dead sculpted trunk
    of that black birch is, by his presence,
    some tragic falling off from a first world
    of undivided light. Or the other notion that,
    because there is in this world no one thing
    to which the bramble of blackberry corresponds,
    a word is elegy to what it signifies.
    We talked about it late last night and in the voice
    of my friend, there was a thin wire of grief, a tone
    almost querulous. After a while I understood that,
    talking this way, everything dissolves: justice,
    pine, hair, woman, you and I. There was a woman
    I made love to and I remembered how, holding
    her small shoulders in my hands sometimes,
    I felt a violent wonder at her presence
    like a thirst for salt, for my childhood river
    with its island willows, silly music from the pleasure boat,
    muddy places where we caught the little orange-silver fish
    called pumpkinseed. It hardly had to do with her.
    Longing, we say, because desire is full
    of endless distances. I must have been the same to her.
    But I remember so much, the way her hands dismantled bread,
    the thing her father said that hurt her, what
    she dreamed. There are moments when the body is as numinous
    as words, days that are the good flesh continuing.
    Such tenderness, those afternoons and evenings,
    saying blackberry, blackberry, blackberry.

  333. First beer-sharing, then poetry—that’s what I call a successful thread! And you don’t often see poetry about nominalism (which is the cave “each particular erases the luminous clarity of a general idea” steps into). Nice poem; thanks for sharing it!

  334. He’s supposed to be very erudite, Hass. Thanks for the link (there’s always a selfish aspect to sharing in your forum)!

  335. A.J.P. Crown says:

    And I never thought of clowns as looking like woodpeckers before, but they do. Good poem, Jim.

  336. A most excellent poem, and a fancy nominalism label to go with it so people don’t have to worry about whether they can enjoy it. the mark of art may be not what it has within itself, but what it is capable of inspiring in the viewer. This poem brought back in incredibly vivid memory of berry-gathering and wine making with an old friend in Wisconsin one weekend when I was returning from my grandmother’s funeral in Minnesota.

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