That Damned Raw Stuff.

John E. McIntyre of the Baltimore Sun tells a wonderful story that may help explain why it’s so hard to convince people (journalists, in particular) “that some of their imagined rules and standard practices are without foundation”:

After my grandfather died suddenly of a heart attack in 1945, my father, Raymond McIntyre, undertook to make a go of his general store in Elizaville Kentucky.

He told me that one week the man who drove the bread truck was apprehensive. He also made deliveries to a remote little country store, and he had been accustomed to offload his stale bread there. “But last week,” he said, “I didn’t have any old bread to give them, and I delivered fresh loaves. They’re going to be mad as hell when they realize what I’ve been doing.”

The next week when the bread truck man came by, my father asked him how it had gone with the other store. And the bread man said, “They sure were mad at me. The storekeeper told me all his customers had complained and he never wanted me to deliver any of that damned raw stuff to his store ever again.”

Once you’re accustomed to journalese and its non-idiomatic practices, it sounds like natural language to you and actual English just seems wrong.

Visit his post for a funny footnote and a couple of examples of newspaper superstitions of the sort he deplores.

Comments

  1. marie-lucie says:

    This reminds me of the controversies which greeted the first two books of renowned popular mystery novelist Dan Brown: most readers loved them, but critics were scathing on the style (among other things). I did not read the books, but from the comments and excerpts I came to the conclusion that his style was journalistic, trying to pack as much informaiton in each sentence, whether or not the information was relevant to the action or the character at a given moment in the book. People whose main reading matter was the daily paper would be quite comfortable with that reporter’s style, and would probably have been disoriented by more literary sophistication.

  2. marie-lucie says:

    Day-old bread

    Having grown up eating real French bread, I rarely eat English-type bread, which strikes me as underbaked. It only tastes reasonably good, and feels reasonably solid, when toasted, or failing that, a day or two after it has been bought, when it has had time to harden.. Before that, it is far too soft and prone to tearing, and of course it does not have a crust to speak of.

  3. John Cowan says:

    And so they mumble about their old mumpsimus.

  4. I came to the conclusion that his style was journalistic

    Would that it were. It’s just cheesy, purple, and downright bad. If newspapers were written like his books, they’d be impossible to parody.

    The only thing McIntyre’s nice story is missing is that these writers took some effort to acquire these nonsense rules and practice and now they’re proud of the effort. A more one-to-one analogy is if the customers had been seeking out this bread, traveling distances and waiting on lines. But then it wouldn’t be as good a story, because it would be tortured, let alone not true.

  5. marie-lucie says:

    THanks for the link, JC. I don’t think I had ever run into this word, and I was surprised to see that it was used as recently as 2010. The book where it appears is titled Repotting Yourself. Another intriguing concept.

  6. Once you’re accustomed to journalese and its non-idiomatic practices, it sounds like natural language to you and actual English just seems wrong.

    The author of that sentence assumes that it is natural to contrast “natural” and “actual”, and then to decide in favor of actual. Does he think it is natural to prefer “actual” over “natural” as an argument in support of certain normative claims about language use ?

    I would have thought that “actual” and “natural” should be more or less equivalent in this context. But the author writes “sounds natural” to bias his argument. To be more fair, he should have contrasted “sounds actual” and “sounds natural”. But no – he thinkgs that actual is really actual, whereas natural is only sometimes actual.

    In the rest of the article, it is implied that the journalists in question assume it is correct to contrast “correct” and “actual”, and on that basis to decide in favor of “correct”. This position is consistent on all counts, in particular when it is actually held by those journalists.

  7. Over and more than. I was taught that distinction at school in Australia a long time ago where we had intensive grammar lessons, and then it was reinforced as a journalist.. However my wife went to school in the UK, and was not. The idea of over meaning only a physical location always seemed logical to me.

  8. Stu, I think that the word “natural” is freighted with distracting associations, and that the sentence would have been clearer if it had said “it sounds right to you and actual English sounds wrong”.

  9. Don’t mind Stu, he never met a distinction he couldn’t take exception to.

    I don’t think I had ever run into this word

    Oh, I think you have; I’ve used it several times, most recently here. It’s an old favorite of mine.

  10. des von bladet says:

    The idea of “over” meaning only a physical location always seemed logical to me.

    So if it was (“were”) gently suggested you could profitably get over it you would be wondering exactly where to hover?

  11. As des gently implies, logic is a useless measure when it comes to language, however much some people might wish it otherwise.

  12. marie-lucie says:

    LH: mumpsimus : You are right. I remembered the thread about Dostoevsky (and others) and religion, but I had forgotten the word, which no one commented on at the time.

  13. “logic is a useless measure when it comes to language”

    Not so, in fact logic is the basis of studying langauge or anything else. It’s just that logic requires a respect for data. It’s not logical to let logic trump data.

  14. I thought my meaning was clear enough, but if you insist: obviously logic as a tool (not, n.b., a measure) is in some sense the basis of studying anything; my point is that language is not any more logical than the humans who created it, i.e. barely at all, so it makes no sense to criticize a word or phrase for being “illogical” or insist on trying to keep one because it’s “logical.” Logic is a useless measure when it comes to language.

  15. It’s perfectly logical to think logic trumps data (when studying language) if one thinks logic trumps data (when studying anything). Silly, but perfectly logical. By the same token, it’s illogical to think a) data trumps logic in all scientific endeavors, b) the study of language is properly viewed as a scientific endeavor, but c) logic trumps data in the study of language.

    But none of this has anything to do with what I assume is LH’s point, namely, that it is not that logic cannot be properly applied to the study of language, but that one who studies language should not assume that all language usages in a given community will be logically consistent with and parallel to other, related, usages.

  16. (I began drafting my – now superfluous – comment before LH posted his.)

  17. marie-lucie says:

    Each language has its own internal logic, which is not necessarily the same as “formal logic” which applies to statements not to language structure.. Where a language seems to be logically inconsistent, it could be because either the student has not understood its logic, or because it preserves some older feature which was “logical” before a change occurred to make the formerly “logical” feature “illogical”. Linguistics is not the same as philosophy.

  18. Another way to look at it is that there is no reason to expect everybody to go along with you when you decide to impose tidy distinctions on a messy language. (By “you” I don’t mean anyone here. I mean in this case whoever decided to restrict the use of “over”, or whoever decided to lay down that restriction as a rule.)

  19. The copyeditor assigned to my book, Leaving Dirty Jersey, having thoughtlessly imbibed the aforementioned rule about over at some point, changed all instances of “over six feet tall” (and the like) to “more than six feet tall.” This is a book about drug addicts and thugs — street life in general — told by a young narrator. I was too inexperienced to realize I could STET all those changes, so they mar my book to this day. Thoughts, Paul?

  20. Jonathan D says:

    Never mind the suitability of the word “natural”, surely the intended contrast wasn’t between “sounds natural” and “sounds actual” but between “sounds natural” (once you’re accustomed) and “actually natural” (which no longer sounds right).

    Which is still a questionable distinction…

  21. Which is still a questionable distinction…

    Exactly. To contrast “natural/actual” doesn’t make much sense, given how “natural” and “actual” are actually (!) used in other contexts. It contributes nothing to the “prescriptivist/descriptionist” squabble, which is what the article is about.

    Don’t mind Stu, he never met a distinction he couldn’t take exception to.

    Good example of argumentum ad hominem ! It amounts to saying that when I take exception to something, that is a mechanical reflex that doesn’t deserve a response. Unfortunately, it also amounts to saying that your response to my taking exception is a mechanical reflex on your part. The pot calls the kettle black, and thinks to rest its case – having forgotten that cross-interrogation is now on the agenda.

  22. @Stu: What Jonathan called “still a questionable distinction” was between

    “sounds natural” [...] and “actually natural” [...]

    not between natural and actual.

  23. empty: what do you think the meaning is of: “which is still a questionable distinction”, the last remark in Jonathan’s comment ? I take it to mean something like: “this distinction (“sounds natural” [...] and “actually natural” [...]) is questionable, just like the other distinction which is connected with it”.

    The first remark in Jonathan’s comment is: “Never mind the suitability of the word “natural” …”. That is, he starts out by disclaiming any interest in whether “natural” is a suitable concept (to contrast with “actual”), but ends up apparently taking a position on it. That’s how I understand his comment as a whole. I don’t otherwise see what “still” could refer to.,

  24. I.e. “just like the other distinction which is connected with it, and preceeded it in time”. “Still” means “having undergone no change over time”.

  25. Des: So if it was (“were”) gently suggested you could profitably get over it you would be wondering exactly where to hover?

    (I would say “If it were gently to be suggested…”) You jest, of course, knowing that ‘over’ in “Get over it” is a completely different sense … But overall, see my comments below, or under if you prefer …

    Jamessal : Your copy editor clearly didn’t understand what your book was about, so ignored the nature of the narrator. Shouldn’t have been assigned to your book at all, or probably to any novel.

    Overall: I know this is a blog for linguists, and that linguists/the academy approach these questions understandably in a very different way to people like me, who were (a) educated in a rigid – but very useful – system, and (b) made a career in a trade where constraints on language are the norm.

    You can use whatever words you like in a novel, or in a factual but relatively fringe publication. But the press in general deems that it needs styles, consistent throughout a publication, to present information in a coherent fashion to the readership.

    It may sound silly to some people, but it would quickly annoy a mass public, even subliminally, if for example a newspaper in the UK referred to “the Prime Minister Mr. David Cameron”, or “prime minister Cameron” or “David Cameron, prime minister”, or other variants in one edition, or worse, in the same story. So there are reasons for style, sometimes simply space saving. The Financial Times saves space by dropping “the” in “George Osborne, chancellor”. Multiplied throughout the paper for every occasion someone and their title are mentioned, it adds up.

    I go on at this length really to excuse myself for making comments, as in the “over” and “more than” question, that go against the general grain, because in some sense I believe I represent the feelings of many people whose education and experience instinctively are determinist, not permissive.

    So really, I shouldn’t be commenting here at all.

    But ho hum, I like to stir you lot up a bit from time to time … :-)

  26. des von bladet says:

    (I would say “If it were gently to be suggested…”)

    Cheez, it’s bad enough that you would even write that, never mind saying it.

  27. Overall: I know this is a blog for linguists

    Not at all, it’s a blog for everyone interested in language and vaguely related topics.

    approach these questions understandably in a very different way to people like me, who were (a) educated in a rigid – but very useful – system, and (b) made a career in a trade where constraints on language are the norm.

    You forget that I was also educated in that rigid system, and have also made a career in a trade where constraints on language are the norm. (You’ve also produced (a) and (b) clauses without parallelism; the second one can’t follow “were.” I point that out only because you’re talking about the importance of constraints on language.) Once again, the point is not that there should be no standards, or that people (like, say, you) shouldn’t prefer a certain way of saying/writing things, the point is that there is not One Right Way of using English, there are only locally right ways (the locality can be a neighborhood, a newspaper, or any other defined group of language users).

  28. Stu, I think that Jonathan was saying “Let’s stop looking at questionable distinction X, which isn’t what McIntyre meant anyway. Let’s look at distinction Y instead, which is what he meant. I grant that Y is questionable, too.” My “too” corresponds to his “still”.

    You responded to this by saying “Yes, I agree! X was a questionable distinction!”

  29. marie-lucie says:

    Paul, blogs for linguists deal with technical aspects of language and languages. This is quite restrictive, as would be blogs for mathematicians, for instance. Here our host presents us with interesting information and sometimes puzzles about much more than just language(s), such as literature, history, philosophy and more. There is even more variety of expertise and interests among the commenters. Nobody needs to apologize about not being an expert on this or that topic, whether linguistic or not, we all learn from each other!

  30. In fact I wrote: “Exactly. To contrast “natural/actual” doesn’t make much sense ..”. MacIntyre had already failed to convince me. Jonathan failed to convince himself after fiddling a bit with the formulation. I felt that this supported my original point that it makes no sense to use “natural/actual” as a binary distinction. So I wrote: “Exactly”.

    Perhaps you have arguments in petto to support the use of “natural/actual” as a binary distinction ? Let’s hear’em !
    .

  31. Stu, I don’t see this supposed ‘natural/actual’ contrast at all in McIntyre’s words. He’s using the terms as synonyms. The claim is something like, ‘After a while, non-X seems like X to you, and actual X seems wrong.’ Applied to the bread analogy, the claim is ‘Stale bread comes to seem like fresh bread to you, and fresh bread tastes wrong’, and in the language case it’s ‘Journalese comes to seem like natural language, and actual [natural language] seems wrong.’

    Contrasting journalese with ‘natural English’ is a bit problematic, maybe, but it’s pretty clear what he means. And that doesn’t seem to be the problem you have with the sentence anyway.

  32. des von bladet says:

    I endorse Breffni’s reading, with the additional snark that I read the contrast bettween “natural” and “actual” as basically “elegant variation”, which is itself a variation from journalese (and other schooled forms) from writing that does what it ought to do. To the point that I actually wondered if it had been done with a smirk.

  33. Stu, I do not have arguments in petto or anywhere else to support the natural/actual distinction. I have no use for — no belief in — no stake in that distinction. As far as I can tell, neither John McIntyre nor any commenter here has any use for that distinction. I would join you in rejecting that distinction if it were available to reject.

    I’m feeling a little like Arthur “Two Sheds” Jackson here.

    But thank for adding the phrase “in petto” to my vocabulary.

  34. Nowadays people pay good money for cheesy, purple bread.

  35. Jonathan D says:

    I meant what Ø says he understood me to mean. I don’t think McIntyre was making an actual/natural distinction. The “natural language” and “actual English” are meant to refer to the same thing, whether that is through actual/natural used as synonyms, as Breffni suggests, or “natural language”/”English” as synonyms (in context), as I think.

  36. Thanks for the explanations, folks. I had already anticipated them in my original comment, where I wrote: “I would have thought that ‘actual’ and ‘natural’ should be more or less equivalent in this context.” I went on to reformulate MacIntyre’s characterization of how the journalists think. To make it more intelligible (to me, of course), I used the word “correct” instead of “natural”.

    I still feel that the word “natural” is unnecessarily distracting here. As empty wrote in response to my comment: ” I think that the word ‘natural’ is freighted with distracting associations, and that the sentence would have been clearer if it had said “it sounds right to you and actual English sounds wrong”.

    I have never encountered a prescriptivist (the role assigned here to the journalists, with their “imagined rules and standard practices”) who claimed that the ways he expected people to talk were “natural”. The claim is always that they are correct, in contrast to the ways people actually speak.

  37. I think McIntyre is claiming that it is second nature, that is, the prescribed rules have become automatic for these journalists. This is what’s happened to me with long-lived, for example. I grew up saying long-livved, but I taught myself to say long-lyved decades ago, and now that’s what automatically comes out; I’d have to exert myself to say long-livved now, so while it is first nature, it is against second nature.

  38. Des: what’s wromg with the subjective ?

  39. des von bladet says:

    Paul: English doesn’t have one, and as a speaker of British-English I don’t use it. But the “Ewww!” factor is mostly for the clumsification by delicately unsplit infinitive.

  40. John Cowan says:

    Actually, it’s the old present subjunctive (aka “subjunctive”) that BrE is losing (in favor of should + plain form) and AmE retains in mandative constructions. The old past subjunctive (aka “conditional”) is being lost from conditionals pretty uniformly in all varieties of English.

  41. Des: reading your link asbout there being no subjunctive in English, I lost the will to live when I reached “In the Syncretism analysis…”, and anyway, as I said before, I know nothing of the technicalities, so the whole article was more or less incomprehensible to me.

    Someone writing a Wiki piece thinks there is a subjunctive:

    “The subjunctive mood in English grammar includes particular verb forms that are used in certain clauses, chiefly dependent clauses, to express necessity, desire, purpose, suggestion and similar ideas, or a counterfactual condition.”

    and goes on to explain it, but presumably that entry needs to be axed.

    I was taught the subjunctive at school, I use it and I’ll stick with it …

  42. J. W. Brewer says:

    That “were” form is in active use in my own native variety of English, which, if it is no more normative than des’ variety is also no less so. It is traditionally called “subjunctive.” Geoff Pullum for reasons satisfactory to himself believes it would be advantageous to use innovative/alternative vocabulary to describe certain aspects of English syntax/morphology and, as part of that agenda, to stop using “subjunctive” to refer to this particular usage, but he has not yet persuaded the language community at large to follow his lead. It is not even clear to me if he has persuaded the tenured-linguistics-professor subset of Anglophones to follow his lead.

  43. J.W: Many thanks for the clarification.

  44. marie-lucie says:

    JWB, as far as I know, Geoff Pullum is one of those “tenured-linguistics-professors”.

  45. I think he means his fellow “tenured-linguistics-professors.”

  46. Paul, the post to which des linked doesn’t argue that there is no subjunctive; rather it discusses, in some detail and with some technical language, its actual various roles in English — actual as opposed to the outmoded ones you were taught in school. Now, I can understand not being up for all that detail and jargon; certainly everyone doesn’t need to learn it. The salient point, not even made but just assumed in that article, is that unlike Russian and Latin, for example, English is not a highly inflected language. Verbs and nouns take various forms in inflected languages, forms indicating the moods and cases of those verbs and nouns — moods and cases that then go a long way in determining the meaning of given sentences. I don’t know if you’ve ever studied Latin, but when you see a form indicating the subjunctive mood, you know to read the sentence entirely differently from how you otherwise would. The subjunctive has no comparable role in English, because English is not a highly inflected language. The meanings of our sentences are highly determined by word order and function words — prepositions, determinatives, etc. — which foreign speakers find as difficult to master as we do declensions and the like. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the subjunctive doesn’t actually indicate anything in English; it’s just a relic of our language once having been highly inflected — a relic that’s taken on *way* outsized significance because, for one thing, a couple centuries ago some misguided scholars took it upon themselves to impose Latin grammar onto the English language (something that makes no sense, if you’ve been paying attention) and, for another, because the efforts of those misguided scholars took the form of nonsense rules that people to this day refuse to question because they were taught them in school.**

    I was taught the subjunctive at school, I use it and I’ll stick with it …

    C’mon, you’re smarter than that. You don’t have to be a staunch advocate of the categorical imperative to see the problem with such an attitude. Of course you’re free to go on using the subjunctive form in the few vestigial constructions in which it still doesn’t jar; but to object to its inevitable desuetude — be it general or piecemeal (like in newspapers) — is just silly, especially once you know the history, which shows the preservation of the form to have nothing whatsoever to do with utility, let alone logic.

    **If I’ve gotten any details wrong or, worse, said anything downright misleading, please correct me: not only am I writing quickly, but it’s been a while since I read any linguistics.

  47. Jim: Who ruled that the subjunctive I was taught, at what was/is regarded as an excellent school, is “outmoded” ? Or is it just one of these things that “everyone knows” ?

    If my use of the subjunctive, and indeed its very existence, is so wrong, how come there are endless explanations on the web. One is here in BBC English lessons, a very well respected source of English teaching. In answer to questions from students, the BBC teacher explains at length what the subjunctive is and how it is used. He says throughout that it is a formal form, and gives the informal equivalent.

    Perhaps it is the formal aspect that attracts me. I find it elegant.

    (I hope I got the link structure right. LH pls correct if not !)

  48. Who ruled that the subjunctive I was taught, at what was/is regarded as an excellent school, is “outmoded” ? Or is it just one of these things that “everyone knows” ?

    Come on. You were also taught (I presume, since everyone was back in those days, including me) that the idea of continental drift was nonsense. I was taught that Reconstruction was a mistaken idea, proved wrong by the utter failure of black-dominated state governments. I was also taught ideas about the atom that are now quaint historical relics. You can’t possibly be suggesting that what you were taught in school is ipso facto the Truth, now and forever. As Jim said, the ideas we were taught about the subjunctive (and other such things) were holdovers from a day when English grammar was based on the (entirely irrelevant) structures of classical languages; once linguists realized that each language should be studied on its own terms, everything changed… but not in schools. So yes, “everyone knows” for values of “everyone” that include people who know anything about the findings of linguists over the last century-plus, which I am trying to spread more widely via this blog.

    Perhaps it is the formal aspect that attracts me. I find it elegant.

    And that’s fine! I think it’s elegant too, and I enjoy seeing it well used. Nobody’s asking you to stop using or liking it, just to stop thinking of it as a vital feature of English and that anyone who doesn’t use it, or doesn’t use it “correctly,” is Doing It Wrong.

  49. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the subjunctive doesn’t actually indicate anything in English

    Well (since you asked), actually it does. It’s true that the historic subjunctive that CGEL calls the conditional is an optional flourish nowadays: the only difference between If I was a chicken, I’d run around and squawk and If I were a chicken, I’d run around and squawk is that the first will make some people uncomfortable and the second will make other people uncomfortable in a different way.

    But for the vestigial subjunctive (the use of the plain form in fixed expressions) and the mandative subjunctive (the use of the plain form in subordinate clauses after certain verbs) it is possible to construct minimal pairs. God save the Queen is very different from God saves the queen, for example. (Note that fixed expressions are usually not fixed at every point, and may be less fixed than we think: we can equally well say God save the State of New York. Indeed so recent an author as T. H. White makes his Merlin say Castor and Pollux blow me to Bermuda, where every part of the “fixed” expression has been replaced, perhaps through an intermediate sentence like The devil damn me to hell.)

    As for the mandative subjunctive, it is alive and well in AmE, though mostly replaced in BrE by should plus the plain form. See this comment at Motivated Grammar for a list of 8 mandatives from British news sites: 3 of them use an AmE-ungrammatical indicative rather than the subjunctive, indicating that the Brits are losing control of the construction even in highly formal language, the last stage before it dies. As I pointed out further down that page, minimal pairs are rare because subjunctive vs. indicative is usually dictated by the controlling verb, but insist can take either: I insist that Martha tell the truth about John is a strong command to Martha via a third party, but I insist that Martha tells the truth about John is a strong claim about Martha’s habitual truthfulness in this respect.

  50. Nobody’s asking you to stop using or liking it, just to stop thinking of it as a vital feature of English and that anyone who doesn’t use it, or doesn’t use it “correctly,” is Doing It Wrong.

    I didn’t suggest anyone who doesn’t use it was wrong. I was simply responding to Des, whose comment above was:.

    (I would say “If it were gently to be suggested…”)

    Cheez, it’s bad enough that you would even write that, never mind saying it.

    ..which I thought – and still think – was a quite extraordinary remark. I am apparently guilty of using formal constructions sometimes.

    Well, I am also guilty of enjoying wearing a suit and a tie, when I think it is appropriate, or a dinner jacket (tuxedo) for that matter. I gather many people now think that is some sort of punishment …

  51. Oh, that! Des was just being snarky; don’t take it to heart. Also, as he explained, what he was objecting to was not your subjunctive but the ostentatious avoidance of a split infinitive. But that’s fine too — he wouldn’t do it, and I wouldn’t do it, but by gad if you want to do it (or wear a tuxedo), more power to you!

  52. J. W. Brewer says:

    Now do we get to peeve about people who call tuxedos dinner jackets as a pretentious affectation? (Um, I suppose unless they’re foreigners or something and it’s not a pretentious affectation in their native variety of English.)

  53. J. W. Brewer says:

    I’m not quite sure why jamessal says “inevitable desuetude.” Not much in human affairs is inevitable unless and until it actually happens. “The Future Is Unwritten,” as it says on the t-shirt I got at that Clash concert back in the day (um, conceivably before jamessal was born, come to think of it). Even if the trendline is against the “were” variant as old-fashioned and formal-sounding, trends do not always continue on the same track indefinitely and there might well be subcultures within the broader language community where a minority variant remains current for decades or generations.

  54. JW: Thanks for addressing the inevitable desuetude question. It was something I wanted to say but got sidetracked. (And it is dinner jacket in my current version of English, BrEng. When I was growing up in Oz, BTW, tuxedo meant specifically a white or coloured jacket, as distinct from usual black dinner jacket.)

  55. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the subjunctive doesn’t actually indicate anything in English

    Well (since you asked), actually it does.

    Thanks, John, for that lucid reminder. My overstatement owed to my mulling language in general with pop grammar’s obsession with the conditional subjunctive. I’m actually fond of the mandative subjunctive myself.

    Jim: Who ruled that the subjunctive I was taught, at what was/is regarded as an excellent school, is “outmoded” ? Or is it just one of these things that “everyone knows” ? If my use of the subjunctive, and indeed its very existence, is so wrong, how come there are endless explanations on the web. One is here in BBC English lessons, a very well respected source of English teaching.

    If the subjunctive described in the link is indeed your notion of the subjunctive — the one you were were taught at school — then, no, it’s not outmoded. In fact, we share an affinity for it. But the same teachers who espouse the inane restrictions on over that you do — to name but one of countless examples — also stress the importance of preserving the conditional subjunctive. You’ll forgive me for assuming your notion of the subjunctive fits as neatly in the outmoded prescriptivist canon as all the other rules and distinctions you’ve defended here — rules and distinctions you’ve claimed to have learned at school. Or, given your sudden touchiness about your school — a subject you brought up, in a phrase so general it could be taken for metonymic (“I learned it at school and I’m sticking with it,” school standing in for back when) — maybe you won’t.

  56. I’m not quite sure why jamessal says “inevitable desuetude.”

    Jamessal does: lack of sleep. “Possible desuetude” would have been better.

  57. I was shocked at the amount of jargon Geoff Pullum used in that article Des linked to. It makes much of it unreadable, and linguists are usually such good writers. I expect he had tenure at UC Santa Cruz in 2004 but I don’t think Scottish universities use the tenure system (don’t ask me what they use instead.)

  58. des von bladet says:

    AJP: that’s Arnold Zwicky’s article , and his jargon on a riff by GP. Top bloke, but he can go off on one now and, especially, then.

  59. John Cowan says:

    Academic tenure was abolished throughout the UK by the Education Reform Act 1988 for academics hired on or after November 20, 1987. Pullum was appointed at Edinburgh in the summer of 2007.

  60. marie-lucie says:

    Before he went to Edinburgh, he was on the faculty at UC Santa Cruz, where he taught from 1981 to 2007, quite long enough to be tenured there. Whatever his current position, I am sure he does not have to be jealous of tenured profs at other universities.

  61. Frans Koppenol says:

    When I was a young student of English Lit, we had to read a lot of prose by T.S. Eliot.
    I remember admiring him for his frequent use of constructions such as:
    “Whether this be true or not…”
    “…whether this writer be considered a great novelist…” and much more.

    {These particular examples I made up just now [[too lazy to go and find a book of Eliot's Essays to find actual quotations...]], but I’m quite sure they were there.
    For a while this greatly influenced the style of the papers I had to hand in to my teachers…)

    We also had grammar classes and I think this construction was indeed named “subjunctive”, but of that I’m not totally sure. Only later did I learn that in American English it was more usual than in in British English…
    -

  62. John Cowan says:

    That is indeed the subjunctive, and that is one of its old irrealis uses.

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