Here’s the second paragraph of a NY Times Magazine article by Rob Hoerburger about singer Shelby Lynne:

“Do you know the difference between the words ‘bringing’ and ‘taking’?” she practically whispered into my sleeve, as if not to embarrass me. “Because you just used one of them incorrectly.” I do know the difference, and though I couldn’t remember what I said, I agreed with her anyway, dizzied by the sudden altitude of the conversation. Lynne then proceeded to conduct a sobering mini-symposium on grammar: subjective and objective cases; “begging” versus “raising” the question; parts of speech. “It’s all about using the proper pronouns,” she asserted with the calm authority of a linguistics maven promoting her latest book on NPR.

Needless to say, I rolled my eyes at the alleged “grammar,” but hey, Ms. Lynne is just parroting what she’s learned from people she respects, and I have no beef with her. No, it was the “linguistics maven” that got my goat. Listen up, Rob Hoerburger: those people are “grammar mavens.” The main NPR linguistics maven is Geoff Nunberg, and he doesn’t go around babbling about “‘begging’ versus ‘raising’ the question” and “using the proper pronouns,” because that’s not what linguistics is about. Why is this so hard to understand?


  1. I love it when you get all stern!
    (In all honesty, thoroughly enjoy the blog, always something interesting to read.)

  2. I thought “bringing” when you mean “taking” was standard New England usage? Caught me off guard when I first moved there….

  3. marie-lucie says

    Real linguists would never tell you that you used some word “incorrectly” or that you had to use the “proper” anything. If inclined to comment on your speech, they would be more likely to say “it’s interesting the way you said ‘bring …’ – where I come from we would say ‘take …'”, or otherwise phrase their remark in a way that would not imply that you were a hillbilly or an ignoramus, as Ms. Lynne made her interviewer feel.
    Pica, could you give some examples?

  4. No, no, Language Hat, “linguistics” means whatever these people use it to mean – you are indulging in prescriptivism, that great linguistic sin.

  5. Ack! Hoist by my own petard!

  6. Does Nunberg look good in a skimpy outfit? Was he hardened by the murder-suicide of his parents, or by any hardening event of comparable magnitude? Has he ever been described as either “gnarly” or “volatile”?
    I thought not. I say, Shelby Lynne all the way!

  7. Pica: also Hiberno-English.

  8. Ack! Hoist by my own petard!
    A pedantaster would point out here that it’s hoist with, and petar if we are to follow Q2 (which we are not to). But the skill’d enginer may ignore such quibblets.

  9. I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

  10. And why “hoist”? For decades I thought a “petard” was some kind of crane-, derrick- or gallows-type hoisting device. But no, it’s a bomb, from French pet, meaning something like “superfart”.
    This particular misunderstanding of mine is not Hat’s problem, however. Just saying.

  11. Hoist is here the past participle of the archaic verb hoise ‘raise (aloft).’ OED:
    hoist with his own petard (Shakes.): Blown into the air by his own bomb; hence, injured or destroyed by his own device for the ruin of others.

  12. When derricks replaced petards, the construction process presumably became more efficient.

  13. But less fun.

  14. marie-lucie says

    un pétard is not exactly a bomb – perhaps a mini-bomb: it’s a firecracker.

  15. something like Le Pétomane?

  16. When the derrick replaced the petard, construction finally gained the advantage over destruction. The Rise of the West dates from this moment.

  17. I think if you write a book No More Petards: The Rise of the Derrick and the Rise of the West you could have a best-seller on your hands.

  18. “Needless to say, I _rolled my eyes_ at the alleged “grammar,” but _hey_, Ms. Lynne is just _parroting_ what she’s learned from people she respects, and I have no _beef_ with her.”
    What’s this? A linguist re-calling physical and animal terms for the abstract words he can’t remember?
    Perhaps you intended to show us how certain current abstract words derived from real, old physical terms.
    But, if you were just being thoughtless, and didn’t, I’ll still thank you for bringing this idea back, subliminally.

  19. Did you guys catch the recent Dan Savage call-in show in which a caller talked about his girlfriend’s grammar fetish? That what turned her on was for him to use poor English while they were in the sack together, so she could correct him. I will try and find the link.

  20. Hear! Hear! Hat Man. The question I would beg to raise up would be, “Who IN the hell is this grammarian warbler? I ain’t never heard of her.” In fact, I have another question, “Who IN the holiest of the foulest hells is ROB Hoerburger? My God, the pronouns that name brings up in my dizzied, objective, grammarian brain…and raises a few of my subjective eyebrows, too.
    Ur fiend,

  21. Thanks, Jamessal! It is episode 64 — the grammar call starts about 31 minutes in.

  22. Shelby Lynne can correct my grammar any time. I envisage some form of strip prescriptivism.

  23. Like, whoever uses “who” when “whom” is correct has to remove one piece, “was” where “were” is called for, two pieces?

  24. David Marjanović says

    No, no, Language Hat, “linguistics” means whatever these people use it to mean – you are indulging in prescriptivism, that great linguistic sin.

    Nope. Insider jargon actually has been invented with a purpose. It does not belong to everyone. To it, prescriptivism applies. :-Þ :-Þ :-Þ <labiolingual trill>

  25. Jeremy, I hope to stack the prescriptivist cards against her by finding obscure rules.

  26. “Nope. Insider jargon actually has been invented with a purpose. It does not belong to everyone. To it, prescriptivism applies.”
    That’s a very orderly distinction, but I’m not sure about it. If “linguistics” ever became a popular term understood by most people to mean “anything having anything to do with grammar,” then (no matter what it was invented for) I think you’d have to accept Hoerburger’s usage as legitimate (if not the most erudite). The thing is, it hasn’t reached that point — the only people using the term in that sense are journalists and the like grasping for authority in technical terms they don’t understand — and Steve’s argument, I think, was that journalists should know better than to use technical terms they don’t understand (which, of course, they should).

  27. Which, come to think of it, is your exact point, since as of now it’s still insider jargon. One of us just said it in fewer words.

Speak Your Mind