Category language

Archaic Idiom Least Likely to Return to Everyday Use

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Who Discovered America?

Columbus commonly gets credit for discovering America…At the time, however, the American continent was already populated. The Indians, we must assume, had discovered America long before anybody else ever got here! This is from a 1963 kids’ history book (Do You Know Who Did It? by Virginia Coigney*), and is fairly typical of how we […]

The Clickbait in Our Language

I. I asked my friends a little while ago collect racist Trump quotes. I got a lot of links, and of course they were all pretty horrible because saying horrible things is, along with going bankrupt and landing on his feet, Trump’s metier. But although Trump is clearly xenophobic and anti-Muslim, it’s hard to catch […]

Perscripshun and Descripshun Part 3 of 3

(Continued from here.) Prescription is in general a farce. Classic prescriptive rules such as “never end a sentence with a preposition” or “never split an infinitive” were notoriously just made up one day by Latinists who wanted to apply Latin rules to English. All language rules, even the ones you’ve internalized so they don’t feel […]

Prescription and Description Part 2 of 3

(Continued from here.) Language in an anarchic system that works, perhaps the only example we have of such a thing in this fallen world. Like one of Pynchon’s “anarchist miracles” it works, and has always worked, spontaneously, by common consent. Before there was such a thing as a grammarian or, for, most people, a grammar school, […]

Prescription and Description Part 1 of 3

If you want to find out what a word means, you go to the dictionary. But (as we’ve already established) there is no “the dictionary.” Any idiot can publish a dictionary, or, since only an idiot would publish a dictionary nowadays, any idiot can make a dictionary website. Scan in a public domain Webster’s and […]

Meaningless Tolerance

Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of women voting in New York, and of course this controversy now seems ludicrous, even in a Trump year. Do you support universal suffrage, as the banner to the right reads? Of course you do! Do you know anyone who doesn’t? Ah, but I have tricked you! Because […]

Ted Cruz Has Better Grammar Than You

“…offensive to Heidi and me…” If you would’ve said “to Heidi and I,” you have been defeated by Ted Cruz.  

Dirty Words III: The “R-word”

(continued from yesterday) What about the R-word? Surely this was not made up by twentieth-century scientists! Surely it has always been a word of hate! Half credit. Look, I know it’s dicey to talk about race, and there are corners of the internet where people have developed an extensive vocabulary designed to dictate who gets […]

Dirty Words II: The “r-word”

(continued from yesterday) There were some scientific (and pseudoscientific) studies of intelligence in the nineteenth century, but we should view the science of intelligence as primarily a twentieth-century phenomenon. Any nascent science needs a terminology, and naturally scientists at the beginning of that century had to come up with technical words to describe, among other things, […]