Archive for the 'Grammar Police' Category


Taking eggcorns for advantage

As far as eggcorns go, I admit that this is a stretch. In fact, it probably isn’t one at all. It’s probably better analyzed as some sort of idiom blend between formal aspects of “take X for granted” and meaningful aspects of “take advantage of X”. I first heard this while listening to parts of the Switchboard corpus, but in that case the speaker corrected himself.

A: It’s interesting, I really hadn’t given any thought at all to things like buttons and seams, but I guess I’ve just begun to take that for advantage that buttons are not going to be sewn on, I mean, took that for granted that buttons are not going to be sewn on very well.

A google search reveals a small number of attestations (below). These all seem to be paraphrasable with “take X for granted,” but with the restriction that what you are taking for granted is something positive, and something which “gives you an advantage” or which could potentially be (improperly) taken advantage of. Compare this with the possibility, probably only available in formal writing, of “take X for granted” meaning “assume” (e.g., From here on I will take it for granted that {Bi: i in I} is a partition, and rely on this in statement and proof of results.)

The big issue is that “granted” and “advantage” really don’t sound alike, except for the rhyme of the stressed syllable and following bit of the next syllable ([ant@]).

Put the energy to good use, but don’t take it for advantage and push the horse too hard too fast. (link)

Brandy: It’s pretty good. Some schools should have it because people talk a lot about people. I’m not sure exactly why but maybe if someone got to understand what someone else was going through every now and then, they wouldn’t take it for advantage but they would try to understand a person and actually reach out to them instead of hurt them. (link)

Always willing to lend a helping hand but dislike those who take it for advantage (link)

this movie is so awesome it makes me think how good we all have it and take it for advantage i like it even though it ends differently than the book its still way cool and all philosophical like ([link(http://www.gnovies.com/discussion/fight+club.html))

What a wonderful gift God has given to us and we take it for advantage everyday (link)

Treasure your friends and do not take them for advantage. (link)

More on counting people

Just over a year ago I wrote about Anderson Cooper’s description of America’s growing population. Seems it’s about time for me to do sort of the same thing, only with an ad I saw while over in Chicago for the annual meeting of my professional organization. On one of the L trains there was an advertisement for a new book, The Chicago “L”. The ad read something like,

Make a connection to the over 10 billion riders of the Chicago “L”

That was surprising. I thought the current population of the earth was around 6 billion! Anyway, it’s quite clear what is meant, namely that over 10 billion rides have been taken since the opening of the L in 1892, no doubt many involving repeat customers. Fair enough – but do different rides by the same individual require making a new connection with them for each new ride? Sure, some days the trip is special, but whatever connection this book lets me create with, say, Janice Smith going to work on June 3rd, 1985, will probably also work for her going to work on June 4th. Just a guess, of course.

Similarly strange is what is apparently on the blurb (from Amazon):

More than 10 billion people have ridden the “L,” which now carries half a million people a day over 222 miles of track.

Now, I’d like to claim that more than one thousand people read this blog, but somehow I think I would get called on it…

One interesting thing that came out of this was a little research I did into estimations not of the world’s current population, but of the sum total of humans who’ve ever lived. One estimate puts it at just over 100 billion. More than I would have guessed. And according to the same source, about 11 billion people were alive between 1900 and 2002. So hey, theoretically (maybe?) it’s possible that 10 billion individuals have ridden on the L.

I’d like to report a case of zeugma

I participate in a weekly syntax reading group (though my participation is decidedly less frequently than weekly). This semester our desired topics all ended up starting with the letter A: adverbials, argument structure, adjuncts. After several weeks of readings, we were reaching a point where we felt satisfied with our coverage of material, and were thinking about what to read for the next meeting. Someone suggested we should move on to the Bs, which immediately brought up binding, and so we moved on to the Cs (control? case?). Then someone suggested that we instead just go for the Zs, at which point the only possible suggestion was zeugma.

We then got sidetracked into a little discussion of exactly what zeugma was, and an example was brought up that was sited at a campus health facility. It went something like

Please do not place or take away anything in this box

Nice. This might actually be a good argument for undergraduate syntax students for seeing exactly why the structure of this sentence is…well, strange. And of course also an example of the sort of thing that, while unexpected if you’re a syntactician, is basically understandable (maybe we can find out how long the sign has been there, and how often its message is misunderstood).

The next step is, as someone suggested at the meeting, to call of the facility and say, “I’d like to report a very serious case of zeugma.”

[Yes, yes, this is not a typical case of "zeugma" as (I think) most linguists understand it; there isn't any lexical ambiguity with both meanings realized by different conjuncts, nor have two incompatible valences of a single verb been combined into a single clause. But I think we can expand our definitions a bit, can we not?]

Backwash with a week to go

Well, it’s crunch time at the summer camp. As GW put it, it feels like the whole institute is winding down…if you’re an instructor. If you’re a student, it’s time to get working, or reveal to your peers the fact that you’re a studious person and that you have everything under control. With that in mind, some randomness.

First: try to find an edited dictionary with a definition for the the everyday meaning of backwash. Maybe you’ll try harder than I did, and succeed. But, I do find this definition hilarious: a condition, usually undesirable, that continues long after the event which caused it. Yes, that is exactly what backwash is. I mention this because, on Stanford the other day, I passed a group of 60-something men and women, and one of the women said something like, “Can you believe her? She actually spit into the drink to keep me from having more! I look in and there’s backwash!” The reply came, “What? No, lies are being spread here!” It just sounded strange to hear “backwash” from someone with all white hair.

Second: as one of my (upper) classmates has said, “scratch a descriptivist, find a prescriptivist.” And it’s certainly true, especially if you do morphology, syntax, or semantics, that to notice the “cool” stuff, it really does help to have a strong idea about what is “right.” Just the other day, one of my (linguist) friends said (about some beverage or something) that’s my favorite drink I’ve ever had. Now, favorite is end-of-scale, I think, so it is similar in a broad way to superlatives, and so should be able to appear with ever. But, “intuitively” it shouldn’t. Or anyway, there’s something makes that use interesting to examine.

Finally: recently I met up with The Tensor and Polyglot Conspiracy for lunch – very cool. In fact, several secretive blogger meetings (including also the proprietress of Anggarrgoon have been held in wide-open public areas. The results will either soon or never be made public.

No, yeah

Last night I was walking home from dinner with a friend of mine, and we passed by the building where we work together. He was heading up to do some work, but I was just going to go home. My friend asked me if I would be going up for a bit, to which I replied,

No, yep. (I have some homework to do)

(I meant to say the stuff in the parentheses, but I got something caught in my throat so it never actually got vocalized.)

Now, coincidentally, me and this friend of mine have been wondering casually about exactly what the phrase yeah, no means. We hadn’t realized that “no, yeah” was also possible. Being the form-conscious linguist that I am, I immediately started introspecting to figure out why I said no, yeah. The first answer I came up with was an attempt to work it into our current hypotheses about yeah, no, namely that the first interjection is the “actual” response, while the second is a response to a sort of implicit, opposing viewpoint. This would come out to me conveying “no I’m not going up, and yes (oh implicit opposing viewpoint) it is true that I am not going up.”

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In as regarding as to

A rare entry in the “grammar police” category, though it’s really more a case of frustration than disdain over “creative” langauge use.

The noun and verb regard and the preposition (say) regarding all have to do with topicality, i.e., having-to-do-with-something-ness. They like to appear with prepositions like as, in, and with For instance,

  • My letter regards the recent events in northern Canada. (main verb)
  • I now present several opinions as regards Canadian politics. (finite verb with as, fills topic role of opinion)
  • It seems like no one has any awareness as regarding the importance of bilingual education. (-ing verb with as, fills topic role of awareness)
  • Will she surpass her father with regard to success in the business world? (noun with with, fills domain role of surpass)
  • Does anyone have thoughts in regards to the recent Canadian election? (plural noun with in, fills topic role of thoughts; yes, I think this construction is a bit odd)

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LMAO out, LOMA in

Over at Language Log, Mark Liberman has posted on a particular comment in a thread in the WordReference forums called Help with prepositions!. The thread begins with a request for native speakers to provide judgments on several sentences, each of which has what some might call a sentence-level construction, marking them as exclamations (what a nice place you live in) or questions. All of the predicators take PPs (of various semantic obligatoriness), and the question is when is it okay to ’strand’ the preposition.

The LL post already highlights some, say, interesting (coughlamecough) comments made by a strong advocate for pied-piping. But there are some other gems from both sides side of the fence. Herein, some of them to you I present.

That rule is a vestige of what is known as prescriptive grammar. The last 4 decades have produced a more scientifically oriented grammar known as descriptive grammar. (post)

Nice hedging on exactly how “scientific” descriptive grammar is.

When speaking, it would probably be best to use [p-stranding] as opposed to [pied-piping], which is technically more correct. If someone [didn't strand their preposition], most English speakers would actually think it sounds stupid, and thus wrong. It’s just bad grammar; it leaves the sentence “hanging”.(post)

“This is a great place you live in” “…in what? Don’t leave me hanging!” “…uh…”

There seems to be a suggestion creeping in here that an eccentric-sounding preposition coming first is more formal = better = a sign of a well-educated person. To me, it suggests exactly the opposite. Good communicators will not contort the sentence just to follow a supposed rule. If the preposition at the end bothers them, or if they think it may bother their audience, they will change the sentence. (post)

Hmm…the conclusion, I can agree with. But as for the relation to level of education, I’m skeptical.

he grammarians’ ship is going down! Someone throw them a life raft. The sun is coming up. Up is coming the sun. ? (post)

Nice rhetoric, but unfortunately in the ‘rise’ sense, this is likely the adverb. Unless the sun is coming up something. Creepy. And in response to similar prescriptive-bashing (though with V-particle examples):

LMAO, or should that be LOMA??!! (post)

Brilliant, I say. And finally, 60 posts later, the original poster adds some words of wisdom from the CGEL

Some rule’s have uncertain origin

Starting a few months ago me and my friend Klinton started wondering if there was any pattern in the placing of so-called extraneous apostrophes. For whatever reason stores seemed to want to advertise pizza’s and pasta’s instead of pizzas and pastas, and there were car’s and even truck’s all over. Klinton first suggested a “place an apostrophe after words ending in vowels” rule, and this indeed seemed to be a very common occurance, though of course there was no shortage of counter examples. Then Klinton found several websites that specifically discouraged this use, some even calling them fake “rules.” For instance,

Mark says … it is common opinion that words ending in vowels take an apostrophe when plural. This is wrong. This editorial style guide from the M&D Department at Sheffield Hallam U. has Beware of unnecessary apostrophes in the plural forms of words ending in vowels. Refer to Chambers Dictionary when in doubt. Finally, the grammar monster remarks on the common (mis)use of the apostrophe after words that end in vowels or in the letter s, though there is no mention of any “rule” to that effect.

Unfortunately, no one makes any reference to usage manuals that actually contain this rule. The above-mentioned Chambers Dictionary has an online version here, but the usage entry for “apostrophe” didn’t mention incorrect usages explicitly, except to note that they’re no longer obligatory in “clipped” forms like bus, plane, and phone. Well, I am quite sure that the rest of the volume is quite honest in usage advising, this author must object to such permissive sentiments. Dropping the apostrophe in ‘bus, indeed. I, for one, am appalled.

But seriously, if anyone has any idea about where this rule came from, or has a pointer to any paper- or e-published material that specifically advocates it, I’d be glad to hear about it.