English language peeves

Talk about things that are not necessarily related to music or the guitar.
wchymeus
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Re: English language peeves

Post by wchymeus » Wed Sep 20, 2017 6:10 am

Always better than solutions looking after a problem (often the case with startups)
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60moo
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Re: English language peeves

Post by 60moo » Fri Sep 22, 2017 5:32 pm

Some people (football commentators) confuse 'number' with 'amount' e.g. The star forward kicked a huge amount of goals last season.

Others (not football commentators) will confuse 'effect' with 'affect' e.g. The 'flu effected more people than usual this winter.

I reserve my greatest contempt for an otherwise extraordinarily capable ex-employee, who strangely insisted that possessive case apostrophes are an anachronism, there simply being no grammatical need. :roll:

wchymeus
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Re: English language peeves

Post by wchymeus » Sat Sep 23, 2017 5:54 am

More subtle sometimes is the difference between "generate" and "create". Obviously you don't "generate a cake" but with software you sometimes don't really know which one is best (say for a button label) and you end up using "make" ...
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hpaulj
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Re: English language peeves

Post by hpaulj » Sat Sep 23, 2017 6:52 am

Software, like any new technology, is has lots of new or invented terminology. You can't appeal to 200 years of language tradition. Some words and usage are invented from scratch, others are based on analogs to older usages. My first introduction to computers and digital electronics was with basic integrated circuits called nand or nor gates and flip-flops.

Rasputin
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Re: English language peeves

Post by Rasputin » Sat Sep 23, 2017 12:29 pm

60moo wrote:
Fri Sep 22, 2017 5:32 pm
I reserve my greatest contempt for an otherwise extraordinarily capable ex-employee, who strangely insisted that possessive case apostrophes are an anachronism, there simply being no grammatical need. :roll:
You realise that plenty of serious linguists have argued that the possessive apostrophe serves no purpose? A 19th century writer - possibly George Bernard Shaw - dropped them on basically the same grounds.

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Evocacion
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Re: English language peeves

Post by Evocacion » Sat Sep 23, 2017 2:14 pm

Rasputin wrote:
Sat Sep 23, 2017 12:29 pm
60moo wrote:
Fri Sep 22, 2017 5:32 pm
I reserve my greatest contempt for an otherwise extraordinarily capable ex-employee, who strangely insisted that possessive case apostrophes are an anachronism, there simply being no grammatical need. :roll:
You realise that plenty of serious linguists have argued that the possessive apostrophe serves no purpose? A 19th century writer - possibly George Bernard Shaw - dropped them on basically the same grounds.
GBS had number of odd beliefs and habits - see the article on Wikipedia for details. He called vaccination "a peculiarly filthy piece of witchcraft". He claimed that he despised Shakespeare. He admired both Stalin and Hitler. As for his views on English, this is a quote from the Wikipedia article:
"In one area at least Shaw was constant: in his lifelong refusal to follow normal English forms of spelling and punctuation. He favoured archaic spellings such as "shew" for "show"; he dropped the "u" in words like "honour" and "favour"; and wherever possible he rejected the apostrophe in contractions such as "won't" or "that's". In his will, Shaw ordered that, after some specified legacies, his remaining assets were to form a trust to pay for fundamental reform of the English alphabet into a phonetic version of forty letters."

I, for one, am very glad that didn't happen!

If you ever visit his house at Ayot St Lawrence, by the way, make sure you also visit the pub opposite; it is excellent.

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60moo
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Re: English language peeves

Post by 60moo » Sat Sep 23, 2017 3:38 pm

What makes my illustrious* employee's position even more absurd, is that her first name was 'Chris' - and it shouldn't take too much imagination to see where her argument was heading! Consider something that Chris had owned - her bicycle, for example. Is it correctly spelt:

(i) Chris' bike
(ii) Chris's bike
(iii) Chris bike; or
(iv) Chriss bike?

Although some would argue (i), I would say (ii) is the correct form. But (iii) or (iv)? Ridiculous, because the bike - going by her logic - could equally belong to persons going by the names of Chri or Chriss.



*(Not being sarcastic here at all, because she was quite brilliant (A++) in performing her managerial role)

Rasputin
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Re: English language peeves

Post by Rasputin » Sat Sep 23, 2017 4:53 pm

Evocacion wrote:
Sat Sep 23, 2017 2:14 pm
Rasputin wrote:
Sat Sep 23, 2017 12:29 pm
60moo wrote:
Fri Sep 22, 2017 5:32 pm
I reserve my greatest contempt for an otherwise extraordinarily capable ex-employee, who strangely insisted that possessive case apostrophes are an anachronism, there simply being no grammatical need. :roll:
You realise that plenty of serious linguists have argued that the possessive apostrophe serves no purpose? A 19th century writer - possibly George Bernard Shaw - dropped them on basically the same grounds.
GBS had number of odd beliefs and habits - see the article on Wikipedia for details. He called vaccination "a peculiarly filthy piece of witchcraft". He claimed that he despised Shakespeare. He admired both Stalin and Hitler. As for his views on English, this is a quote from the Wikipedia article:
"In one area at least Shaw was constant: in his lifelong refusal to follow normal English forms of spelling and punctuation. He favoured archaic spellings such as "shew" for "show"; he dropped the "u" in words like "honour" and "favour"; and wherever possible he rejected the apostrophe in contractions such as "won't" or "that's". In his will, Shaw ordered that, after some specified legacies, his remaining assets were to form a trust to pay for fundamental reform of the English alphabet into a phonetic version of forty letters."

I, for one, am very glad that didn't happen!
Yes, me too. I should have left it at 'serious linguists' (by which I didn't mean GBS - he was just a bonus). If we are trusting Wikipedia, it also says:

Over the years, the use of apostrophes has been criticised. George Bernard Shaw called them "uncouth bacilli". In his book American Speech, linguist Steven Byington stated of the apostrophe that "the language would be none the worse for its abolition." Adrian Room in his English Journal article "Axing the Apostrophe" argued that apostrophes are unnecessary and context will resolve any ambiguity. In a letter to the English Journal, Peter Brodie stated that apostrophes are "largely decorative...[and] rarely clarify meaning". Dr. John C. Wells, Emeritus Professor of Phonetics at University College London, says the apostrophe is "a waste of time".
60moo wrote:
Sat Sep 23, 2017 3:38 pm
What makes my illustrious* employee's position even more absurd, is that her first name was 'Chris' - and it shouldn't take too much imagination to see where her argument was heading! Consider something that Chris had owned - her bicycle, for example. Is it correctly spelt:

(i) Chris' bike
(ii) Chris's bike
(iii) Chris bike; or
(iv) Chriss bike?

Although some would argue (i), I would say (ii) is the correct form. But (iii) or (iv)? Ridiculous, because the bike - going by her logic - could equally belong to persons going by the names of Chri or Chriss.
I wouldn't call it ridiculous.

The apparent problem knowing the spelling of the name is just down to the fact that you have left the details of the system you are attacking vague. I think you have to tell us the details before you can say that it wouldn't work. Assuming that, along with the apostrophes themselves, it would jettison the inconsistently-followed rule that where you are adding a possessive apostrophe to a word which already ends in an s, you don't add another s, the answer would be (iv), and it would be perfectly clear to anyone using it that the spelling of the person's name was Chris.

I am not saying that we should get rid of apostrophes, BTW, just that the argument is not deserving of the contempt you heaped on it - I think playfully - in your first post, and that it's not at all surprising that your star employee should have bought into it.

We have no apostrophes in spoken language and we are still able to figure out whose bike is whose. I can see that the potential ambiguities may be slightly different in written language but I think genuine difficulties would be few and far between.

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60moo
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Re: English language peeves

Post by 60moo » Sun Sep 24, 2017 3:42 am

Rasputin wrote:
Sat Sep 23, 2017 4:53 pm
We have no apostrophes in spoken language and we are still able to figure out whose bike is whose. I can see that the potential ambiguities may be slightly different in written language but I think genuine difficulties would be few and far between....
....which would be resolved by correct use of the apostrophe!

I once drove behind a tour coach here in Adelaide, with the name "Des's Minibus Tours" proudly emblazoned on the back, also being the first time that I'd come across this particular bus company. There was no context for me here, yet it would be obvious to anyone that this title implied that the bus company belongs to a gentleman going by the name of Des.

Remove the apostrophe, and now we're in trouble. "Dess" could imply either of the names "Des" (one's first name), "Dess" (one's surname) - both possessives - or even act as a noun (e.g. as in a locale; or company name [much as in Princess Tours]). Which is it?

My opinion of my wonderful employee stands!

Rasputin
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Re: English language peeves

Post by Rasputin » Sun Sep 24, 2017 4:38 am

Sure, that's a genuine ambiguity - but one example doesn't show that genuine difficulties would not be few and far between.

I don't think there's any danger of the apostrophe disappearing. I am not sure whether the angst of not knowing whether or not a bus company belongs to a bloke called Des is worse than the irritation of the errors which abound, or (from the point of view of the many people who struggle with apostrophes) the frustration and embarrassment of not knowing where to put them. I think it's legitimate for a system of orthography to aim to be user friendly - it's easy for people who have no trouble with apostrophes to be scornful, but if it is really too hard for others, that's not fair.

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60moo
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Re: English language peeves

Post by 60moo » Sun Sep 24, 2017 5:35 am

Rasputin wrote:
Sun Sep 24, 2017 4:38 am
I think it's legitimate for a system of orthography to aim to be user friendly - it's easy for people who have no trouble with apostrophes to be scornful, but if it is really too hard for others, that's not fair.
The question of scorn and fairness is interesting. Circumstances are crucial in this regard. Operating in the field of education, I believe it is absolutely imperative for our business to maintain high standards in all written communications to our customers. Why would a parent entrust us with their child's education, if my teachers should so prove themselves to be grammatically challenged?

On the other hand, an in-house staff-to-staff written communication only needs to convey one's intent. The nature (and expectations) of the recipient now differ from the former example. Although both cases differ, I think the underlying requirement is that the communication be both user friendly and recipient friendly. For the former, sticking to grammatical convention is expected.

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Re: English language peeves

Post by Rasputin » Sun Sep 24, 2017 7:01 am

60moo wrote:
Sun Sep 24, 2017 5:35 am
Although both cases differ, I think the underlying requirement is that the communication be both user friendly and recipient friendly.
I agree, although the way I'd put it is that the reader is as much a user of the system as the writer.
For the former, sticking to grammatical convention is expected.
I agree with that too, but I don't think it has any bearing on whether we should change grammatical convention by abolishing the apostrophe (assuming of course that we could).

A related problem is that very often you don't really know who you are writing for, or what their linguistic foibles may be. The vast majority of the peeves in this thread are totally spurious in my not very humble opinion, which goes to show that your English is always in danger of being misjudged. Every spurious peeve is a trap for the unwary, as the song goes. You have to write so conservatively to avoid all of them that the final product cannot possibly be your best writing, even if you are trying to impress as in the case of a job application or letter to parents. I think it's usually better to be conservative in that sort of situation, but I would not equate that with setting high standards, any more than a requirement to move only in a manner approved by the Ministry of Silly Walks would amount to setting high standards. So while I agree that there is a time to be conservative, I also think that we should take every opportunity to write well while breaking rules that are believed to exist but don't really, and even rules that do exist but shouldn't. The way I see it, it's not so much a case of a lower standard applying to the internal communication, as a case of being able to take off the straitjacket in order to move more naturally and gracefully.

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lagartija
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Re: English language peeves

Post by lagartija » Sun Sep 24, 2017 6:05 pm

The main function of language is communication. Whether you follow every grammatical rule or not, you must take into account any ambiguities in your speech or writing for proper communication to occur. In speech, the listener can ask questions to clarify the meaning. This is not the case in writing. When I am writing and create a sentence which could be understood in two ways, I alter it. I might choose different words, rearrange the clauses, or break the sentence into two smaller, clearer sentences. I do not agree that following "the rules" puts a straight jacket on creativity. Conventions in spelling and grammar allow us to have common ground in our communications with each other.

Like it or not, your knowledge of language and its conventions is used to judge your level of education and ability to communicate effectively with others. If you are applying for a job where you would be expected to communicate with others, then your cover letter and resume becomes the sample representing your skill.

If I am considering whether or not to interview someone for a job, and their cover letter and resume contain errors that show poor language skills, I might not call them for an interview if the job requires good language skills. It means that they are unable or unwilling to proofread their own work, look up things they might not know or care enough to have someone check their work. It means they "don't know what they don't know".
Do I make mistakes? Sure! Everyone makes mistakes. I make more errors in verbal communication than in written communication, as most people do.
I always kept a dictionary/thesaurus on my desk and tried to be as precise and clear as I could in my writing so as to make the reader's job easy. To make up my own rules about spelling and grammar would not be seen as "creativity", it would have been unprofessional. The rules and conventions of a language exist for a reason, and that reason is unambiguous communication.
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Rasputin
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Re: English language peeves

Post by Rasputin » Sun Sep 24, 2017 8:07 pm

lagartija wrote:
Sun Sep 24, 2017 6:05 pm
The main function of language is communication. Whether you follow every grammatical rule or not, you must take into account any ambiguities in your speech or writing for proper communication to occur. In speech, the listener can ask questions to clarify the meaning. This is not the case in writing. When I am writing and create a sentence which could be understood in two ways, I alter it. I might choose different words, rearrange the clauses, or break the sentence into two smaller, clearer sentences. I do not agree that following "the rules" puts a straight jacket on creativity.
Not what I said... I said that when we can, we should take off the straitjacket of rules are believed to exist but don't really, and even rules that do exist but shouldn't. I didn't say that we should ditch all the rules and go around naked.
Like it or not, your knowledge of language and its conventions is used to judge your level of education and ability to communicate effectively with others. If you are applying for a job where you would be expected to communicate with others, then your cover letter and resume becomes the sample representing your skill.
Yes, and it will be judged according to the recipient's understanding of the rules, which is why it is important be very conservative in this kind of situation, as I said. It could even be that you have to make deliberate errors sometimes to avoid being harshly judged. Imagine I was applying to you for a job and needed to use the word 'straitjacket'...
To make up my own rules about spelling and grammar would not be seen as "creativity", it would have been unprofessional.
Yes. Also, no-one would have known what you meant.
The rules and conventions of a language exist for a reason, and that reason is unambiguous communication.
You seem to be reasoning from the fact that unambiguous communication requires rules and conventions to the conclusion that all existing rules and conventions actually serve that purpose, but if so, that's false logic. The rules and conventions that do exist have not been designed by some infallible linguist - they have developed organically over a very long time. What I was saying is that if we care about our language it is important to tend the garden a bit and play our part in getting rid of the weeds and the dead wood. That doesn't mean torching it. In any case, many of the rules and conventions discussed in this thread don't really exist at all - they are perceived to exist by a substantial number but are not recognised in grammars or style guides. If we are conscientious gardeners we should be trying - except in the rare case where the made-up rule would actually be a good thing - to prevent these from taking root. Call out spurious peeves!

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Erik Zurcher
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Re: English language peeves

Post by Erik Zurcher » Sun Sep 24, 2017 9:02 pm

"Life is all about knowing the rules... and when to break them!"

Poets are known to do that sometimes and enrich language.
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