Join 3,556 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)

Facts do not respect majority opinion.
May 30, 2008 3:56 AM   Subscribe

Please resist the urge to "vote" your opinion in response to a question that has a definitive factual answer.

And the one-word answers are almost are bad. Please give reasons, or don't speak at all. And please don't respond with "the original questioner asked how do you pronounce..." This is clearly an acceptable alternative to "how should one pronouce..." and not an invitation to have a turn with the opinion scattergun. It was a good question with a handful of good answers, but an awful lot of noise.
posted by nthdegx to Etiquette/Policy at 3:56 AM (158 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

Facts do not respect majority opinion.

Reading and writing conventions (one of which is the subject of the question) do respect or at least evolve from majority "opinion" or usage.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:00 AM on May 30, 2008 [5 favorites]


the original questioner asked how do you pronounce...
posted by Greg Nog at 4:04 AM on May 30, 2008 [8 favorites]


This is clearly an acceptable alternative to "how should one pronouce..." [citation needed]
posted by burnmp3s at 4:24 AM on May 30, 2008 [4 favorites]


Once the avalanche of people putting their 2 cents in starts, facts go out the window (read: your callout won't change anything).

I think Languagehat's answer is authoritative enough that most linguistically savvy individuals perusing that thread will understand it as the best one. The non-savvy individuals will probably mangle the language anyway.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:25 AM on May 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


Reading and writing conventions (one of which is the subject of the question) do respect or at least evolve from majority "opinion" or usage.

Even if I wanted to get into this debate, it is relevant only to this question. The problem I'm reporting occurs beyond the example given, and is not limited to English usage.
posted by nthdegx at 4:28 AM on May 30, 2008


There are many resources on the web for answering pronunciation questions, some with audio, so the correct snarky response in the thread would be a link.

Please resist the urge to bring it to MetaTalk.
posted by theora55 at 4:31 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Once the avalanche of people putting their 2 cents in starts, facts go out the window...

And then, of course, an avalanche of opinions comes innuendo. [citation needed]
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:40 AM on May 30, 2008


You want a citation? I gotcher citation right here.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:43 AM on May 30, 2008


It's actually pronounced "thrigh-haghakk", but most people mung it up because of the deceptive spelling.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:45 AM on May 30, 2008 [4 favorites]


The problem I'm reporting occurs beyond the example given, and is not limited to English usage.

That both descriptive and prescriptive approaches coexist to answer questions in linguistics is not really a matter of debate, though the legitimacy of either approach is a matter of opinion.

If you're calling out the thread in question, then, as language is a dynamic of usage and convention, it is therefore possible to provide different, even seemingly contradictory answers about usage that are all, to a contextual degree, correct.

That an answer is one word or many seems completely irrelevant if the answer is, in its way, correct — even if the answers seem to you to be of the "me, too" variety. In the context of answering a language usage question, a short answer is perfectly acceptable, if succinct.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:50 AM on May 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


I vote there were too many answers in that AskMe, many of them ill-informed (read: lame), and this MeTa will quickly fill up more of the same (read: boring).
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 4:51 AM on May 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


"In the context of answering a language usage question, a short answer is perfectly acceptable, if succinct."

No, it isn't, because when someone arrives with a contrary answer with a similar lack of support, we're nowhere.
posted by nthdegx at 4:54 AM on May 30, 2008


It's not like we're talking about quantum chromodynamics, relativistic frame-dragging, or semiconductor nanolithography here. This is kinda a squishy topic (English grammar and pronunciation).
posted by sdodd at 4:56 AM on May 30, 2008


Too long; didn't red.
posted by flabdablet at 4:58 AM on May 30, 2008 [15 favorites]


While the OP did ask how do "you" pronounce a word, opening up the can of worms, nthdegx is correct that one shouldn't guess. There are plenty of people with expertise in the topic (read: languagehat) who can give an answer without resorting to giving a Steven C. Den Beste guess. As nthdegx points out this is an issue that occurs in many other AskMe threads, and this is just the latest example.

I think Languagehat's answer is authoritative enough that most linguistically savvy individuals perusing that thread will understand it as the best one

Personally, I found languagehat's comment to be the more confusing answer (as others pointed out in the thread) even if it was one of the better replies. The problem, as I saw it, was his answer came with a reprimand for another user who answered differently. One's answer should stand alone. Let the OP decide and mark best answers. The cream rises to the top.

Also, not everyone who uses AskMe knows everything about every other user on the site. A person's username does not automatically make them an expert. The Firefox greasemonkey script identifying those users who are librarians makes for a very quick visual cue that a particular user's answer can be relied upon. Unless there is a way to accurately identify a user's expertise in a particular field, it is not really accurate to assume that all users will know, for example, that Mr. Hat can be relied upon to give a very good answer in the area of English language usage.

I doubt any of this makes sense. It is early and I have no coffee. *sniff*
posted by terrapin at 5:01 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


I vote that someone is pretty cranky and needs a nap.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:14 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Firefox greasemonkey script identifying those users who are librarians makes for a very quick visual cue that a particular user's answer can be relied upon.

WTF? Person X is a librarian, so therefore they must be qualified to answer my question to how to build a weeping wall in my customer's home? It boggles the mind.
posted by fixedgear at 5:27 AM on May 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


At least they were actually answering the question that was asked, albeit poorly in many cases. By the way, does anyone know the proper pronunciation for "albeit?"
posted by TedW at 5:29 AM on May 30, 2008


Google does.
posted by flabdablet at 5:38 AM on May 30, 2008


TedW: http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=albeit

However, if you say "all-bite," I'll won't insult you. :-)

This brings up another question: can you imagine a thread on "tomato"?
posted by trig at 5:41 AM on May 30, 2008


can you imagine a thread on "tomato"?

We'd have to call the whole thing off.
posted by fixedgear at 5:46 AM on May 30, 2008 [20 favorites]


Where is the Firefox script for identifying which users are lesbians? I'm asking for a friend.
posted by Eideteker at 5:52 AM on May 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


can you imagine a thread on "tomato"?

I'd remove the thread before I ate it.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:52 AM on May 30, 2008


At least they were actually answering the question that was asked, albeit poorly in many cases. By the way, does anyone know the proper pronunciation for "albeit?"

Yes. "All-be-it".

See, this annoys me slightly. People complain when AskMe's are posted that garner nebulous responses, or when the questions themselves are nebulous. And then other people complain when specific questions are asked, and people give specific answers. It's like, go fuck yourself and stop complaining about shit and let me fix you a martini.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:59 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


What we now spell "heaven" was, back then, heofon, heofen, and heofne. "Evil" was yfle, yfel and yfele. "Forgive" was forgif, forgef and forgeaf.

In light of the constant progression of language, while I don't mind the correct answer, the chastising of those who have the "wrong" answer seems silly. Majority opinion seems to become fact many times, in the case of language.
posted by cashman at 6:02 AM on May 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


Cthulhu f'taghn, Meatbomb. Cthulhu f'taghn.
posted by Mister_A at 6:06 AM on May 30, 2008


The Firefox greasemonkey script identifying those users who are librarians makes for a very quick visual cue that a particular user's answer can be relied upon.

Thankfully, since MY greasemonkey script flagged you as "gardener" I am able to ignore this misguided advice.
posted by dirtdirt at 6:10 AM on May 30, 2008


Plate of Beans (read: "red"). It wasn't a beanplate until after a few well-explained and supported answers, at which point people just started popping in and saying reed, red, reed, red, fish, cow, isaywhatiWANTandyoucan'tstopme, &c., with no reason other than "it's how I do it." Whether descriptive or prescriptive, one ought to provide some compelling reason for their particular usage.

Otherwize it's a gotdam eggcorn fite.

It's "reed."

And that's that.
posted by exlotuseater at 6:11 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've just invaded Grammar Czechoslovakia and duped Grammar Neville Chamberlain, and now it's on to Grammar Poland and Grammar World Conquest!!
posted by Wolfdog at 6:12 AM on May 30, 2008


I've said it before and I'll say it again. I just love it when languagehat lays some linguistic smack down on some unsuspecting MeFite.

The trouble with having so many nerds around here is that far too many think that they really do know it all because, well they just know lots of stuff, OK? It's always a pleasure to have a true master on hand.

In future, can't all linguistic AskMes just be rerouted to lh's MeFiMail and be done?
posted by i_cola at 6:13 AM on May 30, 2008


I think it's better that languagehat called out the person who answered incorrectly—that way the poster doesn't just read the thread and assume that there are legitimate differences of opinion, potentially missing the significance of languagehat's answer, then go about his merry way. Refutatio is a key part of rhetoric that we (as a group; as a people) so often forget about.
posted by limeonaire at 6:14 AM on May 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


The problem, as I saw it, was his answer came with a reprimand for another user who answered differently. One's answer should stand alone. Let the OP decide and mark best answers.

I don't agree with this at all. I'm not advocating starting flame wars in AskMe threads, but in my opinion if you are an expert about a particular topic and someone posts an obviously wrong answer you can and should correct them.

This is not the first time that languagehat has gotten flack for calling out misinformed linguistics answers, and I'm one of the people who appreciates him dropping science on us all.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:15 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


The issue with that question boils down to this: The asker didn't understand the idiom and its use. It seems like a hard idiom to misconstrue, but then again I am a native English speaker; the asker may not be.
posted by Mister_A at 6:19 AM on May 30, 2008


I find it immensely amusing that someone who is supposedly defending the proper use of language is arguing that "How do you pronounce read?" is synonymous with "How should one pronounce read?" Regardless of your desire to have people answer a different question than the one that was asked, the question that was actually asked was "How do you pronounce read?" Answers to the question asked are perfectly legitimate, no matter how much you'd like to edit the question wiki-style after it's been asked.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:33 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow you guys.
posted by thirteenkiller at 6:40 AM on May 30, 2008


people just started popping in and saying reed, red, reed, red, fish, cow, isaywhatiWANTandyoucan'tstopme, &c., with no reason other than "it's how I do it." Whether descriptive or prescriptive, one ought to provide some compelling reason for their particular usage.

Otherwize it's a gotdam eggcorn fite.


The thing is that many did provide a reason, and a good one at that. Unlike most eggcorns, this one both makes sense and has essentially the very same meaning that the proper pronunciation does.

I actually was interested to see the conflicting answers, because I had no idea anyone read it as "red."* Yeah, the answers that said "Red, no question" were bad - but so were the ones that just said "Reed, no question." The proper answer to this and any pronunciation question would be a link to a dictionary, the ultimate dictionary being the OED. This is where languagehat's answer pointed, and that's why it should be listened to (whether or not you consider him an expert is irrelevant in this case). I do take issue with his answer for two reasons, though: one being that the callout seemed to be the starting point for a pileon that really became surprisingly vitriolic thread, and the other because ideally he would have said something along the lines of "for questions of this sort, the best resource is a dictionary" (leaving out personal criticism). I do also think the most complete answer possible would have explored the historical connection with the corresponding usage in Latin et al., which rokusan touched on.

That said, as I mentioned too many times in that thread (I get carried away, obviously) it's not that big a deal, and personally I find the "red" reading absolutely inoffensive, and if people pronounce it that way I actually think it's legitimate. languagehat replies later in the thread that while usually he is opposed to prescriptivism, the reason his position here is different is that the usage in question really belongs to academic rather than colloquial language. I don't entirely agree: I've seen "(read: _) in newspapers and magazines and (I think) even blogs. Furthermore, I also think scholarly language does and should be able to evolve, though for many reasons it's preferable that it do so slowly. Also, again, I think this is about a trivial mistake as is possible to make. There are many subtleties in writing and language and linguistic history that I'd be sad to see disappear, but this one - this one I really don't think is worth taking a stand on. I can understand feeling otherwise.

I really am done now. :-)

* The one bright point of these threads is the great potential for tongue twisting.
posted by trig at 6:52 AM on May 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


DevilsAdvocate, It is the proper use of Ask Metafilter I'm trying to defend in this instance, not the proper use of language. If you think that Ask question was simply hoping to guage opinion, I think you're very much mistaken.
posted by nthdegx at 7:11 AM on May 30, 2008


I find it immensely amusing that someone who is supposedly defending the proper use of language is arguing that "How do you pronounce read?" is synonymous with "How should one pronounce read?"

'you' is frequently used as shorthand for 'everyone'.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:11 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


The trouble with having so many nerds around here is that far too many think that they really do know it all because, well they just know lots of stuff, OK?

Oh, it's not that I know everything, it's just that it's "reed".
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:12 AM on May 30, 2008


Cthulhu f'taghn

I've always wondered if the emphasis should be placed on the "f't" or the "agh."

Then I wonder if I even want to pronounce it properly.
posted by malocchio at 7:13 AM on May 30, 2008


Regardless of your desire to have people answer a different question than the one that was asked, the question that was actually asked was "How do you pronounce read?"

This is ridicuous.

If someone comes up to you and asks "How do you spell prescient?" it's pretty clear that what they're looking for is THE CORRECT SPELLING, not the way you happen to write it.

If you gave that person an incorrect spelling you'd be wrong.

If you said, "Well, you didn't ask How should I spell this?" you'd be wrong and annoying.

If you said, "Well, language is flexible and changes all the time," you'd be wrong, annoying, and even more annoying.
posted by neroli at 7:15 AM on May 30, 2008 [23 favorites]


"Regardless of your desire to have people answer a different question than the one that was asked, the question that was actually asked was "How do you pronounce read?"

Bingo.
posted by toomuchpete at 7:18 AM on May 30, 2008


Reading and writing conventions (one of which is the subject of the question) do respect or at least evolve from majority "opinion" or usage.

Sheer volume of incorrect usage doesn't make something more legitimate if there is a 'right answer', though. It's still noise, just lots of it. If there is a 'right answer', then people should establish it and follow it, in my opinion. Laziness and ignorance are not a good enough reason to change a perfectly functional language.

/insert frothy diatribe here about The Campaign For 'Simple English' and the murder of the language by media and marketing 'buzz words'.
posted by Brockles at 7:22 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, well, I don't particularly feel like hammering out an historical linguistic thesis every time somebody asks me how to pronounce or spell something so I just give them the answer I know is correct and if I don't know the answer I don't say anything at all.

"Nine letters, ends with 't', type of fluid secretion. Any clues?"

"WELL THE EGYPTIANS USED TO THINK THAT..."

Boring.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:22 AM on May 30, 2008


'you' is frequently used as shorthand for 'everyone'

And answers which, individually, lead to the conclusion "some people pronounce it reed, and some people pronounce it red" would be appropriate for the question "how does everyone pronounce read?"

If someone comes up to you and asks "How do you spell prescient?" it's pretty clear that what they're looking for is THE CORRECT SPELLING, not the way you happen to write it.

Because there's only one correct spelling of prescient. If the question were "how do you spell judgment?" it might well be a survey-type question, trying to find out who uses judgment and who uses judgement and whether any variance there is correlated with geography, age, or other factors.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:23 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


I thought polls were not allowed as questions. If the question really meant to ask how each individual MeFite pronounced the word, then it should have been deleted.
posted by grouse at 7:24 AM on May 30, 2008 [5 favorites]


That's a good question, malocchio. It's pronounced "Bill Smith", believe it or not.
posted by Mister_A at 7:24 AM on May 30, 2008


Doctor, ain't there nothin' I can take? I said, Doctor, to relieve this bellyache?
posted by katillathehun at 7:25 AM on May 30, 2008


Regardless of your desire to have people answer a different question than the one that was asked, the question that was actually asked was "How do you pronounce read?"

Last night on the subway I was asked, do you know the next stop on this train? I said yes. I don't why the guy got so mad.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:26 AM on May 30, 2008 [7 favorites]


I thought polls were not allowed as questions.

My understanding is that "what's your favorite color" type polls are not allowed, but "is it called 'pop' or 'soda' in your neck of the woods" type polls are.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:28 AM on May 30, 2008


I feel like people were answering the question the OP asked which was a different question, perhaps, than what the OP shoudl have asked. Also some people were being jerks in that thread for no good reason [really? nerdfights over how to pronounce a four letter word that isn't a delicious and confusing swear word?] and that sort of thing is annoying.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:29 AM on May 30, 2008


It's pronounced "Bill Smith", believe it or not.

Aha! That probably explains all the strange, amphibian sounds coming from the old Smith house. Good to know.
posted by malocchio at 7:31 AM on May 30, 2008


In future, can't all linguistic AskMes just be rerouted to lh's MeFiMail and be done?

No, because sometimes (albeit very rarely) he's wrong and when that happens he can be a gigantic asshole about it. He's a very smart guy who knows a lot about language, but he's just a language hat, not a language God.

P.S. Of course he's right here, "red" is absurd and his answer should have shut the thread down.
posted by The Bellman at 7:56 AM on May 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


I've actually seen lh be pretty gracious when he's wrong. He is, erm, slightly less gracious when he's right usually. I'd love it if his superknowledge weren't mixed in with snark and put-downs of other people in AskMe though.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:59 AM on May 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


All I know is that by the time I got done reading that OED entry languagehat post one eye had twisted on its stalk and was staring back into my brain and the other was spinning in its cavity like a slot machine reel.
posted by The Straightener at 8:02 AM on May 30, 2008


Also: I have to assume the people saying that the question was "how do you pronounce . . . ", and was therefore asking for personal and idiosyncratic pronunciations are trolling. "How do you pronounce" is obviously synonymous, here, with "how does one pronounce".

Also: It's pronounced Throat-Warbler Mangrove.
posted by The Bellman at 8:02 AM on May 30, 2008


I took my son to the zoo the other day. We had a good time rambling through the reptile exhibits, the aviary, and oh how he loved the pandas! But then we went to the monkey house and he got very quiet. I knew something was brewing.

"Dad?" he asked, his eyes wide with wonder.

"Yes, son?" I replied. I smiled gently, anticipating the miracle of a child's profound brilliance.

"What would it be like to live in a monkey house if all the monkeys could talk, but they had Asperger's and some of them were deaf and going senile and no one ever cleaned out the waste pit?"

I paused to reflect, then told him that when he was older I'd introduce him to something called Ask MetaFilter.
posted by kittyprecious at 8:03 AM on May 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


This is really important.
posted by Ragma at 8:03 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


I took my son to the zoo the other day.

Thanks, dad.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:07 AM on May 30, 2008 [4 favorites]


He is, erm, slightly less gracious when he's right usually.

I think the prevalence of people just answering linguistics questions when they really don't know the answer may have something to do with it.
posted by oaf at 8:09 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't understand how MetaFilter can condone this kind of anti-Semanticism.
posted by Eideteker at 8:14 AM on May 30, 2008


So are we done here, or do we break out the oars?
posted by Mister_A at 8:21 AM on May 30, 2008


Reading and writing conventions (one of which is the subject of the question) do respect or at least evolve from majority "opinion" or usage.

Then I guess we're just going see the use of apostrophe's used in pluralizing word's become standard because increasing number's of people seem to think it's the proper way to form plural's, and therefore that makes it a-okay, and nothing to get upset about.
posted by rtha at 8:22 AM on May 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


rtha, I like you. I think you're the real deal. But I think you should be BANNEDED FOR LIFE YO!!
posted by Mister_A at 8:23 AM on May 30, 2008


I understand why languagehat could get frustrated. I only have to think back to the way I felt reading the airplane/conveyor belt discussion. *shudders* Be as snarky as you want, languagehat.
posted by sdodd at 8:25 AM on May 30, 2008


I'm still amazed at much much more intense this discussion has been compared to another recent collective ass-scratching over language, but C la V.
posted by kittyprecious at 8:27 AM on May 30, 2008


The answer is very simple. Three wrong answers on Ask = bannination. (First wrong answer is only a day off.)

"Then I guess we're just going see the use of apostrophe's used in pluralizing word's become standard because increasing number's of people seem to think it's the proper way to form plural's, and therefore that makes it a-okay, and nothing to get upset about."

I always thought apostrophes meant: CAUTION! S APPROACHING!
posted by Eideteker at 8:33 AM on May 30, 2008


People cite majority usage changing language, etc., but it seems pretty clear from the Ask answers and this thread that the "red" pronunciation is in the minority.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:33 AM on May 30, 2008


Yes, I am serious. AskMe needs a penalty for factually wrong answers, even a modest one. If you don't know, shut up. The site is not called PositMe, SurveyMe, or WhatIThinkandWhatIHadforBreakfast. FACTS OR GTFO.
posted by Eideteker at 8:35 AM on May 30, 2008 [4 favorites]


rtha, I like you. I think you're the real deal. But I think you should be BANNEDED FOR LIFE YO!!

You can't banneded me for life! You know why? BECAUSE I HAVE ALREADY BEEN BANNEDED ALL MY LIFE. AND SILENCED TOO! YOU CANNOT MAKE ME SUFFER MORE THAN I ALREADY DO!!!11!

Except by making me reed how people think that because language is flexible, there is no "wrong."
posted by rtha at 8:36 AM on May 30, 2008


I think we should change the note: at the bottom of the text box here to say "everyone needs bacon", because right now I am eating some bacon and it's really hard for me to get as pissed off as I was last night over this subject. Last night: no bacon, pissed off. This morning: bacon, not pissed off. Therefore: bacon = warm happy feelings of benevolence, which we need more of around here.
posted by rtha at 8:39 AM on May 30, 2008


""What would it be like to live in a monkey house if all the monkeys could talk, but they had Asperger's and some of them were deaf and going senile and no one ever cleaned out the waste pit?""

No, that's MeTa. In AskMe, they clean the pit.
posted by klangklangston at 8:40 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


The question of "read" and even language aside, this is part of a bigger phenomenon. Oddly enough, right now I'm streaming this interview with Susan Jacoby on her book "The Age of American Reason," in which she talks about the contemporary problem of 'contempt for evidence' - the trend that empowers every opinion regardless of comparitive weight, and which is at least in part responsible for the fact that Americans still believe Iraq was involved in 9/11 and that Saddam Hussein had WMD. I also see this frequently on AskMe and think it's worth talking about. I'm sorry this particular post ended up focusing on a language question, because as a community we seem to have gone from unthinking embrace of descriptivism to unthinking embrace of prescriptivism, and discussions of language are somewhat complicated because of that. But it occurs in all sorts of questions - that after a clearly definitive answer, there might be several more that contradict the definitive answer with no supporting language or material. We all ought to insist upon evidence. Yes. Agreed. But the opinion of a very informed person is itself a form of evidence. Usually, the informed person can easily cite a source. But the problem is not really that people don't cite their sources; it's that sometimes even the uninformed seem to think that their unexamined and wrong or at best unfoundedopinions deserve equal weight.
posted by Miko at 8:43 AM on May 30, 2008 [9 favorites]


Make that "The Age of American Unreason," and the title makes a lot more sense. Sorry.
posted by Miko at 8:45 AM on May 30, 2008


More interesting to me is how you pronounce the "(read:boring)" out loud when reading from a text. Elongate that first syllable for emphasis, alerting your audience to it being a bracketed imperative? Ought one drop down a tone for the second word?

That's the only dimension for conjecture with regards this convention because, as LH more eloquently advised, it's a literary and not a spoken convention.

In my experience, when people attempt to insert bracketed asides into their everyday spoken repertoire, it is a sign that you should run in the opposite direction because this person is a pretentious wanker.
posted by peacay at 8:47 AM on May 30, 2008


In future, can't all linguistic AskMes just be rerouted to lh's MeFiMail and be done?

Because it's not his obligation to answer every random question that a MeFite may have about a word.

What AskMe needs is a subscription to the OED.
posted by desuetude at 8:52 AM on May 30, 2008


...and what it's got is a prescription for OCD.

obligatory
posted by Mister_A at 8:58 AM on May 30, 2008


Cthulhu f'taghn
I've always wondered if the emphasis should be placed on the "f't" or the "agh."
Then I wonder if I even want to pronounce it properly.


And even if you do manage to pronounce it correctly, locusts fly out of your mouth and the sun turns black.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:08 AM on May 30, 2008


Eh, forget about Jacoby. She's an idiot.
posted by Eideteker at 9:09 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


I see how you did that.
posted by Miko at 9:16 AM on May 30, 2008


I used to work with sub-editors who had opinions on the English language like some of the horrible errors defended in the AskMe thread. Hanging's too good for them.
posted by Abiezer at 9:18 AM on May 30, 2008


Because there's only one correct spelling of prescient.

And in this context, as stated so very eloquently by languagehat, there is only one correct pronunciation of read.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:32 AM on May 30, 2008


How do you pronounce: "Either aunt's vase?"
posted by ericb at 9:34 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


And even if you do manage to pronounce it correctly, locusts fly out of your mouth and the sun turns black.

And therein lies my apprehension...though it would be pretty cool to watch it happen to someone else.

(I used to have a friend, may he rest peacefully, who was fascinated by Lovecraft, Kenneth Grant, and the whole Typhonian current. His greatest ambition: to unleash a plague of locusts upon the earth. One day, he phoned me quite excitedly, saying that he had found the key. I can imagine that mischevious glint in his eye as he asked me if I wanted to hear it. Now, I just can't resist that sort of thing, so I listened as he recited his incantation - either in Enochian or perhaps some ancient and corrupted Sumerian - and then he chuckled in his odd manner as we said goodbye. Within half an hour, one of my cats began clawing frantically at the front door (quite out of character for her), and the moment I opened it to see what was causing her distress, a FREAKING LOCUST flew in the door, landed on the stairs, and stared at me with what seemed to be a most menacing intent.

I shooed the locust from our home, and traced a series of banishing pentragrams - despite my usual skepticism, it seemed the prudent course of action - while my wife called him and made him swear that he would never, ever do that again.)

posted by malocchio at 9:41 AM on May 30, 2008


But the opinion of a very informed person is itself a form of evidence. Usually, the informed person can easily cite a source. But the problem is not really that people don't cite their sources

Actually, I think it is. I don't think the opinion alone of an expert should be enough to convince. (Forget mistakes - experts often disagree with each other.) What distinguishes experts is their ability to support or refute claims with arguments of very high quality, to be extremely well-versed regarding the sources relevant to their case. It's the quality of those arguments and of the sources they cite that should convince, never their own identity. Otherwise we're just back at contempt for evidence - why should I need evidence when The Expert has spoken?

If languagehat had just said "reed," that would have been as bad an answer as anyone else's. If anyone else had cited the OED, that answer would have been as fitting as languagehat's. Actually, it would have been better, since the argument would have been evaluated on its own merits.
posted by trig at 9:47 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


malocchio: I am so doing that. Now where can I order locusts online...?
posted by adamdschneider at 9:50 AM on May 30, 2008


And in this context, as stated so very eloquently by languagehat, there is only one correct pronunciation of read.

But if gman didn't know that, a survey-type question remains a possibility.

I'm not claiming a survey-type question is the only plausible reading of the question here, to the exclusion of a correctness-type question. But it is a plausible reading, and when more than one reading of a question is plausible, answers to either reading are permissible.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:50 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


I vote NO.
posted by Artw at 9:52 AM on May 30, 2008


heh, adamdschneider...I should mention that the friend lived at least 500 miles away, so shenanigans were out of the question. It has all the makings for a hell of a prank, though!
posted by malocchio at 9:55 AM on May 30, 2008


I should mention that the friend lived at least 500 miles away

I'm reminded of hearing the story that Penn (of Penn and Teller) once remarked that many of their effects seemed impossible simply because people grossly underestimated the lengths to which they were willing to go in order to achieve them.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:00 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm not claiming a survey-type question is the only plausible reading of the question here, to the exclusion of a correctness-type question. But it is a plausible reading, and when more than one reading of a question is plausible, answers to either reading are permissible.

The two interpretations you cite are not equally plausible. As for permissible, well, the authority of the entity for which you advocate is tenuous.
posted by desuetude at 10:02 AM on May 30, 2008


Reed Flute Cave
posted by Burhanistan at 10:02 AM on May 30, 2008


The two interpretations you cite are not equally plausible.

They don't have to be. My point stands.

As for permissible, well, the authority of the entity for which you advocate is tenuous.

Maybe I'm just dense, but I'm not even sure how to parse this. What "entity" are you referring to?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:08 AM on May 30, 2008


DA - fair point. I'm a genuine skeptic by nature, but the thought that he could have pulled this off through mundane means is almost more impressive to me than any mystical mumbo-jumbo I could imagine. Poor Bart was far too destitute, bi-polar, and out of his mind on trazodone or whatever he was on at the time to pull off a stunt like that, even though that is clearly the most likely scenario. But you really would have had to know him to believe that, so a good healthy dose of skepticism is certainly in order.

I tend to think of it as one of life's really bizarre coincidences that has no real meaning, but makes for a good story.
posted by malocchio at 10:21 AM on May 30, 2008


nthdegx needs a hug, but it's also really fucking annoying when people chime in with speculative answers to questions they don't actually know anything about.

that said, most people consider the way they speak english to be the correct way to speak english, so they don't believe that they're providing an uninformed, illegitimate and speculative answer. this is because most people are incredibly stupid.

my rule is, if I can't remember reading the rule in Strunk & White, I don't answer. Since I lost my copy years ago and have a terrible memory, this explains why I never answer english language questions despite have a degree and everything.
posted by shmegegge at 10:29 AM on May 30, 2008


As for permissible, well, the authority of the entity for which you advocate is tenuous.

Maybe I'm just dense, but I'm not even sure how to parse this. What "entity" are you referring to?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:08 PM on May 30


I guess eponysterical is so last year.
posted by desuetude at 10:33 AM on May 30, 2008


Goddamit people, there are rules that must be followed and regulations that must be adhered to. Either answer the question in the required format, complete with footnotes and citations, or I will punch all of you in the face.
posted by electroboy at 10:35 AM on May 30, 2008


I thought it was interesting that some people actually read it the other (read: wrong) way.
posted by empath at 10:42 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't have the book in front of me, but Pinker in The Stuff of Thought stated rather matter-of-factly that much linguistics research is based on whatever linguists think sounds right or wrong to them personally, rather than being based on empirical studies. I thought that was rather shocking.
posted by empath at 10:46 AM on May 30, 2008


No, it isn't, because when someone arrives with a contrary answer with a similar lack of support, we're nowhere.

In this case, you're really assuming the correctness of an answer is derived from the level of authority claimed by the answerer, and what legitimacy is granted by the audience to that authority.

While this technique might be useful for evaluating answers to questions with concrete answers -- for example, the speed to light derived from empirical evidence -- common linguistic usage is not one of those questions, because when it comes to language, there are various realities that are each "correct", depending on context:

* We're all our own authorities on "the rules"
* We grant authority to academic bodies (University of Chicago, Oxford, etc.) to set "the rules" for us
* We grant authority to the social body or subculture to set "the rules" for us

The language you would use without coming across as "odd" at a faculty cocktail party will be somewhat different that what you would use in a music studio filled with hiphop artists.

Language is a pretty pliable thing, not concrete and not easily constrained without assuming some authority derived from the context in which it is used.

Not even granting individuals the authority of their own usage, even if in a minority of cases (which is even debatable, for this particular question), is fairly tyrannical, aside from being wrong.

A short answer to a question of pronunciation is not improved by the answerer having to spend another sentence or two claiming the legitimacy of his own authority to provide an answer.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:27 AM on May 30, 2008


It doesn't appear as though there further arguing in the original thread will be profitable, though I would be interested to hear if gman had his mind changed or not.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:30 AM on May 30, 2008


Pinker in The Stuff of Thought

Pinker sometime has some interesting things to say (I have a few of his books, and the better ones are great), but over time and with success he's become a steadily more self-infatuated, intellectually dishonest erector of strawmen.
posted by rodgerd at 12:05 PM on May 30, 2008


This should be amusing.
posted by Wolfdog at 12:27 PM on May 30, 2008


If languagehat had just said "reed," that would have been as bad an answer as anyone else's. If anyone else had cited the OED, that answer would have been as fitting as languagehat's.

I quite agree.

Pinker in The Stuff of Thought stated rather matter-of-factly that much linguistics research is based on whatever linguists think sounds right or wrong to them personally, rather than being based on empirical studies.

That's true of the kind of linguistics that Pinker and Chomsky practice, not of what some of us like to think of as real linguistics.
posted by languagehat at 12:33 PM on May 30, 2008


Because we all speak a language (or more), we all have opinions on it. It's really one of the few things that, in some ways, everyone is innately qualified to talk about. It also unfortunately allows for a supreme amount of assholery (from both the 'right' and the 'wrong'), as we've seen here a million times. In my linguistics courses, it always seemed like a contest - who could tell the most interesting story about why they pronounce something a certain way, about why their use of a word is more awesome than someone else's.

Language is supremely personal in a way that many other topics aren't. If you're going to ask a language question on this site, you just have to be aware of that. Period. Regardless of how the question is phrased. Some people have studied language a lot and so I guess should be called in to be authoritative, but we all have years of experience talking and so all could have something to say. Because language questions so rarely have absolute right answers, any Ask-er needs to just deal with it. Ain't gonna change.
posted by ORthey at 12:35 PM on May 30, 2008


I guess eponysterical is so last year.

Maybe I'm just dense...
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:47 PM on May 30, 2008


. It's the quality of those arguments and of the sources they cite that should convince

Right, but in saying that the opinion of an expert can be given more weight, it's because of the quality of their arguments and their ability to reference sources. We seem to agree. Sometimes experts don't cite, and I'm not sure I'd want anyone to think they had to cite a reference for every assertion they made on a message board, especially when the research and retracing required might slow them down or prevent them from responding -- but if challenged, they can, which sets them apart from people just winging out their personal preferences with nothing to back it up. When you're well informed on a topic, you do in fact have a lot of information at the tip of your tongue, even if you would have to go back to the books to cite the source from which you originally learned it. When you ask your doctor for a fiagnosis of your symptoms, you're likely to give his response more credence than when you ask your plumber. You may do your own research later and you may ask for information, but you don't ask your doctor to recount the learnings from medical school that led him to give the diagnosis, or produce the texts that describe it on the spot. What you most often do is treat it as a serious, considered and informed opinion, probably worth a bit more than the man on the street's, but never infallible, because human knowledge is not in a perfect state of completion. What I worry about is that today, we tend to consider the plumber (or a pleasant-looking website, or a neighbor who had the exact same thing) as good a source as the doctor.

So I say both "trust, but verify," and "credentials mean something." An informed opinion is more valuable than a uninformed opinion. Supporting evidence can be given for an informed opinion, but we don't always require it or even want to look at it.

Also, I love the OED as much as anyone, but it's only as definitive as the opinions and evidence of the experts who work on it. Antedating and redeveloping entries in the OED is a hobby for hundreds of people interested in language. Many times a year (more frequently now with the proliferation of searchable text databases), someone finds an older citation than was previously known and which, in some cases, shades the meaning of the word or requires a change in usage notes. We're willing to give the OED weight, even understanding that sometimes it will be proven incomplete or incorrect, because it's the product of a rigorous process - and that's just one example of a reference widely considered 'definitive.' Similarly, though experts can be wrong and can disagree, their information is often better than that supplied by laypeople because they, too, have been through a rigorous process.
posted by Miko at 12:52 PM on May 30, 2008


Yeah, that thread is a fine example of why people who don't know what the fuck they're talking about should shut the fuck up.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 1:03 PM on May 30, 2008


An informed opinion is more valuable than a uninformed opinion.

Except that, with language, what constitutes the value of "information" in an "informed" opinion is largely a matter of the valuation of the context in which a language is used.

I would argue strongly that a conversation about a literary idiom, for example, is not the same as a conversation about the evidential truth or falsehood of WMDs in Iraq.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:39 PM on May 30, 2008


That's true, blazecock, but getting the idiom deed wrong (contrary to the way everyone else uses it, that is) in public at the hip-hop faculty party will cause near-fatal butthurt.
posted by Mister_A at 1:45 PM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Free time. To much of it this plate of beans has.
posted by tkchrist at 1:57 PM on May 30, 2008


I love that thread, if for nothing other than producing this gem:

"...it is so very frustrating to argue an evidence-based position against a feelings-based one".
posted by mr_crash_davis at 1:58 PM on May 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


what constitutes the value of "information" in an "informed" opinion is largely a matter of the valuation of the context in which a language is used.

Certainly the value of the context is a factor in discussions about language, as we've seen throughout our lives with controversies like Ebonics and so on.

But another factor is how much evidence and discussion the informed person is likely to have been exposed to and considered. The more material seen and discussed, the stronger the opinion, because it is based on more evidence; this is exactly why informed opinions are stronger than uninformed ones. But it can be helpful to reference the context for which the speaker is informed about usage: "X usage appears more frequently in literature and spoken communication and is preferred by Y percentage of American editors. It is recommended by the Schmo style manual and in the majority of grammar texts." There's the context. But when you are informed about a topic, one of the things you need to be informed about is how your arguments are contextualized in the first place.

And context isn't everything with regard to whether or not you're informed. Someone could be very informed about graffiti art, for instance. Perhaps they've been cataloguing it for twenty years with photography, have gotten to know some of the artists and discussed process and technique with them, have written and read extensively on the topic of graffiti art and perhaps even teach it in some formal educational context. There are people who don't value the context for graffiti art, people who don't consider it art or anything more than criminal activity. But whether or not someone values it doesn't tell you anything about their degree of information. It's possible to oppose graffiti art from a very well-informed, art historical point of view, or from a completely ignorant point of view. It's possible to be a very informed proponent of graffiti art, or a totally ignorant one. It's not really context that matters most to the quality of the argument, it's how strongly the argument is sitting on its foundations. A well-informed art historian could easily slaughter arguments by an ignorant graffiti artist who only knows his own work. And a well-informed scholar of graffiti art can easily slaughter arguments by an ignorant person with a narrow definition of art as something like 'Monet prints.'

Whether or not the ignorant person can recognize or admit it, he or she is not mounting very solidly founded arguments against the deep understanding that the informed people have. The most interesting and challenging conversation happens between the two well-informed people, drawing on the broadest array of evidence and the deepest thought traditions, and it's not because they are value different contexts. It's because they both really know their stuff. An ignorant opinion, though, is just a narrowly informed one. More widely informed opinions are always stronger. In fact, it's more widely informed opinions that are most capable of recognizing and accommodating for the power of context.
posted by Miko at 1:59 PM on May 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


Except that, with language, what constitutes the value of "information" in an "informed" opinion is largely a matter of the valuation of the context in which a language is used.

so in the context where someone is asking for the traditionally proper way to pronounce something, I think we can agree that the information is valued rather specifically by how well it matches the traditionally accepted authoritative texts on the matter, such as the OED. In this context, I think it's fair to say that pronunciations which do not match said authoritative text do not adequately answer the question.
posted by shmegegge at 2:02 PM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Every time I read or hear "Chomsky", I do a shot.
You should try it.
Makes it all so much easier to swallow.
posted by Dizzy at 2:32 PM on May 30, 2008


Every time I read or hear "Chomsky", I do a shot.

Soon, you find yourself stumbling through the street, recursing at passersby.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:44 PM on May 30, 2008 [8 favorites]


I think we can agree that the information is valued rather specifically by how well it matches the traditionally accepted authoritative texts on the matter, such as the OED.

Ironically, the OED derives some of its authority from going back and citing how people use language.

I don't question the use of the OED as a guide, but I do somewhat question its automatic use to assign a binary right/wrong answer, particularly when the question is about colloquial use.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:31 PM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


I do somewhat question its automatic use to assign a binary right/wrong answer, particularly when the question is about colloquial use.

I totally agree; like any dictionary, the OED is behind the times (though in the online edition they're doing a good job of catching up), and there are other sources for colloquial use. But for "official" English of long standing, you can't beat the OED's amazing collection of citations and thorough separation of the various uses of a word.
posted by languagehat at 4:57 PM on May 30, 2008


Warning: totally non sequitur comment and mostly grumpy.

I learned English by reading fiction (mostly sf) in the pre-google era. I deduced the meaning of words by context and invented the pronunciation, since stopping to look up words in the dictionary interrupted the flow of a story.

I have spent the last forty years mispronouncing words, being corrected, and being surprised by the way a word is really pronounced. These surprises are becoming rarer and rarer. Why did you have to spoil a good surprise by making me listen to the way "albeit" is pronounced? I could have easily waited another forty years before actually hearing that word in a conversation!
posted by francesca too at 6:17 PM on May 30, 2008


Yeah, you don't hear albeit alot.
posted by flabdablet at 6:37 PM on May 30, 2008


Does any else think "For snatch read abduction" sounds really dirty?
posted by afu at 1:12 AM on May 31, 2008


Does any else think "For snatch read abduction" sounds really dirty?

It depends on how you pronounce "read".
posted by TedW at 1:52 AM on May 31, 2008


How do you pronounce the word 'read' when used in the following context?

Honestly, I can't see this as any more than a survey of how various people pronounce this phrase. If you want to interpret it differently, I'm not going to get all prescriptivist on you. I'm with the group that says "ANY ANSWER IS VALID", as long as it's true.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:36 AM on May 31, 2008


I am still baffled by the "one right answer" people, who seem to imagine language is like the laws of logic or chemistry or something. You are clearly mainly clever people, so I assume you are not so dumb as to believe that if, say, 60% of the world's English-speaking population started to use the word "chair" to mean what was formerly meant by "table", there would not at least be some debate about the "true" definition of the word "chair". So the question becomes: within the context of an AskMe debate about the pronunciation of a word, why do you refuse to accept the many posters arguing for "red" as evidence, however anecdotal, that there may be a change going on in the language that you need to take notice of? (I say "reed", by the way.)
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 7:25 AM on May 31, 2008


In general, that's true, and I'm always making that argument around here. In this particular case, it's a very specialized usage that is not really subject to dialectal differences and the other things that drive language change. If it got picked up by the public at large and people started saying "Bush, read evil dictator" and things like that in normal conversation, then yes, "red" would be just as valid as "reed" if enough people used it that way.
posted by languagehat at 8:03 AM on May 31, 2008


I am still baffled by the "one right answer" people, who seem to imagine language is like the laws of logic or chemistry or something.

Well, there may be a single defensible historical answer even while there are two defensible popular-usage-is-as-usage-does variants.

So you can point to the OED and say, yes, look: lexicographers have recorded how this has been used, and this is what they found. The OED may be out of date regarding recent shifts or bifurcations in pronunciation of the word, but for all that it is a reasonable record of actual reasoning for citing a given pronunciation.

Whereas folk etymology or post hoc explanations of why someone thinks it should be pronounced like x or like y are an attempt to not just offer a data point ("I say 'reed'...") but to put a spin on it to somehow summon a kind of explicative authority out of whole cloth.

In a broad descriptivist sense, no, whatever pronunciation you use for a word can't be a "wrong" answer because it's just what you actually say for whatever reason, and that's fine. But a made-up reason for why you're correct in using that pronunciation? No. That's an actual wrong answer. That is incorrect. The technical term for making up explanations for things in the absence of actual facts is "bullshit", and while it can be an awful lot of fun, it's not linguistics.

And for what it's worth, I've always wondered how it is supposed to be pronounced; I had gone with "reed" in the absence of any actual evidence, on the ad hoc theory that it was supposed to be an elliptical form of something like "you should read this as meaning..."; I never trusted my ad hoc theory farther than I could throw it; and it's all a special species of weird because, really, how often does this occur in speech relative to its use in writing?
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:24 AM on May 31, 2008


Whereas folk etymology or post hoc explanations of why someone thinks it should be pronounced like x or like y are an attempt to not just offer a data point ("I say 'reed'...") but to put a spin on it to somehow summon a kind of explicative authority out of whole cloth.

Well, FWIW, the subject of this call-out is a complaint about short, one-word answers that do not contain any post hoc reasoning for their pronunciation. So it looks like one can't win.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:16 AM on May 31, 2008


With discussions of language, though you can certainly take a strong position that there's no one right answer, an important reality remains: that language is a shibboleth. We speak to be understood, but whenever we speak, we're also delivering indications about our education, class, region, and degree of respect for the speaker. People are concerned about pronunciation and usage because they want to prevent negative judgements about their literacy or social standing. It's an easy thing to minimize ('well who cares!') but it becomes crucially important when, for instance, you come from a disadvantaged background and are working hard to move forward in the dominant culture, or when your job means that you speak publicly a lot and thus expose yourself to the evaluations of others. Even if you agree that "right speech" is as "right speech" does, it's not foolish to try to be sure you're using the "preferred" or "standard" or "most widely accepted among the formally educated" or "most widely accepted in print" form of a word - its' entirely practical, if you are concerned about how others view your use of language. So while there may not be a single right answer, there often really is a best answer.
posted by Miko at 9:20 AM on May 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


really, how often does this occur in speech relative to its use in writing?

It could come up if you're reading aloud. But when I read, I hear the voice in my head reading the words, so having a way to pronounce things without getting distracted by wondering about them is important - at least to me. I understand there are people who don't 'hear' anything when they read, but I'm not one of them.
posted by Miko at 9:22 AM on May 31, 2008


Well, FWIW, the subject of this call-out is a complaint about short, one-word answers that do not contain any post hoc reasoning for their pronunciation. So it looks like one can't win.

Oh, sure, but we're more than a day and a hundred comments into the thread. Topic drift is a constant danger out here in the weeds.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:29 AM on May 31, 2008


It could come up if you're reading aloud. But when I read, I hear the voice in my head reading the words, so having a way to pronounce things without getting distracted by wondering about them is important - at least to me. I understand there are people who don't 'hear' anything when they read, but I'm not one of them.

Oh, yeah, I hear you there—I definitely chose "reed" as how I was going to "hear" it in my head—but what I was thinking is that it's an odd case because there are few chances for one to encounter someone else reading it out loud. So there's an understandable, I think, diversity in how folks have chosen to pronounce it (even if they only "pronounce" it, under normal circumstances, in their own head) because there's very little opportunity to be exposed to the pronunciations of others.

But at the same time, because it is (I'm presuming) so very rarely spoken, it's also very low stakes. People, even people who are not at all interested in politics, are probably more likely to attempt to pronounce the names of any number of foreign politicians or countries or other such topical-news lingo than they are to pronounce "(read: ...)", in terms of raw frequency, is my bet.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:37 AM on May 31, 2008


This reminds me of the whole "you've got another [thing | think] coming" issue. You can pull out dueling citations about earliest usage and regional variation and whatnot, but in practice the result is the same no matter who wins: regardless of which you say, there is a sizable contingent of people who will think you are an absolute idiot.

In this regard, I found the "noise" in the thread more informative than the OED citation, since those people who will publicly argue against the OED with ad-hoc explanations will have no problem silently judging you for using 'reed'. If your goal is to avoid sounding like an idiot, you would do best to avoid using the [read: x] construction in speech, because there does seem to be a significant minority who adamantly believe that the 'red' pronunciation has been handed down by God himself, the OED be damned.
posted by Pyry at 11:44 AM on May 31, 2008


Are there examples of a shift in English occurring because people began to read an author's written words a different way, changing the meaning of what he wrote signifcantly from what he intended? That seems to be what the "language changes" folks are arguing could be happening here. Honestly, in the absence of any evidence whatsoever (and that's what we have here), there is no reason to believe any author has used it in the passive sense.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:46 AM on May 31, 2008


Does this construction ever occur in speech aside from reading something aloud? I can't imagine any circumstance where it wouldn't sound stilted and odd. It seems like an artifact of written English to me.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:48 AM on May 31, 2008


It seems like an artifact of written English to me.

This makes it sound like written English is now obsolete. (Not what you meant, I know.)

The thing is, this particular idiom is all about written English. That's exactly what the OED cite demonstrates. It starts out being a construction used for correcting translations, and extends to apply to corrections made to printing errors.

(And, at some point in the 1960s, the idiom starts to be used in a sort of parodic way. It's pretty much the same joke as the strikethrough convention: "People who pronounce it red are open to developments in language totally full of shit." The meaning of the construction doesn't change, though.)

My own theory (read: completely made-up guess) is that the reason people don't immediately recognize how this construction works has to do with changes in printing technology:

You don't see errata sheets much anymore.

When it was tremendously expensive to re-typeset a book, it was common to have a little slip stuck in the back with corrections: "p. 363: for 'Battle of Tastings' read 'Battle of Hastings'"

It was obvious that this was an instruction from the publisher, and hence in the imperative. And it would be equally obvious to anyone coming across the phrase "John was dry (read: boring)" that this was an elliptical, jokey take on that common, formulaic construction.

So, knowing that "read" should be pronounced reed would be automatic.

In other words, I blame the computers.
posted by neroli at 12:58 PM on May 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


Is the English language not constantly evolving?
Did they not add D'oh to the dictionary?
If a bunch of people pronounce a word incorrectly and still all understand it and each other, does that not make it its' new pronunciation?
As I do with many questions on the topic of language, I appreciated the many answers, both the well informed and the not, if only for allowing me to see how English is changing.
posted by baserunner73 at 1:41 PM on May 31, 2008


English is changing, but not so quickly that the superbly awful "its'" has any place in it.
posted by flabdablet at 6:47 PM on May 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


I pronounce it "Genevieve"
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:46 AM on June 1, 2008


I vote that whenever languagehat answers a linguistic question, the thread is automatically closed to new comments at that point.
posted by beagle at 6:28 AM on June 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


(Continuing from the AskMe thread, since No-Cock decided to turn it into a personal attack.)

and not an authority.

It's like you're making a career of being wrong. An authority is precisely what it is.

There's a not-insignificant percentage of folks who use the 'red' reading.

All of whom are wrong, in exactly the same way that there is a not-insignificant percentage of folks who think that the world is flat, or 6000 years old, or less dense than your skull.

Please see the Metatalk thread for why you are wrong.

I have, and I'm not. Whatever creative reading you have made, I'm sure that it is informed by your wilful ignorance.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 11:09 PM on June 1, 2008


Is it just me or does use of a past tense verb followed by a colon, as proposed by the reds (recorded: evidence, testimony) seem improper?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:23 AM on June 2, 2008


It's like you're making a career of being wrong. An authority is precisely what it is.

It's clear you're about making smug, insulting non sequiturs about flat-earthers, and I'm really not interested in debating the matter with you. As far as this specific question goes, you are quite wrong. Thanks for your time.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:42 AM on June 2, 2008


Tymon Dogg has a great song about an archaeologist who has a theory about the construction of the pyramids in Egypt, except this one particular entranceway's measurements are off just enough to cast his whole theory into doubt. The archaeologist was later caught trying to sand the doorway to make it bigger, so as to "prove" his theory. In other words, some will go to great lengths to cling to a falsehood rather than admit - even to themselves - their mistake.

I've never understood what is gained by being an ignorant cuss while in full view of well-reasoned arguments, complete with numerous explications and citations to the contrary. And adhering to a "that's how I was taught, so it must be so" rationale must be the cause of more human misery than any other line of thought out there. But I've been around, and I have had some heavy experiences and I do recognize that people with very little tend to cling to it very strongly.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 1:32 AM on June 2, 2008


If the shoe fits, Chuckles. You keep on denying. I'm sure that wilful ignorance has served you well and will keep on doing so.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 1:49 AM on June 2, 2008


Well, I guess, uh, thanks? for pointing out here that you two were having a crapfest over in the green. Next time bring it here immediatly, or maybe even just yell at each other over email or whatever, but don't fucking do that.

And seriously, "No-Cock"? What are you, twelve?
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:43 AM on June 2, 2008


Ambrosia Voyeur,

That was the most convincing (to me) example of an exceptional circumstance warranting the "red" pronunciation, so I'm interested in whether the colon/past tense construction makes sense.

Dee,

I think you are right that people go to great lengths to defend their positions, and may get even more dogmatic, but I think the difference b/w this and the example you choose is that the "redders" don't believe (as the archaeologist must have?) that their original theory was false. You and I agree that "reed" is the default, but differ as to whether there may be an exceptional set of circumstances in which "red" is correct, and as to whether it's appropriate to call everyone who voices a defense of "red" an ignorant cuss. I tend to think you're also be stubborn -- not to the same degree -- in reacting as you have, but reasonable minds may differ on that. You might bear in mind that for all the annoying commenters who say, in one form or another, "that's how I pronounce it and I'm sticking to it regardless of the arguments or evidence," there are probably quite a few "reeders" who are equally prone to favor their usage irrespective of evidence, and certainly a bunch who voted with the same degree of (non)explication. I bet lots would have done the same even if a different slice of the OED had been cut and pasted, or none at all.

Pyry,

You raise an interesting point about the relevance of "voting" in the thread. To me, the real value instead was in alerting the "redders" that the very clear majority of those reading would think they were idiots, so they'd better stop using "red" as their default. I think that's prudent and just. What I DO have a quarrel with, perhaps in sympathy with Dee and the others, is the prospect that dogged ignorance and insistence on rival default pronunciations will disable ALL versions -- because you know if you say the word "read" in that form, someone will think you're a tool, no matter which you choose, so you avoid using it. I hate that outcome.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 6:45 AM on June 2, 2008


Blazecock began the discussion with:

Reading and writing conventions (one of which is the subject of the question) do respect or at least evolve from majority "opinion" or usage.

While this is emphatically true, shouldn't the fact that it appears that a majority of both AskMe commenters and OED citations support "reed" suggest that the misuse of "red" is not, in fact, an evolving form of the language and is instead simply a mistake?

Really, this all hinges on whether the verb ("read") is in the imperative. If it is, it is pronounced "reed." If not -- if it is a parenthetical remark that is in the past tense, or is a passive construction -- you get a "red" pronunciation. Given the colon, and given the context (particularly the comment a few up about book erratas), I can't see how in the vast majority of cases the "read:X" construction is anything other than an authorial instruction to the reader -- an imperative.

That rare exceptions to this no doubt exist (because authors will write however they damn well want to write, and plenty of editors and copyeditors have their sticky fingers on the text, too, and each of them might give their own spin to a sentence) doesn't negate that the standard construction of "read:X" is an imperative and is pronounced in both the UK and the US as "reed."

And I say this as someone who, like so many here, learned (and continues to learn) words by reading, and so gets the pronunciation wrong all the time. (I, too, was also an albeit mispronouncer, for example.) And I love to see language evolve and change, even if some of those changes are aesthetically displeasing. This just doesn't strike me as an example of that kind of change, passions expressed here notwithstanding.
posted by Forktine at 7:20 AM on June 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm interested in whether the colon/past tense construction makes sense.

It might make sense if you're describing the way someone read it in the past, which could only be indicated by context and which I'd correct to "read as" without the colon. As a command, a directive, it's just like opening a book and pointing to a page and saying "read!" (That's "reed," not "read," for those keeping score at home. Unless you are demonstrating emphatically that you have read the book already, not ordering someone else to read the book. Or is it red the book? I was never very good at redding. It took me a long time to learned it. But I do learned it! And today, I love to red (read: reed)!
posted by Miko at 7:23 AM on June 2, 2008


How do you pronounce it: gay-MOO-ver or gaym-OHV-er?
posted by yeti at 7:58 AM on June 2, 2008


How do you pronounce it: gay-MOO-ver or gaym-OHV-er?

It depends on whether you're Canadian. In any event, your listings, in case you are embarrassed to hazard a guess over the telephone, are here.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 8:09 AM on June 2, 2008


And seriously, "No-Cock"? What are you, twelve?

Was it laziness, apathy, malice or incompetence that left Bettafish's comment in the green while mine and Chuckles' were deleted? Had to be one of the four, I figure.

Wait, this wasn't an invitation to return some kind of unprofessional, wrong-headed antagonism? Mea culpa.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 8:24 AM on June 2, 2008


I was distracted by the unmitigated stupidity that was you and BP yelling at each other in the green, actually. Bettafish's comment, while a nearly a fragrant rose by comparison, was indeed kind of butt and is now gone.

And seriously, "No-Cock"?
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:59 AM on June 2, 2008


Okay, I checked. The OED says one pound of inedita equals 15-20 pounds of asshole.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:44 PM on June 2, 2008


but how big's the sack?
posted by shmegegge at 3:17 PM on June 2, 2008


on second thought, that comment is going to come off completely differently than I intended. for the record, it was intended to be a play on the saying "10 pounds of shit in a 5 pound sack."

nevermind.

posted by shmegegge at 3:18 PM on June 2, 2008


I—

Yeah.

posted by cortex (staff) at 3:39 PM on June 2, 2008


Who's up for a "Sex And The City" MIDNIGHT MADNESS MARATHON?
posted by Dizzy at 7:05 PM on June 2, 2008


Who's up for a MIDNIGHT MADNESS MARATHON?
posted by dirtdirt at 7:32 PM on June 2, 2008


« Older What are the disadvantages of ...  |  Okay, so there is a San Franci... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments