Can't we all just try to capitalize correctly?
December 29, 2004 10:17 AM   Subscribe

Must we actively push the devolution? Is the shift button that hard to find? More inside.
posted by Seth to Etiquette/Policy at 10:17 AM (283 comments total)

Since the new users have flooded, there has been an increasing number of callouts which have worn the collective patience thin. Some of the callouts have been valid; some marginal. But valid questions should still be raised in Metatalk when they are warranted.

One of the trends here should be cause for alarm: the increasing number of posters who choose to ignore the conventions of grammar and good writing. More and more I am seeing a rejection of capitalization and other lazy attempts at writing---enough of it that it stood out to me. I am not sure why more people are doing this. Are some people trying to change Metafilter by further reacting against standards? Is this some sort of deconstruction issue? Do people feel they are fighting the establishment or coming off as cute? Or are they just too lazy to try to type formally? Why must every hallmark of the website be discarded?

As of late, we have had people argue against everything that Metafilter was differentiated by:
- Some people don't find it necessary or desireable to comply with standards for posting new and unique web based things.
- Some disagree with the prohibition against double posts, because they haven't seen the info before themselves.
- Some argue this site should be about the discussion more than the links.
- Some would have this site be nothing but one sentence snarks.
- Some feel it necessary to plaster EXTREMELY LAME inside jokes at every opportunity instead of exerting the effort to share a thoughtful response.
- Some feel that "if you don't like it, skip it" is a good enough operating principle to keep the value of the site up.

If we are going to insist that Metafilter evolve to be whatever people want it to be, can we at least have the standard of capitalization? Why must we get rid of the unique high level of communication that made Metafilter different?

I understand that this a large and diverse community. Matt doesn't want to mandate standards, but that doesn't mean that we can't come to some mutual agreement. We don't have to be Nazi's about it. But it should at least be a goal, right? Can we agree that one of things that we liked about MeFi is the level of communication of our fellows?

Can we agree to put forth at least enough effort to try to follow the conventions of good grammar and writing?

And those in the Seth-Pile-On brigade: when you try to make this thread about me, instead of the substance, could you please avoid thinking it might be witty or clever to flame me in all lowercase?
posted by Seth at 10:17 AM on December 29, 2004


Can we agree to put forth at least enough effort to try to follow the conventions of good grammar and writing?

That would be nice, but this is the Internet, so good luck with that.
posted by cmonkey at 10:22 AM on December 29, 2004


As a further note, I would say that good writing at least requires the author to put forth some effort. As much as they can be frustrating at times, I would say that I prefer and much more signal comes from the long winded ramblings of EB, Foldy or even Steven den Beste then the one sentence uncapitalized Fark-ish snarks of some people. It shows that the writer put time and effort in the post.

Not every post needs to be verbose and formal. There is definitely value and artfulness in the one sentence StanChin/ColdChef/interrobang-ish comments. But, they at least take time to craft their comments. The laziness in comments that aren't capitalized and the dearth of value of those comments are correllative.

You don't always have to be formal and proper (I have been base at times, and I often regret it). But I just think that we should try to encourage more effort in posts at the most basic level: the effort of writing something properly.
posted by Seth at 10:23 AM on December 29, 2004


I agree with cmonkey. But on a more basic level, I agree with xquzyphyr.
posted by Plutor at 10:27 AM on December 29, 2004


oh wtf? you want us to wear coat and tie when we post, too?
posted by xmutex at 10:35 AM on December 29, 2004


eat shi Ingest excrement and expire.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 10:37 AM on December 29, 2004


It shows that the writer put time and effort in the post.

Time and effort? You rascal!
posted by Kwantsar at 10:38 AM on December 29, 2004


i flame and snark in lower case exclusively, and it has nothing to do with seth. go bark at the moon.
posted by quonsar at 10:40 AM on December 29, 2004


I hate it when people don't use capital letters. I take it up with the people directly, rather than wanking on the Gray. Nobody listens to me, of course, but I have the satisfaction of having expressed my opinion.

Ultimately, that is all it is--my opinion. I have not yet been voted Queen of the World, so everyone has the right to ignore me.

But just wait...
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:42 AM on December 29, 2004


i think it's actually MetaFilter.
posted by danOstuporStar at 10:42 AM on December 29, 2004


crap...i sincerely didn't mean to post that. i was just previewing the snark for fun. i actually think seth has a point, as hypocritical as that sounds.
posted by danOstuporStar at 10:45 AM on December 29, 2004


And if you could please keep your damn elbows off the table, xmutex. This isn't a bloody beerhall where you loll about with your painted tarts and illiterate bucket-carrying neckless fellow souses and welfare cheats.

truly, this has to be one of those lead by example type things, Seth. How would that be enforced? Although having Mefi grammar and caps police would be thrilling in a poking at the canker sore masochism kinda way.

Fuck it, let's do it. Out with the billy clubs and the Chicago Manuals.
posted by Divine_Wino at 10:46 AM on December 29, 2004


I thought the day would never come when I'd say the following:

I agree with Seth.

Really--just try, ok? I mean, no one's perfect. I've made grammar and editing errors in my time. Seth himself commits the dreaded 's pluralization sin in his post. I may have even made an error in this very post. But, really, can you at least try to write your posts well?
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:52 AM on December 29, 2004


Christ, now I go and leave a word uncapped. I suck, if anyone wants me I'll be out by the woodshed giving my own kidneys a good bollocking.

Sidhedevil,
I hate it too, I learned to hate it, having started out as a sloppo and once I went (mostly) proper I've never gone back. Now I just capitalize others in my head. Actually the Televisionwithoutpity.com boards have a pretty good way of not tolerating lazy punctuation and caps: They use paid mods. They're good, too. I don't think there is any other way.
posted by Divine_Wino at 10:53 AM on December 29, 2004


I agree that people who don't use caps or proper punctuation - or the spellcheck, damnit - look like morons, but how can you stop them?
posted by CunningLinguist at 10:56 AM on December 29, 2004


If the member had something interesting to say, maybe you could send an encouraging e-mail to her or him.
posted by thomcatspike at 10:57 AM on December 29, 2004


I blame e.e. cummings and k.d. lang for the sweeping wave of lowercase letters in modern internet discourse.

Some people don't capitalize because it slows them down when they're typing. Others don't like to capitalize for aesthetic reasons. I leave these decisions up to the author. I skim over the message for its content, so the formatting isn't that much of an issue for me. Would it be nice? Sure. Is a call out in the gray going to improve the situation? Perhaps, but unlikely.
posted by Jart at 11:01 AM on December 29, 2004


I agree that people who don't use caps or proper punctuation - or the spellcheck, damnit - look like morons, but how can you stop them?

Regular Expressions.
posted by Danelope at 11:02 AM on December 29, 2004


E. E. Cummings did not use lower-case letters in writing his name.

kd lang, on the other hand, does not use periods after her initials.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:04 AM on December 29, 2004


Seth is absolutely right, thought it will do no good at all. When I am tackling a long thread, scanning which comments might be worthwhile, I tend to sail right past the ones all in lower case, I know from experience they are far less likely to be worthwhile. Poor grammar and punctuation usually signal poor thinking skills.

On preview: Some people don't capitalize because it slows them down when they're typing. And that is a bad thing?
posted by LarryC at 11:07 AM on December 29, 2004


I blame W. S. Merwin for the image I have of a pubic wig every time I hear his name.

Seth,
Come back with your proposal to solve this, I'm curious.
posted by Divine_Wino at 11:10 AM on December 29, 2004


I bet you just hate INTERNATIONAL CAPS LOCK DAY.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:10 AM on December 29, 2004


People write badly. Some people write so badly as to be nearly incoherent. This bothers me, and I occasionally take a swipe at the most grievous offenses, but generally it isn't possible to force people to give a shit about something.

On top of that, there are a handful of folks around here who simply are not rational enough to string sentences together. I file most of their crank-fueled fluid excreta under N for net.kook and be done with it.

"I blame e.e. cummings and k.d. lang"

Bullshit. Blame email, IRC (or rather, AOL Chat), and IM.
posted by majick at 11:10 AM on December 29, 2004


I blame bell hooks.
posted by turaho at 11:10 AM on December 29, 2004


W. S. Merwin? Shouldn't you blame Daphne Merkin instead?
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:14 AM on December 29, 2004


Too easy, I'm more of a head-rhyming free associate than a literalist. I blame Daphne Merkin for my dreams of Hitler.
posted by Divine_Wino at 11:17 AM on December 29, 2004


Blame email, IRC (or rather, AOL Chat), and IM.

Hell, I even use proper capitalization and grammar on IRC. Sure, I'd love it if everyone did the same, or proper grammar at the very least. It would make those proofreading alarm bells stop ringing in my head everytime I read MeFi.
posted by rocketman at 11:39 AM on December 29, 2004


Oh Jesus tap-dancing Christ.

I now have a new catchphrase. Thank you very much.

On the bright side Seth, at least we don't have people POSTING IN ALL CAPS.
posted by Juicylicious at 11:42 AM on December 29, 2004


I blame the U.S. media/government
posted by Hands of Manos at 11:49 AM on December 29, 2004


each of us must know our grammar
else Seth will hit us with his hammer

we must enforce these arbitrary rules
to stop you looking like stupid fools

lessons must be learned by all
poor spelling just isn't cool

until they learn to write like us
we will stop and moan and fuss

troybob used to post in rhymes
hopefully he'll be punished for his crimes
posted by ZippityBuddha at 11:50 AM on December 29, 2004


The high quality of the writing on MetaFilter is one of the reasons I first started coming here. Metafilter has been an oasis of literacy in the vast desert that is the Internet, where nobody blinks at statements like: "your a looser". I'm not saying there is anything that I or anyone else can or should do about it, just that it'd be sad for MetaFilter descend to the level of most of the rest of the Internet. TTFN :)
posted by TimeFactor at 11:54 AM on December 29, 2004


free speech is what we like
but free expression can take a hike
posted by ZippityBuddha at 11:55 AM on December 29, 2004


OMG i meant to say two descend too the level
posted by TimeFactor at 11:56 AM on December 29, 2004


dyslexics should be sent to hell
until they learn to fucking spell

foreign posters we had better test
to make sure their english is the best
posted by ZippityBuddha at 11:59 AM on December 29, 2004


Metafilter has been an oasis of literacy in the vast desert that is the Internet, where nobody blinks at statements like: "your a looser".

"And the winner for 'Best Quote of the Day' goes to....TIME FACTOR!"

(That is a great statement, I totally agree)
posted by Hands of Manos at 12:00 PM on December 29, 2004


The high quality of the writing on MetaFilter is one of the reasons I first started coming here. Metafilter has been an oasis of literacy in the vast desert that is the Internet

I agree with this statement and with the original post. I don't think it can or should be enforced, but I do think it should be encouraged.
posted by ludwig_van at 12:03 PM on December 29, 2004


I look forward to the Reading is Fundamental! posters in my public library of mathowie at a computer, MetaFilter up on the screen.
posted by me3dia at 12:10 PM on December 29, 2004


Is this for real? Seriously? The sooner you realize that you can't control other people's spelling, punctuation, and grammar, the sooner you'll find happiness.
posted by euphorb at 12:10 PM on December 29, 2004


I agree that careful expression should be one of the community standards here, athough, as people have noted, it can't be enforced.

All lower-case posts are a juvenile affectation, on par with teenage diarists dotting their "i"s with little circles or hearts.
posted by Rumple at 12:17 PM on December 29, 2004


Seth would rather pave the world in leather than wear shoes.
posted by bshort at 12:24 PM on December 29, 2004


Oh dear. "Nazi's". Oh dear.

An apostrophe catastrophe.
posted by apocalypse miaow at 12:29 PM on December 29, 2004


If there is any hope, it is in the practice of on-going, low-grade public shaming. Fortunately, that's one of our specialties.
posted by cortex at 12:34 PM on December 29, 2004


The sooner you realize that you can't control other people's spelling, punctuation, and grammar, the sooner you'll find happiness.

Instead of controlling, why not encourage the use of good grammar?

If you think the person made an honest mistake, why not say "Did you mean to say 'too' when you said 'two?'" Or discourage a person's post by saying something like "We accept you here but please consider using better writing skills in your future posts."

I'm probably being idealistic, but it seems to me that this maybe would give the person a chance to apologize and learn what the unwritten rules are at MeFi. I think this is better than the alternative where a nasty pile on is made and the person instantly becomes defensive (and then we all go through the drama of "WELL FINE! METAFILTER CAN KISS MY ASS, BEYOTCH! I'M LEAVING, YOU LOOSERS!" Followed by "we'll miss you [/sarcasm]," "tata," "oh well, you're loss.").
posted by Hands of Manos at 12:34 PM on December 29, 2004


you're = your

Perhaps I should stop posting now...
posted by Hands of Manos at 12:35 PM on December 29, 2004


All the posters I like - from mathowie, quonsar and my man L-Hat to jonmc and Sidhedevil, and from mr_c_d or the late lamented dobbs - attempt reasonable levels of spelling, grammar and style. Usually. Plus many others beside (you know who you are, because you compose: the effort is worth it for the respect that a well-formed sentence brings. Man, I wish I could make more of those!) This isn't simply about capitalisation: it's about clearer expression.

We all make errors of spelling which ought to be privately (and so, discreetly) corrected, if necessary ('friends' always ends in 'ends', people...), and occasionally IM-speak needs a drubbing in the thread.

Otherwise, Mefispeak is still a good-ish standard, comparitively. We are all losers, the looser our standards are.
posted by dash_slot- at 12:39 PM on December 29, 2004


I owe a beer to s/he who finds the (not so) deliberate error in that blurb!
posted by dash_slot- at 12:40 PM on December 29, 2004


You know, if the grammerstapo was in full effect, we'd never hear from TomCatSpike, quonsar and many other favorites.
posted by me3dia at 12:50 PM on December 29, 2004


comparatively!
posted by apocalypse miaow at 12:51 PM on December 29, 2004


Comparatively. Besides, beside should be pluralized, and you forgot the period after those!).

Since you asked :P
posted by iconomy at 12:53 PM on December 29, 2004


If there is any hope, it is in the practice of on-going, low-grade public shaming. Fortunately, that's one of our specialties.

Yup, that's it. I, for one, take badly-written prose less seriously than that which is well written. Sure, form doesn't always equal content, but they are often (often, not always) closely aligned. As I once wrote on a student's paper "I know you're not stupid and careless, but your writing makes you look that way."
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:17 PM on December 29, 2004


Is the shift button that hard to find?

Shift key.

Since the new users have flooded,

Flooded what? You're using a transitive form of the verb as an intransitive. A basement can flood, but set of users can't, they have to flood something.

But valid questions should still be raised in Metatalk when they are warranted.

Passive voice. Two demerits. Subsequent examples exist but will be skipped.

More and more I am seeing a rejection of capitalization and other lazy attempts at writing---enough of
it that it stood out to me.


Change of tense mid-sentence. "I am seeing" followed by "it stood out to me".


Why must every hallmark of the website be discarded?

Something of a question-begger, this.

As of late

I've never been quite sure about "as of late". "Of late" seems more correct but I can't find any sources.

- Some feel it necessary to plaster EXTREMELY LAME inside jokes at every opportunity instead of exerting the
effort to share a thoughtful response.


(Aside: I agree with this -- the "Metafilter: Catchphrase" gag is beyond tired, and it's done many times more often than it's done well.)

- Some feel that "if you don't like it, skip it" is a good enough operating principle to keep the value of the
site up.


A preposition is a poor thing to end a sentence with.

We don't have to be Nazi's about it.

Hee hee.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:17 PM on December 29, 2004


grammAr.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:18 PM on December 29, 2004


And I love you, George_Spiggott, for using "begs the question" correctly. (Of course, I already loved you for your username.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:18 PM on December 29, 2004


Apocalypse miaow & iconomy: Can you two promise to read all my future posts so closely? (",) Two beers up, next time at the International Mefi Convention!

iconomy: doesn't the exclamation mark stand in for the full-stop, as we say in the land where English began :p
posted by dash_slot- at 1:21 PM on December 29, 2004


Metafilter: the "Metafilter: Catchphrase" gag is beyond tired, and it's done many times more often than it's done well

*jumps in bathtub with toaster, does the world a favor*
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:22 PM on December 29, 2004


The "your a loser" point goes to the heart of it, I think. A little bit of poor grammar, spelling, or punctuation is really not so bad, intentional or not; but that many people (perhaps most) on the web are well-nigh illiterate is a serious problem.

To be fair, I'm not convinced that this represents that a greater portion of the US population is less literate than before—I'm inclined to believe that it's that the illiteracy is more visible than it has been now that more people are actually writing on a daily, conversational basis than has been the case in recent decades.

Anyway, it's my observation (and MeFi shows this to be true to some extent) that in this sort of matter people are well-capable of rising to the challenge and improving. Having either a formal minimal standard or an implicit minimal standard enforced by peer pressure can make a big difference.

It'd be nice if modern computer application and OS design was far more modular than it is and, thus, every application (including the form portion of a web browser) had native access to a spell-checker. But that's a different complaint.

Although I was a very early reader (or perhaps partly because I was a very early reader) my spelling, grammar, and punctuation has never been great. I continue to improve each year as I slowly correct habitual errors. In that context, I'm not sure that it's fair for me, anyway, to expect 18 year olds and the like to meet my personal standards. But capitalization isn't too damn hard, really. That's a reasonable minimal standard.

On Preview: the incorrect use of "begging the question" is a bugbear of mine. However, so many people now use it this way, and it does makes sense, that I think protesting it is a losing battle.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:23 PM on December 29, 2004


*jumps in bathtub with toaster, does the world a favor*

*gets in bathtub, eats acid, puts on "White Rabbit," asks friend to throw casette player into bathtub at climax*
posted by ludwig_van at 1:24 PM on December 29, 2004


This was all worth it, because I'm going to be humming "dyslexics should be sent to hell/ until they learn to fucking spell" in my head the rest of the day.
posted by yerfatma at 1:25 PM on December 29, 2004



I agree that people who don't use caps or proper punctuation - or the spellcheck, damnit - look like morons, but how can you stop them?


I know from experience they are far less likely to be worthwhile. Poor grammar and punctuation usually signal poor thinking skills.

All lower-case posts are a juvenile affectation, on par with teenage diarists dotting their "i"s with little circles or hearts.

Note to self: easiest way to find out who the uptight mental derelicts are is to ask them what petty grievances they have.

(Oh, I used the colon inaccurately! For shame.)

I'm not saying there is anything that I or anyone else can or should do about it, just that it'd be sad for MetaFilter descend to the level of most of the rest of the Internet. TTFN :)

There isn't any evidence this is happening besides Seth's unfounded claims. He put together a number of unrelated complaints--many of which he's made literally dozens of times before--and then added something about the degradation of grammar on metafilter, using, as far as I can tell, lower-case punctuation as his main example. While I am something of a grammar stickler, and often point out inaccuracies in others' writings (mostly in jest, since my friends think of me as hopelessly grammar obsessed), I do not see no capitalization as evidence of poor grammar skills. Not using capitalization is a choice that I've never found to directly decrease my ability to read a text properly. I exclusively use it in IM as a time-saving method, but generally don't use it here. Still, I think there's a fundamental difference between no caps and other annoying grammar errors that make something difficult to read (like misplaced or non-existent commas, etc.).

Unless there's an outbreak of non-ironic 733T speak, this hand-wringing is more than a little pedantic.

If we are going to insist that Metafilter evolve to be whatever people want it to be, can we at least have the standard of capitalization? Why must we get rid of the unique high level of communication that made Metafilter different?


Unsubstantiated assumption followed by unsubstantiated complaint about event that may or may not be occurring and, in addition, doesn't necessarily result in the undesirable effect upon the community that is indicated. That was very impressive.

*shrugs*

Good luck with this, guys. I must say that having read this, however, I have an overwhelming urge to stop using capitalization on this site.
posted by The God Complex at 1:30 PM on December 29, 2004


Oh, I used the colon inaccurately!

They've got special pants for that.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:33 PM on December 29, 2004


Whatifwestoppedusingspacesbetweenwordsinstead?AvantGardeFilter.
posted by ludwig_van at 1:33 PM on December 29, 2004


At the next MeFi meetup, someone bring several sheets of paper with an FPP (or perhaps a MeTa post) printed on it. All members in attendance then comment on the post by writing their comments on the paper, followed by the "posted by __ at __ on __" line.

Then one member, pretending to be Seth, starts a new sheet complaining about everyone's poor penmanship.
posted by me3dia at 1:36 PM on December 29, 2004


as we say in the land where English began

Denmark? France? The Netherlands? Italy? India?
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:46 PM on December 29, 2004


"They've got special pants for that."

<nielson>
As a matter of fact, I'm using a pair right now.
</nielson>

Hey, look Ma! No need to copy and paste entities! Thank you Mr. Cold Fusion Guru!
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:50 PM on December 29, 2004


Ah, memories - School House Rock's Grammar Rock

Conjunction Junction

Ah, but it's never been the same after having seen Varla Jean Merman's rendition of School House Rock
posted by ericb at 1:58 PM on December 29, 2004


George_Spiggott - well done.

BTW - I burst out laughing with your subtle (and obviously intended) correction: "A preposition is a poor thing to end a sentence with." Brilliant.
posted by ericb at 2:11 PM on December 29, 2004


i love Varla! (she deserves a whole post maybe?) : >
posted by amberglow at 2:17 PM on December 29, 2004


coherence is the only requirement. capitalization and punctuation are only icing on the cake.
posted by crunchland at 2:22 PM on December 29, 2004


Seth, I'm afraid that the cure may be more painful than the disease.

Everyone should use their best writing (including spelling and grammar on the site). Except for TCS and quonsar. But there's no way to call out misspellings and mistakes and such without adding useless "hey bud, forgot your comma there didn'tcha?!" comments all over metafilter.

This addition of noise (compared to the sweet sweet signal) is going to be a royal pain. So we'll just have to restrict calling out only egregious examples, a la, "your a looser!1!!!" The only problem with this is that, well, we already fucking do this.

So, while I agree that Metafilter is an oasis of smart people, who write well and are fuck all funny, I think we're basically right back here. But with the added benefit of being able to call you a grammar nazi until the end of time.
posted by zpousman at 2:25 PM on December 29, 2004


me: as we say in the land where English began...
sidhedevil: Denmark? France? The Netherlands? Italy? India?


Eh? I'll defer to all the linguistic historians here, but English as a language separate from it's roots in Anglo-Saxon, Latin, French and the rest is surely well acknowledged. It is a language which arose, as a synthesis of others no doubt, and it wasn't in any of those named countries, was it Sidhedevil?

Having said that...you responded straight-faced to a tease from me. O well.
posted by dash_slot- at 2:34 PM on December 29, 2004


Let me just add that I did not suggest, originally, that we should all be the Grammar Police. Indeed, I think that would be bad. My post was asking if we could come to some sort of agreement or consensus on this. Then, hopefully, this thread would be a signal to those who might not know better that we, as a community, would appreciate them putting at least enough effort into their posts to use their best writing.

There is no need for excessive eloquence or grammar nitpicking, but everyone in the community hopefully can agree that we will all try to write well out of respect for each other. I understand that quonsar and tcs might be grandfathered this agreement, and that is fine. But I still think we need to send the message that we aspire to a higher degree of effort in our writing than do people who frequent AOL chat rooms.

I can't really tell from the responses, but does anyone have an objection to the idea that users ought to put forth at least enough effort into the posts that they become an indication of the writer's abilities?
posted by Seth at 2:42 PM on December 29, 2004


A (Very) Brief History of the English Language
posted by ericb at 2:46 PM on December 29, 2004


No, I was teasing you, dash_slot. Maybe we do need that sarcasm punctuation mark after all!
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:48 PM on December 29, 2004


dyslexics should be sent to hell
until they learn to fucking spell


As a dyslexic with a sense of humor, I find your statement/rhyme amusing. You cokcsuekrc!

/good-natured ribbing
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 2:49 PM on December 29, 2004


(",)
posted by dash_slot- at 2:51 PM on December 29, 2004


I can't really tell from the responses, but does anyone have an objection to the idea that users ought to put forth at least enough effort into the posts that they become an indication of the writer's abilities?

Fine, agreed. Next?

Actually Seth, in the arena of ideas, I do disagree. This is not a forum for writers, nor has it ever been so. If you pay me enough to write a thesis on every post, then you'll see the best damn writing I've ever put to screen. But this isn't my job; it's my diversion, and my participation here is solely for my amusement. If you think my efforts to keep myself entertained have anything to do with proving something to you, then you really are as deluded as you seem in your rants against the neaderthals who sadly share your beloved website.
posted by Wulfgar! at 2:55 PM on December 29, 2004


. < That's a capital '.'.
posted by mischief at 2:59 PM on December 29, 2004


I for one, while I really dislike the constant mourning for lost standards and ridiculous insistence that "rules" be followed, would like to express my simple appreciation of the general level of textual style seen on MetaFilter.

I don't think punctuation and grammar are arbitrary hegemonic strictures, and I think better of people who have at least waved a vague edit wand before posting. I don't think people need to triple proof every post, nor pay as much attention to a quick snark in a thread as to a front page post, but I appreciate that most people write mostly readable stuff most of the time. And I always think it's cute when people correct themselves. I think these are some of the things that set MeFi apart.

There's no reason nor possibility, though, for any way to enforce this beyond the usual normative forces present in any community. Write the way you'd like others to, acknowledge people who you think do a nice job, and don't get bent out of shape if not everyone falls in the same line with you.
posted by freebird at 3:06 PM on December 29, 2004


Neanderthals.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:07 PM on December 29, 2004


I almost agree with Seth. This gives me the willies.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:15 PM on December 29, 2004


I agree with freebird. And I most certainly agree with stavros.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 3:16 PM on December 29, 2004


Does Sidhedevil frighten anyone else? I picture her in her trophy room, holding a bouffant poodle, admiring a slaughterhouse row of dead Bugattis hanging from white scarves...
posted by Opus Dark at 3:20 PM on December 29, 2004


GS:

Passive voice is kosher, and in the case cited particularly so.

And get off it with the prepositions.

But I applaud your effort.
posted by cortex at 3:20 PM on December 29, 2004


And I love you, George_Spiggott, for using "begs the question" correctly.

I thank you in turn for calling my attention to Mr. Spiggott's wonderful post. And the question begging! Yay! I thought my mother and I were the the only people who noticed this sort of thing.

"Begs the question" is coming to mean "inviting" or "requiring" the question - is my belief that this is nearly opposite to it's original meaning correct?
posted by freebird at 3:21 PM on December 29, 2004


sorry: "to its original meaning". I hate spurious apostrophication and apologize sincerely for my lapse.
posted by freebird at 3:24 PM on December 29, 2004


Does Sidhedevil frighten anyone else? I picture her in her trophy room, holding a bouffant poodle, admiring a slaughterhouse row of dead Bugattis hanging from white scarves...

I am laughing my evil Maleficent laugh right now.

As for "begs the question", Michael Quinion explains it all for you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:45 PM on December 29, 2004


is my belief... correct?

Well, your belief seems correct, so it's clearly not wrong.
posted by trharlan at 3:47 PM on December 29, 2004


Cap-eschewing posts make me squint at the screen to determine commas from periods, so I skip 'em.
posted by goofyfoot at 3:49 PM on December 29, 2004


Indeed he does, sidhe, indeed he does. Thanks!
posted by freebird at 3:54 PM on December 29, 2004


I agree with the sentiment, but disagree on capitalisation as I think it is currently evolving quite rapidly. Just as we no longer cap proper nouns, perhaps soon we will no longer cap the first letter of sentences if there is only one in the piece of text. Further, is there any good reason to capitalise i? The French don't cap moi, f'rinstance.

Apostrophe misuse is far worse -- it conveys a difference in meaning, whereas capitalisation is little more than design.
posted by bonaldi at 3:55 PM on December 29, 2004


I hate it too, I learned to hate it

and now you must learn to live with it, or let it drive you crazy. for some of you, that's clearly a very, very short drive.
posted by t r a c y at 4:01 PM on December 29, 2004


As for "begs the question", Michael Quinion explains it all for you.

If I may quote myself:
This is one of those issues that is catnip to the adolescent language-lover but which a sensible person grows out of. I too used to enjoy tormenting people with the "truth" about the phrase, but I eventually realized that, whatever its origins in philosophy and petitio principii, I had never seen or heard the phrase used "correctly" except by people making a point of doing so (cf. "hoi polloi"); in current English usage, "beg the question" means 'raise the question,' and that's that. I got over it, and so should Safire. (An anguished appraisal by the earnest Michael Quinion of World Wide Words ends by saying the phrase is "better avoided altogether"; like Fowler's similar recommendation concerning "hoi polloi," this counsel of despair is a sign that the language has sailed on, leaving wistful archaists treading water and clutching at the stern.)
posted by languagehat at 4:02 PM on December 29, 2004


langhat, as I said on the earlier thread, this is one of the rare cases in which I disagree with you profoundly and whole-heartedly.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:09 PM on December 29, 2004


Seth, you did this just so I'd have to agree with you, cause you knew it would mess with my head. Despite your self-godwinization, I agree that it's nicer when everybody tries harder to post better. And thank you all for the many erudite, articulate posts above. I'm not askeered of sidhedevil, but I want to know how to pronounce her(?) name.
posted by theora55 at 4:10 PM on December 29, 2004


Seth, I suspect your target audience doesn't read The Gray. With that aside, I agree with y'all.
posted by geekyguy at 4:11 PM on December 29, 2004


"Sidhe" + "devil".

And, yes, I am a female woman with XX chromosomes who is a lady.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:12 PM on December 29, 2004


I was slipping toward languagehat's position on begging questions, but I think the Quinion piece has changed my mind. The old usage is something that isn't easily otherwise expressed, while the new usage is trivially so. This is my usual usage test, so I think it's a worthy cause.
posted by freebird at 4:15 PM on December 29, 2004


I'll disagree with you languagehat, at least in the narrow context of legal argumentation. I generally let casual misuse of the phrase in normal conversation pass without comment, but it pains me to see it misused in a brief. In the legal context, at least, the two usages have different implications and demand different responses.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 4:18 PM on December 29, 2004


"This is my usual usage test..."

Mine, too. That test very nicely distinguishes my descriptivist and prescriptivist inclinations.

...but not completely. A secondary but very important test is whether the expression is easily comprehensible on its face. The correct use of "begs" in this expression, I think, fails that test. I vaguely intuit there must be some archaic use of "beg" that means this, but I'm not really aware of it. So I'm ambivalent about "begs the question". For this reason, the tiebreaker for me becomes descriptivism out of practicality.

On Preview: I agree with monju_bosatsu but, at the risk of putting words in her mouth, think her point is that certain contexts imply the correct usage and the incorrect usage is, well, quite misleading and jarring. Any technical use of the phrase should be correct. But that creates a big tension between casual and technical usage. Thus, I've a mind to agree with those above who suggest the expression is just best avoided entirely.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 4:28 PM on December 29, 2004


I actually suggest that people use the phrase "petitio principii" in formal discourse, just to avoid misunderstandings.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:31 PM on December 29, 2004


Jesus, I agree with Seth on two MeTa's in a row. This is getting creepy.

The reason people don't use capitals has nothing to do with aesthetic expression. It's because they were never taught to type correctly. If you were taught to type correctly, it would require more effort to contradict the instinctual need to capitalize after each period. Unfortunately, kids these days learn to type on computers instead of typewriters, and have become proficient in the use of the BACKSPACE key.

Abject laziness masked with rightous indignation and self-importance... it's just another sign of the times. Except for quonsar, because his wit outshines any of our petty language contrivances.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:38 PM on December 29, 2004


The sooner you realize that you can't control other people's spelling, punctuation, and grammar, the sooner you'll find happiness.

No, but we sure can laugh at 'em. A lot. And do.

But alas, this fight was fought and lost a long time ago (check your Meta history). I blame clavdivs.
posted by rushmc at 4:44 PM on December 29, 2004


Nah, that's rubbish C_D. My job means I instinctively correct mistakes and most of the English that flows from my fingers is as correct as the speed I type it at allows. Even I, though, have stopped capitalising my name in almost all contexts, and have to remember consciously to do so when writing about other people.

(note that I wasn't talking about not putting capitals at the start of sentences per se, just standalones such as this one, or in other non-sentence-delineating contexts)
posted by bonaldi at 4:47 PM on December 29, 2004


What would Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan say?
posted by airguitar at 4:55 PM on December 29, 2004


I learned to type on a typewriter. Grammar, capitalization, and punctuation were not part of the class. They were taught in English class, though, and I suspect that they still are.

That said, I agree with most of the points Seth made at the top of this thread. But capitalization, it seems to me, is an odd choice in terms of issues to emphasize.
posted by bingo at 5:09 PM on December 29, 2004


I think it's a kind of "broken windows" approach, bingo (which I can actually understand).

Basically, if you're frustrated with how things are going, you've got to draw a line in the sand somewhere, and well-worded comments--like unbroken windows or no graffiti--means that "the people who live here give a crap".

(Not that I actually like Giuliani at all, but as a NYer, you can see where he was coming from. Kind of a weird parallel with all the folks who are saying "I never thought I'd agree with Seth...")
posted by LairBob at 5:14 PM on December 29, 2004


I actually suggest that people use the phrase "petitio principii" in formal discourse, just to avoid misunderstandings.

Exactly. The old usage is "easily otherwise expressed," and on the rare occasions when it's called for, the solution is at hand (we use plenty of Latin phrases in English, especially legal English, so don't complain about that). And telling people to "avoid the expression" is silly; people use their language as they see fit and 99% of them pay no attention to pedants who try to tell them otherwise, so all you're accomplishing is aggravating yourself to no good end. But whatever dots your i...
posted by languagehat at 5:51 PM on December 29, 2004


Oh, and for those who didn't bother to follow Sidhedevil's link, it's pronounced "she-devil," which is such a nice pun that I've always been unreasonably fond of her, and I don't care whether she agrees with my mad descriptivism or not.
posted by languagehat at 6:00 PM on December 29, 2004


I love your mad descriptivism, languagehat, even though I don't share it.

And as an editor, I generally change "begs the question" to "raises the question" when "raises the question" is meant, and "begs the question" to either "makes a circular argument" or "commits the logical fallacy known as petitio principii" when that is meant.

Alas, I am about as likely to be voted Editor of the World as I am to be voted Queen of the World.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:12 PM on December 29, 2004


Terrific discussion here, and encouraging to see a really strong consensus for capital letters. I thought I was the only one who cringed at Farkish grammar on MetaFilter. As Goofyfoot points out, the convention exists for a reason, capital letters give the reader another set of visual clues to determine the breaks between sentences. Capitalizing shows respect for the reader and is just good manners.
posted by LarryC at 6:18 PM on December 29, 2004


suggest that people use the phrase "petitio principii"

I actually thought you were being sarcastic at first...now I entirely agree. This is by far the best solution, in that it is precise in expression; neatly resolves the issue of current usage; and passes the "easily otherwise expressed" test with flying colors. I now change my vote yet again.

Wonderful - this is the best Ask Me I've seen yet: thanks Seth!
posted by freebird at 7:10 PM on December 29, 2004


Now that I've seen the phrase, I agree that petitio principii is an elegant way to solve the question-begging problem, especially in legal arguments. Most judges and lawyers are used to seeing latin phrases at least occasionally, so this seems an apt solution.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:18 PM on December 29, 2004


It's a rare joy to see an appreciation of the nice distinction between begging and raising a question.

We don't have to be Nazi's about it.

Uh, Seth, you want to lose the apostrophe there.

I've actually thought about which looks better, "Mefi" or "MeFi". Even though it started out as MeFi, I think Mefi is the way to go. Interword capitals are grating, and words do evolve in their spelling. We no longer write to-day or use the umlaut with cooperate, for example.

But if you really have to say MeTa you need the intercap, I suppose.
posted by mono blanco at 7:20 PM on December 29, 2004


people use their language as they see fit and 99% of them pay no attention to pedants who try to tell them otherwise, so all you're accomplishing is aggravating yourself to no good end


This is of course the real issue here, and I agree for the most part. This clearly implies, however, that people who think it's fun to ponder these kinds of things must be allowed to do so without being branded pedants. I don't really care which usages and capitalization schemes are deemed appropriate for MetaFilter in the end, but I'm really stoked to get the "begging the question" question resolved, and appreciate the help in doing so afforded by Seth's rant - overwrought a rant as I may think it - and the response thereto.

So, I say argue on! What about "like" and "as though"? Is MetaFilter but a cenotaph for a vanished style of discourse? R U OK with Abbrevs? FPP you? I may think these meta arguments don't go anywhere, but they can make a glorious din!
posted by freebird at 7:40 PM on December 29, 2004


Isn't "like" a preposition and "as though" a subordinating conjunction? If "like" is used to mean something similar to "as though" or "as if," it should only be followed by a pronoun, noun, or noun phrase, yes?
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:57 PM on December 29, 2004


I think what would help is an increase in FPPs to links that were actually (ok, putatively, even) proofread by actual, human editors. Or MS Word's spellcheck. By presenting the newbie rabble (along with fornicators, bed spouse-farters, and unreconstructed snarkers) with positive examples of well-edited prose, free of orthographical sin and at least marginally coherent, the tone could be refined, our precious bodily fluids preserved, etc., etc.

Luckily for us such links are readily available, abundant, and frequently revised. Most people refer to these pillars of form over content as news sites, and their excessive presence here as newsfilter.

So bring on newsfilter, I say. There's no way to teach these slobs save example. If this contradicts the First Rule of SethRobotics, I'm afraid your only recourse is to let your explode. Try not to get anything on me.

Seriously, this is a website, not a term paper. Print it out and edit the paper copy if it bugs you that much. It might be easier on your monitor, too. Not to mention the other 20,000 of us.
posted by trondant at 8:11 PM on December 29, 2004


Next time, Seth, write out your beef, hit Preview, look at it again, and then surf on to somewhere else without hitting Post. I hear this is good advice.
posted by Doohickie at 9:31 PM on December 29, 2004


This clearly implies, however, that people who think it's fun to ponder these kinds of things must be allowed to do so without being branded pedants.

THANK you.
posted by rushmc at 9:33 PM on December 29, 2004


THANK you.

Hey, I ain't lookin for trouble, mister. I just mean some folks seem to object to this kind of discussion, and I find pedants saying that these concerns aren't worth talking about as silly as those saying they must be talked about. No huffiness implied or required.
posted by freebird at 9:38 PM on December 29, 2004


This clearly implies, however, that people who think it's fun to ponder these kinds of things must be allowed to do so without being branded pedants.

THANK you.


However, you clearly imply that the response in question wasn't directed at the pedants in this thread who are not pondering; rather, they--some of them--are getting up in arms over a lack of capitalization.


Terrific discussion here, and encouraging to see a really strong consensus for capital letters. I thought I was the only one who cringed at Farkish grammar on MetaFilter. As Goofyfoot points out, the convention exists for a reason, capital letters give the reader another set of visual clues to determine the breaks between sentences. Capitalizing shows respect for the reader and is just good manners.


That would make sense if people were looking at pages and pages of text without many formal breaks. However, what we're usually talking about here is two or three sentences without capitalization, which requires very few "visual cues" to wade through.

Personally, the only one that really bothers me is people who can't seem to put paragraph breaks into long blocks of text.
posted by The God Complex at 9:53 PM on December 29, 2004


Just as long as quonsar doesn't try to rip my head off for capitalizing his 'Q'. ;)

I'm not for turning MeFi into IM chat-speak central and for me there are worse crimes, such as, 'ain't' and 'alot' but my personal view is the message is more important than the form.

Surprised no one pointed out the word 'desireable' in the original post was misspelt.
posted by squeak at 10:53 PM on December 29, 2004


"Misspelt" (UK version). "misspelled" (US version)...

"You like potato and I like po-tah-to, You like tomato and I like to-mah-to; Potato, po-tah-to, tomato, to-mah-to - Let's call the whole thing off!" [Ira Gershwin from "Shall We Dance" - 1936].
posted by ericb at 1:22 AM on December 30, 2004


I say let each person capitalize or not according to their own preference. The ones who don't routinely capitalize will reveal themselves as such and I'll accordingly judge them in whatever manner I see fit.

On forums that have image avatars you can tell a lot about a user by their choice of graphic. Proper punctuation and grammar serve in much the same capacity here on MetaFilter.
posted by Ryvar at 2:31 AM on December 30, 2004


so much depends
upon
a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.


f the shift key.
posted by tsarfan at 2:36 AM on December 30, 2004


Off topic, but I spent some time in a seminar with the now UK publisher of red wheelbarrow, and he said that the sales to rights to red wheelbarrow are one of the reasons that caracanet continues to be able to publish poetry. As the poem is published in almost every Anthology going, they do alright out of it. I think they charge something tiny like £36.00 (my memory is vague & inaccurate) to publish the poem in a poetry anthology.

I wonder if the above comment is considered a breach of copyright and if anyone cares. Matt seems happy to delete links to pirated MP3s, but even though the rights to the piece are inexpensive, and they provide a lifeline to a struggling publisher, this seems (to me) somehow less of an infringement.

Not calling for heads or anything, but it's interesting what we're happy to copy.
posted by seanyboy at 3:37 AM on December 30, 2004


"Misspelt" (UK version). "misspelled" (US version)...

More like old version/ new version, isn't it? I use "misspelt" and I've never once coloured my language with extraneous ewes.
posted by yerfatma at 4:13 AM on December 30, 2004


But correct usage is not an elite affectation; it is a badge of competence.
posted by rushmc at 4:25 AM on December 30, 2004


Capitalizing shows respect for the reader and is just good manners.

This only matters if you're worried about the reader actually bothering to read what you've written. In many instances, I doubt the authors care (which, uh, begs the question... "Why do they bother?")
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:34 AM on December 30, 2004


just struck me that this applies to me, so perhaps i can explain why i don't bother, usually. i work in a technical area. whether i'm right or wrong about the things that are important to me is something that can be measured. it's not opinion, or impressions, or badges - it's results (if anything, not worrying about presentation makes the results look better).

incidentally, on askmefi - which is where i post most these days - things could be improved, i think, if people put more emphasis on being correct, rather than just expressing opinion (no matter how prettily).

i'm not saying i don't care about presentation. the appearance of things is important to me. what i'm rather less worried about is what other people think. so what i like may not be what you expect.

nor am i saying that it is never useful to follow the rules others expect. i know people feel more comfortable when faced with something that conforms to their expectations of what is proper. so if i want to "sell" something, i might put in the effort. most of my web pages are lower-case only, but this page, for example, which tries to introduce people to some recent work of mine (a new programming language), is capitalized. that may seem like a contradiction - haven't i just said that such things will be decided on technical results? in fact, it's a compromise. i need to put the effort in there to get people to even look at the results.

does that make sense? i do it not because i don't like you, or want to annoy you, or because i am pushing "devolution", or am lazy, or stupid, but because i like the way lower-case looks. if i need to make the effort i will - but only when i consider the effort necessary. and arguing the toss on mefi doesn't meet the cut, frankly.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:04 AM on December 30, 2004


I REALLY LIKE THE WAY THAT UPPER CASE LOOKS.

not really
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 5:49 AM on December 30, 2004


are you arguing that all lower-case is as visually offensive as all upper-case? i don't think it is, but if others really feel so, i'd like to know.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:54 AM on December 30, 2004


I'd say just the opposite, andrew--I can see where you (and e.e. cummings) were coming from, in terms of the visual esthetic of all lower-case. I don't think it looks bad.

I've got to admit, though, that it's more of an effort to read your longer posts than other folks, because capitalization is just a part of the visual pattern processing we use to read. There are just fewer "information cues" in your posts for the reader to use.
posted by LairBob at 6:05 AM on December 30, 2004


i'll chime in with andrew cooke. i lower case habitually. it's the way i type online. i've been called on it before, and i've explained it before: if netiquette says ALL CAPS is shouting, i came to the conclusion that all lower case is the equivalent of a friendly, informal conversation. when sending email, i use lower case with friends or colleagues. when i send email to someone i don't know well, or for official reasons, or when i do an FPP here, i use caps properly.

it becomes a bad habit, yes. i do understand that caps makes sentences easier to read for some, what with the visual cues that risers and descenders give to the word structure. i still see it as a friendly measure though, not as an assault on proper usage.

i do a lot of editing of undergraduate-level writing. i am an asshole with my red pen*. i can spot an errant double-space in a paragraph with justified margins. i have been known to scribble furiously all over these papers before handing them back in an attempt to shame my students into writing properly. i do know what i'm doing (although i rely on the spell-checker to tell me what the proper order of "ie" is in some specific words, and i always want to spell "separate" with a "per" rather than a "par", but at least i realize my shortcomings, eh?).

so will i stop? probably not. i type with two fingers, and hitting the shift key does slow me down. there are days (like today) when i have a hard enough time just hitting the right keys in the right oder to begin with to bother with the damn shift key. (well hell, it got me through grad school... i've decided that i'll learn to touch-type when the world switches to a dvorak keyboard layout, which will be sometime about never, i guess.) i do however use the shift key for punctuation, and i really loathe the silly abbreviations that grew out of laziness and text messaging (when i do send a text message, i send it in english, not in gibberish!), but i remain an unapologetic lower case afficionado. if that toasts your ass, well, don't read what i type.

(*there have been times that i've even wanted to edit bathroom graffiti. it's a sickness, i know.)
posted by caution live frogs at 6:10 AM on December 30, 2004


"order". not "odor". damn two-fingered typ(o)ing again.
posted by caution live frogs at 6:11 AM on December 30, 2004


better punctuation and shorter sentences would help me too. :o)

i say leave it to market forces. i'm aware some people aren't so keen on it. if i felt no-one read my posts because they had no caps, i'd add caps. so if you find the reward not worth the cost, feel free to skip! i won't take it personally (and maybe that's part of the problem - i don't really understand why other do take it so personally...).

(i generally do fpps with caps, heeding earlier complaints).
posted by andrew cooke at 6:15 AM on December 30, 2004


I wouldn't really stress about it, andrew--there's obviously so much that goes into a post that capitalization is only a small part of it. For a well-thought, well-written insight, dealing with the lack of caps is really a negligible effort.

On the other hand, comments that are poorly thought-through, _and_ poorly formatted--no caps, bad spelling, internet-jargon--can be infuriating. I'm assuming that's where most of the ire that Seth has tapped into comes from.

You read some comments, and it's like "Jesus H. Christ, can you not lift a friggin' finger? If you can't be bothered to form an intelligent thought, why do you even bother posting if it's too much effort to type correctly?"
posted by LairBob at 6:39 AM on December 30, 2004


As people have said to me about my long-windedness: you should be aware that a substantial deviation from the norm disinclines people to read your comments. Still, some things are so beyond the pale that they are intrusive and deserve widespread intolerance. I'll admit that really long comments are an example, as are all-caps and l33t speak. Eschewing capitalization is not, I think. But it certainly does grate on many of us.

Andrew and others are making an honest case for nocaps, but all I can say is that it has always struck me as either profound laziness or an obnoxious affectation. I'm not alone in this—just as those who criticize my prolixity are not alone in assigning to it an implicit arrogant sense of self-importance...regardless of my intent. The point is that intent can only matter so much—why Andrew and others eschew caps is not the totality of the argument. It annoys, regardless of intent.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:52 AM on December 30, 2004


i don't know how to say this nicely. perhaps because it's not nice. but if i were completely honest i'd have to admit to having a certain caricature in my head, rather unsympathetic, of "people who are excessively annoyed by grammatical errors". and, of course, annoying those people - or rather, that caricature - doesn't worry me much (it's not a reason for using lower case, but it does lower the weight of criticism against it). which is why i was surprised by the all-caps remark, because i can understand that. for a moment the caricature fell away.

on the other hand, i'm also sufficiently self/politically aware (i hope!) to know that relying on caricatures is not a Good Thing. so i'm willing to make some kind of attempt to understand the position and compromise (as i have done above and with caps in fpps).

as things stand, i think the equilibrium is pretty fair, given the (low) stakes involved (on both sides).
posted by andrew cooke at 7:33 AM on December 30, 2004


I don't like no caps, but andrew cooke and caution live frogs are among the people whose posts are otherwise so thoughtfully composed and highly literate that the caplessness hardly bugs me.

If everyone wrote as well as they, I wouldn't miss caps at all. Many of the capless battalions, however, are thoughtless and lazy writers as well as shunners of the Shift key.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:35 AM on December 30, 2004


(thanks, but i'm on best behaviour here. i can post crap too... anyway, i must do some work...)
posted by andrew cooke at 7:43 AM on December 30, 2004


ANYWAY JERry and I figared out how to overcalock his playstatian 2 to get expanded local cabal services and now we are playaing GRAD THEFT AUTO: SAN ADVERSAS ON IT!!! We downloaded teh game useing THE PHANTOM CONSOUL SERVICES FOR A WHOPING $9.95 A MOTH PLUS SERVICE FESS ADN LOCAL TAXES MAY APPLY CONSULT A DEALAR FOR CASH BACK BONUESE . teh Phantom lets yuos download teh hottaast games such as Marbal Madness 2004 and Pregnant Mom Boxeing Pagent 9: Hell on Wheels witch si a good deal no mattar how yuo look at it. also I downladed my garage door openar so now teh worald si my oyaster and jerry can finally shut up next tiem his cat Muffin chasses a pesky rodent up my alleyway. the phantom game console has a hemi too, but engugh about taht, now I am will here to talks about Grad Theft Auto: My Son Andre.

THIS GAME IS ABOUT RAP MUSIC
posted by darukaru at 7:52 AM on December 30, 2004


people who think it's fun to ponder these kinds of things must be allowed to do so without being branded pedants

Sure! I love pondering and discussing these things. But it enrages me to see people pretending that these things are some kind of indicator of intelligence or moral worth; that's nothing but naked elitism and self-interest ("I got an expensive education and I want to hold onto the goodies, so fuck everybody else!"), so I tend to get snippy when these discussions turn in that direction (as they almost always do). I'm thoroughly enjoying the civilized discussion about the merits or otherwise of capitalization; for what it's worth, I'm only mildly annoyed by lack of capitalization (as found in the works of andrew cooke and clf). All caps, on the other hand, is hideous. (Except in appropriate venues.)
posted by languagehat at 8:16 AM on December 30, 2004


zelda??? more like celllda!!!!
posted by bonaldi at 8:19 AM on December 30, 2004


Ho! I am very embarrassed to see grammatical errors or misspellings in my posts, so I'm rather careful, and pretty much abide by all the capitalization rules, etc...

But on the other hand, I catch myself going out to the corner grocery in my house slippers. There are other people here who are not very self-conscious about how they write, who never in a million years would forget to put on their real shoes before leaving the house... So a lot of this is just down to personality and idiosyncrasy. I've never even quite noticed that andrew cooke doesn't capitalize, but that's mostly because I'm actually reading what he says; with some other people, I notice every mistake and every departure from standard/accepted.
posted by taz at 9:43 AM on December 30, 2004


are you arguing that all lower-case is as visually offensive as all upper-case?

If ALL CAPS is a 10 on the visually offensive chart, all lower case is a 7.
posted by rushmc at 9:56 AM on December 30, 2004


people pretending that these things are some kind of indicator of intelligence or moral worth

Check. I obviously tend to over-react the other way, because so many people assume that being interested in questions about usage and meaning requires that I judge them for not being so. I won't pretend that it's hard for me to not have a slight negative reaction to really poorly structured language, but I think that's reasonable.

I must admit, though, that I am indeed a Fan of Old-School (I think of it as Germanic though that's probably an Ignorant Fantasy) capitalization of All Manner of Noun-Related Words. "Mason and Dixon" was like a Tome of Linguistic Porn for me.

I like your metaphor, Live Frogs, but I'd argue that if ALLCAP is yelling, then nocap is more a sussurant murmur, barely heard above the passing traffic and hubbub of modern discourse. I think some capitalization adds an Organic Human Feeling to text, which I enjoy in these Cold Empty Spaces. And I think the visual cues are nice in a text-heavy context like this.

But really, do what you like. Anyone who cares what they write is OK in my book, however they do it - the caring part is all that really matters, the rest is a Matter of Taste.
posted by freebird at 9:57 AM on December 30, 2004


Indeed, the German People capitalize all of their Nouns.

In the English Language, though, I tend to associate it with Books for Children, like the Works of A. A. Milne, for Example.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:09 AM on December 30, 2004


I, tellingly, associate it with T. Herman Zweibel.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:26 AM on December 30, 2004


In the English Language, though, I tend to associate it with Books for Children

It has not always been so, however, and I think of the usage in Children's Books as nostalgic reference to Old-Timey Stories. Loving both, I am undisturbed by the association.

In the interest of even-handedness, I should also admit there are circumstances in which I think nocap looks really nice. Here on MeFi, I enjoy the wide array of "accents" and "voices" provided by the various posting styles, and would hate to see one approach take over. There's no simple set relationship between the group of people who I think write well here and any single camp in the Capitalization Wars.

So, in the end, while I share some of Seth's concern over sloppy posting, I cannot agree that there is a "right way to do it", other than caring about what you post.

We are devo.
posted by freebird at 10:45 AM on December 30, 2004


Oh, yeah, must we tolerate the intellectual sloppiness of this use of the word "devolution"? It annoys the living fuck out of me and drives me batshit freakout crazy. Thanks.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:51 AM on December 30, 2004


I'm bored so I will point out seth's punctuation mistakes:

#1. There is no such thing as a triple dash. You can use a double dash to typographically represent an Em-Dash if you would like. It must also be surrounded by spaces.

#2. You cannot use a semicolon in that manner. A semicolon is appropriate only as a joiner between nearly complete sentences or as a list separator when a comma is in some complete list items.

#3. When using a space between paragraphs to separate, rather than indenting paragraphs, one should leave a space between the headline for a list and the list itself.

#4. When using quotation marks for a sentence the first letter must be capitalized.

#5. I doubt you own Nazis.

Don't take it personally, but you did ask for it.
posted by shepd at 10:57 AM on December 30, 2004


Surrounding an em-dash with spaces? Never!
posted by monju_bosatsu at 11:02 AM on December 30, 2004


"...an Em-Dash if you would like. It must also be surrounded by spaces."

What monju said.

"#5. I doubt you own Nazis."

Just shows how little you know Seth. They're expensive, yes, but sometimes you can pick them up in bulk.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:04 AM on December 30, 2004


...it enrages me to see people pretending that these things are some kind of indicator of intelligence or moral worth; that's nothing but naked elitism and self-interest ("I got an expensive education and I want to hold onto the goodies, so fuck everybody else!")...

No no no, that is not the point at all--though rereading my comments I can see where I came off that way and I apologize all around.

This discussion has not been about not knowing the rules due to lack of an education, i.e. subject-verb agreement, or the proper use of "begs the question." It is about a rule that some people consciously choose to flout. Andrew Cooke makes a polite argument for simply preferring the lower case, seems genuinely surprised that it makes a bad impression, and correctly says that the factual accuracy of a post is more important than its presentation. But EB nails it when he writes that nocaps "has always struck me as either profound laziness or an obnoxious affectation" and that "intent can only matter so much."

And George_Spiggot's and Darukaru's witty posts are not really germane. Again, this is not about typos or arcane points of grammar, but about something that every single one of us understands. Lair Bob has it right, it is the broken window of Metafilter, a visual cue (to many readers anyway) that the poster is not serious.

Ah hell, lets all go outside and take a nice walk.
posted by LarryC at 11:13 AM on December 30, 2004


EB, that was funny as hell.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:22 AM on December 30, 2004


A semicolon is appropriate only as a joiner between nearly complete sentences or as a list separator when a comma is in some complete list items.

I've always thought the "joiner" usage required that the two components be a restatement or nearly so; it shouldn't be used to simply link sentence fragments but to juxtapose two formulations of a single idea.
posted by freebird at 11:26 AM on December 30, 2004


I've always seen it as more flexible; it expresses a degree of relationship between clauses that needn't be so nearly identical, merely related.
posted by cortex at 12:41 PM on December 30, 2004


According to The Associated Press Guide to Puncutation, the semicolon "serves to link independent clauses sharing the same general ideas." They don't have to be identical, but they should relate. However, they must be able to stand on their own, i.e., a period could stand in for the semicolon and both would remain valid sentences. If not, a comma is appropriate.

Semicolons are also used to separate items in a list when one or more of the items contains a comma.
posted by me3dia at 1:28 PM on December 30, 2004


I agree; I simply dislike when it's two sentences related only by subject conjoined.
posted by freebird at 1:29 PM on December 30, 2004


It must also be surrounded by spaces.

No. And on further reading, everyone has already said this.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:52 PM on December 30, 2004


I will surround anything I wish with spaces -- and NONE OF YOU* CAN STOP ME!

AHAHAHAHAHAHA!

*except Matt
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:00 PM on December 30, 2004


*surrounds     mr_crash_davis     with spaces*
posted by monju_bosatsu at 2:10 PM on December 30, 2004


Hey, isn't it neat (he asks again) that we don't have to cut-and-paste entities back in after previewing?
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:11 PM on December 30, 2004


I'm often lazy about caps, I think because I tend to find lowercase more visually appealing... small letters are more homey and friendly than the big blocky UPPERCASE (and probably a 9th grade obsession with 'anyone lived in a pretty how town' & all that has contributed to my tendency).

Like most people, of course, I unfortunately seem to think my 'median' is just right, and do find myself annoyed by those who can't be bothered to form proper sentences/ familiarize themselves with basic rules of punctuation/ etc., so I'll try to remember to cap people's names and such, in the spirit of 'do unto others...'
posted by mdn at 2:12 PM on December 30, 2004


EB: Actually, I had to cut-and-paste the non-breaking space entities back into my post after previewing. Other entities which actually create a character work fine, I think.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 2:17 PM on December 30, 2004


OK - we (you) sorted out the 'Begs the question' conundrum and for that, I'm grateful. Now, if you wouldn't mind doing the same to this little beauty...?

As a expatriated Englishman in America, I'm confused by the use of 'I could care less' as a phrase, when I was brought up on a staple of 'I couldn't care less'es. Can we thrash this one out here too please, so that I can either change my couldn'ts to coulds, or continue to correct and berate others?

To me, 'I couldn't care less' means that I already care the minimum amount I could care, i.e. zero. I don't care. I have no amount of caring. What's the rationale behind 'I could care less'? I mean, how could it mean anything other than 'I care an amount, under which, there is another amount of caring that could be construed as caring less, i.e. I care a bit' Oh fuck, someone help. I can't even understand that myself.

Separately, if you were talking specifically about the apostrophe in the word couldn't - could you call it couldn't's apostrophe?

On Preview: Can the collection of the phrase 'couldn't care less' really be 'couldn't care less'es?
posted by BadSeamus at 2:19 PM on December 30, 2004


The typical use of the phrase "I could care less" is simply wrong. It does not mean what the speaker thinks it means.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 2:22 PM on December 30, 2004


As Strunk & White muses, "I could care less" may be used sarcastically which does, then, mean what the speaker/writer intends.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:37 PM on December 30, 2004


I've always thought it should be "I couldn't care less" as well, but it's a phrase I don't use so I don't "correct and berate" over it. I think "I could care less" makes some amount of sense as a sort of sarcastic offer, implying that "I really don't care much, and could care still less if you want to make a big deal out of it". But I think that's reaching...basically I think it's an idiom that no longer makes literal sense.

couldn't's...oh my gosh. It seems like you need to identify the word itself as referent, but "couldn't"'s is even worse, so...blech. Same with collections of apostrophed phrases - I don't know of an elegant solution other than the apostrophe in "couldn't".

On Preview:
It does not mean what the speaker thinks it means.

I tend to think it means what they think it means, it just no longer makes literal sense.
posted by freebird at 2:42 PM on December 30, 2004


The typical use of the phrase "I could care less" is simply wrong. It does not mean what the speaker thinks it means.

See, this is just silly. No offense, monju, you're simply making use of a common (but silly) prescriptivist trope. If the speaker uses it to mean "I don't care," and the listener understands it to mean "I don't care," then that's what it means. The fact that some overlogical bystander hollers "Hey, wait a minute, you guys, it can't possibly mean that, because..." is irrelevant. It's like claiming "tidal wave" can't mean 'tsunami' because tsunamis aren't caused by tides; "tsunami" itself means 'harbor wave,' so by the same standard it can't mean 'tsunami' either.

BadSeamus, your question is a good one, and the answer (as with many such questions) is: language isn't logical. However many people would like it to be, it isn't, and it never will be, because people aren't logical. We can use logic as a tool, but it's not basically the way our brains work. The only relevant question about this or any other phrase is "how do native speakers use it?" If English speakers use "I could care less" and "I couldn't care less" interchangeably (as they do), then they mean the same thing, which is interesting but no more problematic than the fact that "slow up" and "slow down" mean the same thing. Languages are full of oddities; that's why they're so much fun to study.

On preview:
I tend to think it means what they think it means, it just no longer makes literal sense.

Exactly, and the idea that language should make "literal sense" is the cause of no end of trouble.
posted by languagehat at 2:50 PM on December 30, 2004


Spoilsport.

How about "cheap at half the price"? Shouldn't it be "cheap at twice the price"?

If it was half the price, of course it would be cheap (or cheaper, at least).
posted by timeistight at 2:58 PM on December 30, 2004


Exactly, and the idea that language should make "literal sense" is the cause of no end of trouble.

So, you mean that idea has never actually been responsible for the cessation of any particular difficulty?
posted by freebird at 3:05 PM on December 30, 2004


small letters are more homey and friendly than the big blocky UPPERCASE

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT FRIENDLY SMALL CAPS?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:23 PM on December 30, 2004


I agree with LH, mostly. But it glosses over the problem that words and expressions are at least anchored in their "literal", shall we say, meaning. Most of these sorts of things actually make perfect "literal" (superficial? what's the word I'm looking for here?) sense in the context in which the word/expression evolved.

I think this is a different situation than the complaint against double-negatives. There is no self-evident way in which to correctly parse double-negatives. It's only those who are habituated to a certain kind of symbolic logic that insist that a double-negative is equal to a positive. (As LH will tell us, there's a great many languages in which additional negatives are regularly intensifiers.) But the superficial meanings of "I could care less" and "I couldn't care less" are, I think, incontrovertible. It's reasonably to ask why "I could care less" means "I couldn't care less". "Because it does" is a reasonable answer. But it's obvious that something unusual is going on here because people don't commonly ask why "I am cold" implies that one is not warm. That "I could care less" is other than it appears is the exception, not the rule.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:24 PM on December 30, 2004


"cheap at half the price"
I remember when this entered the English Language. The phrase did use to be "cheap at twice the price", but someone on TV inverted it for the laugh, then people started copying it, and very slowly it started to insinuate itself into the language. Now, people say it to mean "very cheap", and the original meaning and saying is almost lost.

I have a slight mistrust for all lowercase. It's not common enough yet to be an acceptable form of language, and as such I can't get over the feeling that it may just be a passing fad.

I guess that in the fast moving world of the internet, fads are not a problem, but if we still worked in the medium of print, and the lifetime of a work could potentially be longer than the fad then an insistence on a syntax which we felt would still be in existence in 10 years time might be a good thing. It's not enough that we are understood now, but we have to make sure that our words are understood by those in the future, or indeed those who haven't grown up with txt-speak or l33t speak.

Grammar changes and is flexible, but if we want to be understood I think it's important to work within the current set of rules.

And that's me sounding self important. ARGGHHHH!
posted by seanyboy at 3:24 PM on December 30, 2004


I've always assumed that the transformation of the logical "I couldn't care less" to "I could care less" was related to the quick run of consonants in the middle--that's a pretty common effect, as I understand it, where complex sounds get simplified or "smoothed out" in common usage, and it makes sense that a flip comment would lend itself to being expressed carelessly. Not that it was conscious, but the troublesome "n't" dropped out because the whole point is to express the idea that "I can't be bothered".

That being said, I also assumed the "it's sarcastic" take was an effort to rescue things after the fact--it's a viable explanation, on the surface, but it's not usually said, or taken, as a sarcastic comment. Like languagehat said, both sides seem to very clearly understand what's meant, on the face of it, despite the actual syntax.
posted by LairBob at 3:26 PM on December 30, 2004


correctly parse double-negatives
Ha! When I was a lad we had single-negatives and they could mean anything. A phrase such as "It's not cold" meant anything from "It's really hot" to "It actually is cold" to "It's really really cold"

They were confusing times.
posted by seanyboy at 3:30 PM on December 30, 2004


I've always assumed that the transformation of the logical "I couldn't care less" to "I could care less" was related to the quick run of consonants in the middle

That's a plausible explanation I hadn't thought of.

there's a great many languages in which additional negatives are regularly intensifiers

*applauds populist use of "there's" with plural*
posted by languagehat at 3:33 PM on December 30, 2004


Hee! I consider that a mistake. Would have written it otherwise had I caught it.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:37 PM on December 30, 2004


applauds populist use of "there's" with plural

Sweet Baby Jesus man, do you draw no lines at all?
posted by freebird at 3:39 PM on December 30, 2004


It's a perverse leap from this discussion to the Steam forums which I visit (not often, but too frequently) to peek at the Valve community zeitgeist.

Our little horrors, our pitiful quibbles? Poppyseeds in the gumline of the otherworldy beast that spawns this sort of thing:

maybe yes, maybe no............... i got no prob in my hl2 too (it runs great) but remember..........no game is perfect..........lets go back in the time and remember the day when hl1 has realesed.............. MY GOD, THIS GAME SUCKS, TOO MANY BUGS...........and now : HL1 IS GREAT, NO BUGS.............

maybe its time for you go play with another system specs because no one have money to upgrade the system everytime they launch a game...............

posted by cortex at 3:40 PM on December 30, 2004


For what it's worth, I strongly suspect that I made that mistake because my native argot would result in something like "there is a bunch of X"—which I would defend as correct because I think of "bunch of X" as a sort of, um, collective noun. For whatever reason, an affectation I suppose, I chose to subsitute "great many" for "bunch", which I won't defend.

Now, can someone explain to me these horrific "............."? Why are they ubiquitous? What do people think they represent? Ahhhh! I hate them!
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:49 PM on December 30, 2004


I'd been meaning to ask about the American/English play off of couldXX care less for ages, (having made a guess at LairBob's explanation). I had assumed it would be a case for putting out the LH signal.

At times MeFi is like sitting at a cafe where eventually everyone you know will go past.

Also, since I only came to this thread after seeing Seth pilloried on a number of other threads for being over-the-top on what I assume is this issue, I'd like to say that I appreciate the concerns he enunciates in this thread.
posted by biffa at 3:57 PM on December 30, 2004


HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT FRIENDLY SMALL CAPS?

They're like baby elephants. Quite adorable now & then, but would probably not want to live with them all the time...

I've also always assumed it's a pronunciation issue regarding the "could care less" thing.

and LH, I get that you're no prescriptivist, but come on... when parts of language conflict directly with other parts of language, it's worth attempting to straighten out the confusion, isn't it?
posted by mdn at 4:30 PM on December 30, 2004


Sweet Baby Jesus man, do you draw no lines at all?

If by "draw lines" you mean "claim that native speakers are using their own language wrong," then no, I draw no lines at all. My position (which is that of anyone who has studied the science of linguistics) is that native speakers can make slips of the tongue but they cannot "use bad grammar" -- if a sizable group of native speakers of English naturally say "there's a great many [plural noun]," then that's correct grammar for their dialect. That's what grammar is; the books just set it down in some kind of useful arrangement. And for the love of Pete, "parts of language conflict directly with other parts of language" all the time; how can you not see that? The past tense of English verbs ends in -ed... except when it doesn't. E comes before i except when it doesn't. Russian uses perfective verbs in situation X and imperfective in situation Y -- oh, except when Z, and sometimes there are exceptions to that. Did you catch my earlier example of "slow up" and "slow down"? How do you explain that to a learner? Language, like the people who speak it, is irredeemably multiplex and confusing and illogical; like Whitman, it can say "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes." It's natural for a certain type of mind (a type perhaps overrepresented here on MeFi) to want to bring order to human chaos, to lay down some rules and tell people to RTFM. But it doesn't work. People speak the way they speak and write the way they write, and yelling at them does no good except to make the more susceptible feel guilty.

Look at poor EB. Here's a guy educated to within an inch of his life (he's probably read more classics than most MeFites have even heard of), a guy who writes with flair and excellent register control, and when I point out his use of the perfectly normal construction "there's [plural noun]," a construction just about everyone uses all the time in conversation ("Damn, there's a shitload of crows on that telephone wire"), he gets all embarrassed and says "Would have written it otherwise had I caught it." Why? It's normal English speech, he obviously says it himself (or he wouldn't have written it)... but it's "not logical," it "doesn't follow the rules," so it's like farting in public -- you apologize and try to do better. Bah! My mission in life is to get that embarrassment out of as many people's heads as possible. Speak and write with as much passion and precision and grace as you can muster, and fuck the pedants and their alleged logic and their invented rules. Fuck 'em, I say. In the immortal words of Robert A. Hall Jr., Leave Your Language Alone!
posted by languagehat at 5:16 PM on December 30, 2004


If the speaker uses it to mean "I don't care," and the listener understands it to mean "I don't care," then that's what it means.

Yeah, yeah, and Peace is War, Love is Hate, yadda yadda...and languagehat is Wrong.

Your apparent notion of "native speakers" is interesting, too, as it eliminates all levels of proficiency in a set of speakers simply because they have been exposed to no other languages, or simply to this one first. In your mind, it seems, there is no qualitative (or even "real") difference between someone with a vocabulary of 50,000 words and someone with a vocabulary of 10,000 words, and the usage of each should be considered as equal. Which is simply delusional. Adam Sandler is not equal to Shakespeare, linguistically least of all.

I will agree with your basic premise that languages are constantly changing, that the very idea of a static language is almost meaningless, but where you go from there baffles and appalls me.
posted by rushmc at 5:50 PM on December 30, 2004


The phrase is generally pronounced "I koont kay-ah less" around here.

Bad Seamus, it's just one of those weird idioms that means the opposite of the actual words it contains. You know, like "I don't mean to be cruel," "Stop me if you've heard this one before," and "for your convenience".
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:13 PM on December 30, 2004


Adam Sandler is not equal to Shakespeare, linguistically least of all.


Adam Sandler is not equal to the stains on my toilet bowl.
posted by jonmc at 6:15 PM on December 30, 2004


"Damn, there's a shitload of crows on that telephone wire..."

But "a shitload" is singular. In my example, "a bunch" is singular. But "a great many" isn't. I'm pretty sure it's not. It sorta wants to be, but doesn't quite manage it.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:15 PM on December 30, 2004


My position (which is that of anyone who has studied the science of linguistics) is that native speakers can make slips of the tongue but they cannot "use bad grammar"

ach... that is not the position of 'anyone who studies linguistics'. That's an oversimplification of a standard position, but there are those who oppose it, and there are many, I would say most, who would qualify it in ways you seem rather resistant to. Yes, language is normative. Norms are not hard and fast boundaries, but that doesn't mean they aren't boundaries at all.

I appreciate your input on these things, but your chosen username doesn't make you the only person on this board who's studied language, or whose opinion is worthwhile on the matter.

And for the love of Pete, "parts of language conflict directly with other parts of language" all the time; how can you not see that? The past tense of English verbs ends in -ed... except when it doesn't...

that isn't a direct conflict. That's just irregularity. Irregularity can lengthen the time it takes to learn meaning, since the rule can't be applied everywhere, and alternate possibilities have to be taken into account, but it usually won't cause direct confusion. Contradiction, as in "could care less" = "could not care less", is more difficult to accept.

Maybe what it comes down to is, since you're sure we collectively confirm these rules, why can't you support our collectively questioning them as well?
posted by mdn at 7:15 PM on December 30, 2004


mdn, (in case you don't know, pardon me if you do) LH is, IIRC, a linguist by training but an editor by profession. That doesn't give him any more authority on these matters than another linguist or another editor; but the combination does, I think, deserve a bit of respect. Within himself, I'd venture, he fights this sort of battle all the time.

My sense is that he's overcorrecting. Snobbish, simpleminded prescriptivism is the greater evil, I think, and he rightly focuses his ire in that direction.

For my part, my only real complaint is against a simpleminded dogmatism favoring either viewpoint.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:26 PM on December 30, 2004


u can't mean that, languagehat, can u?
posted by bonaldi at 7:32 PM on December 30, 2004


Peace is War, Love is Hate, yadda yadda...and languagehat is Wrong.

You know, I don't think you intended the parallelism there, but I'll take it.

Within himself, I'd venture, he fights this sort of battle all the time.

Yup.
posted by languagehat at 8:04 PM on December 30, 2004


Language changes over time, certainly.

That doesn't mean we, as individual authors (even when that authoring is solely in the form of MeFi messages), need to latch on to the latest trends in language. We don't need to be "hip."

I argue that it is, in fact, important for quality authors to counter the trend. It is important to set "a good example," if only to lend stability to the language. Change can be good, sure, but rapid, uncontrolled change is usually a recipe for disaster.

Imagine if MeFi's most-read authors had caught an earlier trend: l33t sp33k. Next thing you know, languagehat is writing
L@N9U@GE, L1kE +HE P3Opl3 WHo 5PeAk 1+, 1S 1rr3d33M4Bly mULtIplEx 4nd CONphU$1NG @Nd 1LloG1CAl; lIk3 WHI+M4N, I+ C@N 5ay "d0 i C0n+R4D1c+ my$ELf? v3ry WELL, Th3N 1 cOntrAd1Ct MY5elf, 1 4M LaRgE, i COn+4IN mUL+1TUD3$." 1+'5 N4Tur4l FOR 4 CEr+41n +YPE OF M1nd (A +yP3 p3Rh4p5 0vErr3Pr3$3n+Ed hEr3 ON m3Phi) T0 W4nT +O 8R1N9 0rDer t0 HUM@n CH@o5, t0 l@y d0WN $OM3 rULE$ @nD +3LL PEOPLe T0 r+phm. bu+ I+ DO35N't W0Rk. P3oPL3 5Pe4k T3h W4Y THEy 5P3@K 4ND WR1+3 +h3 W4Y tH3Y wR1T3, 4ND Y3lL1n9 @t +h3m d0E5 no 9O0D EXc3Pt T0 M4Ke +He MOr3 5u5cEPT1Bl3 f3eL GUiLTy.
Let the language change from the bottom-up: the illiterate and stupid will make many mistakes, and "they could care less." May hundreds of years pass before educated and sophisticated authors make the same mistakes.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:31 PM on December 30, 2004


That doesn't give him any more authority on these matters than another linguist or another editor; but the combination does, I think, deserve a bit of respect.

Nonsense. For all we know, he may sell popsicles from a cart at the beach. All that anyone is (and should be) judged on here is the quality of their arguments. And he continues to dodge the holes in his while trying to make an appeal to authority instead. It doesn't wash when he does it, and it certainly won't when you try to on his behalf. As mdn notes, statements like "My position (which is that of anyone who has studied the science of linguistics) is that native speakers can make slips of the tongue but they cannot 'use bad grammar'" are highly misleading, if not downright false, and enough of us have studied enough linguistics to recognize that and to wonder why he doesn't do a better job of presenting his point of view. For he has acknowledged in these discussions in the past that there are other perspectives, but when talking here he pretends that there are not so that he doesn't have to bother to refute them and simply tries to shout them down with insults. I suppose this sort of condescension to those one considers uninformed about one's particular field is common, but it certainly doesn't add anything to the discussion. We should expect more.

(Disclaimer: I enjoy languagehat and many of his posts. I simply think that he is making an inadequate defense of his claims, and rather than seeing him simply repeat them by rote at every opportunity, relying upon such persuasive gems as "Fuck 'em, I say," I personally would rather he offer up an actual argument that addresses the objections raised by others.)
posted by rushmc at 9:33 PM on December 30, 2004


*refrains from piling on languagehat*

For my part, when I mount what may seem to be a prescriptivist hobbyhorse, I'm not poking sticks at correct or incorrect useage, I'm just raising nose in the air at those who do not care enough about either the things they have to say or the people to whom they're saying those things to make an effort to write clearly. I'm not so concerned about grammar (which is abundantly clear to anyone who pays any attention to what I say) as I am about (what seems to be) just plain contempt for the written word.

But language is infinitely malleable, and playing with it is a marvellous game, and I always delighted in (for example) the fractured pronouncements of clavdivs, while he was here, and when he was keeping a lid on his crankier side.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:51 PM on December 30, 2004


Capitals are overrated except for proper nouns. I don't believe even "I" should be capitalized; it seems so egotistical. There is no real point to capitals except tradition. A period or exclamation point or question mark should be enough to let you know where a sentence has ended and another began.

My eye flows over an uncapitalized sentence much more easily. However, you may notice, I am a slave to da man and use capitals. I'm such a joiner.

*sigh*
posted by deborah at 11:27 PM on December 30, 2004


I am compelled by the power of christ to show this picture, which is quite amusing:

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:26 AM on December 31, 2004


My eye flows over an uncapitalized sentence much more easily.
So does mine, but I find the problem is I don't comprehend it as easily as a sentence where some effort has been made with grammar and punctuation.
posted by drill_here_fore_seismics at 5:56 AM on December 31, 2004


SWE is a bullying prestige dialect infested with foppish, toffee-nosed finikins...

still...

though it's not really irony, it feels like irony, when someone who makes his living recasting all manner of sub-dialect into standard issue SWE - an EditorPerson - declares himself an opportunist.

I miss clavdivs too, Stav, no matter the color of his mood ring.
posted by Opus Dark at 6:16 AM on December 31, 2004


That doesn't mean we, as individual authors (even when that authoring is solely in the form of MeFi messages), need to latch on to the latest trends in language. We don't need to be "hip."

Very true. I don't ask anyone to be trendy, just to refrain from condemning those who use different forms of the language than they themselves prefer. (And, though I shouldn't have to point this out, "l33t sp34k" is not a form of language but a graphic representation, irrelevant from the grammatical point of view; you could write that paragraph in Cyrillic or Morse code and it would be exactly the same English paragraph.)

I enjoy languagehat and many of his posts

Thank you for that. I wish I could satisfy you, but to do a good job of it I'd have to write a book (which I am thinking of doing, and if I do I'll definitely let you know), but I can't give a course of linguistics in the space of a MeFi comment box. As for:

statements like "My position (which is that of anyone who has studied the science of linguistics) is that native speakers can make slips of the tongue but they cannot 'use bad grammar'" are highly misleading, if not downright false, and enough of us have studied enough linguistics to recognize that

I'm sorry, but you're wrong. If your linguistics prof told you native speakers do use "bad grammar" in their daily conversation and that the things you and other partisans of "correct English" condemn are in fact wrong by the standards of linguistic science, he or she was a lousy professor and should have their degree revoked. That's like saying gravity is bad and things shouldn't fall to earth. It truly saddens me that intelligent people like yourself still believe the shibboleths of an earlier age that did not understand how language works.

(I realize you don't care for rhetoric of any kind, but that's your loss; writing would be extremely boring if it consisted of nothing but factual, logical sentences well constructed according to trfaditional rules of argument and "grammar.")

*refrains from piling on languagehat*

That's good, 'cause I'm about to use you as a sterling example. I hope most of you are aware that our excellent wonderchicken is going to be published in a best-of-the-web anthology. He's not being published because he knows people in high places; enough people read his blog and admire the writing therein that he was nominated and chosen for the anthology. Now, you all know his writing (being lucky enough to get frequent doses of it here); is it consistently "grammatical," logical, topic-sentence-and-conclusion, all that stuff they insist on in high school? No. He yells, swears, uses incomplete sentences and runons, and generally does whatever he has to to get his point across, and he does a superb job of it. If you went through his collected output and translated it into Miss Thistlebottom/Strunk and White normalcy, it would lose much of its force and effectiveness and nobody would be putting it on sale at your local bookstore.

Once more, with feeling: I am not saying "anything goes," I am not saying any English is as good as any other; I am saying English should be as forceful and effective as it can be, and that has nothing to do with traditional "rules," and in fact insisting on those rules not only helps keep the plebs down, it deprives us of much good writing that gets stifled before it can even stretch its little limbs and cry. So with all due respect to my worthy interlocutors, I continue to decry the damn rules. Fuck 'em.

On preview:
declares himself an opportunist

I have no idea what this means. Could you enlighten me?

I miss clavdivs too.
posted by languagehat at 6:31 AM on December 31, 2004


Fuck, I just wrote a whole fulminating screed at you L-hat and now have to erase it all. Bugger.

To condense:

At what point does an increasingly common "mistake" become so prevalent that anyone still annoyed by it becomes a pedant?

While "there's a shitload of crows over there" sounds fine to me because "a shitload" is singular, are you really saying you don't mind "there's ten crows over there?" As an editor, would you publish that sentence?
More and more people make this mistake all the time, but it's one that just makes my head explode. (You should see me pathetically screaming corrections at the bobbleheads on TV.) You DO seem to be arguing that anything goes, as long as meaning is conveyed.
By that standard, "u" is perfectly acceptable in writing - hey, it's used all the time by native speakers - and I will have to move to a cabin in the woods and start tinkering with wires.


In re the no caps:
It may look nice to you but to me it looks lazy and faintly rude, simply because it makes it harder to read. Someone further up said using the shift key would slow them down, however they insist on using proper punctuation. Well, doesn't that slow you down too? Why not use none? That would look nice and friendly too, and actually visually be sort of cool, but it would make it nigh impossible to read.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:55 AM on December 31, 2004


I don't believe even 'I' should be capitalized; it seems so egotistical.

Okay, that implication really rubs me the wrong way. ("Implication" because that "it seems" to you is certainly true and non-refuatable—that it actually is egotistical is implied and I think quite contestable.) To my mind, capitalizing "I" seems a mere convention among many, and not odd in the least given the traditional capitalization of proper nouns.

"Egotistical" implies a judgment about intent. Given that this convention is basic and universal in SWE, it's hard for me to believe that almost anyone at all capitalizes the first person pronoun out of a sense of self-importance.

That being the case, I think this presumption of egotism is very close to being pathological and says far, far more about the psychology of the accuser than it ever could about the accused.

Deborah, I am very reluctant to attack you in any way because you seem like a very nice person. But there's something about this that really rubs me the wrong way and goes right to the heart of my objections to the intentional eschewing of capitalization and the like.

Ironically, it involves some armchair psychoanalysis on my part. Armchair physician, healt thyself, I suppose.

Anyway, I'd like to contrast this type of affected written English from some other types which I endorse and myself use. One example is attempting to use gender-neutral language. Now, I don't any of the neologisms that some people use, mostly because I think they're ugly and strained. I will use "his/her", "their" as a gender-neutral singular (with one eye closed and a dose of brandy), and some other tricks to achieve gender neutrality. I'll consciously substitute a feminine pronoun where most people would expect (and my unconcious bias prefers) a masculine.

I'll do all these things because I believe that use of language does matter (though it's often focused on to the detriment of more important efforts) and because the problem I'm trying to attack (sexism) is perhaps the most important social problem of our times. I'm willing to be contrary, to go against the norm, as a means to an end

In contrast, what are the goals of the people who eschew capitalization and other conventions of standard written English? The basis for languahat's more agressive descriptivism is that he's trying to address a real socioeconomic problem—I believe in his sincerity 100%. Note that he himself doesn't put a lot of effort into writing non-standard English. He, instead, defends people from attacks based upon their use of NSWE.

Most of the people around these parts, especially, who use NSWE do so intentionally, to make a statement. And the statement seems to be, from my perspective, "I'm fighting back against The Man who oppresses me with his insistence on capitalization, 'correct' punctuation and grammar." This is, I think, just a relatively flacid form of rebelliousness. It's not really about any large pressing social issue, it's personal. It's, dare I say?, egotistical. And worse, I think, it's an adolescent self-involved type of rebellion.

On Preview: Languagehat, although I am on your side in your argument with rushmc about "bad grammar", I think there's a defense of his point I'd like to present. Surely individual native speakers of a language can knowingly or unknowingly violate the conventions of that language as they contemporaneously stand? In that sense, "bad grammar" by a native speaker is posible, isn't it? I'd say that this is all rushmc is asserting.

Your point, on the other hand, is the descriptivist and, I think, obviously quite true that usage defines the language, not some Platonic ideal of the language that is presumed to exist prior to anyone speaking it.

It must be difficult in a way to be a linguist. I was never attracted to prescriptivism. As a child I recoiled in horror (and laziness, true) from grammar pedagogy. But I think that I, in my hyper-rational and analytical and I'm-smarter-than-everyone-else conceit was always aware that language is not math. Long before I'd been aquainted with the expression "formal system" I was intuitively aware that language was not one of them those things. I say this because I intuit that many a prescriptivist are so because their early (and later) experiences with native lanaguage pedagogy (hell, any language pedagogy) were heavily inflected with a presentation of language as if it were some kind of mathematical system. They mistakenly belive that this is the sort of thing that language is. And I say that I think it must be hard to be a linguist because part of the linguistic enterprise is, of course, the analysis of langauge and its structure: the exact sort of endeavor that gives rise to this prescriptivist fantasy of language as math.

Close kin to this are the analysitical philosophers. Analysitical philosophy is a worthy discipline, don't misunderstand me. I'm as interested as anyone in asking, rigorously, what we mean when we speak and write. Still, though, a criticism I've long had of much analytical philosophy is that it seems to assume that language is something that it is not. That language itself is "rigorous", so to speak.

It's a certain temperment that tends to see the universe thus. A temperment that people often (wrongly) think is mine. But I think the universe is messy. Accepting that messiness is part of my core philosophy.

Sorry for excessive length. Blame the hydrocodone. I do, it's convenient.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:03 AM on December 31, 2004


i am posting this uncapped sentence purely to annoy you further.
posted by andrew cooke at 7:23 AM on December 31, 2004


I had some great points lined up in the preview window, but Ethereal Bligh made them all, and many more. All I have to say now is that I will resist to my dying breath acceptability for the phrase "could care less", on the grounds that we already have a word for "couldn't", and if "could" can mean that, too, then things will get very, very confused, even more so than this sentence.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 7:25 AM on December 31, 2004


I'm not so concerned about grammar (which is abundantly clear to anyone who pays any attention to what I say) as I am about (what seems to be) just plain contempt for the written word.

And by extension, communication itself. Which is why I think this impulse is largely based in self-centeredism, in people who care more about speaking than about being heard and understood.
posted by rushmc at 8:10 AM on December 31, 2004


I'm sorry, but you're wrong. If your linguistics prof told you native speakers do use "bad grammar" in their daily conversation and that the things you and other partisans of "correct English" condemn are in fact wrong by the standards of linguistic science, he or she was a lousy professor and should have their degree revoked.

I keep telling you that isn't the point I'm making. Or we are thinking of "bad grammar" in different ways. I can agree completely with your statement
I am not saying "anything goes," I am not saying any English is as good as any other; I am saying English should be as forceful and effective as it can be, and that has nothing to do with traditional "rules," and in fact insisting on those rules not only helps keep the plebs down, it deprives us of much good writing that gets stifled before it can even stretch its little limbs and cry.
But the fact of the matter is, you DO continue to argue that "anything goes," almost in so many words, and worse, that "one thing is just as good as another," and that I cannot agree with. Because language is not an end in and of itself, it is a means to an end, that end being communication. And linguistic forms that are more effective at communicating are superior to those which are less effective. They just are. And trying to artificially elevate the one to the status of the other is no more persuasive or useful than the hyper-liberal instinct to level all moral perspectives on a relativist's field. If one wants to praise the rantings of a schizophrenic as the epitome of communication, one should be prepared to be called mad himself.
posted by rushmc at 8:23 AM on December 31, 2004


If ALL CAPS is a 10 on the visually offensive chart, all lower case is a 7.
My personal theory was that ALL CAPS people just don't know how to work their keyboards. lowercase people know, and do it just to be pretentious.

Now, can someone explain to me these horrific "............."? Why are they ubiquitous? What do people think they represent?
For the Youth of America (and possibly Other Heathen Regions) the full stop is now entirely too abrupt. Its fascist finality cannot be borne. The mere three dots of the ellipsis are simply not enough to fully express the lack of cohesion in their thoughts.
Now, that whole 'two-dot ellipsis' thing just blows my mind.
posted by darukaru at 9:25 AM on December 31, 2004


"The mere three dots of the ellipsis are simply not enough to fully express the lack of cohesion in their thoughts."

That's a beautiful sentence for its pithy truth, my friend. Yes, now I understand.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:35 AM on December 31, 2004


The spaced elipsis (. . .) bugs me even more...
posted by me3dia at 9:41 AM on December 31, 2004


Its my language and I'll use it how the fuck I like, thank you very much.
posted by ZippityBuddha at 9:58 AM on December 31, 2004


Huh. Some people the same way about the commons. There lies the tragedy.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:02 AM on December 31, 2004


mdn, (in case you don't know, pardon me if you do) LH is, IIRC, a linguist by training but an editor by profession. That doesn't give him any more authority on these matters than another linguist or another editor; but the combination does, I think, deserve a bit of respect.

I don't see why you'd suggest that. For all we know, he's an editor by profession because he couldn't get a job as a linguist/professor. I mean, as rushmc said, for all we know, he's not formally trained at all... I respect his posts and it seems to me he does know what he's talking about, but his inflexible position irks me, and the fact that he constantly resorts to simply stating that he knows better & we're underinformed seems a little unfair.

Within himself, I'd venture, he fights this sort of battle all the time.

If he considers it an interestingly sticky territory, as I do, then why put up a wall of absolutism?

My sense is that he's overcorrecting. Snobbish, simpleminded prescriptivism is the greater evil, I think, and he rightly focuses his ire in that direction.

Fair enough. I can respect that, but I still think most people around here are perfectly capable of comprehending a more nuanced position.

For my part, my only real complaint is against a simpleminded dogmatism favoring either viewpoint.

well, me too, and I often feel that LH is worth complaining about, for that reason.

I'm sorry, but you're wrong. If your linguistics prof told you native speakers do use "bad grammar" in their daily conversation and that the things you and other partisans of "correct English" condemn are in fact wrong by the standards of linguistic science...

I think we're talking past each other a bit. What this comes down to is the question of what norms are, or how rules can be built from the inside out, so to speak. Yes, language speakers define the 'rules' of language, so if all language speakers use a certain 'grammar' then that's grammatically 'correct'. I don't think many people around here are interested in claiming there's a godly authority of some sort that prescribes proper language use. But still, norms evolve, and so long as they work, they become standards of use. These standards are rules; they are not "laws" or absolute rules, but they still define the boundaries, and are central to the purpose of language, ie, we must follow the rules of the game in order for there to be a game to play at all. One would not claim, eg, that the rules of baseball are inherent or absolute, but nonetheless, if we don't follow them, we can't play. We can change them, and games do evolve, but that doesn't make the rules meaningless.

On preview, what rushmc said.
posted by mdn at 10:07 AM on December 31, 2004


eb: i think you're flailing around without a leg to stand on (which means you'll soon be falling on your face, with a bit of luck). the tragedy of the commons applies to finite resources. language is not obviously comparable.

mdn: how you get from "rules" to "not [...] absolute rules" to "must follow them" (emphasis mine) is beyond me. unlike yours, the laws of logic are absolute, and you're breaking them.
posted by andrew cooke at 10:11 AM on December 31, 2004


A lot of the arguments in this thread sound startling like those of Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum.

Alas, words can't mean what you, personally, want them to mean: they can only mean what we, as communicators, understand them to mean.

If you express your message in a way that I do not understand, you fail to communicate. If you use "I could care less" and I interpret that as "I care a fair amount, thus I could conceivably care less than I do," then the message you intended to convey is completely reversed -- and, I argue, the fault is yours for having abused the language.

It takes two to play the communication game. There are rules to language, and if one of us does not abide by them, the game is no longer playable.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:12 AM on December 31, 2004


communication fails when you don't understand something; not when someone upsets delicate eb by not using capitals. presumably the process of communication between humans can be reduced to some kind of algorithm, but as far as i am aware, no-one knows what it is, or what the associated "rules" are, yet. they're certainly not the arbitrary and restrictive things that mdn worries about. if you've understood this, i'm right.... extra dots or not.
posted by andrew cooke at 10:19 AM on December 31, 2004


before you respond to that analogy, I realize that baseball is more standardized and externally controlled than language. It is just an analogy, and language is a more complex and multilayered 'game' than baseball.

on preview, andrew, yes, I didn't mean to imply that language and baseball were identically constructed. my bad.
posted by mdn at 10:23 AM on December 31, 2004


I was just trying to be clever and funny, andrew. But now that you mention it, you're wrong. Language, as a medium for communication, is a "finite resource" in that, as fff points out, you can't create meaning out of nothing. The meaning is consensual, thus the "commons". That consensus is the "finite resource". One cannot use language any way one so desires because, collectively, doing so will destroy the utility of the language. The tragedy of the commons is a very apt metaphor, actually. I'm grateful that you took my comment more seriously than I intended if only for the opportunity to demonstrate your seriousness in doing so failed to aid in the quality of your reasoning. Do you need a hand in getting up? A cold compress for that bruise?
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:32 AM on December 31, 2004


I think it's important to remember that speech and writing can both serve many different purposes.

You can champion the "populist" usages all you want, and they may be perfectly acceptable and understood in casual speech by people in a particular region, but that doesn't mean you're going to get away with using them in a formal academic paper. That's why we have standards; to facilitate communication and the sharing of ideas. They're not there for convenience or for a sense of regional identity, they're there to be adhered to so that we can understand each other.

So yes, my friends might say things like "could care less" and be more or less "correct" in the realm of casual speech since I can infer what they mean, but we all know it's non-standard and therefore would not use it in another realm where it would be inappropriate. Some people say "y'all" and "ain't," and those are perfectly normal constructions for them and acceptable in certain settings, but there is still a formal setting in which those would stick out and give a negative impression of the writer.

As has been stated, the rules of the formal realm evolve, surely, but they are far from amorphous. The rules of casual speech (and even poetry and to an extent, fiction) are much more fickle than those of academic discourse.

So yes, it's a little silly to talk about what's "correct" or "incorrect" as being universal; however, it seems reasonable to talk about what's "appropriate" or "inappropriate" given the context.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:53 AM on December 31, 2004


Maybe I missed it in the proliferating debates, but if someone else has not, I'd like to point out that andrew's 'less effort' and caution live frogs' 'friendly conversation' together comprise a narrative of the evolution of a dialect.

And LH, I'm with ya. For all that, thanks to Seth for the post and the thread; I embrace the thesis if not the specifics. Someone up there suggested that we shoud 'try a little,' which is a good start.

Thanks to all you word nerds for such a pleasant start to the day.
posted by mwhybark at 11:03 AM on December 31, 2004


I liked stavros's image a lot.

As for the rest, y'all lost me way back there. I still love you madly, though.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:07 AM on December 31, 2004


Some people say "y'all" and "ain't," and those are perfectly normal constructions for them and acceptable in certain settings, but there is still a formal setting in which those would stick out and give a negative impression of the writer.

And IMO it is perfectly okay to use "y'all" and "ain't" and other conversational conventions when writing on MeFi. Our egos aside, this ain't exactly the Utne Reader, y'all.

Some of us make very deliberate use of language in our messages. The "shape" of written language can be moulded to lend nuance and humour to the message. Some of us strive to convey a sense of our body language through the words and structure of our written message.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:12 PM on December 31, 2004


And IMO it is perfectly okay to use "y'all" and "ain't" and other conversational conventions when writing on MeFi. Our egos aside, this ain't exactly the Utne Reader, y'all.

I didn't mean to imply that it wasn't, only to point out that there are meaningful distinctions to be made between the correctness of different constructions in various settings, with some more "strict" than others.
posted by ludwig_van at 12:35 PM on December 31, 2004


this ain't exactly the Utne Reader

Thank God, thank Allah, thank Buddha, thank Krishna, thank... every fucking god in the book! 1
posted by scarabic at 12:58 PM on December 31, 2004


I continue to decry the damn rules. Fuck 'em.

I think this conversation has gone way too far into "what is correct?" territory instead of sticking with the "what do we want to have around here?" territory it started in. I haven't read the whole conversation, but I don't see any issue with asking people to please use caps on MetaFilter. If that's more conducive to the desires and habits of the people here, then it doesn't matter one bit who's done more coursework in linguistics, who's published, whose professors need to burn in hell, etc.

We can set our own local norms without running afoul of the whole proscriptivist/descriptivist debate, can't we? Setting aside the issue of whether good grammar is "right" to the rest of the world, who here is actually advocating the avoidance of capital letters or decent punctuation?

Your posts certainly don't set you in that category, languagehat. As a well spoken chap who begins his sentences with capitals and ends them with punctuation, I'd say your every comment advocates conventionally good English. But from the setting-local-norms perspective, I'm afraid your expertise in linguistics, overrated or not, doesn't really grant you any more authority than any other member. This is all just a question of how we're going to talk to each other.
posted by scarabic at 1:15 PM on December 31, 2004


are you really saying you don't mind "there's ten crows over there?" As an editor, would you publish that sentence?

Two excellent questions. To the first, the answer is "Yes": I find that a perfectly good colloquial English sentence, and (if I happened to see ten crows over there) I might well utter it myself. To the second, the answer is "No": colloquial usage is not appropriate in formal English prose. I will borrow ludwig_van's excellent words:

I think it's important to remember that speech and writing can both serve many different purposes.... So yes, it's a little silly to talk about what's "correct" or "incorrect" as being universal; however, it seems reasonable to talk about what's "appropriate" or "inappropriate" given the context.

Exactly. What's appropriate in talking with your friends, or babbling here at MeFi (as five fresh fish correctly points out), is not necessarily appropriate elsewhere. But that does not mean it is "bad English."

To those of you (rushmc and mdn spring to mind) who keep accusing me of absolutism: I'm getting a little tired of it. I agree that "most people around here are perfectly capable of comprehending a more nuanced position," and that's what I've been trying to provide. But even when I go on for paragraphs nuancing my position, what do I get? "If he considers it an interestingly sticky territory, as I do, then why put up a wall of absolutism?" Jesus. Here's my position in a nutshell:

1) There are various forms of English used by different groups and by individuals in different circumstances.

2) Some of these forms are more appropriate than others in particular circumstances; in particular, so-called "incorrect" (low-prestige) forms are not appropriate in formal situations (job interviews, say, or formal writing).

3) These differences have no bearing on the moral or intellectual worth of the people who use them; not having gone to college or grown up in an affluent family does not mean one's character, intelligence, or value should be depreciated.

So which part do y'all disagree with? If the last, are you calling my relatives dumb hicks? 'Cause them's fightin' words.

I'm also getting a little tired of "for all we know, he's not formally trained at all." Contact me by e-mail and I will (trusting in your discretion) provide you with the personal information necessary to check on my credentials. Since I am not in fact asking anyone to trust me based on my credentials but rather asking people to accept the findings of linguistic science, available in books you can get at your local bookstore or library, I think it's a little mean-spirited to take that particular argumentative route, but if you want to play that game, I'll be glad to show you my uniform and lifetime stats. Sheesh.

On preview: Jesus Christ. I'm not asking for any more authority than any other member. Can we get past that red herring? I'm asking my arguments to be evaluated on their merits. If I've ever said "never mind the arguments, just take my word for it because I have a degree and you don't," I'll thank you to link to it. Otherwise, knock it off. Thank you. As for
this conversation has gone way too far into "what is correct?" territory instead of sticking with the "what do we want to have around here?" territory it started in
-- are you trying to keep a MetaTalk thread on topic? After over 100 comments? A thread started by Seth? Frankly, I don't care whether people capitalize and I'm not particularly interested in discussing it; I'm having fun with the turn the thread has taken, and others seem to be too. Sorry you're not enjoying it, but there are other threads out there.
posted by languagehat at 1:47 PM on December 31, 2004


I strongly suspect that LH isn't actually headware. I demand proof.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:58 PM on December 31, 2004


who here is actually advocating the avoidance of capital letters or decent punctuation?

I don't care about capitalization, as I've made clear, and I think it serves very little purpose in this medium. People should always strive to use proper grammar (if they can) because their ideas will be more easily processed by those reading them; that's a far better reason for it than a bunch of useless twits on metafilter who use suchs things to judge your worth and whether or not they'll even give a cursory glance to what your comment contains.

Of course, people who, for no real reason, use 733T speak and intentionally betray the rules of grammar are doing themselves a great disservice; as I said, you'll find with such tactics that people will rarely be persuaded--or even swayed, as by a light breeze--by what you've taken the time to write.

*gives languagehat more authority than any other member*
posted by The God Complex at 2:08 PM on December 31, 2004


headWEAR.

I am pretty much langhat's slave myself, except on "begs the question" and "could care less".
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:18 PM on December 31, 2004


I think this conversation has gone way too far into "what is correct?" territory instead of sticking with the "what do we want to have around here?" territory it started in.

That's because conversations about usage and linguistics are interesting, whereas attempts to impose a standard on a diverse, intelligent, and opinionated community are doomed to failure and damage the very discourse they seek to nurture.

I agree with Seth's sentiments that people should try and write well. I disagree completely with any attempt to specify exactly what that should mean or any "local norms". There are people who write perfectly "correct" english here who I can't stand to read, and people writing in nocaps with bad grammar who I read carefully and with relish. All I think we can ask is that people do what they do out of preference and intent, not laziness or ignorance, and that they try to do it well.

* looks around in panic, takes loot - comprising a wonderful settling of the question-begging question, some punctuation equilibrium, and a reaffirmation that disagreeing with La Hat is more fun and interesting than agreeing with 99% of the population - and heads for the hills. Happy New Year! *
posted by freebird at 2:27 PM on December 31, 2004


Well, hell, "headware" is perfectly sensible, too. Phooey.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:19 PM on December 31, 2004


Just messin' with you, Bligh. Happy New Year.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:48 PM on December 31, 2004


The mere three dots of the ellipsis are simply not enough to fully express the lack of cohesion in their thoughts.

Ha! I love it.

Its my language and I'll use it how the fuck I like, thank you very much.

No, it's not. You're just borrowing it.
posted by rushmc at 3:49 PM on December 31, 2004


Damn! Who should I give it back to once I've finished with it, then?
posted by ZippityBuddha at 3:53 PM on December 31, 2004


All the other people that speak it natively.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:54 PM on December 31, 2004


I asked: are you really saying you don't mind "there's ten crows over there?" As an editor, would you publish that sentence?

L-hat replied: To the first, the answer is "Yes": I find that a perfectly good colloquial English sentence, and (if I happened to see ten crows over there) I might well utter it myself. To the second, the answer is "No": colloquial usage is not appropriate in formal English prose.


Not to beat a deceased equid, but why would you say something you wouldn't write? How can a construction be okay in speech but not in prose? Would it be okay in a letter? If so, how long before it mutates into acceptable grammar?

(All you guys making a fuss over the Hat's surfeit or lack of credentials are missing the point: as an editor, he has a minor but direct effect on the future of English, as dictionaries rely on published usage to describe the language. The thought of him publishing "there's ten crows" makes me want to squawk and peck out eyes.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 3:55 PM on December 31, 2004


and now I'm embarrassed by my spelling mistake. I'm not so different from all of you, after all...
posted by ZippityBuddha at 3:56 PM on December 31, 2004


Not to beat a deceased equid, but why would you say something you wouldn't write? How can a construction be okay in speech but not in prose? Would it be okay in a letter? If so, how long before it mutates into acceptable grammar?

Written (writen? its late and I'm drunk) is not spoken, formal is not informal, all that jazz, I expect...
posted by ZippityBuddha at 3:57 PM on December 31, 2004


(All you guys making a fuss over the Hat's surfeit or lack of credentials are missing the point: as an editor, he has a minor but direct effect on the future of English, as dictionaries rely on published usage to describe the language. The thought of him publishing "there's ten crows" makes me want to squawk and peck out eyes.)

Context, my friend. Have you ever heard of narrative voice? Have you ever read Faulkner? There are times for everything in writing, especially colloquialisms. He already said he wouldn't condone it in "formal English prose"--you suggest that colloquialisms should be banished from all prose? I sincerely doubt that you do, but I'm not sure what else you could mean.
posted by The God Complex at 4:00 PM on December 31, 2004


I agree that "most people around here are perfectly capable of comprehending a more nuanced position," and that's what I've been trying to provide.

Where? The nuance you are trying to provide is against a position that I don't see anyone here supporting, i.e., that language is unchanging and that the rules must never be questioned and always be followed. So that's a straw man. But what you've been selling is just as absolute, only in the opposite direction. If you don't really believe that "anything goes and all is equal," then quit ridiculing people for stating what, more or less, you now say is your own position on the matter!

I'm also getting a little tired of "for all we know, he's not formally trained at all." Contact me by e-mail and I will (trusting in your discretion) provide you with the personal information necessary to check on my credentials.

You're missing the point. We're not questioning your credentials, we're saying that they are nigh irrelevant in this forum (largely because they are unverifiable, but also because many other people also bring various credentials and perspectives of their own to the table). The quality of your argument, and the facts that you marshall in support thereof, are what matter here, not what it says on your diploma (although your background will certainly assist you in forming your contributions). And I'm sure you know that.

I'm asking my arguments to be evaluated on their merits.

But refusing to see that "fuck the pedants" does not comprise an argument. Which is basically what you are presenting to "support" your claims, over and over again. Do you blame us for wanting more (and not the "book" you claim you'd have to write, either, nor those written by others to which you disingenuously keep referring us)?

2) Some of these forms are more appropriate than others in particular circumstances

I think, once all the dust has blown away, this is what we are left with, a disagreement over what forms are appropriate for METAFILTER, and that perhaps scarabic is right in suggesting we should limit ourselves to that particular debate.
posted by rushmc at 4:07 PM on December 31, 2004


LH, again, I think we're mostly talking past each other, so we should probably just let it go, as it seems we largely agree. I apologize for reading a more absolutist stance into your comments than you intended, although if you look over some of what you've written here, it's not so surprising that was the conclusion I reached -

If by "draw lines" you mean "claim that native speakers are using their own language wrong," then no, I draw no lines at all.

But can't the native speakers draw lines themselves?

See, this is just silly. No offense, monju, you're simply making use of a common (but silly) prescriptivist trope. If the speaker uses it to mean "I don't care," and the listener understands it to mean "I don't care," then that's what it means. The fact that some overlogical bystander hollers "Hey, wait a minute, you guys, it can't possibly mean that, because..." is irrelevant.

can't that "overlogical bystander" be the "listener"? Then what happens?

Anyway, we are decidedly off topic, and I honestly think we're more in agreement than not, so I'm sorry for any comments I made which you found offensive (eg, the 'credentials' stuff was not meant as a personal attack but just an abstract claim that appeals to authority are unconvincing).
posted by mdn at 4:07 PM on December 31, 2004


not having gone to college or grown up in an affluent family does not mean one's character, intelligence, or value should be depreciated

Oh, and this isn't really relevant. All of my knowledge of basic grammar (not including linguistics, of course, but that's not what we're talking about when we say people should use good grammar) was gained prior to entering college, in public schools, so, in theory, it's available to everyone pre-college.
posted by rushmc at 4:10 PM on December 31, 2004


If the speaker uses it to mean "I don't care," and the listener understands it to mean "I don't care," then that's what it means.

And your communication has just become significantly less efficient and effective, because not everyone will understand it to mean "I don't care," and those that do not will not only misunderstand your message but interpret it precisely opposite of what you intended. Therefore, it strikes me as perfectly reasonable to say that one form is "better" than the other, where "better" means "more likely to result in the successful and accurate transmission of information."
posted by rushmc at 4:18 PM on December 31, 2004


**has rockin' pneumonia & boogie woogie flu, spreads it to ruchmc, mdn, and all assembled**
posted by jonmc at 5:51 PM on December 31, 2004


Therefore, it strikes me as perfectly reasonable to say that one form is "better" than the other, where "better" means "more likely to result in the successful and accurate transmission of information."

Here, here. Well said, rushmc.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:52 PM on December 31, 2004


</purposeful>
posted by five fresh fish at 5:53 PM on December 31, 2004


but why would you say something you wouldn't write?

I would write it; I just wouldn't (in my capacity as editor) allow it into print in a formal context. (See TGC's comment above.)

"fuck the pedants" does not comprise an argument
.

No, and I never said it did. I've presented many arguments (recently, and succinctly, in three points in my previous post) and you haven't rebutted, or even confronted, them.

what we are left with, a disagreement over what forms are appropriate for METAFILTER

Very likely, and that's a disagreement that will never be resolved.

But can't the native speakers draw lines themselves?

Not sure what you mean. Native speakers can, of course, choose what forms they prefer. They cannot, however, decide on the grammar of the language they speak; that would be like you and I trying to decide on the biology of our bodies. Having a gall bladder does not enable its possessor to describe one.

not everyone will understand it to mean "I don't care"

Bullshit. Everyone will understand that that is what is meant; pedants may (if they are a particularly annoying breed of pedant) pretend not to understand. "Excuse me, but you said 'I could care less,' which implies..." I hate that kind of pedant.

*gives languagehat more authority than any other member*

Muahahaha! My plan is working! Today MetaFilter... tomorrow the world!

On preview:
Here, here. Well said, rushmc.

Heroically, I refrain from comment.

I want to jump but I'm afraid I'll fall
I want to holler but the joint's too small
Young man rhythm got a hold on me too
I got the rockin' pneumonia and the boogie woogie flu!


*rocks out*

posted by languagehat at 5:58 PM on December 31, 2004


I received Eats, Shoots and Leaves for Christmas and I just read the following:
...punctuation is 'a courtesy designed to help readers to understand a story without stumbling'.

Isn't the analogy with good manners perfect? Truly good manners are invisible: they ease the way for others, without drawing attention to themselves.
*belch*
posted by sciurus at 6:19 PM on December 31, 2004


I actually have heard people make language mistakes that made it impossible for me to understand what they were saying. There are a number of people, for example, who confuse the meanings of the words "former" and "latter". This leads to complete mystification for hearers who understand the meanings of the words.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:23 PM on December 31, 2004


Wow. This is, without question, the most intellectual, bloodless & boring argument I've ever read in MeTa.
posted by jonson at 6:31 PM on December 31, 2004


Some of us make very deliberate use of language in our messages. The "shape" of written language can be moulded to lend nuance and humour to the message. Some of us strive to convey a sense of our body language through the words and structure of our written message.

Exactamente!

And thanks, languagehat, for the props upthread. You are too kind.

Wow. This is, without question, the most intellectual, bloodless & boring argument I've ever read in MeTa.

Thanks for your input, jonson. Some of us are in love with language, and like to think and argue about it. That you aren't or don't is fine, but there's no need to insult the rest of us. You're just too cool for school, daddy-o!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:38 PM on December 31, 2004

On preview:
Here, here. Well said, rushmc.

Heroically, I refrain from comment.
Sigh. I knew some pedant would take my miswording seriously.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:54 PM on December 31, 2004


iT c01D b3 w0Rs 101 ... i CaN RiTe XaNgAn 2 NoW iNsT3Ad 0F aLl LoW3R caPZZZ ... B g8FuL aNd Ph3aR wHaT Co!D B U gRaMaR NaSiZ

five fresh fish ... the scary part about L33T Sp3Ak is i had no trouble reading what you typed ...
posted by pyramid termite at 8:46 PM on December 31, 2004


oops ... that's gR8FuL ... sorry about that
posted by pyramid termite at 8:48 PM on December 31, 2004


Language: it's what you make of it.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:03 PM on December 31, 2004


EB, not to worry, I'm not taking it as an attack. What I wrote is, of course, just one girl's opinion as is what you wrote. To expand on my opinion: so much of life is I,I,I and me, me, me and it just seems to be one more instance of that. I am so important I must be capitalized!! Phooey on that.

And yes, capitalizing "I" is convention and tradition, both of which are certainly changeable. Language and it's (its?) use is always changing (that has probably already been said in this thread, but there you go).

Regarding "y'all" and "ain't": I use them to set a certain tone in a sentence or paragraph. I use them only in casual writing such as my blog or an email. Formal correspondence is a whole 'nother ball of wax.
posted by deborah at 9:24 PM on December 31, 2004


Bullshit. Everyone will understand that that is what is meant;

That is a claim too ridiculous to respond to. I have to wonder about the homogeneity of your community, because in the real world, this sort of thing is extremely common.

I actually have heard people make language mistakes that made it impossible for me to understand what they were saying.

I have seen this many, many times...and in many more cases had to sit and think for a moment before I figured out what the other person was trying to say. The fact that languagehat denies that this happens is simply not credible.

Very likely, and that's a disagreement that will never be resolved.

Perhaps not. But that doesn't give you the right to try to preemptively squelch the discussion every time it crops up. THAT, more than anything else, is probably what some of us object to more than anything else. It's a discussion worth having, even when it goes against your preferred direction.
posted by rushmc at 9:32 PM on December 31, 2004


we had xmas dinner with a visiting academic - who would otherwise have been killing time in his hotel room - and the conversation came round to vivas (the examination/interview necessary to obtain a doctorate in the uk). he explained that, while was broad minded and tolerant, he thought that wearing a suit to the viva indicated a respect for the process. expressing mild surprise (for the record, i wore t-shirt and jeans, and was admitted to a room with an axe embedded in the table that had been "used on the last victim") i suggested that a phd was awarded for intellectual ability, not dress sense. he agreed, but explained that he was doing people a favor by insisting (unless they only owned jeans, in which case, it would, of course, be understandable) on a certain dress code, because one day they might meet someone less tolerant than he - during a grant application, for example - and so they should learn now.

i hope the willing self-ignorance, hypocrisy and arrogance in that are more than obvious.

anyway, it seems to me that some people are playing a similar game here. their objection to poor "standards" of grammar isn't that they can't understand it, but that the poor soul who was writing is somehow in need of their guidance.

and if someone mistakes "former" and "latter", correct them. but don't use that example as an argument to support a thread that has a much wider focus. we'll fight our battles with the intolerant when we need to. there is no need for you to be their willing foot soldiers.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:04 AM on January 1, 2005


Wow. This is, without question, the most intellectual, bloodless & boring argument I've ever read in MeTa. -- johnson

[...] but there's no need to insult the rest of us. You're just too cool for school, daddy-o! -- stavrosthewonderchicken

Well, he has a point, Stavros - I mean it's not like we need to get a clean-up crew in here to hose down the walls.

Languagehat's trademark anti-prescriptivist fist-in-the-air, when threatened by his audience's stubborn disinclination to accept language as value neutral, always seems to gradually unfurl into a harmless howdy-neighborly hand wave, diluting his anarchic potency to the point where (and I relish how much this will irritate him) I really can't discern that the infinitude of normative processes endlessly dimensioning an infinitude of dialects is in any practical way confused or tormented by its simultaneous absorption of both his linguistic prejudices and David Foster Wallace's (famously belaboured in Tense Present).

I just don't feel the chaos - at least not in practical terms. It all feels like "mad alter-ego in the attic". Now the carefully preserved animosity - that I can easily sniff - and doing so with two-line enthusiasm rewards me with what I can only hope is an authentic whiff of the 60s.

Warning: the normative effects of alcohol may cause my sentences to run a bit too close to on.

just write me somethingtasty
howzabout it pleez
and if you begs a question
begs it on your kneez

posted by Opus Dark at 5:26 AM on January 1, 2005


In contrast, what are the goals of the people who eschew capitalization and other conventions of standard written English?

it's often an attempt to loosen language so it reflects the mind ... or speech ... more accurately ... rebellion? ... not really ... adolescent? ... self-involved? ... eb, the self-involved angst of many of your long, boring and poorly written posts speaks for itself

i'd rather write like this than you any day

I've often found, in my many years of struggle with the English language, which has been an odessey of meaning and yearning for meaning, in a manner that is both political and personal, and thus significant to all of us, that false ideas of sticking it to "the Man" simply create the dissonant conditions, which have been a constant theme throughout my writing life, where "the Man" can identify the rebellious, or rather, now that i think about it more clearly, the rebellious can marginalize themselves and thus prove themselves irrelevent to the common culture of literate debate, which is something since I was a teenager of 13, I realized would be a significant and consciousness raising part of my own struggle with the issues of language and society, a field of struggle that people who use bad grammar and no caps have simply surrendered on, due to the obvious sloppiness of their writing and therefore, in the minds of language traditionalists, who are often in the vanguard of progressive thought, no matter what you might have expected, have sloppy thinking practices which I think are impossible for me to give the impression that I, who wish to be known as a clear thinker, posess.

phooey, phooey, phooey ... i'd never write like that seriously ...
posted by pyramid termite at 7:00 AM on January 1, 2005


There are a number of people, for example, who confuse the meanings of the words "former" and "latter". This leads to complete mystification for hearers who understand the meanings of the words.

Exactly, and this is an example of a genuine mistake. I have never denied that people can make mistakes in their speech; I merely make a distinction between genuine mistakes like this (malapropisms are another example) and alleged "mistakes" like ending a sentence with a preposition, saying "It's me," and all the other crap that gets peddled by ignorant, self-satisfied, self-anointed "experts." These are the same people who said, back in Victorian times, that it was wrong to use "contact" as a verb.

Sigh. I knew some pedant would take my miswording seriously.

My apologies. As you are aware, it's well-nigh impossible to know how people intend one-sentence remarks here on the internet, where nobody knows you're a dogmatist.

That is a claim too ridiculous to respond to.

No, that is a ridiculous claim. I'm sorry, but I refuse to believe that you have ever misunderstood somebody who said "I could care less." You may be stubborn as a mule, but you're no dummy.

But that doesn't give you the right to try to preemptively squelch the discussion every time it crops up. THAT, more than anything else, is probably what some of us object to more than anything else.

If it really appears to you that I'm trying to "preemptively squelch" this discussion, you have serious problems with interpretation. And once again I must ask people not to say "us" when they mean "me."

Opus Dark: I really can't make much sense of your comment (which may have something to do with the alcohol you mention), but you seem to be accusing me of both excessive friendliness and excessive animosity. At any rate, I detect a certain animosity towards me in your remarks, which saddens me, since I enjoy your comments and writing style. But I can't please everyone. I'm trying to propagate my unpopular views without making any more enemies than I can help, and that's a hard balancing act to pull off. All I can say is that I'm not arguing for the fun of it (though it is fun), but because I genuinely think it's important for people to understand that language should not be used as a moral/intellectual litmus test, and the occasional grateful e-mails I get encourage me to keep it up.
posted by languagehat at 8:26 AM on January 1, 2005


i hope the willing self-ignorance, hypocrisy and arrogance in that are more than obvious.

No, actually. Seems quite sensible to me.

The whole "I can wear jeans to my dissertation and never use caps" thing strikes me as an adolescent "I'm sticking it to the Man" attitude, as pyramid termite just put it (though sarcastically).
Grow up and fight some real battles.

Metafilter: On the internet, nobody knows you're a dogmatist.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:46 AM on January 1, 2005


I am so important I must be capitalized!! Phooey on that.

But when capitalising I is the norm surely you are drawing more attention to yourself by changing it to lower case?

Seth asked Must we actively push the devolution? While language is constantly changing surely attempting to force changes is an unnatural development? Changes that occur over time without an agenda, are more likely to last.
posted by drill_here_fore_seismics at 8:59 AM on January 1, 2005


If it really appears to you that I'm trying to "preemptively squelch" this discussion, you have serious problems with interpretation.

See? A perfect example of your tendency to respond with a knee-jerk insult when challenged. The fact is, shouting "fuck you, you dirty pendant!" is a blatant attempt to shut down, not participate in, a discussion.

And once again I must ask people not to say "us" when they mean "me."

I can only conclude that you don't follow these threads very closely, or only skim them looking for support.
posted by rushmc at 9:28 AM on January 1, 2005


But when capitalising I is the norm surely you are drawing more attention to yourself by changing it to lower case?

Shh! You're not supposed to notice that!
posted by rushmc at 9:29 AM on January 1, 2005


i hope the willing self-ignorance, hypocrisy and arrogance in that are more than obvious.

Really? Because to me, the self-ignorance, hypocrisy and arrogance seems to me to stem from the person who chooses to go slacker at an important interview.

Face-to-face communication is far more than mere words, as I'm sure you're well aware. Body language, for instance, is commonly credited as a significant chunk of the communication.

The clothing you wear also communicates. In the case of a viva, dressing well would communicate respect for the interviewers and acknowledgement of the importance of the interview.

That you wouldn't dress up indicates a startling level of arrogance: you're too damned important to need to dress nicely. It indicates a stunning level of self-ignorance: you haven't the foggiest idea what your dress communicates about you. It may even indicate hypocricy.

Me, I'm going to my viva naked. Fuck the man!
posted by five fresh fish at 9:46 AM on January 1, 2005


"it's often an attempt to loosen language so it reflects the mind ... or speech ... more accurately ... rebellion? ... not really ... adolescent? ... self-involved? ... "

That's a parody, right?

So many desperate rationalizations for adolescent behavior (the nice and well-meaning deborah excepted from my ridicule). Insisting upon wearing jeans to a formal interview; "i'd rather write like this than you any day"; and the failure to realize that a notably non-standard writing/speech affectation, as a "statement of individuality", is almost the most impotent, insipid, and pathetic form of meaningless non-conformity imaginable...well, portions of this thread read like scribbled musings of a bright (but not that bright) teenage malcontent sulking at the back of class. Grow the fuck up. I say that with the greatest insincere kindness.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:03 AM on January 1, 2005


eb ... oh, pretentious one, the parody was that extremely long and poorly written sentence i did in honor of your alleged literary style ... which you knew, of course

this is not a job interview ... this is not a literary journal ... it's a website ... those who find some of the communication here to be shockingly non-standard are welcome to cringe at the average xanga blog ... or the discussion of news on yahoo

and a guy who in answer, posts two incomplete sentences as one run-on mish-mash and then follows it with a long ranting mess of a sentence is merely proving my point

here

"There's many desperate rationalizations for adolescent behavior, although I'd except the nice and well-meaning Deborah from my ridicule. It's people like you who insist upon wearing jeans to a formal interview, just as they insist that non-standard writing is a statement of individuality. Your saying that "i'd rather write like this than you any day" illustrates your failure to realize this is an insipid and pathetic form of meaningless non-conformity. Portions of this thread read like the scribbled musings of a somewhat bright teenaged malconent sulking in the back row of his class."

reads a lot better once you eliminate the extra words and the horribly constructed sentences, doesn't it? ... i pity the poor bastard who'd actually have to formally parse some of your claptrap constructions

physician ... heal thyself
posted by pyramid termite at 11:31 AM on January 1, 2005


There ARE many desperate rationalizations.

Though I find EB almost completely unreadable, at the very least he wouldn't write "there's many."

*head explodes all over LanguageHat*
posted by CunningLinguist at 12:07 PM on January 1, 2005


First, stav, my apologies, no insult was intended. I just was shocked by the low level of rancor and or personal epithets that tend to fly in these disagreements, as well as the central focus of the argument being on the use of language as opposed to the Palestinian state, or the war in Iraq, or whether fat people should pay higher taxes to cover their burden on our national health care system, etc. I'm all in favor of intellectuals debating intelligent topics passionately for 200 + comments, it's just a little shocking here (and don't you people pretend that it isn't!).
posted by jonson at 12:24 PM on January 1, 2005


Pyramid: no, I realize that you were trying to parody me in the paragraph. Your first sentence, with its, um, whatever the hell those pseudo-ellipses are, was all yours, baby. And it was an unintentional parody of itself. Hey, I took a look at your blog: "..." isn't a period. Someone might have told you that once. And your personal blather is as endearingly written there as your supposed more serious prose here. Which is to say, it's horrid and trite. How you can claim to judge anyone else's writing to be "bad" is an insult to the very idea of judgment. But, hey, keep on rambling with those bizarre pseudo-ellipses and precious lack of capitalization. It's helpful to those who'd like to recognize a potential waste of their time at a glance.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:31 PM on January 1, 2005


and the failure to realize that a notably non-standard writing/speech affectation, as a "statement of individuality", is almost the most impotent, insipid, and pathetic form of meaningless non-conformity imaginable

Let's hear it
one for the coons on UPN 9 and WB
Who "yes Massa" on TV
what ever happened to Weezy?
The Red Foxes?
Never got Emmys but were real to me
Let's hear it
two for the spooks who do cartwheels
Cause they said they played they parts well
Now they claim caviar
hate that oxtail
Lambda Sigma Phi badge on lapel
Whitey always tell him
"Ooh he speak so well"
Are you the one we look to?
The decent Negro?
The acceptable Negro?
hell naw
But they say
"These are our heroes"

-- Nas

posted by The God Complex at 1:30 PM on January 1, 2005


In other words, EB, your sentiment is painfully upper class and characteristic of centuries of those in power using language as a tool to oppress others. It's one thing to love language and enjoy its nuances, but to do so seriously--so vainly--suggests something else entirely. To use it as a badge of acceptance is, I think, a rather disturbing thing to do, at least when its done with blanket statements such as the one you used.
posted by The God Complex at 1:34 PM on January 1, 2005


I strongly suspect most language mutations evolve from their use in lower classes, toward use by the upper classes.

And, yes, you won't get very far as an aspiring manager if you speak Ebonics. Why should it be any different for written language?

There is a reason it's called "the Queen's English": it's the high-class, educated, proper way to speak and write.

And it's a damn good thing, too. We need language stability, or we will fail to be capable of communicating with one another.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:41 PM on January 1, 2005


well, eb say what you will about my personal blather and my horrid triteness at least i keep it on my blog where it belongs ... pity you don't ... your lack of protest at my rewriting of your precious prose is noted, however

cunninglinguist ... yeah, i blew it with "there's many" ... that's what i get for rewritting crap in the first place

god complex - i think you've nailed it ... the worst part is, his writing doesn't even come up to those standards he claims to love
posted by pyramid termite at 3:10 PM on January 1, 2005


And, yes, you won't get very far as an aspiring manager if you speak Ebonics. Why should it be any different for written language?

Perhaps the question you should be asking is why it's necessary to speak "proper" English to be an aspiring manager, rather than assuming this should always be the case. Many rules (grammatical and otherwise) of the court (if you're going to get old school on me) served no real purpose other than excluding those who hadn't been educated in these "noble" ends.

I'm not necessarily agreeing with the sentiment espoused in those lyrics, mind you; I'm simply pointing out that the less-educated minority is often oppressed by the language the upper-class majority uses, especially when its learned, by and large, through public (and private) education, which is woefully inept in the inner cities. It smacks of upper-crust elitism to sit back and snark at those who had less opportunity than you did, which is what EB seems to be doing with his blanket dismissal of anyone who doesn't conform to his rather mundane views on language. Without people subverting language, we'd still be speaking like Victorians. Hell, without the poor, huddled masses, English would have likely died when the French ruled England. These subversions may at times undermine important aspects of our language, but more often than not they infuse it with an energy that it needs to stave off a crippling stagnancy.
posted by The God Complex at 3:13 PM on January 1, 2005


("it's" learned--aiyeee!)
posted by The God Complex at 3:14 PM on January 1, 2005


First, stav, my apologies, no insult was intended.

It's cool. I'm just enjoying this, and more, as you joked about, than I would any session of I/P ranting or fattybashing or Bush abuse.

Well, OK, maybe not the Bush abuse. That's some kinda fun. But still...
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:52 PM on January 1, 2005


Perhaps the question you should be asking is why it's necessary to speak "proper" English to be an aspiring manager, rather than assuming this should always be the case.

Because as a manager, you need a broad group of people to understand what you say, and to understand it with a high degree of precision. Formal standard English does that.

Likewise, when one wishes to communicate with the twenty-odd thousand MeFi readers, one had best use language that those readers understand. 37337 5P3AK isn't going to do it. Ebonics don' goin' ta wuk shee-it, sho 'nuff. YoUcAnTeVeNgEtAwAyWiThSiLlYsHiT.

You're basically stuck using at least conversational English and the closer it comes to formal standard English, the more likely that your readers will understand precisely what you mean.

This is all rather commonsense, I think.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:25 PM on January 1, 2005


when one wishes to communicate with the twenty-odd thousand MeFi readers

Twenty-odd thousand REGISTERED MeFi members...untold thousands of unregistered readers. /nitpick off
posted by rushmc at 7:01 PM on January 1, 2005


The Bush abuse is, perhaps, the most tiring to me; it's just so easy, and the downside of living with him as president strikes closer to home. Stupid evil bastard.
posted by jonson at 7:19 PM on January 1, 2005


I really can't make much sense of your comment (which may have something to do with the alcohol you mention), but you seem to be accusing me of both excessive friendliness and excessive animosity. -- languagehat

Heh. Sorry about the fug/ue. An off-key eve. Hit some sour notes.

But what gist there was you seem to have got; ie, it seems to me that the practical application of your sociolinguistic philosophy (if not its ideological underpinning) is surprisingly user-friendly to a growing subset of mildly presciptivist verbal hygienists (DFW and Garner inclusive), which makes your startling "Fuck the fascist bastards!" war cry sound jarringly excessive, in a nukular kind of way.

DFW encourages multiple literacy. Languagehat encourages multiple literacy. Threats to linguistics-as-a-science aside (which is where they seem to hide during these function-over-form discussions) - why the massive attack? Your animosity towards DFW seems contrived, to sell, if you sold 'em, ideological T-shirts.

If I were feeling particularly philosophical, I'd be tempted to say that when I gaze down from my drafty lofty perch high above the continuum, both you and DFW appear to be reciprocating cogs in the same normative engine - an engine which IMO is chugging along at just about the right speed. I might even be inclined to point out that the difference between "wrong" and "inappropriate", in pomo currency, amounts to not enough to finance a revolution (and ultimately amounts to nothing at all). I might even mention that if most of you idealistic 2cool4it neo-linguists continue to ignore (except to criticize) a fretful public stubbornly pleading for guidance, you should expect that tongue-cheeky DFWs, earnest and gentle Garners, and even some of their narcissistic fish-scaled half-brotherkin like Safire and Simon will eventually toddle out to fill the vacuum you've SNOOTily but oh-so-scientifically left behind.

Me? I just like startling prose. Harrowing prose. Surprising prose. I don't care how it's served. Bits and scraps and orts are fine. In a recent thread, caddis, in a thoroughly lowercase jot, used the phrase 'cosmic sass'. I liked it. I enjoyed it. That's all I ask.

As for animosity, I have none to offer you. I really don't. I loves ya. In nitty-gritty essence I agree with you. If I had my druthers, though, I'd druther you were really and truly and down to the last molecule Deborah Cameron except gorgeous and not preoccupied with gender-related linguistics and not a PC jargon jargonista.

Peace and good wishes and no animosity towards all.

(If you read this, 'hat, leave me a linguistic sign; I'd hate to think that I'd left you dangling from my animus.)
posted by Opus Dark at 9:09 PM on January 2, 2005


Glad I dropped by for a last look -- it's nice to see your comment (and I'm relieved at the lack of animosity).

if most of you idealistic 2cool4it neo-linguists continue to ignore (except to criticize) a fretful public stubbornly pleading for guidance

That's why I'm trying to get focused on that book. I want to provide guidance! Seriously, I figure my combination of linguist/editor, descriptive/prescriptive gives me a fairly unique (hah!) take on things, and I might be able to convince people that they can trust their instincts a little more without falling irrevocably into "illiteracy." I don't like crappy English any more than any of you picky bastards; I just have a clearer view of what's truly crappy and what's just SNOOTy (he said immodestly). And if you've read my rant on DFW you should be aware that what I can't stand about him is his fake erudition; if he wants to shoot off his mouth about language, fine, it's a free country, but if he acts all superior and trust-me-I-know-these-things, then I'm gonna take him down. Knowledge is hard, talking out of your ass is easy.

Me? I just like startling prose. Harrowing prose. Surprising prose.

Me too, bro. Me too.
posted by languagehat at 8:03 PM on January 4, 2005


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