Sunday, March 11, 2007

A cabinet of curiosities ...

Real oddities, realer than those shown on the left, all culled from the day's news. Just lounging in my armchair in our sunroom out in the Madison suburbs, sipping another bloody mary — thanks, daylight savings time, for the permission to get an early start – as the little Verbs chase the doggie around the crusty snow in our sunny backyard. But it is a curious morning in language news.

First, though, I've got little time for Safire. "Vogue words", yeah, whatevs, Saf-man. Three new phrases blah blah, if you don't use them, you're being passed by, yadda yadda ... age-appropriate, to show ankle (in current political usage) and go figure. He does cite Ben Zimmer on the last, noting that it was on ads-l (hint to readers not on that list: it's not the only one of these that's been discussed there.) Hey, honey, can I get another one of these?

Now, let's get to less stale stuff ...
  • NPR just did a big segment on Celtic music, featuring a local Madison group, a really good one that sings in "six dialects". The last chunk of the interview is asking these fine Midwestern musicians about the future of these languages. Shame they didn't ask a linguist — calling that whole family, languages from both major branches, a set of 'dialects' tells you all you need to know. (To be clear: Blame goes to NPR, not these revivalist non-native learners/singers of an entire family of tongues, some living, some threatened, some revived.)
  • Under the title "Speech Crimes", Ben Yagoda's new book, When you catch an adjective, kill it, is reviewed in the NYT Book Review, along with David Crystal's new The fight for English: How language pundits ate, shot, and left. The reviewer, Patricia T. O'Conner, is the author of the wretched Woe is I and she loves Yagoda's treatment of 'parts of speech' as 'artificial' and 'arbitrary'. Yagoda's an English prof (hmmm, perhaps relevant to the last post on the MLA) and it's unclear how much of the ignorance is his versus hers. That he riffs on the use of the ampersand suggests that there's plenty of blame to go around. She blasts Crystal for seeing language punditry as "class war". That many column inches would have been enough to make some actual point about language that was true, informative and even entertaining.
  • In the Times proper this morning is a really lame piece on x-word taboo avoidance by Peter Applebome, reviewing the recent efforts to ban the n-word, Eve Ensler's use of the v-word, and the 'other' f-word (used recently by that scary anorexic woman with an Adam's apple to slur John Edwards). No apparent awareness of closely related discussions on Language Log (like the amazing efforts of the government to stop scientists from using the p-word, polar bear. (Sorry, phonologists, if you thought we were heading to Steriade's p-map this morning ... the missus is mixing'em strong this morning and I'm not up for sci fi theories of sound.) Nor any reflection of the extensive discussions of this topic (most recently framed around the n-word on ads-l. If you are going to publish in such a big forum, wouldn't you do a little homework?
Language, language everywhere and not an expert opinion accurately reflected anywhere.

But let's talk about something less depressing: Last night, the Wisconsin women's hockey team played a stunning NCAA playoff game against Harvard here. The game went halfway through the 7th period (yup, well over two full hours on the ice), with over 100 shots on goal before anybody hit the back of the net. The 'late replay' on local TV had been going for something like an hour and half before the game actually ended ... . Harvard's goalie stopped 67 straight shots, high and low, gloveside and stickside and in the breadbasket, screamers and dribblers, from the high slot and the corner. Then, Wisconsin scored on a short shot to the top right corner by Jinelle Zaugg. Man, what a game.


The Ridger, FCD said...

So, I got Yagoda's book and was stunned to find, in the Articles chapter, that "The man we know as Alexander the Great was born Iskander, a common Muslim name. "Al-Iskander" gives him the honorific the."

Say what? Something like this makes me quite seriously doubt everything else in the book unless it's backed up by others.

Mr. Verb said...

Wow. So virtually all authors write really dumb stuff sometimes. But don't publishers have somebody do SOME kind of basic factchecking on these things?