I bet you weren’t expecting some tricky linguistic commentary in the pages of SUPERMAN & BATMAN VS. VAMPIRES AND WEREWOLVES! But here it is!
In Issue #4 of the six-part series, our heroes are hanging around making plans and waiting to be attacked by demon-like creatures (as you do). That’s when Jason Blood, aka the rhyming demon Etrigan, senses the creatures’ arrival and says “THEY’RE HERE”:
I don’t know what’s going on over at Dictionary.com, but I like it. They’ve been stepping up their blogging game recently. Gone are the days of word hating (I hope)! Instead, they recently published a post about the problematic nature of some words that get casually thrown around. If you don’t know why it might be harmful to use words like Sherpa, Nazi, and hysterical, you might want to check this one out.
Welcome back, language fans. This time we’re traveling over to Grammar.com, where the grammar is… not so good, Al. Specifically, we’re going to look at a PDF that they’re slinging (for free!) called “The Awful ‘Like’ Word”.
This little ditty is 9 pages of nonsense. I would copy the text and comment on it in this post, but that would take forever. Those of you interested in truly awful language commentary can check out the PDF below. I’m gonna warn you, though. This PDF might be, like, the worst thing I’ve read about the word like. If your face likes meeting your palm, then read on!
Here’s the PDF “The Awful ‘Like’ Word” with my comments. I promise it’s not all snide remarks. There’s some good linguistic commentary in there as well. But snide remarks too.
And here it is without my comments if you want to color it in for yourself.
Back in November*, the radio show On the Media did a segment on women’s voices in broadcasting. They took a different angle than we’re used to – instead of talking about the social and political factors used to police and silence women, they discussed the technological factors. Because of course there are also technological things keeping women out of public spaces.
Christopher Hitchens can’t do language commentary, you know
In looking around for something else, I came across an article on language by Christopher Hitchens. For all his skill in analyzing social progress and literature, Hitchens doesn’t seem to have ever even seen the cover of a linguistics book.
On the one hand nerd can definitely still be an insult. Consider this clip of the Philadelphia Flyers player Travis Konecny chirping the Pittsburgh Penguins player Evgeni Malkin last year (the relevant bit comes around 38 seconds in):
(I can neither confirm nor deny whether I like watching Penguins players getting chirped)
Konecny clearly uses nerd as an insult. Yes, he qualifies it by saying “ya fucking nerd,” but he also calls Malkin just “you nerd”. Now, despite what you may think of Penguins players, Malkin is probably the opposite of the traditional definition of a “nerd” – he’s an elite athlete. (But maybe he’s a hockey nerd???)
On the other hand, might not be using nerd to be an insult much anymore. Earlier this year, Dr. Lisa Davidson tweeted about whether geek and nerd are humblebrags.
A while back you mostly disagreed w/my discomfort with 'geek' & 'nerd'. On @theindicator podcast @titonka was also uncomfortable, but b/c she considers it a humblebrag! I want you all to know I'm working on updating my lexical entries to get with the times, k? #LanguageChangeshttps://t.co/VGyCp2sMuq
This led to some discussion which you should check out. The idea is that maybe the word nerd has changed from something that is definitely negative into something that is maybe positive. Before you confirm your intuitions, keep reading. I thought checking a corpus would be good to answer this question (you know, because I’m a corpus linguist). I decided to check the iWeb corpus because it is unedited and so should give us an idea of how nerd is used “in the wild”. The iWeb corpus is very large (14 billion words) and contains language from websites in 6 English-speaking countries (US, Canada, Ireland, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand) from 2017. There are 38,554 instances of nerd in the corpus. So I took a random sample of 500. Go here to automatically search for “nerd” on the iWeb corpus, and here for an overview of the corpus (PDF).
Look! Up in the sky! It’s bird shit… It’s acid rain… It’s another garbage article about Words You Shouldn’t Use™!
Ok, so this one’s from way back in 2013. Excuses? Maybe. But it was linked to by an article from 2019, so maybe it’s still relevant? I don’t know. Thick as thieves, these bad linguistics posts, I guess.
The article is called “9 Words You’re Literally Beating to Death” and so you already know it’s going to be the worst. It’s by renowned linguistesteemed language scholarrevered language expert some dude named Rob Ashgar. Let’s have a little look see at Rob’s linguistic brain farts, shall we? (Scroll down for why all this is important)
Right off the bat, we’re deep in La La Land:
A few people can shift from a chatty and casual tone to a formal and professional one. But most of us can’t. We import our worst habits from everyday chattage to a formal job interview, a sales presentation or a eulogy.
“A few people”? What, like 3? Maybe four or five? You got any evidence to back this up, Robbo? Remember there are over 500 million L1 English speakers. If only a few of them can shift from a chatty and casual tone to a formal and professional one, why don’t you tell us their names? Oh right, because you’re making this up. Continue reading “1 Idea You Are Literally Beating to Death”→
Dreyer’s English is not a style guide like
the MLA or Chicago Manual. It’s more in the vein of the Elements of Style and Gwynne’s
Grammar. Unlike those books, however, Dreyer’s English is fun to read and (for
the most part) correct in its language proclamations. One of the reasons this
book is good is because Dreyer knows what a style guide is and what it should
be. He explains in this quote:
This book, then, is the next conversation. It’s my chance to share with you, for your own use, some of what I do, from the nuts-and-bolts stuff that even skilled writers stumble over to some of the fancy little tricks I’ve come across or devised that can make even skilled writing better.
Or perhaps you’re simply interested in what one more person has to say about the series comma.
Let’s get started.
No. Wait. Before we get started:
The reason this book is not called The Last Style Manual You’ll Ever Need, or something equally ghastly, is because it’s not. No single stylebook can ever tell you everything you want to know about writing – no two stylebooks, I might add, can ever agree on everything you want to know about writing […] (p. xvii)
Sounds good to me. This passage also gives
you an idea of Dreyer’s writing style, the conversational nature of it. I’ve
broken this review up into the Good, the Bad and the Other. This may seem like
there are three equal parts, but really there’s much more good in this book
than anything else.
In a post about Words You Should Avoid™, the website ProWritingAid gives some advice about which words you shouldn’t use in your creative writing. The words that they single out are think, know, understand, realize, believe, want, remember, imagine, and desire. They quote Chuck Palahniuk as evidence of a successful writer who also thinks you shouldn’t use these words:
Thinking is abstract. Knowing and believing are intangible. Your story will always be stronger if you just show the physical actions and details of your characters and allow your reader to do the thinking and knowing. And loving and hating.
The idea is that these words are used to describe what is going on in a character’s mind, but good writers instead describe their characters thoughts in other ways… or something. Chuck Palahniuk says “Instead of characters knowing anything, you must now present the details that allow the reader to know them. Instead of a character wanting something, you must now describe the thing so that the reader wants it.”
But does Chuck really avoid using these words? And how common are they really? Let’s have a look.