Arrant Pedantry



Topic Contest

I’m very pleased to announce the first-ever contest here at Arrant Pedantry, sponsored by the generous folks at Stack Exchange English Language and Usage. The first-prize winner will receive a new Kindle 3G.

A Word from Our Sponsor

Stack Exchange English Language and Usage is a collaborative, community-driven site focused on questions about grammar, etymology, usage, dialects, and other aspects of the English language. For example, you can ask about the pronunciation of the names of the letters of the alphabet, the appropriate use of the semicolon, or the factual basis for pirate speech (appropriate for yesterday’s Talk like a Pirate Day).

Stack Exchange English Language and Usage is a great resource for people looking for answers to those often obscure questions about language that we all have from time to time. Stack Exchange features an involved community of language experts, amateurs, and enthusiasts who are willing and able to tackle questions on a variety of topics. Please go check it out, and consider following StackEnglish on Twitter.

The Rules

And now on to business. To enter, submit a request for a future topic you’d like to see covered here on Arrant Pedantry. It can be a question about usage, etymology, how I can call myself an editor when I think a lot of the rules are bogus—whatever you want. (Keep it civil, of course). Post your request either in the comments below or on Twitter @ArrantPedantry. I’ll pick the two best suggestions and write a post on each of them. One lucky winner will receive the grand prize of a a new Kindle 3G; one slightly less lucky winner will receive a copy of Robert Lane Greene’s You Are What You Speak: Grammar Grouches, Language Laws, and the Politics of Identity (on which I’ll try to write a review sometime soon).

The deadline for entries is Friday, September 30th. Only contestants in the continental US, Canada, and Western Europe are eligible. Employees of StackExchange and relatives of me are not eligible. Spread the word!

And while you’re at it, check out the limerick contest at Sentence First, also sponsored by Stack Exchange English Language and Usage.

Addendum: My blog is currently getting bombarded by spammers, so if your comment doesn’t go through for some reason, please let me know through the contact page or by direct message on Twitter.

Update: The contest is now closed to submissions. I’ll go over all of them and announce the winners soon.

Best Grammar Blog of 2011

As you may have noticed, my blog has been preselected as a finalist for’s Best Grammar Blog of 2011 contest. I’m up against some excellent grammar and language blogs, so I’m honored to have been chosen. Voting for this contest starts on September 26th and runs through October 17th. If you enjoy my blog, please go and vote!

28 Responses to Contests!

  1. Russell Duhon says:

    Riffing on the how can you call yourself an editor bit, I’d be interested in hearing how you’d go about “training up” an editorial department where the editors are closely involved in the final output (I’m vaguely envisioning a monthly commentary periodical or somesuch, but I suspect you might have a better idea), given your thoughts on rules. One where you don’t have enough leeway to hire people already accustomed to such editing, mochiron. Perhaps imagine yourself as an outside consultant for such a department looking to modernize their editorial practices (and improve their writing quality), but mostly mired in a very rule-based practice.

    (Will multiple entries be accepted?)

  2. Jonathon says:

    I think I’ll accept up to two or three entries, unless I get totally bombarded.

  3. Taylor Bradford says:

    I’d enjoy a post about effects of mass media on language evolution. It seems like with more and more people connected by the internet, television, print media, etc that the natural rate of change for language would be retarded. We also have dictionaries and usage guides that are current across the entire country. Even our grammar is codified in manuals of style. Have all of these developments slowed down the traditional changing of language that happens when groups of speakers have limited exposure to the outside and develop regional dialects and vocabulary, that may or may not find acceptance in general use down the road?

  4. Art says:

    Sometime in the past five years or so it became really hip to use adjectives as nouns, to the extent that major corporations are now using them in advertising (Target, for example, and Culvers, whose cups/billboards say “Welcome to delicious”). I realize there are always fads in usage, but is this something we’re now stuck with? At what point does it this cutesy usage turn from the descriptivist’s nightmare to the prescriptivist’s rule?

  5. Esther Sherr says:

    You could do a column on how even the most live-and-let-live, anything-goes, who-am-I-to-say-what’s-right Descriptivist will come out firmly and resolutely prescribing Only One Space After A Period. It’s not a regional or cultural difference to be embraced. It’s Just Wrong.

    As a long-time Two Spacer (that’s how the book said to do it, when I was learning on the typewriter), I don’t see what’s so wrong about the Two Space Convention.

  6. Karl Jennings says:

    I’d like to see a post about specific criteria for determining when a new word or word usage gets included in a dictionary. Or if there are no general rules, perhaps the rules for specific dictionaries. (e.g. the OED or Merriam-Webster’s) It would also be interesting to know if dictionaries like Merriam-Webster have different standards for their online version versus their editions in print.

  7. Bob Scopatz says:

    Oh, heck there are so many things that I’d love to see a post about, but here are my top 3 (so each one is a separate entry and you can throw out those that go over your intended limit for entries per person).

    1) The need for a neuter pronoun. I tire of having to decide between using “he” or “his” generically when I mean all humans. I dislike alternating between “he” and “she”. I despise all variants of “he/she”, “s/he”, etc. I know that I should not use “they”, but it feels closest to what I really want. Could you maybe give us the latest on this topic and tell me if there is any hope for a consensus usage in my lifetime?

    2) The colon and the semicolon have always perplexed me. My writing requires frequent use of comma separated lists. Sometimes my editor/boss will change the list to semi-colon separated with a lead-off colon. I can’t really get a good explanation on when this should be done, and I don’t really know if it is the right solution. And then there’s the semi-colon whenever the word “however” appears in the middle of a sentence; however, there are times when just a comma will do.

    3) Then we come to the blessed comma. I was taught to use it as a pause. I know I somehow encoded this incorrectly in my grammar sub-routine, but I would love to be able to approach the comma without fear and loathing. Do I use it where I might have opted for a parenthetical? Can I use commas to force the reader to keep to my intended cadence in a sentence? Does it really matter? If so, when and where?


  8. Tricia says:

    What categories of language rules do you recognize and what do they include, i.e. grammar, spelling, punctuation, usage (I’m really curious what that means), orthography, syntax, etc. Do you feel any of these are more suited to either prescriptivist or descriptivist approaches?

  9. Dana says:

    I’d enjoy a post or two on the teaching of grammar. One possible topic might be how to balance teaching rules with recognizing that the rules change. Especially from the perspective of someone who thinks a lot of the rules are bogus.

  10. Anneke says:

    I’d like to hear your angle on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Basically – is there a fundamental difference between the way I think and use language as a native English speaker versus a speaker of another language. Does the language we speak affect the way we think? If so (if not) what are the ramification for the global community we find ourselves increasingly a part of?

  11. I’d like to hear your angle on how translations of Shakespeare are more compatible with modern audiences’ language than the originals.

  12. Porter says:

    The original Klingon?

  13. Stone_Wolf_ says:

    You could write an article about words used to describe emerging technology where the standard for spelling is not set yet. I know that for awhile the word “website” was spelled three ways, “website”, “web-site” and “web site” and as the concept was new, no one knew for sure which was the proper spelling (which is the proper spelling by the by?).

  14. sarcasticmuppet says:

    I’m a history enthusiast, so etymology is always fairly close to my heart. I think it would be great to have an article about historical events that resulted in dramatic effects on the language we use today. The Norman invasion of 1066 tends to be the big one to blame for our the hot mess of vocabulary and usage that is our English language, but I’d love to see something on others, if they’re there to find.

  15. Tricia says:

    @Scott R
    Do you mean translations into German or whatever? That is an interesting question. Or are you talking about NIV type of translation? It is weird that students in other countries can continue to enjoy updated translations of Shakespeare while we work with the Elizabethan dialect. Though, they probably are reading plays by their own epic writers. Except I’m told Germans claim Shakespeare as a great German dramatist because they have so few of their own. I think my college humanities professor said that, when we read Goethe.

  16. spacepook says:

    I have been highly distuurbed by a couple of adults using the phrase “I’d tap that” as a hipster exclamation meaning general appreciation, but Urban Dictionary says the phrase means wanting immoral relations with the “that” in “Tap that”. So the question is what is *the* definition of “tap that”. IMO, if you’re going to be on the Internet, you’ve got to respect the norm, which seems to have a more sick-minded bias than real life. But I honestly do want to know where it came from and what its real definition is.

  17. Na S. says:

    I would be interested to see how grammar is perceived in different areas of writing. That is, from an editor perspective, would what is considered grammatically correct be weighted less in fiction writing as opposed to non-fiction or commercial and advertising. I think we can all agree grammar is important, but does this become less so in creative writing and story telling where the voice is crucial.

  18. Orincoro says:

    I’d like to see an article on the “casual” use of the dash. I use it quite often- and I’ve been told I use it “incorrectly.” But I think it adds a certain flavor to the separation of the last clause of a sentence that a comma just doesn’t provide- I’m sure you know what I mean.

    Also you could go into the history of the dash. The dash-like mark that Dickinson used in place of the comma, for example.

    I’d also like to see an article on the irony mark, if you haven’t already written one.

  19. L Carr says:

    I would like to know the politest way, without sounding pretentious, to correct a friend’s written grammar.

  20. E. Porter says:

    I’d like to understand the relationship if any between sacrament and sacrifice and sacred.

  21. Sam says:

    I found out recently that one space after a period is not only acceptable, but required when presenting material published in a proportionally spaced font. Now that I make the effort to do it I appreciate that it does make text look more attractive. Why do people bother pointing at typewriters as the reason why many of us put two spaces after a sentence when spaces on a typewriter are twice as wide compared to a mono-spaced font?

  22. Stone_Wolf_ says:

    I think a good article would be about great substitutes for the word “said”. How much more descriptive are the words “shouted”, “whispered”, “growled”, “whimpered”, “snapped”, “bellowed”, etc, ad nausium then simply “said”?

  23. Dan Davis says:

    Here is a great topic: The Power of Expletives is Proportional To Their Usage. Expletives are words designed to forcibly impact the reader. As one person curses more often, the effect of the specific curse word diminishes, until it is basically background noise. On the other hand a person who almost never utters an expletive will turn an f-bomb into a nuclear event.

  24. Belle says:

    (1) I’d love to hear your thoughts on the book The Professor and the Madman. I found that book incredibly fascinating – a look at genuis, insanity, and how the OED was born.

    (2) Do you see a need for more linguistic training for teachers, particularly with regards to teaching English language learners in America’s schools? We seem to have more and more ESL students every year, and because they didn’t learn English as their first language, they have great questions about why English grammar works certain ways, but few teachers know how to answer those fantastic questions. Love to hear your thoughts on what challenges the teaching of English as a second grammar bring, and how the challenges should be addressed.

    3) The bane of my grammar teaching existence are indefinite pronouns and subject/verb agreement. Is there a good answer to a student as to why the word “everyone” should be considered singular? Or a good way to help students grasp the concept of the “ones, bodies, and things” as singular?

  25. I’d like to hear your thoughts regarding a style guide specifically for blogging. AP and Chicago Manual seem too stilted, yet it seems there should be some sort of guide for those bloggers who take the form seriously or want their blog to one day be published in print format.

    Also, what are your thoughts on ellipses…which I surely use far too often when blogging?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: