Category: Descriptivism

May 9, 2018

Is Change Okay or Not?

A few weeks ago I got into a bit of an argument with my coworkers in staff meeting. One of them had asked our editorial interns to do a brief presentation on the that/which rule in our staff meeting, and they did. But one of the interns seemed a little unclear on the rule—she said […]

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Descriptivism, Prescriptivism, Usage 5 Replies to “Is Change Okay or Not?”
April 27, 2015

Language, Logic, and Correctness

In “Why Descriptivists Are Usage Liberals”, I said that there some logical problems with declaring something to be right or wrong based on evidence. A while back I explored this problem in a piece titled “What Makes It Right?” over on Visual Thesaurus. The terms prescriptive and descriptive were borrowed from philosophy, where they are […]

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Descriptivism, Prescriptivism 4 Replies to “Language, Logic, and Correctness”
March 4, 2015

Why Descriptivists Are Usage Liberals

Outside of linguistics, the people who care most about language tend to be prescriptivists—editors, writers, English teachers, and so on—while linguists and lexicographers are descriptivists. “Descriptive, not prescriptive!” is practically the linguist rallying cry. But we linguists have done a terrible job of explaining just what that means and why it matters. As I tried […]

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Descriptivism, Prescriptivism 11 Replies to “Why Descriptivists Are Usage Liberals”
January 13, 2014

Lynne Truss and Chicken Little

Lynne Truss, author of the bestselling Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, is at it again, crying with her characteristic hyperbole and lack of perspective that the linguistic sky is falling because she got a minor bump on the head. As usual, Truss hides behind the it’s-just-a-joke-but-no-seriously defense. She starts by […]

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Descriptivism, Prescriptivism, Rants 20 Replies to “Lynne Truss and Chicken Little”
May 16, 2013

My Thesis

I’ve been putting this post off for a while for a couple of reasons: first, I was a little burned out and was enjoying not thinking about my thesis for a while, and second, I wasn’t sure how to tackle this post. My thesis is about eighty pages long all told, and I wasn’t sure […]

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Descriptivism, Editing, Prescriptivism, Usage 16 Replies to “My Thesis”
December 24, 2012

Relative Pronoun Redux

A couple of weeks ago, Geoff Pullum wrote on Lingua Franca about the that/which rule, which he calls “a rule which will live in infamy”. (For my own previous posts on the subject, see here, here, and here.) He runs through the whole gamut of objections to the rule—that the rule is an invention, that […]

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Descriptivism, Grammar, Prescriptivism, Usage 16 Replies to “Relative Pronoun Redux”
August 29, 2012

Relative What

A few months ago Braden asked in a comment about the history of what as a relative pronoun. (For my previous posts on relative pronouns, see here.) The history of relative pronouns in English is rather complicated, and the system as a whole is still in flux, partly because modern English essentially has two overlapping […]

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Descriptivism, Semantics, Varieties of English 9 Replies to “Relative What
June 4, 2012

What Descriptivism Is and Isn’t

A few weeks ago, the New Yorker published what is nominally a review of Henry Hitchings’ book The Language Wars (which I still have not read but have been meaning to) but which was really more of a thinly veiled attack on what its author, Joan Acocella, sees as the moral and intellectual failings of […]

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Descriptivism, Prescriptivism 9 Replies to “What Descriptivism Is and Isn’t”
March 4, 2012

Rules, Evidence, and Grammar

In case you haven’t heard, it’s National Grammar Day, and that seemed as good a time as any to reflect a little on the role of evidence in discussing grammar rules. (Goofy at Bradshaw of the Future apparently had the same idea.) A couple of months ago, Geoffrey Pullum made the argument in this post […]

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Descriptivism, Grammar, Prescriptivism, Usage 10 Replies to “Rules, Evidence, and Grammar”
January 11, 2012

More on That

As I said in my last post, I don’t think the distribution of that and which is adequately explained by the restrictive/nonrestrictive distinction. It’s true that nearly all thats are restrictive (with a few rare exceptions), but it’s not true that all restrictive relative pronouns are thats and that all whiches are nonrestrictive, even when […]

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Descriptivism, Grammar, Prescriptivism, Usage, Words 13 Replies to “More on That
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