Category: Words

October 1, 2012

Funner Grammar

As I said in the addendum to my last post, maybe I’m not so ready to abandon the technical definition of grammar. In a recent post on Copyediting, Andrea Altenburg criticized the word funner in an ad for Chuck E. Cheese as “improper grammar”, and my first reaction was “That’s not grammar!” That’s not entirely […]

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Grammar, Usage, Words 22 Replies to “Funner Grammar”
September 25, 2012

It’s All Grammar—So What?

It’s a frequent complaint among linguists that laypeople use the term grammar in such a loose and unsystematic way that it’s more or less useless. They say that it’s overly broad, encompassing many different types of rules, and that it allows people to confuse things as different as syntax and spelling. They insist that spelling, […]

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Grammar, Semantics, Usage, Words 9 Replies to “It’s All Grammar—So What?”
August 7, 2012

The Data Is In, pt. 2

In the last post, I said that the debate over whether data is singular or plural is ultimately a question of how we know whether a word is singular or plural, or, more accurately, whether it is count or mass. To determine whether data is a count or a mass noun, we’ll need to answer […]

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Grammar, Semantics, Usage, Words 15 Replies to “The Data Is In, pt. 2”
July 30, 2012

The Data Is In, pt. 1

Lately there has been a spate of blog posts on the question of whether data is a singular or a plural noun. Surprisingly, most of them come down on the side of saying that it can be singular—except when it’s plural. Although saying that it can be singular is refreshingly open-minded, I’ve still got a […]

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Semantics, Usage, Words 6 Replies to “The Data Is In, pt. 1”
February 29, 2012

No Dice

If you’ve ever had to learn a foreign language, you may have struggled to memorize plural forms of nouns. German, for example, has about a half a dozen ways of forming plurals, and it’s a chore to remember which kind of plural each noun takes. English, by comparison, is ridiculously easy. Here’s how it works […]

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Historical linguistics, Usage, Words 28 Replies to “No Dice”
February 7, 2012

However

Several weeks ago, Bob Scopatz asked in a comment about the word however, specifically whether it should be preceded by a comma or a semicolon when it’s used between two clauses. He says that a comma always seems fine to him, but apparently this causes people to look askance at him. The rule here is […]

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Usage, Words 8 Replies to “However”
January 30, 2012

Comprised of Fail

A few days ago on Twitter, John McIntyre wrote, “A reporter has used ‘comprises’ correctly. I feel giddy.” And a couple of weeks ago, Nancy Friedman tweeted, “Just read ‘is comprised of’ in a university’s annual report. I give up.” I’ve heard editors confess that they can never remember how to use comprise correctly and […]

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Usage, Words 13 Replies to “Comprised of Fail”
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
December 23, 2011

Which Hunting

I meant to blog about this several weeks ago, when the topic came up in my corpus linguistics class from Mark Davies, but I didn’t have time then. And I know the that/which distinction has been done to death, but I thought this was an interesting look at the issue that I hadn’t seen before. […]

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Editing, Usage, Words 3 Replies to “Which Hunting”
December 6, 2011

Distinctions, Useful and Otherwise

In a recent New York Times video interview, Steven Pinker touched on the topic of language change, saying, “I think that we do sometimes lose distinctions that it would be nice to preserve—disinterested to mean ‘impartial’ as opposed to ‘bored’, for example.” He goes on to make the point that language does not degenerate, because […]

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Usage, Words 10 Replies to “Distinctions, Useful and Otherwise”
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