I know, enough already about Weird Al Yankovic’s “Word Crimes,” but bear with me for one more comment on the music video that’s given language prescriptivism
it’s its biggest shot in the arm since the glory days of Eats, Shoots & Leaves. Perhaps the weirdest of the 17 admonitions Weird Al crams into the song comes at about the halfway point, when he croons, “There’s no x in espresso,” over this image:
The emails come like clockwork, one or two every week. Sometimes they’re abusive, sometimes they’re gleefully “gotcha,” and sometimes they’re civil and sincere, like this one (name of sender withheld):
I genuinely read and appreciate your articles, but this one stumped me. This sentence is near the end of your article in The Week, published 14 March 2013: “As I noted in my previous article, the meaning of words inevitably and perennially change.” If I was working with a student, I would correct the verb to read “changes.” Can you give me a quick lesson if I’m incorrect?
I was taken aback recently to pick up an (unnamed) magazine for which I’d written an article and see my brief bio begin with the words: “Ben Yagoda is a novelist. … ” I am not a novelist, never have been, and have not (since the age of 15) even had any aspirations in that direction. This isn’t because I have any disdain for the form but rather the opposite. Loudon Wainwright III sings in “Talkin’ New Bob Dylan Blues” that he held off writing songs as a youth because of the mere presence of Dylan: “It was too damn daunting, you were too great.” That’s roughly how I feel about (first-rate) novelists. Continue reading
Strolling about London on a recent vacation, I was gobsmacked to come upon this:
Theodore Roosevelt was apparently the first candidate to declare, “My hat is in the ring.”
If you’re looking for a great summer read, and you anticipate a summer with a lot of time on your hands, I highly recommend Doris Kearns Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit. Its 928-page length is to some extent a function of the fact that it covers four separate topics, each of which could have been a book of its own: a brief biography of Theodore Roosevelt, a brief biography of William Howard Taft, a study of the two men’s complicated political and personal friendship, and (the ostensible subject) an account of the two presidents’ relations with muckraking journalists like Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, and S.S. McClure. Continue reading
Because the conventions for their use are so variable, commas can provide a quick sense of a writer’s personal style. Or a publication’s: As I wrote in April, part of The New Yorker‘s distinctive voice is the way, whenever standard punctuation rules allow for a comma or not, it always votes “yes.” Continue reading
Where’s the outrage?
People never stop getting upset about changes in the use of pronouns (“thanks for inviting me wife and me/I”), verbs (comprise/compose), and nouns (data is/data are ), but, with the exception of occasional squawks about those who say “different than” (or, in Britain, “different to”) instead of “different from,” they don’t seem to give a hoot about the pervasive phenomenon I call “preposition creep.” Continue reading
I have officially entered the brave new world of e-books with a popularly-priced ($3.99!) collection of some of my pieces on language, first published in Slate, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and other fine publications. language pieces . It’s called (take a deep breath) You Need to Read This: The Death of the Imperative Mode, the Rise of the American Glottal Stop, the Bizarre Popularity of “Amongst,” and Other Cuckoo Things That Have Happened to the English Language. Continue reading
I read in USA Today on June 9th that Detroit’s Big Three auto makers have “committed $26-million to the grand bargain on which much of the city’s exit from bankruptcy is based.” The “grand bargain,” the newspaper went on to explain, is a complicated arrangement in which the Detroit Institute of Arts “and its masterworks will be spun off to a nonprofit trust for the equivalent of $816-million, with proceeds set aside to help reduce pension reductions for thousands of city workers.”