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Tuesday Hatred of Word Nerds

Jen Doll and Sarah Miller have been having a cute word nerd back and forth about “the worst word on the planet” and I know it’s in fun but it makes me want to claw my eyeballs out, then chew them up, then spit out one of them and swallow the other one so I can throw it up in my mouth a little. Miller hates literally. Doll hates actually. I hate the discussion. Welcome back to Tuesday Hatred.

In fact, Tuesday Hatred has been here before, with respect to “literally.” Literally is a specific kind of intensifier–I like this explanation, from the OED via Language Log, “that some conventional metaphorical or hyperbolical phrase is to be taken in the strongest admissible sense.” For the current anti-“literally” campaign I blame David Cross, who worried that when you said you laughed so hard you literally shit your pants, that you then had to dispose of said pants. “You should stop using the word forever until you fucking figure it out,” says Cross. This was a funny routine! But it’s completely fucking wrong.

Like most language-nerdery, it’s not just factually wrong, but it’s riddled with status anxiety. Continue reading

August 7, 2012 Posted by | language, syntax, Tuesday Hatred | , , | 23 Comments

Friday Afternoon Confessional: There is Nothing on the Inside

I confess that my sex drive is not always synchronized with that of The Wife. On this magnificent site I have found a solution for one of a total of two possible directions in which we can be out of phase in this:

To the lurkers with a tendency for perversion: no, The Wife is not attracted to Ice T. It is just that I do not love Coco. Not that I think she is not lovable or likable or anything, I have no way of knowing that. Not that I cannot imagine that Ice T loves Coco, I am sure he does if he says so. I confess that I’m simply turned off by that picture.

I confess that the other of a total of two possible directions doesn’t happen a lot.  I guess we’re kind of traditional that way.

I confess that I have only very little interest in what you, dear readers, have going on as far as being traditional in that way. I confess I have even less interest in how far you are not traditional this way. My interest is likewise limited, approaching the infinitesimally close to zero, in whether you are turned off or on by Coco, Ice T or any combination of the both at any age, stage of nudity or weight.

You might wonder why I bother you with all this shit of mine if I can’t be bothered with any of that shit coming from you. I suppose the short answer is: because I can. The long answer is: Noam Chomsky is wrong, there’s nothing deep hiding below the surface.

I hereby confess in passing that I have no soul. I would find this to be more of a problem for me personally if I wouldn’t be convinced that none of you have souls either. I confess that I believe that, dig as deep as you want, you’ll find that There is Nothing on the Inside. I confess that I am simplistic that way. If you do well, you mean well. If you mean well, you do well. Sure, there might be external circumstances that break this pattern but these circumstances are external, not internal. At the same time the “if p then q” pattern isn’t broken by some counter-examples because the pattern is not one of materiality  but one of probability (if you want to be bored you can click the link on the first link on this page). In other words, It is All on the Outside. The only Reality is The Reality at The Surface.

[I confess it might well be the case that I'm at This Very Moment possessed by a, badly demented, version of The  Spirit of William Blake. For this and all other gibberish I apologize.]

This is why I confess I am happy that Ice T loves Coco. It is a good thing to love somebody, certainly when that somebody returns that love. Weight, average feelings of good taste and a suspicion that the relationship is more about the material than the spiritual have nothing to do with it. They are just the signs of being judgmental and as such of not meaning well.

That said, I confess I’m still turned off by that picture. But that is only a sexual reaction and more specifically my sexual reaction. Other than that the whole thing is kind of endearing.

I do confess I have a very big interest in what you, our dearest readers, find endearing. I confess I cry at the end of a well made tearjerker. Hell, I even cry at the end of a badly made tearjerker.

June 17, 2011 Posted by | Friday Afternoon Confessional, syntax | 10 Comments

Finance quasi-jargon

For the past few years, I’ve been doing financial writing on the side for supplemental income (i.e., virtually my whole income). It’s pretty basic stuff, mostly just telling investors how their portfolio did compared to a particular benchmark. While my sample size is limited, I have noticed a trend of what I call “quasi-jargon”: terms that are peculiar to financial discourse, yet do not seem to add any meaning whatsoever.

My (least) favorite example is “newsflow.” From context clues, I have determined that “newsflow” is information that becomes known in the public sphere and impacts stock prices in a positive or negative way depending on whether the information itself is positive or negative. In other words, “newsflow” is “news.” The addition of “flow” to the end — unmediated by either a space or a hyphen, mind you — adds absolutely nothing that I can tell. The only argument in its favor is perhaps that it’s a shorter way of saying “a stream of news that’s consistently positive or negative,” but isn’t the “flow” aspect of it already implicit in the very concept of news itself?

Other examples are less clear. One always “reiterates” guidance (management’s official expectations for revenue, etc.), for instance — one never “reaffirms” it, nor “holds it steady,” nor any other possible synonym: it’s “reiterate” only. In my mind, this is a second type of quasi-jargon. Instead of making up a new term that duplicates an existing term, you capture a completely normal word and make it play a jargon-like role, as though it’s irreplaceable. But it’s perfectly replaceable, and insisting on this particular word accomplishes nothing that its synonyms could not just as easily do.

July 13, 2009 Posted by | squalor, syntax | 10 Comments

I so don’t say “so” like that

In my youth, it was common to use “so” as an intensifier in the following way: “I’m so excited / I’m so excited / I’m so… scared!” In certain respects, this usage is incorrect. Properly speaking, “so” should be followed by a clause beginning with “that” and describing the consequences of the degree to which you are experiencing the adjective. Classic example: “I’m so hungry that I could eat a horse.” Using “so” without a qualifier would, by analogy, intensify the adjective without bound: “I’m so hungry that anything is possible for me now.”

Ah, what innocent days those were! But it was all ruined when Chandler from Friends took things a step further. Rather than limiting the use of “so” to what one might call adjectives of experience (excited, scared, hungry), Chandler began using “so” as an intensifier for personal actions: “I’m so not going to that party.” I’ll admit that the door for such a usage was provided by the frequent use of past participles as the adjective of experience (excited, scared) — the appearance was that of a passive-voice construction. With that in mind, why not use the same structure for the active voice as well?

Why not, indeed? Oh, I know: because it’s fucking annoying. Yet I appear to be the only person who thinks this. Spending time with people younger than me, I learned something deeply disturbing: young people find this use of “so” to be completely unremarkable. I am old enough to remember that it was introduced by Friends, whereas for them it was always-already part of the available syntax.

Even more disturbing: for this usage to become so pervasive in such a short time, there must’ve been something convincing about it, a sense that it filled in a gap in the language. And yet it did not fill any gap. The constructions in which “so” was used as an unbounded intensifier were not in fact passive voice constructions, and so the analogy with active voice constructions is a false one.

How can I tell they’re not passive voice constructions, which is to say that the apparent past participles are acting as run-of-the-mill verbal adjectives rather than participles? The key is in the prepositions. Passive constructions use the preposition “by.” Returning to my examples, we would say, “I’m excited about… I’m scared of…” Adding another one: “I’m interested in….” Putting it differently: a passive construction is a reversal of an active one. Thus we would say: “cinema excites me,” with the passive equivalent being, “I am excited by cinema.” Again: “knitting interests me,” or passively, “I am interested by knitting.” Some external force (cinema, knitting) is the agent in these active/passive pairings, whereas in the more natural “I’m interested in knitting,” “interested” serves to describe my own internal state, not the action of knitting upon me.

In conclusion, if someone managed to combine this usage of “so” with the horrifying abomination of saying “natch” for “naturally” in one sentence, my very soul might explode.

June 13, 2009 Posted by | syntax, television | 19 Comments

   

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