Styling Evolution, or, the Elements of Futility

Does it count as Skitt’s Law if, despite being unplanned, it still manages to make the point, anyway?

I would, however, note that once upon a time I actually lost an internet argument about how language evolves. There is a word we use, from the Italian; most Americans get it from “mob” movies. In a world in which I am supposed to know, off the top of my head, that the word is now officially spelled “koppish”, because, y’know, language evolves, I have also learned to remember that some evolution leads the way of the dodo.

When you hear someone justify poor presentation with something about how language evolves, it does in fact behoove us to consider whether the “evolution” in question improves or denigrates communication.

There is an argument that says EoS only makes good people feel bad about their own writing, but there is also a way in which that argument relies on some contradictory notion about communication. There are a lot of good people who communicate poorly; somewhere between, say, failing to speak in a way that fails to frighten a stupid, frightened person with a gun and, oh, I don’t know, being able to write a sentence without netspeak shorthand, exists a viable question by which communicative skills really are a proper consideration for self-conscious good people.

It’s just hard to figure though, to what degree the Elements bring jittery self-awareness to people who don’t know what the book is, or have never tried to use it.

Did you see what I did, there?

The gaffe in the sentence about the stupid person with a gun really is a mistake of revising something or another in the moment as that jalope hit the page.





See also:

“Why ‘The Elements of Style” is out of style”. Public Radio International. 8 February 2018.

Brother, Can You Spare an Answer?

Appetite: Electric Kamon with Haruko, just before dinner. (Detail of frame from FLCL episode 4, “Full Swing”)

Every once in a while a question occurs, and it’s true I only ask it in limited circumstances. Still, it persists, because I never have encountered an actual functional answer.

Okay, guys, work with me, here.

Why is female reproductive and urogenital anatomy an insult?

Continue reading

Notes on political correctness

A question that seems to arise frequently in my circles is whether or not the idea of political correctness is inherently evil. Perhaps I need new circles.

The thing about political correctness is that it is just a form of polite discourse. And some people resent any sense of obligation toward being polite.

Jen Sorenson, Slowpoke, 2005Viewed through a hostile critique, political correctness is simply a modern term for euphemism.

Most men can recall learning all sorts of nifty words, for instance, denoting women’s breasts. Titties, gazangas, melons, rack, and so on. But in my youth, if the question of a women’s breast size came up in the presence of elders, one might speak in terms of endowment. Large breasts were described as “well-endowed”. I would not, at age twelve, have used the phrase “mondo gazangas” in the presence of my grandmother. It’s not some yoke of social slavery, but, rather, being polite according to the company I was in, and also avoiding a distracting family scandal.

Continue reading

Random Family Guy question

A random Family Guy question.

Recently I’ve been going back and watching as many of the Family Guy episodes I’ve missed as possible. And now I find myself scrambling to pick up a joke that blew right by me the first time because my viewing habit had grown, for various reasons, somewhat spotty.

I’m pulling up old episodes to find the gag, a play on words and accents that Generation X, at least, might remember from school days. The main focus of the joke is words starting with the consonant blend wh-. And it’s true, for those who have never heard the lesson before. Listen to how people say these words, and where the h occurs.

But they’ve done it with a couple other words, too:

  • 6.08 (5ACX03) — “Barely Legal”: Brian and Stewie, “Cool Whip”; Brian and Meg, “a while” and “weird”; Quagmire and two women, “whip”.
  • 7.11 (6ACX03) — “Love, Blactually”: Brian and Stewie, “ruined”.
  • 7.11 (6ACX17) — “Not All Dogs Go to Heaven”: Patrick Stewart and Stewie, “Wil Wheaton”.

Mostly, I’m curious as to how many more times they tried this bit. They ran the legs off the gag in “Barely Legal”, and one thing I adore about McFarlane and company is their ability to beat a dead horse until it’s funny. I tend to think one of the merits of Family Guy is that they learned the applicable lesson from that legendary Simpsons episode, “Cape Feare”: If you do it right, there is no such thing as doing a joke to death.

(Kudos, however, are in order for the death of Vern and Johnny—”The Vaudville Guys”—in the episode, “Saving Private Brian”, even if they did bring them back as ghosts a year later.)

Anyway, yeah. Any clues on how many episodes they’ve worked this bit into?

Random notes

Just some random notes:

  • Do you write “dammit”, or “damn it”? And if you stick God into the mix, do you compound the word into “Goddamn”? How about, “Goddammit”?
  • Megan Seling of The Stranger noted, “[A]re there any other words in the English language that have three consecutive pairs of letters like the word bookkeeper does? I can’t think of any. Then again, I suck at Scrabble.”
  • To this day, the word “misled” bothers me, because when I was a kid, I read an Encyclopedia Brown story in which the solution to the mystery was a badly-written note. According to our hero, there is (was) no such word as “misled”. Did common vernacular somehow change this rule sometime in the last forty-five years? Or was I reading a subversive pinko Cold War-era counterfeit Encyclopedia Brown book?
  • I feel like introducing you to one of my most enduring pet peeves: The word “transition” is a noun, damn it!
  • Oh, yeah, another pet peeve: The phrase “pet peeve” is annoying and unnerving, much like children singing off-key for the amusement of sitcom viewers.

Evolution of language and the way of the dodo

I have, for about ten years, maintained a low-key campaign against the use of the word “transition” as a verb. Indeed, the intransitive verb is in our dictionary, but if anyone can remember the days when American dictionaries labeled certain words “americanism”, this is how I regard the verb “transition”; in other words, if enough people insist on using a word in a certain way, it will become accepted use.

I accept the idea that language is dynamic and evolving, but mark that word: evolving. We tend to regard evolution as improvement, although it is possible to “evolve” right out of the scheme: if an adaptation is disruptive enough, or inadequate in response to changing environmental demands, extinction becomes possible. Of long-extinct animals, we say, “They just didn’t evolve.”

It seems to me, then, that if language is dynamic and evolving, that evolution ought to improve the language. As the function of language is communication, it seems reasonable to assert that improved language should result in improved communication.

This is why such things as spelling and punctuation are important. I have seen, for instance, the word “capiche” spelled “koppish”, and while the placement of the word in the sentence made it clear what the word was, I did, actually, ask what “koppish” meant. When it was clear that the word was the famous mobster-stereotype word for “understand?” I made the hideous mistake of admitting I’d never seen it spelled that way. But language is dynamic, I was reminded. Vry wel. But I wud lyk to mak a poynt her. This iz not a gr8 way to komyunik8. If we all adapt our own ways of spelling words, we will find greater difficulty understanding one another. This does not reflect an improvement in the function of communication. Yes, some need it spelled out for them: An “improvement” to the function of communication should make it easier, not harder, to understand one another.

punctuation of course is a different matter as lynne truss pointed out in her amusing and enlightening volume eats shoots & leaves punctuation is vital to understanding exactly what we are saying the title of the book comes from a joke that apparently made it into the house of commons in england in which a panda shoots up a restaurant and justifies his actions by a badly punctuated wildlife guide that says a panda is a large black and white bear like mammal native to china eats shoots and leaves give it a read if you find the time or inclination but without punctuation it is difficult to explain the difference between potatoes and potatoes call me a luddite if you want ill thank you

So just think about it, please. We need not complain about the profanity or arrogance of colloquial speech; slang is intended to be exclusionary, and those who wish to be separate ought not be surprised when they find their “evolution” of the language renders them unintelligible to their neighbors. It’s not necessarily racism, or that you’re stupid, that you get a bad grade on a term paper, or fail to get a job. But when you make a point that your teachers shouldn’t be able to understand you, don’t be surprised if they don’t. And when you’re asking someone to give you money in exchange for your labor, it’s not exactly to your benefit to suggest that your American boss ought to learn a new language called “English”; it counts against you because miscommunication inevitably reduces productivity, and that’s the bottom line employers are supposed to answer to.

And, for the record, what brings this issue to mind today is an old story from USA Today I happened to read this morning, and let me disclaim that the politics are beside the point. Halliburton may wish to be a UAE company, but in this case, I’m wondering when the word “office” became a verb:

“Halliburton is opening its corporate headquarters in Dubai while maintaining a corporate office in Houston,” spokeswoman Cathy Mann said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “The chairman, president and CEO will office from and be based in Dubai to run the company from the UAE.”

Anyone? Anyone? I doubt this is the first example in history, but I could be wrong.