For post 100, I copied a passage of some really fine writing from a comic strip named Pibgorn by Brooke McEldowney. This is post 200, and I’ll descend to the other end of the continuum, pirate talk. Two days ago (Sept 19) was Talk Like a Pirate day, but I already had a post in the hopper for then, and besides, this is post 200.
First, then, a bit of linguistics. (We gotta be scholarly, y’know.) The traditional accent we all associate with the romance of 18th century pirates is roughly the brogue from Cornwall, or the southwest of England. I think this was most strongly promulgated by Disney’s version of Treasure Island several decades ago, but it might have appeared in some earlier movies, too. Be that as it may, to my mind the epitome of pirate talk is the strong “arr” sound and “be” and “me” instead of “is” and “my” as spoken by Long John Silver in the Disney movie. I read the book , by the way, and there’s quite a bit more adventure in the book than in the movie. But I digress.
Here’s a quote from a review (which gets the name of the day wrong):
He was deeply alcoholic and delivered a performance of such swivel-eyed, bizarrely-accented, scenery-chewing lunacy that he not only stole the entire film but also created a character that almost immediately defined the physical, sartorial and verbal attributes of a pirate.
Second, real pirates, especially modern ones, are bad people as far as we law-abiding folks go. Yes, the older version in the sailing ships had a decent civil structure on their ships, more egalitarian than most people realize, but they nonetheless did not conform to most of our cultural norms (read They were pretty bloodthirsty.). And there was a class of semi-legal pirate types called privateers, who had loyalty to a particular country and tended to concentrate on raiding their country’s enemies’ ships. Talk Like a Pirate day is all in fun, and has no more actual connection to real pirates than having kids go trick-or-treating on Halloween has to do with Satanism and real demons.
Third, if you’re going to speak like a pirate, you should get it right. Women are “me beauty.” It’s “arr,” not “arg” and not “yarr.” And a friend is “matey,” pronounced “maitey.” If you want to look into it a bit more, here’s a link to the official TLAP site.
Fourth, pirate jokes. Of course my favorites are wordplay, that capitalize on the strong pirate “arr.” A pirate’s favorite vegetable is arrrrtichokes, and they fight best in the arrrmy. You get the idea. A fellow by the name of Doug Savage produced a couple comics about pirates that feature chickens. And you all know the joke about the pirate with a peg leg, a hook, and an eye patch. When asked for how he got them all, he described horrific battles for losing his leg and his hand, but lost his eye because of some seagull poop. It seems he wasn’t yet used to having the hook.
And that, me matey, be all I have to say about pirates.
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Someone recently sent me a link to a grammar site. Here’s the link: http://smyword.com/2010/01/are-you-stupid-enough-to-use-leverage-as-a-verb/
The writer (I confess I have looked at only this page in the website) waxes vitriolic against the tendency of people to use adjectives and other parts of speech as verbs, in this case the adjective leverage. He (I think it’s a he) insists that you should use the verb lever instead.
English is a language that uses word order as a strong indicator of what part of speech you are using, and it has long used nouns and other parts of speech as verbs. We could use inflections, but those have fallen somewhat into disuse over the centuries. Back in the days of classical Greek, you could put the words in pretty much whatever order you wanted, and your reader could sort out the meaning of the sentence by looking at the word endings. But I digress. Remind me to tell you about chiasmus sometime.
So yes, the purists have a right to point out that we have a perfectly good verb in the word lever (which, ahem, also happens to be a noun) and hence using leverage as a verb shouldn’t be necessary.
Linguistics has a principle that every language is sufficient. That is, in every language you can say anything you need to say. A bushman language might not have any words for subatomic particles, but they don’t need to talk about subatomic particles. If their situation changed, the speakers of that language would figure out a way to say what they need regarding this new topic. The language would grow, and the language would remain complete. The French Academy hates this, by the way.
Back to leveraging. We English speakers needed a way to be more metaphorical about using a lever. To lever something as insubstantial as, say, a business environment, was too literal to feel right, so we stepped back a bit from the verb, and made the adjective into a verb. Viola! English grows a little, and remains sufficient.
On a slightly different topic, recently I ran into this use of a proper name as a verb. I get the meaning, and I don’t think we have a normal verb that contains the implications so succinctly set forth here:
You guys are going to Darwin yourselves out of the breeding pool soon enough, without my contribution, so enjoy your indignation while you’re still ambulatory and breathing.
So do you have a favorite neologism that you love to hate?
No spell checker catches them. Here’s a line from someone who ought to know better, Robert X. Cringley, the famous columnist for InfoWorld.
If the companies that win the rights to these domains want to horde them all for themselves and not let anyone else use them, they can do that.
Cringley’s Notes from the Field for 29 June on infoworld.com
—Because if you don’t, you can be misunderstood. Here’s a passage from a recent Wired blog post that mentions the issue of misunderstanding because of incongruent definitions.
Science, like most other specialties, has its own language (in fact, it probably has about as many languages as there are specializations). Most of the time, this doesn’t make much of a difference, but there are cases where that language has a namespace collision with the vernacular.
To give a concrete example, if you talk to a scientist for long enough, you’ll probably hear about a half-dozen things that he or she “believes.” For a scientist, that’s shorthand for “there is strong evidence or a compelling theoretical reason to think that.” But it sounds awkward to a lot of people, given that belief is commonly viewed as accepting something without evidence. As any of the writers here can attest, we ruthlessly purge the use of “believe” from our science content specifically to avoid this confusion.
It’s interesting to me that and ostensibly technical publication feels the need (correctly, I believe) to avoid a word that a non-technical reader is likely to misunderstand. The rule in technical writing is that if the reader misunderstands, the problem is with the writing. And yes, I know that some people are idiots.
These rules are from a fellow I had never heard of, David Ogilvy. I found these on a site called Brain Pickings, in an article by Maria Popova. The site is pretty interesting—go check it out. Here’s the list of writing rules:
1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.
2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.
3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.
6. Check your quotations.
7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning — and then edit it.
8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.
10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.
I put in a link to the book in rule 1. If you click the link and buy the book, I’ll get a pittance from Amazon. If you go Brain Pickings and click their link, they’ll get the pittance.
Be careful with rule 2—people talk messily, and good writing is a product of reflection. I wonder if my word “pretentiousism” fits in rule 4. Rule 5: Mr. Ogilvy was writing in a business memo context, I think. I can’t imagine that he would be against books, plays, and complete instructions. Rule 6 is just plain being responsible. You can generalize rule 7 to anything you write. That fish poem I wrote a couple posts back went through a good twenty revisions over at least four days. I like rule 10. Not being there in person one a minor problem of distributed teams: We can’t go stand over someone who is slow to respond.