Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Tue Jun 17 00:42:34 UTC 2003

> I see I have no allies among the members of ADS. So be it. I am quite
> confident in my approach and how I see things -- more perhaps
> than any of you (who need to rely on mockery, insult, and even, I am
> disturbed to read, copyright infringement to make your points) are.

First, don't equate the "members of ADS" with the small cadre who actively
post to the email discussion list. While I would venture to say that most
ADS members don't fall into the prescriptivist camp, I would also guess that
a fair number would agree with many of the opinions voiced in TVR.

The problem is that you are not making a very good argument for the merits
of TVR. There are potential "allies" here. Virtually everyone on this list
loves language and celebrates superb writing and speech. There are excellent
arguments to be had for careful and aesthetically pleasing use of language,
but they are not given in the TVR marketing collateral. Your examples, both
good and bad, are not convincing.

As to the examples of "bad English" mentioned so far:

1) "Is our children learning?" Clearly this is a grammatical error on the
part of our president. But this has been roundly criticized by all corners.
He flubbed a line. Everyone recognizes that he made an error. How is this an
example of declining standards in our language or in public discourse? Now
if a number of people rose up claiming that Bush's usage here was
grammatically correct, you might have a point. But they didn't and you

2) "Conversate." As Beverly Flanigan pointed out, this is a common verb in
AAVE. Would you take a Scotsman to task for saying "a wee lass"? After all,
"wee" and "lass" are not standard American English terms. One must make
allowances for dialect and a black basketball player using "conversate" is
not an example of "devolving English;" it is an example of dialectical
English. Now if "conversate" appeared, for example, in a piece of formal
academic writing, criticism would be warranted. Whether or not a dialectical
term is appropriate depends on the context. You claim to celebrate the
richness of the English language, but isn't African-American and other
dialectical speech part of this richness?

3) "Juggernaut" and "vociferous." These are simply lexical errors. The
speakers in question were ignorant of the words' commonly accepted meanings.
Again, this doesn't prove declining standards; it simply proves individual
ignorance. Who among us hasn't misused a word at some point or another?

Now some examples of "good English" have been provided. Personally, I find
these to be examples of terrible writing, far worse than the simple errors
of 1 or 3 above.

"Even today -- subjected as we are to the apotheosis of popular culture --
using the English language respectfully helps us maintain a sense of
ourselves and our values. To do otherwise, to disregard the ways of our
words, is to forsake our humanity and, perhaps, even forfeit our future. A
society is generally as lax as its language. And in a society of this sort,
easiness and mediocrity are much esteemed."

This is purple prose of the worst sort. While I can't spot a grammatical
error--the sentences all parse correctly--there is lexical muddiness and
weakness in the logic. What exactly is societal laxness and how is it
connected to language usage? What are the "ways of our words"? It's nicely
alliterative, but could you be more vague? And the conclusion that society
is going to hell in a hand basket does not necessarily follow even if one
grants the premise that language is declining. (And how does one measure

The other, newer, example from the TVR marketing collateral is better, but
still not good. Some examples:

1) "Plodding" is contrasted with "precise." These are not antonyms. They
measure different qualities. One can be both plodding and precise. In fact,
one who is plodding will tend towards precision. (Also, precision is not
always a virtue. In some cases ambiguity can highly desirable.)
2) The "language," as a whole, cannot be either precise or plodding. These
are not properties of the language. Rather they are properties of particular
use of the language. It would be better to say, "While some use these new
additions to and changes in the language with care and elegance, others do
3) "Not a small part of this new cumbrousness is due to..." This is verbose
and requires careful parsing to avoid confusion. Further, "cumbrousness" is
itself a cumbersome and unwieldy word.
4) Quotation marks are omitted around "Is our children learning?" and around
the other listed words in the paragraph, making it difficult to read.

Finally instead of complaining about copyright infringement (not that I'm
advocating that), a better marketing strategy would have been to make the
Trudgill article available, gratis, to members of the list. Tease 'em the
Trudgill article and let 'em know the Halpern response will be available for
subscribers in the next issue. Many would have been interested and you might
have gotten more subscribers out the deal.

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