Inner Prescriptivism

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Sun Dec 4 21:41:22 UTC 2005

Brace yourself, Ron.

  1. My ability to distinguish between "may" and "might" has never been very robust.

  2. I was once corrected by a "word-lover" for saying "between him and me" instead of "between he and I."

  (Thank God most of those folks aren't shrewd enough to claim that Shakespeare once wrote "between you and I," so it must be correct.)

  P.S.: Although it bugs me because I had to memorize the rule (see an earlier post), "b. u & i" doesn't interfere with lucidity, so I generally let it slide.

RonButters at AOL.COM wrote:
  ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: RonButters at AOL.COM
Subject: Re: Inner Prescriptivism

Some of these are things that were drummed into us by our pre-college=20
teachers, and some seem to me to be matters of changes taking place in the l=
For example, my internal grammar makes a strong may/might distinction, but I=
have no memory of having been formally taught the difference. Yet this seems=
be something that is increasingly disappearing among younger folk. This also=
curdles my mental milk, despite my descriptivist allegiances.

On the other hand, I remember being taught that COUPON has no [j] after the=20
initial [k], and (most especially) that just because a personal pronoun occu=
after the conjunction AND, that should not automatically trigger the objecti=
case. Even so, I hear many of my colleagues--English professors in a=20
Department that fancies itself one of the premier Departments in the world--=
who say=20
things like, "Just between you and I." This also curdles my mental milk,=20

Then there is ENDIVE, which always triggers some hesitation. This was not a=20
word that I learned until I was 30, and to this day I cannot remember what t=
dictionaries say about it. My rule here is, "When in doubt, Anglicize."

COUPON, on the other hand, doesn't trouble me any more than the two=20
pronunciations of ECONOMICS or the three pronunciations of ENVELOPE.

In a message dated 12/4/05 8:19:46 AM, preston at MSU.EDU writes:

> Since all sociolinguists know (as apparently some others ignore) that
> language is a major key to your own and others' identity (with all
> the sociodemographic baggage that "identity" carries), I assume it
> would be impossible when linguists are behaving as real people for
> them not to have many of the associations, prejudices, and so on that
> mere mortals do.
> I freely confess to an inner shudder at a /j/ in "coupon" and a
> "harrrumphing" at "disinterested" (in the incorrect sense, of
> course), but my analytic brain can quickly put aside (although not
> erase) my more visceral one. (Some of you may not like "visceral
> brain.")
> I'm pretty sure such a study would reveal just such preferences among
> nearly all of us; I'm not sure the findings would lead to the same
> cynical conclusion that the discovery of a closet preference for dead
> white European male authors does. If I found an application of my
> preferences in practice (grading, even evaluating others in
> short-term acquaintance), I would worry. I have only my introspection
> of my practices to go on, but I find myself, and I suspect most other
> linguists, pretty clean.
> dInIs
> >Jesse Sheidlower just referred in a posting to his "inner prescriptivist.=
> >I notice that it is not uncommon for linguists and lexicographers on this
> >list to criticize pet-peeve linguistic usages, contrary to the usual
> >descriptivist ideology of linguistic scholars.=A0 I wonder whether there
> >have ever been any studies done of closet prescriptivism among linguists.
> >(I did see a study a few years ago revealing that members of the UCLA
> >English Department, in their own private reading for pleasure, actually
> >preferred the literature of dead white European males.)
> >
> >Fred Shapiro
> >
> >
> >-------------------------------------------------------------------------=
> >Fred R. Shapiro=A0 =A0 =A0 =A0 =A0 =A0 =A0 =A0 =A0 =A0 =A0 =A0 =A0 =A0=
=A0 Editor
> >Associate Librarian for Collections and=A0 =A0=A0 YALE DICTIONARY OF QUOT=
> >=A0=A0 Access and Lecturer in Legal Research=A0 =A0=A0 Yale University Pr=
> >Yale Law School=A0 =A0 =A0 =A0 =A0 =A0 =A0 =A0 =A0 =A0 =A0 =A0 =A0 =A0=
=A0 forthcoming
> >e-mail: fred.shapiro at =A0 =A0 =A0 =A0 =A0 =A0=A0 http://quotat=
> >-------------------------------------------------------------------------=
> --
> Dennis R. Preston
> University Distinguished Professor
> Department of English
> 15-C Morrill Hall
> Michigan State University
> East Lansing, MI 48824-1036
> Phone: (517) 353-4736
> Fax: (517) 353-3755
> preston at

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