Inner Prescriptivism

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Tue Dec 6 02:43:21 UTC 2005

On 12/4/05, Dennis R. Preston <preston at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Dennis R. Preston" <preston at MSU.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: Inner Prescriptivism
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> 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.  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                             Editor
> >Associate Librarian for Collections and     YALE DICTIONARY OF QUOTATIONS
> >   Access and Lecturer in Legal Research     Yale University Press,
> >Yale Law School                             forthcoming
> >e-mail: fred.shapiro at
> >--------------------------------------------------------------------------
> --
> 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

Not to mention thaat pet peeves can be tricky. For examplle, after a
lifetime of using "not X or Y," I began to notice, much to my annoyance,
that quasi-literate yahoos were beginning to say, "not X _nor_ Y." Imagine
my chagrin when I discovered that no less a Meisterstueck than the KJV
itself contains numerous instances of the latter turn of phrase.

-Wilson Gray

More information about the Ads-l mailing list