how to say this?

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Sun Aug 9 16:46:07 UTC 2009

On Aug 9, 2009, at 8:36 AM, Jon Lighter wrote:

> Once again you're using reason when people's diction and prejudice
> have very
> little to do with it.

this is preposterous.  you've cited no one expressing a prejudice
against collective "party", no one objecting to a perceived ambiguity
in "party of N".  all we have is your invention of a possible
prejudice.  and -- see below -- there's no reason to think that
collective "party" is in any way central to the way the questionnaire
was written.

you go on to cite other instances of expressions that result from
personal prejudices or mistaken beliefs.  no one denies that such
things are quite common.  but that's not an argument that prejudices
or mistaken beliefs were the springs in this particular case.

> What makes you think that the person who framed the question could
> not have
> framed it on the basis of semantic dissonance?

the burden of proof is not on me to show that your speculated attitude
or belief could not have been the motivation.

in fact, i have my own speculation anout how the bizarre question
could have come about.  this is that the people who wrote the
questionnaire started out by asking how many people were dining with
you (the person filling out the questionnaire), but then realized that
the answer they wanted would have to be a number that included you, so
that they added the "including you" qualification, which is an
instruction about how you should count diners for their purposes.

a sensible person would at this point ask how the question could be
framed in english you would find natural and comprehensible, and there
are several ways of doing that, some involving collective "party",
some not.  but the people writing the questionnaire chose instead to
frame things from *their* point of view.

Geoff Pullum has posted a number of times to Language Log on what he
calls Nerdview, where instructions, warnings, and the like, are framed
from the point of view of some organization, including using technical
terminology rather than ordinary language.  survey questionnaires are
a rich source of Nerdview examples.

as for "moist" (unlike collective "party"), we have a huge corpus of
opinions (from ordinary people, not linguists) expressing prejudices
and even suggesting bases for these prejudices.  whether you share
these prejudices or not, it's clear that they're out there.  i'll try
to write up some version of the material on "moist", but it's
dauntingly large.  one thing that seems clear is that, in large part,
people are not coming to an aversion to "moist" on their own; instead,
the aversion is transmitted from person to person, in much the same
way that linguistic variants are transmitted.


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