che/z, eksetra

Mark_Mandel at DRAGONSYS.COM Mark_Mandel at DRAGONSYS.COM
Wed Sep 29 17:36:38 UTC 1999

"Dennis R. Preston" <preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU> chews me out:

Half linguist is right. New words come into languages from just suich
dumasses as us that don't really understand them in their original tongues,
and many pore-ole lower-middle class speakers like to advance their
statgus. I stick by my guns. I always shudder when really smart folks find
others linguistic behaviors reprehensible, and your obvious intelligence
makes me shudder all the more.

dInIs (also I guess calling them like he sees them)

I'm sorry you feel that way. I grew up in a family and, I guess, a subculture,
that had a deep respect for the highest achievements of the English language and
the things that can be done in it. I also have an absurdly sharp eye for
spelling and similar formalities (maybe to compensate for my total lack of a
sense of direction). As a result, I dislike seeing words (you may disagree with
the next word of my text here) misused, especially when it destroys distinctions
that are useful: e.g., "affect" vs. "effect" as a verb, or "infer" vs. "imply",
or "comprise" vs. "compose". When I am asked for comments on written material,
this attitude informs my response. This is the half of my view on language that
I called the "stylist".

At the same time, as a *linguist* I am required by the honor of a scientist to
describe accurately what I observe, and by my duty as an employee to develop
products that deal with the way people speak, not the way I or anyone else
thinks they should speak. If my work required me to deal with such shifts of
meaning as the ones I just called misuses, I would do so, treating them as part
of the language. When asked about the pronunciation "eksetra" for "etc.", I said
that our products must accept it, because it is a common pronunciation of that
word and we would be wrong to reject it. But that doesn't mean that I would
personally adopt or encourage this pronunciation or those usages, or stop
blue-penciling them when working as an editor.

I do not think of myself as a hidebound reactionary (though who does?). For
example, I use and, when asked, support "hopefully" as sentence adverb, because
it fills a need that cannot be satisfied in any other useful way, and does it
without any risk of ambiguity.

As I said in my earlier post, I try to restrain myself from doing things like
walking into "Che/z Leon" and lecturing them on their misplacement of the acute
accent. It is certain to give offense and will effect no change, especially
w.r.t. a professionally painted sign that has been in place for years.
Similarly, the misspelled name "Guiseppe" on a sub shop in the heavily Italian
neighborhood where I work is known and acknowledged as part of the neighborhood,
and has been so for decades: no business, or busybodiness, of mine.

But when I see misspellings or mispunctuations on Web sites or in other easily
corrected situations, I may point them out privately to the maintainers, who I
assume want to present the best face to the public, some of whom are almost as
fussy as I am or more so. I do this not in the tone of "THIS IS WRONG", but in a
tone ranging from "Your finger slipped" to "Although you may not be aware of
this point, some people are sensitive to it, and such-and-such is the formally
correct usage" -- depending on my estimate, based on the page as a whole, of the
person's general level of competence in this area. The usual response is
something like "Oh, thanks, I'll fix that next chance I get", and often, "Oh,
nuts, I always have trouble with that one." Indeed, I think it likely that some
of these responses come from "pore-ole lower-middle class speakers [who would]
like to advance their statgus" and appreciate the help.

Sincerely and collegially yours,

Sometimes unofficially known as Dr. Whom: Consulting Linguist, Grammarian,
Orthoepist, and Philological Busybody

Officially known as Senior Linguist and Manager of Acoustic Data, Dragon
Systems, Inc., but speaking here only for myself

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