Quick advertising plug for the Balkan blogging community:
If you are somewhere in the former Yugoslav space, and enjoy blogs (reading or writing them) enough to want to meet leading perpetrators face-to-face, consider attending BlogOpen in Novi Sad, November 10. Details here.
If I understand correctly, there are extra points if you nail Viktor of Belgrade 2.0 with a wet pastry. Pics of this are encouraged.
19 October 2007
Quick advertising plug for the Balkan blogging community:
18 October 2007
I was already amazed that Benjamin Zimmer of Oxford UP had managed to archive the ABC broadcast within a scant few minutes (seconds?) of the World News Tonight broadcast. He's just blown my socks off by finding my previous post inside 24 hours and responding with a very thoughtful and kind explanation. So props (that's contemporary slang for "proper respects," by the way ;-) to Mr. Zimmer! Even though I pinged a number of blog-tracking databases, my post still should've been obscure enough to make it hard to dig up. I should've known the OU people would have put the OU (ow?) in "research hOUnd."
I should also take this opportunity to recognize that I didn't mean to criticize OUP too harshly (and certainly not Mr. Zimmer, personally, at all!). I should have pre-empted any possible mis-understanding by adding a question mark in the previous post title. I think I'll just leave the title as is, on the way to owning up to a least little personal responsibility for what I dump on the blogosphere. I.e., I posted it, I have to live with many possible reactions. ;-) My apologies if anyone felt overly wounded by the title, or the tone, of the post.
I was mostly reacting to the subjective problem faced by OUP, linguists, and non-linguists like me who care about language. I certainly find it reassuring that the collection process is not just a matter of popular opinion, that OUP uses the best judgment it can, and that OUP lexicographers and technology staff make a never-ending effort to refine their Oxford English Corpus database. I'm not sure what else factors into arriving at that judgment, but I don't doubt for a minute that OU has a bevy of excellent, well-intentioned people doing an extremely complex and valuable job that the rest of us would never dare attempt.
That subjective judgment call is bound up in emotion for some of us non-linguists who enjoy their native language. As I said earlier, I'm happy to have the language percolating in fascinating ways across millions of websites, blogs, chatrooms and other online sources. I've explored chatspeak a bit myself, though I'm still lousy at it. ("Chatspeak?" Can we stick that one in there? :-)
I just have a strong, subjective aversion to recording the duplication of the meaning of existing words and phrases through phonetically close variants arrived at through -- there's no other way I know to put it -- ignorance and error of spelling. I just have a value-laden instinct that I would greatly prefer some way of refining what gets codified, so that eggcorns, frankly, get the short end of the stick. Shoo'ed out, rather than shoo'ed in.
I realize we arrived at a great deal of contemporary English by misspelling things. I think that was forgivable up until sometime in the early to mid 20th century, with the growth of universal public education in much of the English-speaking world. Now when I see eggcorns, I cringe. We're too busy gulping down Twinkies and playing video games to learn English? OK, fine, but can we leave the resulting redundant language droppings where they lie?
I certainly don't have the hubris to expect that my value-driven and layman's viewpoint will win the day, but I like ranting on occasion, and hope it might have an influence, of course!
That said, I enjoyed Mr. Zimmer's devilishly sharp example of "strait-laced" vs. "straight-laced" -- and I want to commend OUP for the best etymological research in the business. Props to all of you!
Oh - and I just wish I could afford a single-user OED subscription. ;-)
Posted by Frank Sellin at 10:58 PM
17 October 2007
Publishers at Oxford University Press - yes, the people who deliver and update the leading repository of English in the Oxford English Dictionary, or OED - are, it appears, going out of their way to corrupt it.
That came to my attention via Robert Krulwich's report tonight on ABC World News Tonight. You can currently see it through ABC's webcast, starting about 14:20 with Charlie Gibson's set-up. Oxford UP's Benjamin Zimmer archived the segment, and why not - he appears twice in it. Krulwich was, Zimmer asserts, inspired at least in part by the latter's blog column on "eggcorns."
What peeved me was the apparent effort of Oxford UP to cull blogs, websites, and other online material, to the tune of billions of words, so as to update English with said eggcorns. "Eggcorn" itself, if you read the previous blog link, is what some people - an alarming number of native English speakers, to be precise - misunderstood upon hearing "acorn." Likewise, vocal cords often get misspelled as "vocal chords," and the list goes on and on. There's even an Eggcorn Database on the subject.
And these errors - based on popularity - apparently make it into dictionary updates. If there's more to the method, I'd like to hear it, but I'll continue ranting on this understanding.
Let me be clear: I'm not arguing for some troglodyte, idealized version of English as immutable. On the contrary, I know full well that languages mutate every day with use, technological advances, new ideas, you name it. Otherwise, as one online friend likes to remind me, we'd all be speaking the Old English in Beowulf.
Nor am I one of those cultural hegemons who wants to sweep foreign words out of my native tongue. Yes, English is built off intercultural smuggling, but I always get a chuckle from watching foreign attempts at linguistic house-cleaning.
I *like* some efforts, though not all, to come up with new words and idioms. To me, obscenities constitute one of the funniest sub-domains of language on the cutting edge.
My problem is with making such a conscious effort to collect and equate millions of illiterate or just plain erroneous electronic scribblings with what already exists with identical, commonly understood meaning. How many bloggers or website designers use a spell-checker? What fraction of those can tell when the spell-checker misses problems? How many of them are - allegedly - native English speakers?
(For those of you who aren't, I sincerely commend you for writing in a foreign language. I just wish the Oxford UP wasn't adding even more goofs to the pile.)
Yes, I make my own typos and grammatical mistakes. I'd rather Oxford UP didn't vacuum those up, too, mistakenly assuming that my misfires were intentional. I really don't need to be part of the problem.
The fundamental question is: why do we want to reward people for being lazy in learning their native language? Or cheat them of the "ahhhhhh" moment when they discover their mistake?
People are free to scribble anything they want online, and I will defend that wholeheartedly.
Just don't put it in the OED, at least not without a better set of criteria for sorting out online rantings. How about a rule that says: if an idiom already exists, don't include the alternate spelling on the basis of the growing tyranny of a large minority. It's bloody painful to read online blathering as it is.
Now, if you'll forgive me, I'm off to read Orwell's "Politics and the English Language," since I've been greatly remiss (euphemism for lazy) in not reading it before now.
P.S. Now that I've had a night to sleep on it, I have to add a few more thoughts:
1. Why codify ignorance?
2. Won't this muddy etymological waters further than necessary?
I'm betting that historians a few centuries from now are going to shake their heads, asking why we went out of our way to complicate our English-speaking history when we already struggle to reveal it as it is.
Posted by Frank Sellin at 2:12 AM
04 October 2007
...and I have zero energy. Good ol' sinusitis, don'tcha know. I think I've slept 18 hours out of the last 48 or so.
I'm seeing a doctor tomorrow in the hope of finding a permanent solution. I'd be a bit displeased to wake up at age 65 and find out that zero antibiotics work on me.
In other news, Northern Virginians share at least one thing in common with Balkan drivers: they like to pull out in front of you on major highways when they have anything resembling a slight pause in traffic.
Now, if only more northern Virginians would wave whiskey bottles from windows on their way to morning weddings, we could have a real intercultural sharing. As one example, I give you Trebinje in Bosnia-Hercegovina, while my former adviser and I enjoyed a nice cake at a sidewalk pastry shop at 10 AM one weekend last June:
Unfortunately, it's very hard to see the whiskey bottle, and frankly, I don't remember which car sported that particular party-goer (might be the one in front). Be assured there were several decorated cars honking with occupants singing and shouting in downtown Trebinje. I doubt they restrained themselves to one bottle. After all, Rebecca West long ago observed that the Serb will do what he damn well feels like where he pleases. :-)
However, my head is the last place that wants to contemplate whiskey at this moment, let alone at 10 AM. Contrary to popular belief, neither whiskey, nor loza, nor šljivovica, nor ţuica does a damn thing for you medicinally above your nose or below your stomach. Unless, perhaps, you are sterilizing an injury...
Posted by Frank Sellin at 9:46 PM