Verb it!

I’ve been struggling for ideas for posts, so I turned to the online discussions I had with my classmates during my masters study in 2010-12, which we were able to save as text files.

One involved the use of technology-related nouns and verbs. The discussion thread was Google it! As the name of a website, Google is a noun (and upper case), but people soon began using it as a verb and writing it in lower case. Many people decry the verbing of nouns and/or using registered company or product names as generics (see generic trademark) but both are common procedures in English. I can remember people faxing (though fax was never a proper noun, and was an abbreviation of facsimile (another common procedure in English – I don’t think anyone ever facsimilied (btw when was the last time you sent a fax?))), and references to people telexing (which was originally an upper-case proper noun). Before that, people telephoned, then ’phoned then phoned. All of these are transitive verbs: Google it, fax the document to me, fax it to me, fax me the document, ?/*fax me it, phone me, ?telephone me. (See also telegram, telegraph (including its metaphoric use) and wire.) (I can also remember an advertisement (?for a graphic designer) informing us that we could ‘fax or modem’ our requirements to them.)

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Merry holidays

In a comment to my previous post, I mentioned spotting a question on Stack Exchange from a school music teacher whose principal had banned ‘all holiday-related music from our performances’ because one family had chosen not to attend. S/he later refers to ‘Christmas and Chanuka songs’.

From around mid-December, mainstream and social media abound with opinions as to the rights and wrongs of saying ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Holidays’, which I won’t weigh into. These reminded me something I’ve had on my ‘ideas for posts’ lists for several months. A document referred to an applicant returning to his country for ‘holyday’. Not holy day or holiday – holyday

Holidays were originally holy days, when most people didn’t work in order to attend church then feast and carouse on the village green. In Australian English, holiday now has probably three related meanings: a public holiday, on which most people don’t work but essential and service personnel do; annual leave, for most full-time, permanent employees, and a travelling vacation. I would not naturally say or write vacation; it sounds American to me, which Google Ngrams confirms. I would have to use either ‘I’m staying at home these holidays’/‘I’m having a holiday at home’ (some people use staycation but it’s still rare) or ‘I’m going away these holidays’. Because Christmas Day and Boxing Day fell on Saturday and Sunday this year, Monday 27 and Tuesday 28 were official public holidays. Most Australian businesses shut down completely between 25 Dec and 3 Jan inclusive, with 3 Jan being an official public holiday because 1 Jan also falls on a Saturday.

Bondi

Some years ago (first guess, last century, more likely the 1980s than the 1990s) I heard a song Is ’e an Aussie, is ’e Lizzie? by the duo Mr Flotsam and Mr Jetsam (I seem to remember simply ‘Flotsam and Jetsam’). At the time I didn’t have access to the resources of the internet but I have recently found that they were the English songwriter/pianist/tenor Bentley Collingwood Hilliam and the New Zealand bass Malcolm McEachern. They performed light comic “with mild social commentary” and sentimental songs. (I also accidentally found the thrash metal band Flotsam and Jetsam, who presumably don’t.)

Is ’e an Aussie is apparently typical. (I recently included a link in a comment to a recent post, and my number one commenter of recent times, Batchman, said that it didn’t work in the USA. Try here or here or here, or search for ‘Is ’e an Aussie Flotsam Jetsam’.) It features rapid-fire and witty rhyming, almost all of it to do with Australia. In fact, in the first rhyme, Lizzie tells her girlfriend:

Mary-Anne I’ve met a man who says he’s an Austray-lee-an 

She says that he:

Throws a fond eye, talks of Bondi

But later we learn that:

He, being well-born, lived in Melbourne

Hang on …

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A prescriptivist’s playlist

I’ve been listening to a lot of pop song compilations recently. With my tongue planted firmly in my cheek:

All shaken up
Another somebody did somebody wrong song
Bobby McGee and I
Doesn’t it make my brown eyes blue?
I can’t get any satisfaction or I can get no satisfaction
I have you, babe or I’ve got you, babe 
Lie, lady, lie
Lo que será, será
Love me tenderly
Mrs Jones and I
There isn’t any mountain high enough or There’s no mountain high enough
Two fewer lonely people in the world
You haven’t seen anything yet or You’ve seen nothing yet

1) One of these definitely doesn’t belong here, because the original is unquestionably correct (or at least is questionable in another way). A free lifetime subscription to this blog to anyone who can point out which.

2) I stuck with titles, being easier to search for. I’m sure there are many more titles and many, many more lyrics. You can search for ‘pop music grammar errors’ to find more examples of ‘errors’, including within song lyrics. Some of these ‘errors’ actually are, but most of the lists fail to take into account that …

3) Informal spoken (or sung) English exists. I can (in some cases only just) accept each of the originals here as common informal spoken (or sung) English. That doesn’t mean that I say or write them, or would accept them without question in an ESL class. I said many times “Many people say X, but ‘correct, exam English’ is Y”.

[PS It’s possible that Two less lonely people in the world is prescriptively correct, too, if it is interpreted as Two + less lonely + people. But it’s hardly romantic to say “Before I met you, I was lonely. Now I am … less lonely.”]

If ye love me

If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another comforter, that he may bide with you forever, even the Spirit of truth.

One staple in the repertoire of the kinds of church or community choirs I sing in is If ye love me, by Thomas Tallis. Note ye and you, will and shall and pray the Father

Some people decry any change in language as the first step to incoherent grunting, but language has always changed and always will. Example 1: ye and you. Until about 400 years ago, (most) English speakers observed the distinction between the subject form ye (ye love me) and the object form you (give you, bide with you), and also the singular and/or intimate thee/thou/thy/thine and the plural and/or polite ye/you/your/yours. These all collapsed onto all-purpose you/your/yours, and almost no-one cared. (Art, wast and wert disappeared around the same time.)

The people who rail against singular they rarely mention singular you, which must have been just as shocking at the time, and the people who use non-standard plural forms such as y’all,* all y’all or yous(e) are railed at for being non-standard. (Note that you started off as plural anyway. If anything, we need a ‘singular you’.) (*I originally included you all, but the more I thought about it, the more I became sure that plural you all is standard: compare “I am very pleased to welcome you all here today” and “I am very pleased to welcome y’all here today”. (Also all of you.))

Because most people encounter thee/thou/thy/thine in Shakespeare, the King James/Authorised version of the bible or the Book of Common Prayer, or musical settings of texts from those sources, they imagine that these are formal/polite, and use them in conscious but often mistaken imitation. Leigh Brackett and/or Lawrence Kasdan, the scriptwriters of The Empire Strikes Back, has/have Darth Vader asking the emperor “What is thy bidding, my master?”. 

(Wikipedia has more about the T-V distinction (from Latin tu and vos).)

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between you and I

Several weeks ago at the gym I heard a song which begins:

There’s a thousand miles between you and I. 

Two years ago (to the day, coincidentally), I posted about the usage of the equivalent of you and I/me as subject, direct object and object of a preposition, so I wasn’t going to post just about that. (I seem to remember that the next song correctly had you and me after a verb or preposition.)

Yesterday I posted about the song Yesterday, and Batchman, who has been my number 1 commenter recently, said, among other things:

In general, using pop songs to illustrate grammar treads on risky ground. Think about all the songs with some variant of “for you and I” in them.

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Weather we like it or not

We are having an above averagely wet summer, which is actually preferable to the above averagely hot with extensive bushfires summer we had last year. Today was the first day back at work for some of us. I generally keep an eye on the rain radar website and tell my colleagues what’s likely to happen. (We are currently mostly working at our respective homes, spread across the metropolitan area.) Today was forecast for rain and a possible storm in the afternoon, so I informed my Sydney colleague of this. He thanked me and added “I was wondering weather …”

This reminded me of a little poem one of my grandmothers taught me when I was young:

Whether the weather be cold, or whether the weather be hot,
Whether the weather be fine, or whether the weather be not,
We’ll whether the weather, whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not.

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Sparkly turquoise teeth

Last night my wife and I hosted a number of her friends with their husbands and children. Today I’ve been finding various things that the children left in various parts of the house. On one piece of paper, one child wrote “My teeth came out”. Another child crossed out teeth and wrote tooth underneath, then Incorrect and (in very big letters) Grammar. But there is nothing grammatically wrong with “My teeth came out”. The only difference between “My teeth came out” and “My tooth came out” is the number of teeth, one or more than one. Past tense came takes the same form for singular and plural. (Indeed, every English verb except be > was, were does.)

On another piece of paper are the words (all in upper case, which I won’t reproduce):

Name: [English from Hebrew girl’s name]
Age: 5
Last name: [Korean surname]
Favourite colour: Sparkly tourqouise

Judging from the quality of the handwriting, an older child asked a younger child and recorded her answers. Note the –our spellings, as are most common in Australia and some other parts of the English-speaking world. But she has wrongly assumed that turquoise follows the same pattern. It doesn’t: –or and –our are interchangeable in a small set of words (from Latin –or and French –eur), but as far as I know,  –ur and –our never are. Note also –qouise, obviously influenced by all those other –ou spellings. But qu and oi appear together far more often than qo (basically impossible in English; compare the Iranian city of Qom)) and ui (guide, guilt, juice etc) (note that ui has different pronunciations in those three words).

It’s actually a very sophisticated answer for a five-year-old. I wouldn’t have said that at that age, but then I wasn’t/still aren’t a girl. But it’s obviously easier for her to say than the other to write.

As far as I can remember, this is the first time I’ve ever written or typed turquoise, and had to think very carefully. I got it right both times. 

The seven deadly dwarves

A Facebook friend posted a cartoon by Dan Piraro (for technical reasons I can’t add it here) showing Snow White saying to four dwarves, “Guess what, guys! Your cousins, Angry, Lazy, Greedy, Hungry, Vanity, Envy, & Frisky are coming to visit!”, with the caption Snow White & the Seven Deadly Sins.  

The seven deadly sins are usually listed as pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony and sloth. But those don’t make funny dwarves’ names and don’t sound anything like Disney’s dwarves Doc, Happy, Sneezy, Sleepy, Bashful, Grumpy and Dopey. Six of those are adjectives (the exception being Doc) and five of those end with -y (the exception being Bashful). Obviously, -y and -ful are common adjective endings. 

The adjectives directly linked to the sins are proud, greedy, wrathful, envious, lustful, gluttonous and slothful (more -y and -ful, and also -ous) (note that the vowel change behind pride > proud is no longer productive – we can’t make new adjectives that way now). But those don’t make funny dwarves’ names, either, so proud becomes Vanity (a noun, compare vain), wrathful becomes Angry (compare anger), lustful becomes Frisky (compare friskiness) and gluttonous becomes Hungry (compare hunger), while envious becomes Envy (a noun) and greedy remains Greedy.

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Me and my true love

Towards the end of each year, each department in the company I work for prepares a presentation of some kind to be distributed electronically rather than presented live. This year’s efforts are being hampered by the fact that almost everyone has been working from home almost all of the time for almost all of the year, but a colleague is very good at parody lyrics, and he’s written a song which we are currently recording separately for another colleague to edit together.

Apparently there’s a verse, which someone is singing, then the chorus is:

We worked from our homes and we worked all alone,
We’re the team that does publication
For me and my colleagues may never meet again
On the bonny, bonny banks of the lockdown.

Linguistically, I spotted me and my colleagues. Some people would call that wrong. Certainly, my colleagues(/true love) and I is standard English, but that doesn’t fit the song, and absolutely no-one is going to sing I and my colleagues(/true love), even if it fits. Me and X is best described as a widely-used, informal, more often spoken variation in English grammar (but it’s not part of my idiolect). (Stan Carey had another angle on this recently.)

Some months ago I discovered a small lake in Scotland named Loch Doon, and joked that it would be the ideal place to spend a period of quarantine. (Not really – it’s in the middle of nowhere, and the ruined castle won’t give you much shelter.)