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The reason some people don't like the passive voice is because it means that the thematic agent is not the syntactic subject. But there are many active sentences where the agent is not the subject as well. That is, the subject does not act to bring about a state of affairs, just like in passive sentences.

unaccusative: the book fell off the table.
middle voice: the beer pours easily.
psych verbs: I'm afraid of monsters.

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The reason some people don't like the passive voice is because it means that the thematic agent is not the syntactic subject.

Which is why I like to use it when I feel there is a need to distance the action, or its result, from the subject. Providing the voice is used deliberately and with knowledge I see no reason to denigrate it.


Richard English
 
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So far my Tech Writing teachers at Uni Central Florida have merely encouraged us to think about when and why we would use passive voice rather than "avoid at all costs" as I learned in high school and community college. Maybe thought is changing on this or perhaps this just doesn't get explained at lower level writing classes.

Lala
 
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Whenever somebody tells me that the passive must not be used, I simply ask, why would one throw out a perfectly good and useful verbal form that almost every language in the world has. Passives, as some have suggested in this thread, are useful. As a tech writer I have used them, and I will defend their occasional use against the extremists I meet constantly who were taught otherwise. (But they had to be taught to not use it, because the passive construction is perfectly natural!)

[Edited typo.]

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Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Compare and contrast the following statements, each one about the US immigration authorities' recent suggestion that all travellers from the UK must provide details of their family members before they travel, even if these relatives are not travelling.

"It is felt that these new proposals are unnecessarily severe and will cause much confusion and difficulty to innocent travellers."

"The Head of Florida Tourism in the UK feels that these new proposals are unnecessarily severe and will cause much confusion and difficulty to innocent travellers."

Both statements are 100% accurate but the reaction to each will surely be different.


Richard English
 
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With all due respect, the author of the article really didn't say that the writing of 1920s' students would be "generally superior" or that they'd be "clearer thinkers" than students from the 2000s. He waffled a bit. He said "one wonders if the writing of students who were subjected to such training was generally superior..." and "I suspect that those graduating in the era of A High School English Grammar may have been clearer thinkers...." He doesn't take a firm stand. Perhaps he should have been a politician. Wink
 
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He waffled a bit.

Maybe if he'd studied Roman or Greek rhetoric, he wouldn't've. Ah, yesterday's youth, slacking in different ways from today's.

[Corrected typo.]

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Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Originally posted by Kalleh:
With all due respect, the author of the article really didn't say that the writing of 1920s' students would be "generally superior" or that they'd be "clearer thinkers" than students from the 2000s. He waffled a bit. He said "one wonders if the writing of students who were subjected to such training was generally superior..." and "I suspect that those graduating in the era of A High School English Grammar may have been clearer thinkers...." He doesn't take a firm stand. Perhaps he should have been a politician. Wink


Well I did say "suggests".
 
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I kinda like "wouldn't've," z.

There was a good article in the Tribune about English words. [Interestingly, they mention "Billary" as a recent coinage, and I thought I'd come up with it. Roll Eyes] Anyway, it talks about the number of English words (I know; we've talked about this before). The author specifically talks about a word-watching site run by Paul Payack that figures there are about 995,000 English words now, and that we'll hit 1,000,000 sometime this year. He uses mathematical formulas, tracking new words as they crop up in databases and in written materials. If the word reaches what Payack considers a "critical mass," he adds it to his lexicon. [Apparently "epicaricacy" hasn't reached that critical mass.] Some of his recent additions are "bagonize" (agonizing as you wait for you bad at the airport) or "smirting," which is the flirting that takes place between smokers who have to go outside to smoke.

I thought this table interesting:

Number of Words

English=1,000,000
Chinese=500,000
Spanish=275,000
Japanese=232,000
German=185,000
Hindi=120,000
French=100,000
Arabic=45,000

I know there will be a lot of naysayers here about the article, but I found it interesting. At least Swanson (the author) interviewed Jesse Scheidlhower, whom, as we know, thinks the whole millionth word is hogwash. I tend to agree with Jesse. Some of these strange coinages are just stupid and won't last. Remember when "Plutoed" was the word of the year by the American Dialect Society? Well, that word didn't stick. I doubt many of the coinages will.
 
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Originally posted by Kalleh:
I know there will be a lot of naysayers .


Well, that bit's accurate anyway. Smile
 
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I suppose his figure of a million (which I regard as on the low side) is based on his particular interpretation of what a word is.

There are so many variables when trying to define a word - for example, how about acronyms and initialisms? What about the different forms of words? You immediately double the numbers of nouns if you consider plurals to be different words. Similarly with the different forms of verbs. Then there's the whole nightmarish area of scientific and other specialised words. And alternative spellings of words: enterprise and enterprize - one word or two?

The, of course, we have the words that appear only in one form of English - Americans don't talk about lorries, they talk about trucks. We talk about both. Australians talk about "utes" - we use station wagons (or waggons, if they happen to be Sentinals).

A million? I reckon that's a significant underestimate.


Richard English
 
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I'm sure I remember discussing this before. One of David Crystal's books has an excellent chapter on this very question - is it sensible, or even possible to try to count the words in a language. I'll dig out the reference when I get home tonight.
 
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We discussed it at http://wordcraft.infopop.cc/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/93260709...591039813#6591039813

Kalleh even managed to shoehorn epicaricacy into the discussion, although Richard didn't make any mention of beer! Cool


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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To tie this in with another thread, this is another subject Pullum likes to rant about.
 
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Kalleh even managed to shoehorn epicaricacy into the discussion, although Richard didn't make any mention of beer! Cool

Give me time...


Richard English
 
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naysayers

Oo, maths. What fun! Let L₀ = English, L₁ = Chinese, and L₂ = Spanish. Let the function ℒ return the lexicon of a language, so ℒ(L₁) returns all the lexical items in L₁. The number of words in a language would thus be |ℒ(L₁)|. The first fiat is that |ℒ(L₀)| ≥ |ℒ(L₁)| ≥ |ℒ(L₂)|, etc., where |ℒ(L₀)| ⊈ |ℒ(L₁)| ad lib. As the observant reader can plainly see: the answer is 42.

But seriously, trying to come up with the number of words in a language is impossible, and just not very interesting. It's like playing the game "I can say a higher number than you". One can always add one to the last number given. There is no win-state; all games are a draw, given equal obstinacy amongst players. Any word (or even non-word) that you can spout, I can add an affix to, ad infinitum. Some words are just ephemeral nonce ones, e.g., plutoed, which leads to unplutoed or the total plutofication of science by folks unknown. If these folks spent half as much time collecting actual words in the field, so that the DARE could be finished and updated, they'd be doing more than blowing hot air.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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I just re-read the original thread and I have a sinking feeling that we are about to go round the loop again.
 
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Some computers can't handle apostrophes ...

Good heavens - they're getting more like real people every day. It won't be too much longer before one passes the Turing test.


Richard English
 
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I'm sure I remember discussing this before.
Bob, I knew we had, and I mentioned that fact in my post. I enjoyed the article and posted it here, instead of starting a new thread, specifically because of our past discussions on this. I wasn't trying to rehash that old discussion, although we must remember that not everyone on Wordcraft has been here as long as we have. Sometimes a little rehashing isn't all bad.

Yes, Richard and z (Hey! You're on the same side!), I do know there are lots of variables in counting words. That was discussed in the article I had linked to. In that article, Jesse Scheidlhower mentioned that the numbers, themselves, would create an unbelieveable number of words. This Payack, though, does have some rules he uses, and one of them is that only one form of the word counts. So, Richard, your comments on plurals would be answered. Also, past and future tenses (such as "ran" and "running") would be taken care of. The scientific words, though? I am not sure how those decisions are made.

As I said above, I am on Jesse's side with this one (I didn't reread that old thread of ours; I wonder if I've changed my mind!) .

I have to say, though, that with all those blasted words, you'd think my teeny tiny request for "epicaricacy" would be answered. Mad
 
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Just to be clear, computers can handle apostrophes. They're just another character after all. What can't handle apostrophes in people's names or digits or what-have-you is poorly designed software.

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Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Yes, a computer is only as good as its programming, That was pointed out in the article.
 
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As a programmer, I can explain. If a user input (like name) is allowed, it is useful to check for certain characters which can cause problems, specifically, slashes, "\", and "/", although the quote character itself cause problems in certain contexts. Furthermore, you don't want to allow tabs, or newlines in something like a name, so the only whitespace character allowed it is simple space. Now, to check the user input does not contain any of these, the programmer uses a regex (regular expression).

Regex syntax varies among programming languages, but typically there is a character class called alphanumeric, contains a to z, lower case and upper case, and 0-9, or in regex syntax [a-zA-Z0-9]. A programmer who is not thinking, may check the input against this set and space, and otherwise reject it.

I'm not defending such practices, it is definitely a symptom of a lazy programmer and lack of testing suite, but it is easy to understand.
 
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Here's a nice Bierma article about National Grammar Day. He and I are on the same wavelength about grammar mavens. The policewoman behind National Grammar Day, according to Bierma, is Martha Brockenbrough who writes a column called "Grumpy Martha's Guide to Grammar and Usage" on the Encarta Web site. I have to confess, I kinda agree with her about there being no "x" in etcetera. It has always bugged me, too.
 
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I, too, find some things annoying, e.g., the same people who are horrorified by and shun the use of the singular, non-gender-specific they, are also the type who find aren't I perfectly normal. I think aren't I is of the same ilk as between you and I. It's a kind of hypercorrection. As the use of ain't, for contracted am not (I even find amn't I preferable to aren't I, though I'd probably rewrite to am I not if pressed), fell into disrepute in the 18th century, the mistakenly rhoticised pronunciation of ain't as aren't became more common. But I digress. There's nothing wrong with a good bit of disgruntlement over some egregious solecism, but more often than not, the maven knows little about grammar or the history of the language they are defending. I find it annoying when people pronounce the t in often or say air for err, Kalleh champions a monstrous inkhorn term which only exists in dictionaries, and Jerry gets lathered if one misspells led for lead. All of us have our bêtes noires, but elevating those into book length rants à la Truss grates more than a misplaced apostrophe. Give me Bob the Angry Flower any day (link).

We have discussed (link) the grammar maven in the pay of the same folks in Redmond who foisted Clippy (link) on us.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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We have discussed (link) the grammar maven in the pay of the same folks in Redmond who foisted Clippy (link) on us.

I removed that nasty paper-clip and replaced it with the far more loveable dog.


Richard English
 
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Kalleh champions a monstrous inkhorn term ...

To add myself to that list I get upset when people use moot to mean "not worth discussing". Generally I think I am much more descriptivist than prescriptivist, but that really dusts my doilies (as Kalleh would say). I can't really explain why.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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I find it annoying when people pronounce the t in often or say air for err, Kalleh champions a monstrous inkhorn term which only exists in dictionaries,
Well, since I am mentioned here (and, sorry about the "epicaricacy" references; I realize I do that too much), let me say this about the "err" pronunciation, though I know that I've said this before. There was a very important Institute of Medicine (IOM) report released, named "To Err is Human." Across the world this report is quoted. Being in regulation, I have heard regional, national, and international lectures on this report. Not once has anyone ever pronounced it any way but "air." I've heard it pronounced "air" by people from the UK, other European countries (such as Denmark), as well as by all regions of the U.S. I know the correct pronunciation of that word, at least as cited by most dictionaries, but I'd not say it that way publicly. I'd either be taken as a fool or exceedingly arrogant, depending on the audience. Therefore, I pronounce it as "air."
 
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I've heard it pronounced "air" by people from the UK ...
That surprises me, as I can't say I've heard it pronounced that way here. Perhaps the people she heard were trying to "fit in" as Kalleh is?


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I know the correct pronunciation of that word, at least as cited by most dictionaries, but I'd not say it that way publicly. I'd either be taken as a fool or exceedingly arrogant, depending on the audience. Therefore, I pronounce it as "air."

I didn't say that air was incorrect. As a matter of fact, I'd say it's the standard pronunciation of err in the States. I just said I was annoyed by it. (It isn't a rationale stance, but an emotional, behavioral response.) I was just trying to point out that different people are annoyed by different grammatical and lexical variation. Often is different. It's gets pronounced both ways, sometimes by the same people. I use the t-less pronunciation and have been corrected more than once. If I have the time, I tell them the history of the word and tell them they can pronounce the t if they'd like to.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Jim has hit on the crux of the matter for me as well. I think that we who like to delve into the history of words (and grammar), are too easily annoyed when 'mavens' spout off on something they really haven't thought about very deeply.

I am less than gruntled, for example, when some internet word collector thinks he has discovered, or even coined, a word such as 'gruntled', not caring to know that it was used very effectively by Wodehouse in 1938.
 
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I never learned to play the violin. It was an err on a "G" sting.
 
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It was an err on a "G" sting.

The 'air (of the dog wot bite yer) was on whose G-string?


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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I won't say. The cat gut me tongue.
 
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Perhaps the people she heard were trying to "fit in" as Kalleh is?
Is that what it is? At what point does majority rule take over in pronunciation? Or does the dictionary always win out?
 
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Is that what it is? At what point does majority rule take over in pronunciation? Or does the dictionary always win out?

Many of those in OEDILF claim that "the dictionary is always right" and I have had some of my contributions criticised or rejected because of supposed misplaced stresses or pronunciation errors. I disagree.

It is the lexicographer's job to record usage, not to prescribe it. Those dictionaries and other organisations that are prescriptive will, in the end, be forced to concede defeat if common usage ignores their dictats.

Much as though I abhor the use of "gay" to mean "homosexual" - it has now become common parlance and dictionaries would be failing in their duty were they not to record this change in use.

If the word "err" becomes generally pronounced to rhyme with "air" rather than "fur" in the USA, then US dictionaries will eventually record this.


Richard English
 
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At what point does majority rule take over in pronunciation?

Huh? When the majority are using the pronunciation.

I imagine that for years grumpy old grammarians insisted on pronouncing words like loved as lovèd long after almost everybody else (except a few poets) was using lov'd.


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Originally posted by arnie:
I imagine that for years grumpy old grammarians insisted on pronouncing words like loved as lovèd long after almost everybody else (except a few poets) was using lov'd.


quote:
They have joined the most obdurate Consonants without one intervening Vowel, only to shorten a Syllable: And their Taste in time became so depraved, that what was a first a Poetical License not to be justified, they made their Choice, alledging, that the Words pronounced at length, sounded faint and languid. This was a Pretence to take up the same Custom in Prose; so that most of the Books we see now a-days, are full of those Manglings and Abbreviations. Instances of this Abuse are innumerable: What does Your Lordship think of the Words, Drudgd, Disturbd, Rebukt, Fledgd, and a thousand others, every where to be met in Prose as well as Verse? Where, by leaving out a Vowel to save a Syllable, we form so jarring a Sound, and so difficult to utter, that I have often wondred how it could ever obtain.


Jonathan Swift
 
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Don't forget that Swift was a satirist; what he says should be taken with a generous pinch (or perhaps shovelful) of salt. Cf his A Modest Proposal: For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick.


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I was under the impression that Swift's "A Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue" was not a satire. It's completely in keeping with the English academy movement of the time. If it really was a satire, he would have concluded that we should all speak Latin or something.
 
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What did Swift have "most at Heart"? He wanted codification with the aim "that some Method should be thought on for ascertaining and fixing our Language for ever, after such alterations are made in it as shall be thought requisite."
- Braj B. Kachru, The Alchemy of English (1990)
 
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I have heard regional, national, and international lectures on this report. Not once has anyone ever pronounced it any way but "air." I've heard it pronounced "air" by people from the UK, other European countries (such as Denmark),
Well, never let it be said that I don't admit when I am wrong. Today we had a group of international speakers. The speaker from England and the speaker from Ireland each used the word "error," though not "err." However, interestingly, they pronounced "error" as "ur." Therefore, I can't think they'd pronounce "err" as "air." I must have misremembered that pronunciation. Arnie, you were right when you said, "That surprises me...." I am sure I was wrong.
 
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I would always pronounce "error" with two syllables - much as I would pronounce "mirror". But I know that many in the USA pronounce "mirror" with any one syllable and maybe there are some who pronounce "error" with only one syllable as well.


Richard English
 
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These were people from the UK, and they pronounced it with one syllable. I'd pronounce it with 2.
 
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2

I've never heard mirror pronounced with one syllable on this side of the pond or th'other.


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As some of you know, we've had a hard winter in the midwest. Therefore, I found this Garrison Keillor article hilarious (perhaps you had to be there). The first sentence (have you ever seen one that long?) definitely grabbed me:
quote:
It is unbearably bleak as winter lingers in March and a cold wind blows and the people on the obituary page seem better looking than yourself and your prostate feels like a hockey puck and you walk around with your wallet and car keys looking for your wallet and car keys and you read an article about bipolar disorder and think, "Hey, that's me," and so in desperation I flew out to San Francisco for a few days, where the winter rains had stopped and the city was bathed in Mediterranean light and everyone seemed very buoyant, as if the miasma was gone and the halcyon days were back, and suddenly I felt 30 again.
 
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Spring has sproinged here, but I CAN relate to that damned hockey puck. It's unfair that one's prostate is the ONLY part of the male anatomy that gets bigger and harder with age! Frown
 
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I've heard lots. I quite often listen to Garrison Keillor.
 
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I must confess, although the name of Garrison Keillor was familiar, I couldn't think why, until I clicked on the link to his bio in the article. Then I realised: "Lake Wobegon Days". An excellent raconteur.


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I love his voice.
 
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