For Pedant Word Nazis

In keeping with comments from my last post, I just had to put up this 6-minute Stephen Fry talk which does a great job showing why nominalists will always win the day over essentialists (read: “prescriptionists“).  Those who are busy trying to tell others what the true form of their of their favorite “ism” should be, might find this short video a bit upsetting.  Listen at your own risk.


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8 responses to “For Pedant Word Nazis

  1. I love it! He *nails* it. Rather than bicker about who is allowed to mess with the language, we should be out there enjoying it.

    While out shopping today, I had great fun explaining to my Chinese father-in-law that “cool” in English can mean “good”, but “hot” can mean “very good”. He got a huge kick out of the weirdness of English, and theorized that it’s like a double-negative in math — “cool cool” = “hot”. 🙂

    He was in Beijing during the cultural revolution, when Mao deputized all of the educated youngsters to wear red shirts and run around beating shop owners who had grammar mistakes on their signs. To this day, he and my mother-in-law will scold the owners of Chinese restaurants who make their signs with peasant mistakes. But the ironic thing is that the youngsters of Beijing’s elite today have the most diverse and creative slang in the country. I try to keep up with as much as I can; and I find it’s way more creative than anything I see in the U.S., except perhaps in hip-hop. There are things that pop into the common vernacular that just make you laugh with delight at the mentality that it expresses.

    I would disagree with Stephen Fry’s assertion that nobody in the past 100 years compares to Oscar Wilde. Fry obviously doesn’t listen to hip-hop; where all of the linguistic play is in full effect. Other than hip-hop and Beijing youth slang, I have become really fascinated with Singlish, which has these constantly delightful things that pop up, too.

  2. Hermes

    [deleted: comment violation]

  3. @ JS Allen :
    It was fun, wasn’t it. Your Chinese connections are fascinating!

  4. geoih

    The only thing I found (slightly) offensive was the video. If the presentation is really only audio, do we have to have video? I think much of the obsession with grammer (myself included) stems from thinking of language as a written/read medium, rather than a spoken/heard medium. There are no apostrophes in speech.

  5. @ geoih :
    That is funny — I didn’t think about that. But since I am a very visual thinker, even pictures of words and Chinese characters dance in my head when speaking !

  6. Honestly, I’ve always viewed work based on its ability to draw out new and interesting observations rather than on exactness of grammar, since indeed, language is always evolving. To step out of that comfort range and put oneself out there in expression of words, especially in public takes guts, and it doesn’t always work. The easier thing is to run around with a virtual magic marker correcting everyone’s context and grammar.

  7. @ Kyle :
    I love the magic marker image.
    When I was in graduate school (philosophy), I went up to my adviser to ask for suggestions for my first paper. He said, “You have two choices, you can criticize another author/idea (which is easy), or you can put forward your won idea (which is hard). The first usually gets the better grade).”
    I choose to do the latter and always have — I guess most bloggers share that character trait!

  8. I think there is a difference between being creative with language and just being horribly sloppy at grammar…. and that that is something difficult to appreciate until one comes across something eminently unreadable.

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