Thursday, 5 July 2018

Trump and sensitive editing

Trump (who I don't blog about much because I don't think it's helpful to criticise his poor command of language when he is so unbelievably awful in so many other more important ways) has been mocked on twitter again. He used the phrase [they] pour over my tweets rather than pore over. This is a very common mistake; lots of perfectly intelligent people also make it; it's not transparent enough for it to be a thing you could work out. You just either know it or you don't. In most uses, pore is a little hole for your skin to breathe through, so it's not obvious why it should mean 'gaze intently', and in fact we don't know where that meaning comes from - we just have it recorded in early English writing and without a known origin. So I'm not going to beat Trump up for not knowing that, but the internet did. The problem was that he used it in a tweet where he explicitly said how good his written English was, and a version of Muphry's Law states that if you write anything praising your accurate writing, there'll be an error in it.

So let's look at this positively. Lot's of people just corrected the spelling of pore, others pointed out other less-than-brilliant aspects of the writing in the original tweet, but this person, a writer himself, edited the tweet to read much better:

There's a commonly-criticised error in the original tweet, which Michael hasn't fixed: the dangling participle(s) at the beginning. Normally, people are keen to point out the comedy of such constructions (Plunging hundreds of feet into the gorge, we saw Yosemite Falls). But in this case, it's fine: the potential confound is it, which is what we call an expletive, which means that it doesn't mean anything so you can't accidentally interpret the modifier as modifying it. And it sets up the context for the rest of the tweet nicely, so it's a perfectly acceptable construction.

Secondly, Michael has actually introduced a split infinitive (to constantly pore). I'm a big fan of these, especially if they make a sentence read better, which they often do, and which it definitely does in this case. It's not the liking that's constant, it's the poring, and the rhythm is also nicer in my opinion.

I like this sensitive editing with attention paid to how the tweet sounds and no rigid adherence to the rules given that it is a tweet. If you're an editor for a newspaper whose style guide says no split infinitives, then you must remove all split infinitives and that's it. But if you do have a choice, then it's good to be able to use them where it improves a thing.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Danny Dyer should be held account for it

Danny Dyer was briefly everyone's favourite wideboy again last week when he called David Cameron a 'twat' on telly, twice. Here's a link to the Guardian's round-up of the twitter response, with video.

As well as his well-chosen epithet, he also said this:
“How comes he can scuttle off? He called all this on. Where is he? He’s in Europe, in Nice, with his trotters up, yeah, where is the geezer? I think he should be held account for it.”
He repeated that phrase: he should be held account for it. If you've been paying attention to my research interests lately, you'll know that I collect missing prepositions. The most frequently omitted preposition, by far, is to in a directional sense with a familiar location: I'm going to the pub, for instance. (The article the is also omitted; that's not relevant today.) Now, this phrase of Danny Dyer's is normally held to account. He skipped the to. Might this be the same kind of thing?

I think not, partly because this to doesn't have the same characteristics as the commonly-omitted kind. While it is a preposition, it's part of an idiom and doesn't have any directional meaning. It just holds the whole thing together. You can function perfectly well without it without losing any meaning, as demonstrated by Danny himself. The other thing that to my mind makes it more likely that this is a simple speech error is the existence of the basically synonymous phrase held accountable. Then, the to isn't present at all, so it's a straightforward process to mix the two up and come out with held account.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Miss Bailey, a lady doctor

Female academics on twitter have been adding their 'Dr' title to their handle today (I've done it too) to make a point. A discussion has been taking place about how women with PhDs routinely find it harder than men to have their knowledge and expertise in their field recognised. It's actually a lot more complicated than that, because people have been accused of saying that people without PhDs can't be experts (not true, of course) and that they shouldn't proclaim themselves 'Dr' 'simply' for having a PhD (a bizarre claim, as there's nothing simple about it and... you are a doctor if you have a PhD?) and also the general nonsense that you get whenever you say anything feminist on the internet.

I've seen others disagreeing with this practice as it seems exclusionary to them, and I don't normally have my title in my handle for the same reasons I don't insist on it in everyday life - a title just isn't necessary, and it can make people feel like you're trying to be better than them. I've done it today, because I also think that we should be allowed to use that title when it's relevant without it being seen as showing off or being immodest - and my twitter is semi-professional, so it is appropriate to use my professional name and title.

I also expect people who address me as "[title] Bailey" to use it, because it's my title and that is what should be written on their computer screen (the only people who use my title are cold callers). If they prefer not to, then they should absolutely use 'Ms', and definitely not 'Miss' or 'Mrs', as neither of those is accurate. (Mx would also be ok but that's yet to catch on very much.)

I most definitely do not expect non-academic people in my everyday life to use 'Dr'. For example, the removal men who are currently moving all of our offices at work do not need to call me anything but Laura. This is partly a balance of power thing: I am relatively in a position of power if they are effectively doing a job for me (moving my office). But they are relatively in a position of power too, because they are men and I'm a woman. The other day two of them were talking outside my open office door (so they knew I could hear) about who on my corridor needed a crate delivered. One, reading off a list, said "Dr Laura Bailey. One crate." His colleague, who sounded very young, repeated "One crate for Miss Bailey", and that use of 'Miss' instantly made me feel infantilised, disrespected, and powerless. (He went on to repeat my colleagues' European surnames with gleeful incredulity, which endeared him to me even less.) That opportunity for casual delegitimisation by using a title that inherently includes youth, powerlessness, lack of authority is why I put 'Dr' into my twitter handle today.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

It ain't nothin'

I've talked about 'double negation' before, by which I really mean negative concord: using two negative elements in one clause to give a single negative meaning. I've pointed out how it makes no sense to argue against it on the grounds of it being illogical (it isn't), and I usually say that in context, you can always understand what the speaker means. That's more or less true in speech, when you have intonation to help you out. But in writing, without that clue, sometimes the context isn't quite enough. I found this example in a friend's facebook post:
15 days in jail, which ain't nothin'. 
The context really didn't tell me if 15 days was a lot or not much for the crime in question, and so without the intonational cues (in my crude non-expert terms, whether you'd give stress to both ain't and nothin' or just to nothin') I couldn't tell if he meant that 15 days was a significant time, or that 15 days was nothing at all.

Monday, 9 April 2018

ELL Undergraduate Conference 2018

We had our annual undergraduate conference on Saturday, where our dissertation students presented their work. I normally Storify the tweets but they're killing the service in May, so I've just collected the hashtag here (so they're in the wrong order chronologically):