Are you prescriptive or descriptive?


Being behind a camera, in front of the camera, is my own little deconstructionist niche.

— Joshua Leonard

The first issue of Popular Linguistics, an online magazine, is now available for people who enjoy that sort of thing. For me, an unbridled malefactor in the realm of lay-lie-lay, an unapologetic apostrophe punter, and some would say a comatose abuser of commas, the welcome mat may not be out. But I expect Beth, with her memories of Edinburgh and Austin and her adoration of most things Language Log will spend some time enjoyably immersed in the pixels presented by editor and publisher Douglas S. Bigham. Bigham says he hopes to serve a general, educated, scientifically-inclined audience, the same type of readers who, for example, enjoy Scientific American or Discover. (Popular linguist and wearer of the Safire crown, Ben Zimmer welcomed the new linguistic populist at Language Log yesterday).

The pseudonymous “Language Hat” on his eponymous blog also welcomed the new arrival yesterday. Many of those who commented on that post share my discomfort with the white on black typography. Bigham promises a shift to something easier on the eyes in the February issue.

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One comment on “Are you prescriptive or descriptive?
  1. betty jo says:

    re: Are you Prescriptive or Descriptive?

    The Language Log “The odds of X are large”:likely or unlikely?” was fun.

    So the term “the odds” is on the rise. Oh dear. I share the author’s suspicion that few using the term share any serious common understanding of probability.

    We underestimate the extent to which contextual meanings facilitate our modern shortcut language. Take the term “OK”. The first time we attached a big farm implement to the back of the tractor, we discovered serious linguistic ambiguity when it turned out that “OK” meant “GO” to one person, and “STOP!” to another, with both a bit uncertain whether it also might mean “Continue as you were”.

    And then, this whole deal about the white writing on black background on “Popular Linguistics” It is really rather annoying on a computer screen. But, have you noticed that on those tiny little buttons on our electronics, with their tiny little writing, white on dark black is the only chance we have of reading the script. Now, of course, some marketing person has decided that pale gray is trendier, so we get white writing on pale gray background which is, of course, hopeless.

    Just as “Thousand to One” might equally be interpreted as long odds or short ones, the absence of context disables reason.

    Not much space for context in a twitter…

    Maybe THAT’s the problem with this country. As Mr Liberman says in “The odds of X are large…” article: “For, if interpreters are confused about what it is they are interpreting, the odds of their producing incoherence are enormous.”

    Boy Howdy. Isn’t that the truth.

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