Using the wrong word

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Oli, Apr 3, 2009.

  1. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    As you've just illustrated, English prepositions are about 99.9% useless. They're left over from the Bronze Age language of the Germanic tribes of 1000BCE, and some of them, like "in," even go back to the diaspora of the Western Indo-European tribes. So they were designed to identify a very small set of relationships.

    Maddeningly, prepositions are one part of speech that English grammar does not allow us to coin or borrow readily, unlike nouns (sushi), verbs (nuke) and adjectives (humongous). We've only been able to perhaps double our vocabulary of prepositions in the last thousand years: about, beside, into, upon, without... the list of Modern English prepositions that didn't exist in Anglo-Saxon is pitifully small. We've added a few to the list by hijacking participles like "concerning" and even Latin participles like "absent." ("Absent the necessary authorization from the CEO, this project will not be initiated.")

    The prepositions we have are almost meaningless. Who can explain, in less than two paragraphs, the subtle difference between arriving somewhere "in time" and "on time?" Different from, different to, different than, different with--does it really matter? The preposition in that expression is just a placeholder for parsing the sentence, like the ubiquitous Chinese particle de. We could invent a new universal preposition, say "gort," and the meaning of most prepositional phrases would still be easily understood. Only physical directions really make a difference: Is the dog on the bed or under the bed, is the bus going to the mall or from the mall?

    Yesterday gort work I talked gort Mary gort our new project and gort thinking gort it, she decided it would conflict gort her primary responsibility gort keeping the manuals updated gort the most current set gort procedures gort shipping products gort our customers gort Canada.

    In most cases the only role English prepositions play is a rite of passage for foreigners. They have to learn every usage of every preposition by rote, since in most cases there's no relation to the meaning expressed. I know people who speak beautiful English with almost no discernible accent, but they give themselves away by using the wrong preposition occasionally.

    That's why we've started to abandon them. In the last century anglophones invented a new way of coining compound words by putting a noun in front of an adjective. User-friendly, fuel-efficient, cost-effective, millennium-compatible, cable-ready, pollution-neutral. We're finally doing what the Chinese (whose language has no prepositions) do: using our entire vocabulary to describe relationships, instead of a tiny set of words left over from the Bronze Age.

    Good riddance! Next, let's dump the articles.
     
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  3. tim840 Registered Senior Member

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    i disagree with that. prepositions - and articles - do indeed help to establish meaning better than one single word would. Like you said, just saying "on time" instead of "in time" changes the meaning of what says. You can't express those details with "gort."
    I didn't get to class on time, so I was given a Saturday School.
    I got to the meeting in time for the last speaker, but I missed the rest.
    The first sentence actually may have pretty much the same meaning if you replaced "on" with "in," but the second sentence would not make sense with "on" in there.
    Anyways, "gort" is a horribly cumbersome word. Much harder to say than "in" or "on;" and in the example sentence you gave above, replacing all the prepositions with "gort," there were three usages that I was not able to identify, so I was unable to fully understand the sentence.
     
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  5. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

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    Were & where.

    “ Originally Posted by Jozen-Bo
    Oli...your confusing me here...???
    Now you are advocating proper use of words when not too long ago you where defending the degenerate slang talk in another thread: ”
     
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  7. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

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    Loose for lose & looser for loser.
     
  8. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

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    It's DEvolving. It's degenerating. It's a mindless muddled mess.
    It's absurd, irresponsible & childish.

    Let them be dull yet language be sensible & find your excitement elsewhere.
     
  9. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

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  10. Randwolf Ignorance killed the cat Valued Senior Member

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    You know, I have been wondering about this since I have been here at SF. I assumed that it must be a US/UK/Aussie thing, since I have never encountered the "loose" version here in the states. Are you saying that it truly is misuse of the language? I really want the answer to this one - are both forms acceptable?
     
  11. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

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    I've known plenty of people in the USA to do that. I am saying that it truly is misuse of the language. I wouldn't try to predict whether Fraggle & other "authorities" say it's acceptable. I say it clearly isn't.
     
  12. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    24,690
    Hey I'm not really saying that there's no need for a word in those places in a sentence. My point is that prepositions do a very poor job of serving the purpose and don't add enough meaning to the sentences. (In any of the Indo-European languages I have a passing familiarity with, from Czech to Yiddish.) I very much applaud the new process of using adjectives to describe relationships, like user-friendly software and fuel-efficient engine. It's like Chinese, although with twice as many syllables.

    I suspect that this new grammar rule was invented by us Americans, and we should be proud of helping English become a language for the new millennium. Ever since I studied Chinese I have been griping about our horribly inadequate ways of describing relationships. I guess I'll have to stop now.

    Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image!

    Actually it was the Roman tax collectors who brought the word into common usage. They discovered by trial and error that 10% is the optimum tax rate. If you take any more than that you start putting people out of business and you end up with less tax money total. It would be nice if our modern governments adopted the rule.
    When I was a kid we all called them "cusswords," even the grownups. "Cuss" is, of course, a variant of "curse" borrowed from a non-rhotic dialect. Apparently in the 19th century "Southern" dialect had a non-rhotic variant that has almost completely died out. I know an 80-year-old guy in Virginia who talks that way.
    English is a democratic language so nobody gets to decide what's right and wrong.
    I'm no authority. I just play one on TV, as they say. Ten years ago there were several members who knew a lot more about linguistics than I do, or at least in some aspects of the science. Today I pass for an expert.
    You're vote has been duly tallied. Now we'll wait for the other 300 million Americans to tell us what they think. While you're waiting, bear in mind that American dictionaries now list "bison" as one definition of "buffalo," and "snuck" and "dove" as secondary but legitimate past tenses.
     
  13. Repo Man Valued Senior Member

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    4,955
    Calling expensive car wheels "rims". Yes, wheels have rims, but it is the outer portion of the wheel. You don't call a steering wheel a steering rim.

    Back when I worked at a bike shop, kids would come in and ask for a rim. So we would go and grab a rim and hand it to them. They would then look confused, and stammer about, "No, I need one with a hub and spokes and stuff." "Oh, you need a wheel! Why didn't you say so?"
     
  14. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    24,690
    I wonder if it goes back to the "chrome rims" that were often used on custom motorcycles, and on cars with spoked wheels.

    These one-piece alloy wheels on motorcycles are a recent technology, and a godsend. They can take tubeless tires, and tubeless tires do a much better job of staying attached to the rim when they go flat. I call it a landmark improvement in motorcycle safety. Both of my crashes were caused by a blown rear tire wobbling on and off the rim, making it impossible to steer.
     
  15. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

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    You contradict yourself.
    Aside from that, what's the use of Language courses??? WHY correct anyone's spelling, grammar, etc??? If you're hiring someone, would their communication skills be a factor?
    Just how bad would it have to get for you to think something should be done about it?
     
  16. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

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    12,779
    I asked a store employee where the audio cassettes are & he took me to the cassette players.
    At another store, I asked whether they have stereo TVs & she looked like someone hit her with a bat.
    I had a VCP & after explaining to people it only plays tapes, they still couldn't understand why I refused to call it a VCR.
     
  17. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

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    ===

    ===
     
  18. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

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    New thread started today : Aging Cause and Cure
     
  19. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    24,690
    I didn't mean to imply that I don't correct people because I do. In fact it's my job: I edit and proofread all the documentation on this project that I don't write myself.

    But I'm considerably less strident in conversation, especially casual conversation. I generally don't correct people unless a non-trivial misunderstanding is possible. And I'm not suppressing anything, it really doesn't bother me. When I'm the best communicator in most of the places I go, I just can't get excited about everyone else falling short. After all, they do a lot of things much better than I do and they don't criticize me for it.

    I have several foreign friends who ask for my help because they want to learn better English, and it's no surprise that these are the people with the greatest aptitude so teaching them is gratifying. With everyone else I try to limit myself to about one comment per month, and make it about something important or interesting.
    A language class isn't the same thing as a friendly conversation. I have taught classes and I've spent even more time on one-on-one tutoring. Most people don't want to be on duty playing the student 24/7. As I said, a few people do and I'm happy to oblige them. I'm certainly like that when speaking a foreign language. I'm always disappointed when people don't correct me. Some people, like the French, will jump on every word. But speakers of Spanish and Chinese, for example, are so genuinely charmed that you're bothering to learn their language at all, that they just smile and take it.
    Well okay, now you're talking about writing and that's an entirely different matter. Not everyone who's a good writer is a good speaker, and vice versa. Any writing beyond a quick e-mail is probably going to be read by more than one person, and possibly more than once. It's a permanent record of your language ability, which displays a certain aspect of your ability to think. As the Designated Writer on this project, I presume the authority to correct everyone's writing, even the big boss, and so far no one's been unhappy with that. They want to show their best side to the people they're writing for, and most of them also genuinely want to improve.

    It also makes a big difference if English is their native language. Both in writing and in speaking I come down harder on the Indians. At first they're surprised because they've all been speaking English since they were six and they don't realize it's a different dialect. (See my note to Sam on another thread about how Indians generally pronounce sentences like they're reciting the alphabet, with no dynamics in pitch, volume, length of syllables or spaces between them. It can be very hard to understand that way.) Some don't give a damn so I leave them alone, but the others soon realize that I have something to offer and they start asking for help, since I'm able to explain the nuances of my language better than most of the teachers they've had before.
    Absolutely. In some jobs it's not critical so I have to stifle myself and put up with it. But if the person is going to be representing our organization to other people, or gathering valuable information, or giving out valuable information, I establish what I think is a reasonable standard for the level of communication that job requires, and I hold fast to it. A lot of IT people spend their careers in their cubicles, which are a maze of American, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian, Farsi, Romanian, Ukrainian, Georgian, Spanish and Indian accents. There's no point in worrying about it. But if they're venturing out from the silicon world into the carbon world, they have to be somewhat housebroken. That means T-shirts without pizza stains and English that can be understood (in both directions) without constantly asking "huh?"
    Again, it depends on the job. Understanding has to be at a level commensurate with the milieu. A project sponsor must be a persuasive speaker. A project manager should impress people and lead a productive meeting. A lead programmer ought to sound like he attended a university and make sense, regardless of his accent. Everyone else needs to understand and be understood, and not embarrass themselves or others with garble or awkward word choices.

    In writing I generally have to lower my standards since these days few Americans can write decently and many foreigners are even worse. (But by no means all, many had good teachers.) If I can understand what they've written and clean it up in a few minutes, I'm content, whether I'm their manager or the Designated Writer. If I have to go back and ask questions because it doesn't make sense, then I might get a little impatient.

    Nonetheless it is extremely politically incorrect in America to make negative comments about the language ability of immigrants and even their children. So all of this has to be tempered with practicality.
     
  20. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

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    So you can't make up your mind about it.
     
  21. Exterminate!!! Registered Member

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    A lot of people say ATM Machine too. Redundance is all to common these days.
     
  22. Exterminate!!! Registered Member

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    is anyone else aching to look through this thread and point out any language misuse.

    Not that i can find any.
     
  23. Oli Heute der Enteteich... Registered Senior Member

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    Er, redundancy, not redundance.

    Capitalisation of the first letter in a sentence (first sentence), capitalisation of the pronoun I.
    Nice try though.

    And there are others than yours, so keep looking.
     

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