Monthly Archives: January 2016

Rabid reaction

Michael Oman-Reagan has been looking for sexism in Oxford Dictionaries entries. Specifically, he thinks that their example sentences perpetuate stereotypes.

He lists six entries that trouble him. I have no idea whether these are cherry-picked or representative, but take a look and see what you think. Carolyn Cox has further discussion.

The most interesting of Oman-Reagan’s six is Oxford’s entry on “rabid” and the example it gives: “a rabid feminist”.

He complained to Oxford on Twitter. They replied, saying that “’rabid’ isn’t always negative”.

Is this true?

Their full definition says:

Having or proceeding from an extreme or fanatical support of or belief in something: ‘a rabid feminist’

“Extreme” and “fanatical” do kind of sound bad.

They give three other examples of the word’s use: Continue reading

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Giving grammar advice? Whatever you do, don’t check it

Jim Baumann writes a column in the Chicago Daily Herald under the title Grammar Moses, in which he dispenses (mostly bad) advice on grammar and usage.

This week, Moses has crowdsourced his tablets.

One of his contributors writes that we should use ’til and not till as the short form of until. Till, he says, “can be a noun, meaning a cash drawer, or a rather inexact verb describing what growers do to the soil so as to produce crops or decorative plants”.

No.

Any dictionary you bother to check will confirm that till is a legitimate word in its own right. It’s not a short version of until. Things are the other way round: till dates back to the ninth century, until only to the twelfth, when it was derived from till (compare the relationship between unto and to).

As for ’til, Merriam-Webster says that it is “a variant spelling of till used by writers who do not know that till is a complete, unabbreviated word in its own right”.

Baumann’s correspondent offers more advice.

We should say “the expressed written permission” and not, as is common, “the express written permission”. This is why:

One needs to use an adjectival form, and ‘expressed’ is it.

In contrast, while there is certainly a verb ‘express’ meaning to ‘render one’s thoughts,’ such does not fit the bill herein. Likewise, the adjective ‘express,’ as in reference to a fast train that doesn’t stop at all stations, does not fit, either.

No.

Any dictionary you bother to check will tell you that express can mean “explicit and clearly stated”, which is what it means here. Expressed would be quite the wrong word: writing is a form of expression, so anything that is written is by definition expressed.

This use of express is venerable. The OED cites Chaucer around 1386: “Wher can ye seen… That highe God defended mariage By expresse word?”

A final contribution comes from Baumann’s colleague Jim Slusher, a tormented fellow who beats himself up for using sentence adverbs. Amazingly, he doesn’t realise that they’re a standard and well-established way of expressing the writer’s view of a statement, such as: “Just as importantly, they should care about their constituents.”

Sadly, he thinks: “In that construction, the adverb ‘importantly’ describes how they should care about their constituents. I’m not sure how one cares importantly. But that’s what it means.” The poor chap.

Disappointingly, this time I only have four dictionaries to confirm the sentence-adverbial use of importantly (meaning “it is important that”). The other two say only that it’s the adverb form of important.

(The dispute about hopefully is a different matter: you can’t paraphrase it as “it is hopeful that”, which discombobulates some people. But even they are generally content with other sentence adverbs.)

This tripe is what passes for expert commentary on grammar. Hazy ideas, tendentiously rationalised, boldly stated, never checked.

And it’s often so, so easy to check these things. But if you do, you may find that you don’t have anything left to complain about.