Monday, 29 October 2012

about as pure as a cribhouse whore

people put links up on blogs, Twitter, wherever, and write things like "This is interesting", and I think, "I'll read that in a bit",  And then I don't get round to it, and Twitter has moved on to other topics.  So here I'm reproducing a post from Language Log  about English - which is the language correcting which I make my living (see what I did there?).  Thanks to all.  I think all the correct hat-tips are in there.
Kory Stamper at harm·less drudg·ery responds to a correspondent who is sincerely troubled by the illogic of irregardless ("No Logic in 'Etymological': A Response I Actually Sent",  10/24/2012):
English is a little bit like a child. We love and nurture it into being, and once it gains gross motor skills, it starts going exactly where we don’t want it to go: it heads right for the goddamned light sockets. We put it in nice clothes and tell it to make friends, and it comes home covered in mud, with its underwear on its head and someone else’s socks on its feet. We ask it to clean up or to take out the garbage, and instead it hollers at us that we don’t run its life, man. Then it stomps off to its room to listen to The Smiths in the dark.
Everything we’ve done to and for English is for its own good, we tell it (angrily, as it slouches in its chair and writes “irregardless” all over itself in ballpoint pen). This is to help you grow into a language people will respect! Are you listening to me? Why aren’t you listening to me??
Like  well-adjusted children eventually do, English lives its own life. We can tell it to clean itself up and act more like one of the Classical languages (I bet Latindoesn’t sneak German in through its bedroom window, does it?). We can threaten, cajole, wheedle, beg, yell, throw tantrums, and start learning French instead. But no matter what we do, we will never really be the boss of it. And that, frankly, is what makes it so beautiful.
Of course, language peevers' claims about logic, etymological or otherwise, are oftenillogical. And peeving is often more like adolescent arrogance than adult wisdom. But Kory's presentation of the "language as a wayward child" metaphor is still an instant classic, rivaling James D. Nicoll's 1990 "English as inveterate lexical criminal" metaphor:
The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.
[via John McIntyre at You Don't Say]

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you could help me Jane, announcers on TV certainly don't.
For example - is it an electric fire or an electrical fire?
Thanks.
L9

Jane Griffiths said...

This appears to be irony, L9. An electric fire is an old-fashioned space heater that has bars which make your legs go red if you sit too close to them and which cost 1000s to heat less than a square metre of space. An electrical fire is a conflagration caused by some kind of electric fault.