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Author Topic: Prescriptive grammar  (Read 16173 times)

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wombat

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Prescriptive grammar
« on: December 19, 2011, 09:36:03 pm »

Why don't we just have a thread for this here and when other threads wanted onto this topic we'll send them over here.

In the meantime I'll put this here:
http://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2011/11/17/the-phenomenology-of-error/

It's about this paper, which is worth clicking through to after you read the column.
http://www.english.illinois.edu/-people-/faculty/schaffner/Williams%20Error.pdf

Here's an excerpt of the column:
Quote
Williamsís article isnít really a treatise. Itís more of a travelogue. And as guide, Williams is less a Dante than a Darwin. He wanders through the errorscape, wondering at the curious flora and fauna that have evolved.

But he does have a Dantesque vision as he circles ever closer to error proscribed and obliviously performed by the same authors. First there is the writer who performs in his fiction what he proscribes in his textbook. (E.B. White, to be specific.) Then he finds usage handbooks themselves violating the rules they present, even to the point of rules broken in their very presentation. The culminating example comes from a 1972 style manual for technical writers:

Emphasis is often achieved by the use of verbs rather than nouns formed from them, and by the use of verbs in the active rather than in the passive voice.

If you don't understand why that should make you laugh, you should hesitate next time you're inclined to correct someone else's use of language.
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wombat

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Re: Prescriptive grammar
« Reply #1 on: July 21, 2012, 05:21:31 pm »

An interesting explanation of why prescriptive grammar is important, despite the fact that at some level it is also stupid. (The attention to detail that this author praises should probably have been applied to the URL the article ended up with.)
http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/07/i_wont_hire_people_who_use_poo.html

Quote
On the face of it, my zero tolerance approach to grammar errors might seem a little unfair. After all, grammar has nothing to do with job performance, or creativity, or intelligence, right?

Wrong. If it takes someone more than 20 years to notice how to properly use "it's," then that's not a learning curve I'm comfortable with.

...I hire people who care about those details. Applicants who don't think writing is important are likely to think lots of other (important) things also aren't important.

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theinevitable

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Re: Prescriptive grammar
« Reply #2 on: July 25, 2012, 06:26:01 am »

Had an argument with my business-school-educated roommate where he said that this article is stupid, and I defended it despite having not read it. It was bizarre because usually he is into the idea that anything a business person does is clearly based on purely rational decision making, and it is their goddamn right to do it. Bah.
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wombat

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Re: Prescriptive grammar
« Reply #3 on: July 25, 2012, 11:57:04 am »

I'm betting your friend can never remember how to use "it's" properly.
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AugustWest

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Re: Prescriptive grammar
« Reply #4 on: July 25, 2012, 02:53:01 pm »

he is into the idea that anything a business person does is clearly based on purely rational decision making, and it is their goddamn right to do it. Bah.

It appears your friend has never worked at an actual business.
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Arachno-capitalist

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Re: Prescriptive grammar
« Reply #5 on: July 25, 2012, 03:07:25 pm »

It appears your friend has never worked at an actual business.
I had a war with my TA at the school in new york about this. He argued that he doesn't think about every step he takes so the whole "rational actor" part of economics should be dismissed. I tried to convince him that the rational actor stuff is contingent on the information available. Asymmetric and insufficient information are failures that are responsible for many decisions. They are still rational decisions.
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theinevitable

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Re: Prescriptive grammar
« Reply #6 on: July 25, 2012, 03:56:57 pm »

Yes, I was taught in anthropology that rational choice theory is the bullshittiest bullshit in the world.

Also, he sent our house email thread an email wanting to keep discussing this, and so far the only response is "dude, it's spelled GRAMMAR, not GRAMMER."
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AugustWest

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Re: Prescriptive grammar
« Reply #7 on: July 25, 2012, 05:29:41 pm »

I had a war with my TA at the school in new york about this. He argued that he doesn't think about every step he takes so the whole "rational actor" part of economics should be dismissed. I tried to convince him that the rational actor stuff is contingent on the information available. Asymmetric and insufficient information are failures that are responsible for many decisions. They are still rational decisions.

What about decisions based on emotion?  Or ego?  Or to further personal ends rather than the needs of the organization?  Do you think those things ever happen in large organizations?
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pmcd9

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Re: Prescriptive grammar
« Reply #8 on: July 30, 2012, 04:45:32 am »

I can't figure out the difference between its and it's? I know that it's is it is, but every instance of its/it's that I encounter in my writing sounds like it is to me. Is it subtle or am I just dense?
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KeithHernandez

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Re: Prescriptive grammar
« Reply #9 on: July 30, 2012, 06:11:03 am »

if it works as it is or it has then you use it's.

if you can substitute his or her for the word than it is its.



The bird used its (her) wings.

What it's (it is).
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Victoria Waterfield

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Re: Prescriptive grammar
« Reply #10 on: July 30, 2012, 06:34:01 am »

The way I always remember it is that it's "its" when it's not "it is" and it's "it's" when its meaning is "it is".
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wombat

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Re: Prescriptive grammar
« Reply #11 on: July 30, 2012, 12:30:41 pm »

Keith has a good strategy but I feel compelled to copyedit the presentation a bit:

"The bird used its wings" is right because it could be "The bird used his wings" and that would still be an English sentence.

"The bird used it's wings" is wrong because it could not be "The bird used it is wings" - that is not even English.

"It's time for bed" is right because it could be "It is time for bed."

"Its time for bed" is wrong, because "His time for bed" is no longer an English sentence.

I think there may be cases where you'll feel it is awkward to substitute another posessive pronoun for "its" so that test might not work all the time. But if you can substitute "it is", you can be sure you need the apostrophe.

By the way, it might help to realize that there is no logic to this, the language is just fuck*ng with you. In other cases you need the apostrophe to make a possessive, like "Wombat's pugs," whereas in this case you have to leave it out. It doesn't make sense, it's just a way for a guy like the one in my link to screen resumes, basically.  So don't try to make sense of it, just memorize the tests for which one to use.

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pmcd9

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Re: Prescriptive grammar
« Reply #12 on: July 30, 2012, 01:27:32 pm »

I think I see my problem. I rarely use its instead of his/her.
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jaydub

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Re: Prescriptive grammar
« Reply #13 on: July 30, 2012, 06:15:25 pm »

The truck had a problem with its brakes.
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Re: Prescriptive grammar
« Reply #14 on: August 03, 2012, 06:02:54 am »

The truck had a problem with its brakes.

Do you think Paul would refer to his artcar as an "it"?
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