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Tradition vs revision

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Tradition vs revision

Postby Perry Lassiter » Mon Apr 16, 2012 1:43 pm

Interesting column today in NYT on traditionalists v revisionists that should interest word mavens.
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Postby Philip Hudson » Wed Apr 18, 2012 8:56 am

Thanks for the reference, Perry. Nothing in it surprised me or offended me. The writer did a good job of cautioning moderation on both sides.

Are we word mavens? I am mega-interested in words. As an ESL teacher, I spend most of my day using them. But I am far from being an expert.

My dictionary says that maven’s roots are Hebrew via Yiddish. Some of you know that I take a dim view of Yiddish as a source for English words because many of them sound so harsh and are so negative. I am trying to come to terms with the positive word maven. I once thought panache was Yiddish but found out differently. I still don’t like panache. What words do you and other contributors to this forum find unpalatable? Why?
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Postby Perry Lassiter » Wed Apr 18, 2012 11:36 am

Make up a random sound. You could substitute it for any word and imagine the sound as emerging from a long history to the meaning. Words are ultimately random, though their randomness may go all the way back to PIE or before. Mama may be the exception. Having said that, I believe their associations and connotations affect our feelings for words. Many think French is beautiful. I think it is nasal, and German is too gutteral. Spanish to me is the most beautiful because of the long vowels and seldom-doubled consonants, though some dialects flatten the vowels and make it harsh.

Yiddish is just a language. Had you grown up with it, you would be as comfortable with it as with the air you breathe. Panache to me is a beautiful word. Listen to it.

I personaly have trouble with the s-word and the f-word, not because of their vulgarity, but their gross ugliness. We need better words for them that are not swear words. Defecation is a natural bodily function, but it's too highbrow to be an everyday word. Crap is better, but not much. when I was a kid, my parents used "grunt" to me, also better And we have no word for loving intercourse, the closest being "make love."
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Postby Philip Hudson » Wed Apr 18, 2012 3:52 pm

A lovely Hispanic saint once chided me for my poor Spanish. "How," she asked, "will you speak in Heaven with such poor Spanish?" I am trying to remember what famous English man learned fluent Spanish after having heard that butterfly in Spanish is mariposa, perhaps the most beautiful word ever uttered. Spanish gets my vote for beauty in language. To me English as spoken by many people from India is unpleasant. Everything seems to be in the imperative mode. Perhaps if I were a native Yiddish speaker I would like Yiddish. I like red neck and it hain't awl thet purdy. I will probably never say panache in polite society. When I first encountered panache as a teen, I thought it was pronounced PAN-ah-che.
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Postby Slava » Wed Apr 18, 2012 8:36 pm

I don't know if this is a coincidence or there is something going on that is driving it all, but here are two more articles on prescriptivism and descriptivism:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle ... ml?hpid=z4

While I tend to be prescriptive, there are times I can accept certain descriptive usages. One I will never agree with, and I recently came across in The New Yorker, is the use of penultimate as a superlative form of ultimate.
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Postby Perry Lassiter » Wed Apr 18, 2012 8:53 pm

Would you believe in Biblical Hebrew, they speak of the antepenultimate syllable!! I don't remember ever hearing the ultimate syllable, just penultimate and antepenultimate. Wonder what happens if you back up FOUR syllables.
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Postby Perry Lassiter » Wed Apr 18, 2012 9:06 pm

I've now read the articles and decided I'm basically a descriptivist with a few notable exceptions. Main one is the use of lay for lie. "I'm going to lay out (in the sun)." No you're not. You will either LIE out in the sun or lay your BODY out in the sun. Lay REQUIRES a direct object. Otherwise I'm cool. (Well maybe I wriggle a little if someone goes to unnecessarily split an infinitive.) I really don't get all the hyperbole. The sky really isn't falling, and when it does, it will fall impartially on the righteous and the unrighteous - even verbally!
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Postby Slava » Wed Apr 18, 2012 9:08 pm

Perry Lassiter wrote:Would you believe in Biblical Hebrew, they speak of the antepenultimate syllable!! I don't remember ever hearing the ultimate syllable, just penultimate and antepenultimate. Wonder what happens if you back up FOUR syllables.
Ah, if only The New Yorker had been speaking of syllables. It was in an article on the death penalty, which the author labelled the penultimate punishment. I'd sure like to know what can come after death.

Here's yet another article on language changes:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainmen ... ly/256067/
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Postby Philip Hudson » Thu Apr 19, 2012 10:58 am

Perry, "I am going to lie out in the sun," could mean, "While recumbent in the sunlight, I will tell you falsehoods."
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