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I'm Mike Pope. I live in the Seattle area. I've been a technical writer and editor for over 30 years. I'm interested in software, language, music, movies, books, motorcycles, travel, and ... well, lots of stuff.

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There is no religion without love, and people may talk as much as they like about their religion, but if it does not teach them to be good and kind to other animals as well as humans, it is all a sham.

Anna Sewell



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Blog Statistics

Dates
First entry - 6/27/2003
Most recent entry - 6/21/2019

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Posts - 2565
Comments - 2614
Hits - 2,150,794

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Entries/day - 0.44
Comments/entry - 1.02
Hits/day - 368

Updated every 30 minutes. Last: 2:15 AM Pacific


  10:07 AM

Arnold Zwicky has a good post on the Language Log about the "Recency Illusion" (which is also referred to as the "selective attention effect"[1]) in people's thoughts on grammar -- particularly on supposedly poor grammar. Cite:
The piece retails the standard hypercorrection story for "between you and I" and similar expressions, and in addition locates this hypercorrection as quite recent -- so recent that it could be nipped in the bud by quick action. Possibly, Dr. Language got this idea from James Cochrane's annoying Between You and I; on p. 14, Cochrane says: "This oddity, which seems to have emerged only in the last twenty or so years, presumably arises from a feeling of discomfort about using the word me, a sense that it is somehow impolite or 'uneducated.' "

Well, they're both wrong, pretty spectacularly, though Dr. Language's discussion has some amusement value. If only they'd thought to consult some standard sources or look at some facts, they might not have fallen into error and spread this error to their readers. Instead, they depend entirely on their subjective impressions about the facts of English usage -- impressions that are very likely to be skewed in systematic ways.

[...]

A quick trip to the OED would show a longer and more complicated history, and the MWDEU entry on "between you and I" would be a real eye-opener. The facts look complex, but it's safe to say that the rise of "between you and I" in Late Modern English goes back at least 150 or 160 years, not 20; earlier uses go back about 400 years. There's no way it can be blamed on modern education, as John Simon suggested in 1980 (see MWDEU), unless Simon was just playing with different senses of "modern".
Robert Burchfield, editor emeritus of the OED, noted other such examples, where an "error" considered recent often proves to have a long history. (Noted earlier here.)

Zwicky's point is that people who fancy themselves experts on the language sometimes make statements that make one doubt just how well they know its history. My particular take is that the notion that English is somehow "in trouble" or "being corrupted" assumes a time when English was "more perfect" (as the Constitution has it), but alas, careful etymological research shows that there was no such time in which English was purer than today.

As a bonus, Zwicky notes examples of the "Frequency Illusion," and shows that even linguists are by no means exempt from some of these errors:
Here at Stanford we have a group working on innovative uses of all, especially the quotative use, as in the song title "I'm like 'yeah' and she's all 'no'". The members of the group believed that quotative all was very common these days in the speech of the young, especially young women in California, and the undergraduates working on the project reported that they had friends who used it "all the time". But in fact, when the undergrads engage these friends in (lengthy) conversation, tape the conversations, transcribe them, and then extract occurrences of quotatives, the frequency of quotative all is very low (quotative like is really really big). There are several interpretations for this annoying finding, but we're inclined to think that part of it is the Frequency Illusion on our part.
Point being that there is no substitute for empirical evidence. Nonetheless: "Of course, sometimes your off-the-cuff frequency estimates are right. " [...]

[1] Barbara Wallraff's "Word Fugitives" column in The Atlantic once solicited terms for the phenomenon of "once you've heard about it, you see it everywhere." Recency Illusion is a good term, I'll grant, although Ms. Wallraff gave the nod to deja new. (I'd link to her original column, but The Atlantic has a hard-and-fast subscribers only rule, those weasels.)

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