Elsewhere on the Internet: Language Acts and Artifacts

From The Toast, linguist Gretchen McCulloch offers a sort of taxonomy of doge, a meme which startled and perplexed me the few times I encountered it.

Her explanation helps contextualize both the syntax of the doge meme and its appeal. Internet dialects are taking up the same kind of space as a silly accent or character speech would; people will play with language for hilarity and emphasis, and it is fascinating to see how these things grow organically in text. It’s such fun, too, to look at playful systems of speech which appear to be breaking language apart but which actually follow strict rules that become all the more apparent when you see bad doge. (Like these clunky attempts to doge-ify classic literature. Very syllable!)

I’m glad I’ve been pointed to McCulloch’s work in general: here is a collection of her thoughts on the construction “because ___,” an abbreviation that feels so natural to me that the words had been rolling out of my mouth long before I was aware of hearing or seeing it used by anyone else. For example, cooking with my neighbor, one of us will often ask “Should we add this ingredient to this thing?” and the other will respond “Yes, because delicious” or sometimes just “Yes, because [meaningful pause, indicating the merits of said ingredient are self-evident].”

For Valentine’s Day, another of my favorite internet linguists Arika Okrent offered the linguistic breakdown of a kiss–or  bilabial lingual ingressive click.
The long form sounds surprisingly appealing, despite having way too many syllables for doge style.

Today is Edward Gorey’s birthday. Of all the posts and reposts I saw in his honor today, my favorite has to be this Paris Review piece from a couple of years ago about a writer who won one of Edward Gorey’s actual fur coats in an auction.

I was a little astonished to learn of how many fur coats the man owned. Of course I was used to seeing them in his artwork; I’ve been sending out numerous postcards this year to honor a New Year resolution to communicate more frequently in print, and I am sure that several friends have received postcards featuring fur coats in Goreyland.


But then, like most artists and writers whose work I enjoy, I think of Edward Gorey as an amorphous attachment to his work, or an abstract idea behind it. I don’t think of him as a formerly corporeal being, with a body that enjoyed warmth and texture, a body that left behind intimate traces such as a coat. But once that idea occurs, it can take possession of the mind. Reading about the auction bidders’ pursuit of these decades-old coats, I was reminded of Proust’s Overcoat: the story of a man who befriended the executors of Proust’s estate in hopes of acquiring not just his papers–things of potential literary value–but his things, object he had touched or worn or loved.


Words I frequently mistype and what they should mean

Please feel free to use the following words in a meaningful sentence.

Apologues (“AH-poe-logs”). Noun, plural. Apologies (especially fauxpologies) given for show, in the manner of a Shakespearean monologue.
Ex. Grantland’s apology, taken apart at Aoifeschatology.

Historican. Noun. A cross between a historian and a publican; one who purveys history as if ale.
Ex: Jaya Saxena, living my dream and serving up food history at First We Feast.

Correspondance. Noun. A typically lengthy Email thread where you and your ladyfriends go back and forth about how to maximize awesomeness on your next night out.
Ex. “Hey ladies!”

See also: Eggcorns


Originally posted on Peachleaves.

You guys, I learned a new phrase for weird language behavior: eggcorn! How did I never hear of this before? Particularly since they’re a useful tool for writers of crossword puzzles.

Now I know that saying chalk full and chock it up are not malapropisms but eggcorns. I like this better; now it’s a quirk, a side effect of speaking a language with zany inconsistent pronunciation rules, the flip side of the “book pronouncer” problem that is more common amongst my bookish peers. (If there’s an adorable, punny term for those of us who still aren’t really sure if it’s monastery or monastery, I don’t yet know it.)

When to use ellipses

To indicate an omitted word or phrase.  To indicate a meaningful silence.  [Colloq.]  To indicate that a sentence has trailed off, leaving a meaningful silence.

When not to use ellipses:  In place of a punctuation at the end of a complete sentence.

I keep getting Emails today in which requests or mere statements are punctuated with an ellipsis.  Like, “The author is wondering about galleys. . .”  “My department chair wanted to know. . . “  I can’t help reading them in a sarcastic tone, as though the writer is utterly wearied by my failure to anticipate the question (such as it is).

“An I-word Salad”

This post originally appeared on Peachleaves blog.

A friend sent me this link to an article about a psychologist’s study of pronoun use:  The Secret Language Code

In brief, the study notes the frequency with which speakers or writers use different pronouns (first person singular words like I, me, my vs. first person plural words like we, us, our) and different kinds of verbs (specifically, “cognitive” words like believe, think, or reason).  The frequency of first person singular pronouns and cognitive verbs was consistently linked to a number of social differences, many of which surprised the researchers.  For example, the lead researcher noted that in his correspondence with students, the students tended to use a lot more first-person pronouns, while his own replies to them were cool and detached with nary an I-statement in sight.  His Emails to his dean, though, were “an I-word salad.”  Women tend to use more first-person pronouns and cognitive verbs than men – a claim that painfully recalled numerous female undergraduate students of mine who could not be talked out of starting thesis statements with “I believe.”

The lede uses the term “secret” since we tend not to notice these surprisingly frequent and consistent gender and social differences; “code” is not quite the right word since we’re not consciously decoding the message, but nonetheless these speech patterns can be linked to meaning.  I appreciate that the researchers seem disinclined to frame their findings as hard-wiring in the brain; they do even point out that “men and women use language differently because they negotiate their worlds differently,” an equitable behavior-based claim.

But I do think it’s odd that the linked article presented the information that women use more first-person pronouns and cognitive verbs, and that individuals with lower social status in a given conversation use more first-person pronouns and cognitive verbs. . . but neither the researcher nor the writer went further to make an obvious claim about what that suggests about the status of women in this world we negotiate.