20 June 2006

why scientists should blog more

in today's science times there's an article that isn't so much a report as a hey-it's-cool-and-you-should-go for the language log, a "funny, wide-ranging blog that provides up-to-the-minute linguistic commentary written for a wider audience," according to the article. now, maybe that's just a hey-it's-cool-and-you-should-go to erstwhile science geeks like me, but before i'd even finished the article, i'd taken a look. and wouldn't you know it, for all their hipness and irreverence, these scientists are on top of their shit:

If you linked here from Michael Erard's article in today's Science Times ("Analyzing eggcorns and snowclones, and challenging Strunk and White", 6/20/2006), let me offer a quick guided tour.
the blog goes on to, literally, give us a tour, pointing out that we're on the "index" page, that to the right is a list of favorites and a blogroll (they even point out a few choice samples), and that the index provides the last two weeks' posts, "in reverse chronological order, showing enough of each one to let you decide whether you want to read the rest of it." i feel welcomed, and oriented.

then, in previous posts down the page, there's a rant against stupid people, an investigation of whether the usage of "my bad" can (or will) expand to options like "my good" and "his stupid," and a post entitled "fun: you've seen the adjective, now read the adverb!" (i'll have to poke around, see if they've found my long-sought-after adverb form of 'lovely.')

am i the only one (other than the times) who finds this awesome? (let's flash back to the train ride home from my dad's this weekend, which i took with his girlfriend's daughter, who's about my age. her reading material: instyle. mine: scientific american. and we wonder why i can't get a date?*)

the times article points out the difference between linguists and grammarians. more of a blood feud than a difference, really. seems "linguists champion scientific description of language while the grammar police want to save civilization from decline." sounds noble enough. but i know some linguists are anti-grammarian, advocating that correctness is decided by common usage & understanding - if everyone understands what you mean when you say "he gave the book to john and i," or if everyone thinks it's correct to say "who are you looking for," then it's correct. (i agree with this only in the case of saying "it is i," which makes you sound like a douchebag.) then there's a sentence that for some reason took me, like, four rereadings to understand: "Professors Liberman and Pullum [the guys who run the Language Log] put points on the linguists' side by coming down hard on rules that ignore linguistic facts." oh the irony of fuzzy grammar in this article! it's like what someone wrote me in an email yesterday: "You may both maybe may possibly are being too constricted?" except the times sentence uses words.

i've always been a bit of a grammarpolicenik myself. (and a word-making-upnik. and a russian.) i don't know if it's an enjoyment of the rules and logic, or just me never missing a chance to feel smart and right. hearing someone say "he gave the book to john and i" makes me cringe, but when i pause to work out the muddy grammar of some farcockta thing i'm saying - i like correct grammar, but that doesn't mean simple - to make sure the whoms and subordinate clauses are all in place, is it about putting a puzzle together correctly, or just showing off that i'm smart? i don't know, but reading eats, shoots & leaves was kind of like porn.

anyway, the folks over at the language log seem to be smart, and right, and if the times is right (which, as long as your writers aren't theatre reviewers, is usually the case) this should be a good site to keep reading, all you secret science geek linguist grammarpoliceniks out there. though when they try to invoke common usage to tell me that "i could care less" makes any fucking sense (you mean you couldn't care less!!!), there will be some words to be had.


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*i feel the need to acknowledge, in case my future daughters read this, that i'm kidding, and science is great, and more girls should do it, and if i were reading instyle rather than scientific american (which i bought because my roommates already subscribe to the new yorker and every fashion mag in the world) i wouldn't want to date me, and i wouldn't really want to be me, either. god, i can't even make a joke without feminist guilt.

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