[DWJ] timetravel/and other things

deborah.dwj at suberic.net deborah.dwj at suberic.net
Tue Jun 24 09:55:04 EDT 2008

*nervously watching religious debate -- for that's what this is
-- for signs of big bad boom and is thrilled not to be seeing

I had a conversation with my boss recently in which I said
"Language is living, except for the grammatical forms I care
about keeping static."

In other words, people who insist you can't start a sentence with
"however" are ridiculous and pedantic. But people who insist that
you can use "lay" and "lie" interchangeably are evil demons
corrupting the beauty of the English language. Everybody has a
set of hypocrisies about language, and I've just shown you one of

On Tue, 24 Jun 2008, Minnow wrote:
> There are however circumstances in which the correction of an error of this
> sort is not simple bad manners, but the correction of somebody having
> written something that is the opposite of what s/he meant, or that is
> confusing to the point at which his/her argument is distorted.

Exactly. In theory, if everyone abides by similar modes of how to
speak, we will be a little bit better at precise communication.
Yes, language does fairly well at figuring these things out
organically, but the fact is there are a whole lot of dialects
out there of any given language. If I go to my boss and say IS IT
CAN IT BE RAIZ TIEM NAO? she is, at best, going to say KTHXBAI.
More likely she will say "huh?" Formal English is the arranged
rules for shared communication outside of small linguistic
groups. It's not better, it's not more valid -- except in the
context where you are trying to have shared communication outside
of small linguistic groups.

ObDWJ: Actually, this is my entire master's thesis: Diana Wynne
Jones and language as power. All of Witch Week is about saying
EXACTLY what you mean -- precise language. And Howl's: Sophie's
"go away very fast" gave the scarecrow the speed it needed to
come meet them at the other door. Tanaqui telling the story of
the world as she wants it to be. Jamie finding the loophole in
the rules made by Them based on a very precise and detailed
analysis of their language.

Additionally, it is a useful set of rules for showing that, well,
you know the set of rules. There is nothing objectively more
valuable or professional about a suit and tie and a T-shirt and
hula skirt, but if you are interviewing for a job at a bank,
wearing the former shows that you know how to obey the arbitrary
set of rules -- and, by extension, the other arbitrary sets of
rules about professional behavior: showing up on time, not
cursing at customers, &c.. It's shorthand.

> Is it acceptable to judge the worth of a mathematician *as a mathematician*
> by whether s/he habitually misuses the 'punctuation' of maths by carelessly
> applying the wrong punctuation in reasoning, as it might be the brackets
> that have an accepted 'coded meaning' in any equation, or the + and -
> signs?  Is it acceptable to judge the worth of a carpenter *as a carpenter*
> by whether s/he uses a chisel for inserting a screw or tries to shape wood
> using a screwdriver?  A diver *as a diver* by whether s/he breathes in
> through his/her nose and out through his/her mouth rather than vice versa?

Oh, exactly!

> In the same way I wouldn't care if someone put up a shelf in his own house
> using nails into plaster and rawlplugs into wood

In fact, I find that the misspelled shop signs make me react
exactly the same way I see anything done clumsily which I know
how to do well. When I see a friend cooking by putting dry pasta
into cold water and turning on the heat, when I see a friend
leaving potted plants in too-small pots, when I see my father
using Internet Explorer as his browser -- none of these things
hurts me, but they still make me cringe a little bit. Just as I'm
sure it makes my fashion conscious friends cringe when I wear
black shoes with a brown skirt, or my friends with perfect pitch
cringe when I sing.

(Although when my father uses Internet Explorer as his browser I
suppose it does hurt me, because it means eventually I'm going to
have to be the one to clean all the spyware off.)

It's human nature, and it's fairly harmless.

This is St. Gulik. He is the Messenger of the Goddess. A different age from
ours called him Hermes. Many people called him by many names. He is a

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