Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Liberal prescriptivism

There's nothing I hate more than prescriptivist liberals. I mean, I can understand that sort BS coming from a conservative. It's logically consistent. But if the classic liberal ideals are things like a concern for the less fortunate and a celebration of diversity, why the hell would you go around harping on people's "bad grammar".

This tendency is currently reflected in the cottage industry of Bushisms. I decided to try and constructively engage some of these people over at Sadly, No! (read the comments). The results, like all internet discussions were meh. But I'm having some fun. My favorite was my first post where I tried hard to channel Chomsky's style.

And it’s really silly to go taking mastery of “proper English” as a sign of
intelligence and lack of such mastery as the lack of intelligence. The reasons
for this should be obvious to any thoughtful person and I don’t need to go into
them here. Anyone who is interested can check the relevant literature which is
easily accessible–a Google search for “prescriptive linguistics” is sufficient.

Ok, maybe I tried too hard.

Update: Maybe this is why they got their panties in a bunch over there at SN!.
Anyway, here's some nice comments I got:
Ed dear, you’re going to have to take your little straw friend and go home. “harping on proper English”….”obession with proper English.”

Ed, dear, there was only one post that even used the phrase “proper English.” That’s hardly an obsession, nor it is a harp.

Here’s what commenters said about Bush:
“he lies three times in one sentence”…. “mumbling”… “An inarticulate
rube’s attempt at making-shit-up under pressure”….”thoughtless and
inarticulate”…”Inaccurate, incoherent and indecipherable.”…” man who never met a
word he wouldn’t mangle”….”His poor grasp of our language almost caused a
diplomatic incident.”

So, you can rest easily, Ed., no one is castigating Bush for his improper use of the pluperfect tense.

Now tell your little straw man to run along, I think I hear Karl calling for him.
BTW — I think it’s sweet how you are so shyly, but gradually revealing yourself to be a right winger. It must mean we’ve earned your trust.


Just FYI in this video clip when our president mentioned the people who
attacked on 9-11 it was the only part of the video that beeped repeatedly
that he was lying by voice detector analysis.

Gee if he was lying what does that represent? Class? Oh…ED the PHD guy please stand up and tell the rest of the class what you think it means?
We are all listening.

Yeah, love the room for dissent.


Eric said...

Ah, you're wasting your time (unfortunately). The subtlety of your (completely correct) argument will be lost on everyone.

The way I've made my peace with it (sort of, anyway) is to assume that an argument about Bush's (or anyone's) use of language is really just a substitute for something else -- in Bush's case, an argument about his lack of presidentialness, gravitas, whathaveyou. (I think this came out pretty clearly in the back-and-forth between you and g over at SN!.)

Think of it as a kind of metonymy. Just like the kettle is boiling can be a substitute for the water is boiling but the stove is boiling cannot, Bush doesn't know how to talk can be a substitute for Bush doesn't know how to hold a press conference but Bush doesn't know how to ride a bike cannot. Nobody thinks about this much but everybody just gets it; they're not really being prescriptivists but just using the universal undercurrent of knowledge of prescriptivism to convey more interesting ideas.

OK, maybe not. But anyway.

Speaking of prescriptivism: I actually thought of you when this actually happened.

Gavin M. said...

Wow, I totally missed this yesterday...

[looking at thread]

liberal elite said...

I understand Eric. I was just looking to put an alternative perspective out there. I was confident I wasn't changing too many minds.

The most disturbing thing is that I am now a conservative troll.

boredoom said...

You might as well tell people not to laugh at puns. A lot of Bushisms aren't just ungrammatical, he gets lost in a wilderness of words and says things he doesn't mean.

"The point now is how do we work together to achieve important goals. And one such goal is a democracy in Germany."—Washington, D.C., May 5, 2006


Eric said...

The most disturbing thing is that I am now a conservative troll.

Yeah, well, from what I've seen, the commenters over at SN! are a bunch of fucking assholes. "Let's see, I'll just sit here on my ass, check out a youtube clip, and complain to a bunch of people who basically agree with me about how fucked we are -- and if anyone say anything even slightly different, I'll fuck 'em up." Puh-leez.

(Of course, that's what I'm doing right now. Ohmigod.)

parsnipgirl said...

Ed, that was amazing channeling of Chomsky. I love it. And I think it is awesome that they now think you're conservative. Or at least pretty funny.

Eric, I think you are right about the idea that arguments about Bush's language are really arguments in general that he's not worthy to be president.

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