Yagoda’s Language Madness

March Madness describes a very American phenomenon: the NCAA college basketball tournament. In this tournament college teams compete against each other and by winning move on to the next round. This process is often visualised in so-called brackets, which apparently has started a mocking trend. You might have asked yourself by now, why I am talking about sports on a language blog. Here is why.

Ben Yagoda

Ben Yagoda, a linguist from the US, transferred the concept of March Madness into linguistics. If you are puzzled by this, give me a chance to explain. On his blog he introduced daily polls including two pet peeves such as for example Wordiness and cliches in the first round of his Language Madness series. Yagoda’s aim was to determine the biggest “sin against language” – the wording should be taken with a pinch of salt of course. Intrigued by this idea, I started to do some research on his Language Madness and discovered his contribution to the book The Enlightened Bracketologist: The Final Four of Everything published in 2007. In this book he produced a bracket sheet for the “sins against language”. The results of the first round “matches”, which can be seen below, were the basis for this Language Madness polls.

First round results

In an article on The Chronicle of Higher Education, Yagoda comments on his 2007 results:

“Looking back over the winners, I’m OK with all of them, with one exception. Today, I would choose “commas or periods outside quotation marks” (otherwise known as “logical punctuation”), definitely to advance to the second round and possibly a lot farther. My students are wedded to this, and it drives me cuckoo.”

In the end, Yagoda left the choice to the readers of his blog. I recommend reading his entries and tracing back the debate. If you are somewhat impatient and want to go straight to the results, you can find the final bracket here. I’d be curious to see what the readers of this blog think about this results. Do you agree or disagree?

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About Carmen Ebner

Carmen Ebner is a PhD candidate investigating attitudes towards British English Usage at Leiden University, the Netherlands. Carmen is part of the project Bridging the Unbridgeable: linguists, prescriptivists and the general public, which is supervised by Prof Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade.
This entry was posted in polls and surveys, usage features and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Yagoda’s Language Madness

  1. Carmen Ebner says:

    Reblogged this on Proper English Usage and commented:

    What is the biggest “sin against language”? Ben Yagoda has the answer…

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