Soon to appear

You can pre-order now!

Congratulations, Joan, Morana, Robin! Looking forward to reading it.

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Even Breaking Bad

We finally decided to watch this series, the best series ever, according to some people we know. Netflix of course. It happened after we finished watching all of Better Call Saul, its prequel, which got a very favourable review in our paper after it had just come out. And of course I couldn’t help noticing a metalinguistic comment in Breaking Bad, the only one so far (down to the end of series 4). There were none in Bettter Call Saul. Or none that I noticed anyway.

It happened when Walt, “Mr White” according to his former science-student-turned-assistant-in-serious-meth-production Jesse Pinkman, corrects his brother-in-law Hank Schrader saying learned (learnt in Amerucan English) when it should be learnéd. This is a well-known shibboleth: as Partridge writes, “the participial adjective learned is pronounced with two syllables” (The Concise Usage and Abusage, 1954, p. 101). There is an entry on learnt/learned in Garner’s Modern American Usage as well ( apologoes to Bryan Garner for citing only the 3rd edition, when this year the 5th has already come out).

So Walt in effect puts down his brother-in-law for being uneducated. Hank is a DEA officer (Drug Enforcement Agency), and gets closer to Walt’s illicit activities with every episode. One more series to go!

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Online multilingual handbook of language criticism

Focusing on German, English, French, Italian and Croatian, this multingual handbook looks extremely interesting for our field. Articles are published both in German and in the language of the field it deals with, so they should cater for interested scholars worldwide. More information here.

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Ian McEwan’s metalinguistic comments

During the final month of 2022 I read two of Ian McEwan’s novels, an earlier one, Saturday (2005), and his most recent Lessons (2022). Ever since reading his short story “Mother tongue” (2001) I’ve been keeping track of his metalinguistic comments, as I have with other popular writers, such as John le Carré. Unfortunately, there were none in Saturday, but I did spot two in Lessons, both on the apostrophe:

  • Upstairs at this desk he saw the email. ‘Dropped off at Sams. Back late tonight. x L.’ Lawrence knew that his father rarely read text messages. Roland [the main character] tried not to mind about the absent apostrophe (p. 314)
  • … framed jokey signs … that a local pub must have donated. You don’t have to be mad to work here but it help’s. Roland’s gaze was fixed on the apostrophe, surprised that it moved him. They were all doing their best to get by with what they had (pp. 375-6)

Both of them are social comments: the first is about his son Lawrence (like most of his generation) not caring about punctuation, but it may also be about language standards dropping in the social media. And the second reads like another example of the greengrocer’s apostrophe.

Lessons is a great and very moving book, with some autobiographical elements in it. Having read “Mother tongue” explained quite a bit for me about the main character’s social background.

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Comparative prescriptivism

When I gave a workshop on usage guides and old usage problems for TeamWork earlier this year, Marcel Lemmens, one of the organisers, presented me with a copy of his recently published writing manual called Als je BGRPT wat ik BDL (“If you NDRSTND what I MN”). I have just finished reading all 101 rules in the boek, and thought what a great idea it would be to follow up Robert Ilson’s suggestion for a project of cross-cultural prescriptivism. Because there are quite a few items in Lemmens’s writing guide that are very similar to those for English. As well as ones that are very different.

So is there anyone who is knowledgeable enough in both English and Dutch as well as interested in comparative prescriptivism to take such a project on? I’d be happy to be involved.

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Back online

Harry Ritchie’s website with his two freely available usage guides is once again up and rolling. You’ll find it – and them – here. Do let us know what you think of it.

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“The language is evolving …”

I know that, but I’d still like to know what YOU think about this sentence, which I heard this summer while camping in England: “We are currently having to deal with a large volume of calls and are unable to answer you now”. It may be (un)acceptable in different contexts, so please fill in this mini-survey (one sentence only) and let me know.

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Great news from the publisher

Routledge has just let me know that Describing Prescriptivism: Usage Guides and Usage Problems in British and American English has come out in paperback. Much cheaper than the hardback!

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The Oxford comma in the news

Are you for or against the Oxford comma? No choice when publishing with OUP of course, as even Thérèse Coffey would discover. And I doubt if people would be against adding a comma where a lack of one would lead to funny sentences, as in the examples fom this piece in The Guardian last week. Personally, I would rather not use it when there is no need for it. How about you?

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Verbal hygiene at Mr Kipling’s

I love Mr Kipling’s little Bramley apple pies, advertised as “exceedingly good cakes”. So far so grammatically good, and good they are. But when buying them this summer during our holidays in England, we also spotted Mr Kipling’s exceedingly good “cherry Bakewells”, which I’d never tried before. But I had heard about them when interviewing a British colleague for my book Languages of The Hague (2019). One of the things she missed most about living in The Netherlands, she told me at the time, were Bakewell tarts. Tarts! What happened to the word? Scrapped because of its negative connotations? Verbal hygiene at work at Mr Kipling’s?

Want to read my book for the 30 other interviews with native speakers of multilingual The Hague? You can order it directly from its publisher, De Nieuwe Haagsche. It is of course “exceedingly good” as well.

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