Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

November Links

Posted by Neal on November 17, 2009

Joel Stickley’s blog How to Write Badly Well. Each entry is in the form of a paragraph or verse illustrating that kind of bad writing. As you laugh over entries like “Change sentence structure for the benefit of your rhyme scheme” and “Describe every character in minute detail, taking no account of narrative pacing”, you can also think about how this blog’s title shows once more that adverbs don’t just modify individual words; they can modify phrases. If they could only modify words, then write badly well would just be nonsense, but when you take well to modify the phrase write badly, the resulting semantics perfectly matches what Stickley does in this blog. (Hat tip to Laurie Abkemeier.)

Ben H. Winters, the author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies writes at Visual Thesaurus about how he learned the plural of octopus was not what he thought it was. My favorite line: “I could not have been more surprised if my inbox had contained an actual octopus.”

Hey, I know that linguist! An article at tells about how fellow Ohio State alum Amanda Miller figured out a better way to measure and describe the phonetics of clicks. Hey, did you notice how I cleverly used alum? I couldn’t call her a fellow alumnus, or a fellow alumna, and certainly not a fellow alumni or alumnae, but the clipped form alum is vague enough to cover us both. And I know nobody will think I’m talking about KAl(SO4)2.12H2O, since I used an indefinite article before the word. (Hat tip to Adrian Morgan, the Flesh-Eating Dragon at The Outer Hoard.)

And now, the funniest introduction to Indo-European and Proto-Germanic sound changes you’re ever likely to watch, in three parts. (Hat tip to Mr. Verb, via Bradshaw of the Future.)

5 Responses to “November Links”

  1. Ran said

    Is it true that you couldn’t call Dr. Miller a “fellow Ohio State alumna”? I feel like “fellow” allows some flexibility about such things.

    And I know how much the OSU likes to pepper itself with “the”-s, but still, I feel like the mere lack of a “the” is still not considered use of an indefinite article. For that, you’d have to actually go arthrous, and switch from premodification to apposition: “[…] a fellow Ohio State alum, Amanda Miller, […]”

  2. Yeah, the clicks article is interesting, but also disappointing for those of us who want the juicy linguistic details. I linked to it in part because of the hope that knowing that this classification of clicks exists will make me more alert to information about exactly how it works. Maybe one of the language blogs I read will tell me someday.

    I’ve never liked the word alumn-, whatever the suffix. I’m not going to try to be rational about it; I just think it’s ugly.

    As a minor courtesy, you might mention that the Ben Winters article is available only to Visual Thesaurus subscribers.

    • Neal said

      There are some downloadable papers on Amanda’s web page:

      Sorry about the VT paywall. Someone gave me a gift subscription to it, and since then I’ve never known if I’ve been viewing something available to everyone or just to subscribers. I suppose there’s a “remember me” setting somewhere I could set, but I haven’t made it a priority to do so.

  3. […] but I’d love to know exactly what patterns have been found. [Update: Thanks to Neal of Literal Minded for letting me know that there's more information […]

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