Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

December Links

Posted by Neal on December 16, 2009

My Aunt Jane has sometimes complained about people saying “No problem” instead of “You’re welcome.” She’s far from alone, but I never really understood what the big deal was. In high school French, they teach you to say de rien, and de nada in high school Spanish, and both of those mean approximately, “It was nothing,” so why is it so bad for English to come up with a similar option? Erin McKean takes up the issue in this installment of “The Word” in The Boston Globe. I’ve pointed to other columns McKean has written for the Globe when Jan Freeman was away, but now she’s got a regular byline over there (as you’ll note in the blogroll). This is great, because now instead of poking around searching for her name there, you can pull up the archives of all the columns she’s written in this space.

Nancy Friedman gets my “You’re so literal” award for the week, with this post on some ad syntax that (we’re sorry) just can’t mean what the copywriters want it to.

From another Nancy who blogs about names, how to find a boy’s name that won’t become a girl’s name in years to come, on Nancy’s Baby Names.

Associated Press is on Twitter, with the handle APStylebook. I’ve never read any of their tweets. I have, however, been following FakeAPStylebook, which puts out several bogus grammar or style tips every day; for example, “The passive voice should be avoided by you,” and “The word ‘totally’ is redundant except when describing how rad something is.”

Now for a couple of items spotlighted by members of the American Dialect Society listserv. First there’s the father who spoke nothing but Klingon to his son for three years until I read this. Then there’s this interactive map showing the popularity of recipe search terms by region. As James Harbeck noted, there’s “a fairly rough hint of an isogloss or two.” This came out near Thanksgiving, so you can find out where stuffing is more prevalent than dressing, and vice versa, along with a lot of other Thanksgiving recipes that apparently are regional favorites.

And last for this batch of links, an AP article on preserving indigenous languages in South America. (Thanks to Karikuy on Twitter on the #linguistics tag for this one.)

7 Responses to “December Links”

  1. That’s funny. I just had a conversation with my dad at dinner over the use of “no problem” for “thank you”. (Our waitress had used it, and I was defending her usage.) He was a supervisor where he worked and apparently he’d built up quite a reputation over the years of calling out some of the younger people for saying “no problem”.

  2. bearing said

    Loved the interactive recipe map! I found myself trying to concoct theories as to why huge regional variances showed up.

    I think you would have to be careful about the interpretation, though.

    A search term might be very frequent in some area because lots of people eat that thing at Thanksgiving.
    On the other hand, a search term might be infrequent because everybody knows how to make that thing, or at least has a recipe that they don’t need to search for.
    Or possibly, in one region it might be accepted practice to buy a packaged version of the item rather than making it from scratch.
    And then there’s the possibility that there’s a common regional term for the item that didn’t show up in the search frequency survey.

    Check out “pie crust” in the American South. You can’t tell me that Southerners don’t eat pies at Thanksgiving. So do they all know how to make pie crust already, or do they buy Pillsbury refrigerated rolled pie crust, or do they really say “pie dough?”

  3. The Ridger said

    I think it’s very … significant … that no name can be used for a boy if it’s a girl’s name, but tons of people have no trouble going the other way. Americans have pretty much lost Robin and even Hilary, for instance. And it only takes on famous woman to change the name: Look at Florence, singlehandedly jacked by Florence Nightingale (though Miss Michael Learned didn’t shift that one an iota).

    But more interesting is why a name can’t be unisex? Why are people so afraid of their boy having the wrong kind of name? Why is a name “doomed”? Why can’t it stay a boy’s name once it’s popular for girls? Do names have that much power?

    Fascinating stuff.

  4. Nancy said

    I think that if someone bothers to say “thank you”–the full “thank you,” not just “thanks”–then that person ought to be rewarded with a proper “you’re welcome.” Otherwise, I’ve got no problem with “no problem.”

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