Thursday, February 09, 2006

Linguistic Musings

Here are a few things that I've posted in other places over the years. Kind of fun, and it helps keep this blog filling up!

1. What is an adverb?
Adverbs, like Adjectives, are words used to modify other words.
In the case of Adjectives, they modify only nouns.
All other words are modified by Adverbs.

Can you give an example?
You're bloody right I can.
That was an example, in case you didn't notice.
In that sentence, bloody is used as an adverb, while in other contexts it can be used as an adjective. One of the confusions among students of grammar is that the classification of a given word can differ, based upon its use.

I thought you'd never ask.
Think of that same word, "bloody," in another context:
That is one bloody wound.
There, "bloody" is used as an adjective, simply modifying the noun "wound."
If we were in England, we might hear someone say:
That is one bloody vicious rabbit.
Note that there is no comma between "bloody" and "vicious," indicating that they are not serial adjectives, both modifying the noun, "rabbit." Thus, "bloody" in this context is acting as an adverb, and actually modifies the adjective. "vicious."

I thought you'd see it my way. Just remember that there are many other, less family-friendly modifiers which could be used in just the same way!
Happy Modifying!

2. What are personal pronouns?
There are two uses beyond the simple substitution of he for Bruce or she for Sheila, for example.

And those are?
The singular indefinite pronoun and the singular pronoun of personification.

'He' is the singular indefinite pronoun in English ("if a person drinks too much, he will likely experience a hangover"). 'He' also happens to be the masculine personal pronoun.

'She' is the singular pronoun of personification in English ("if England fails to advance America's foreign-policy ambitions, she will suffer terrible consequences"). 'She' also happens to be the feminine personal pronoun.

Confusing the two exhibits not a warm-and-fuzzy concern for the inclusion of women so much as a writer's or speaker's ignorance. Using the feminine personal pronoun as an indefinite article is as moronic as using the masculine personal pronoun for personification. Thus the captain greets us: "Welcome to my ship. Isn't he splendid?"
I mean, give it up, people. It's not thoughtful; it's just illiterate.

btw - many thanks to Thomas C. Greene of the Register for his unusually grammatical (at least for the Register) analysis of this topic.

3. What new words might I want to use?

Here are several new coinages for your lexical pleasure, enjoy!

grandmonition (v. n.) - The urging of (especially) kin to overindulge somewhat, as in "Eat up," she grandmonished him, "you're nothing but skin and bones."

plebicide (v. n.) - This is the killing of one's "people" in order to assure electoral dominance. For example: The Baath party called for a plebicide on the eve on national elections.
[compare plebiscite - a direct vote of the entire electorate].

weblication (v. n.) - The "replication" of someone else's web materials in order to create one's own (not that this ever happens).

Super Bowl Ads

Well, it looks like I'm one of the few who enjoyed the Burger King commercial on the Super Bowl. Apparently it had one of the highest scores for reducing people's perception of the advertised brand's quality.
I thought is was clever, funny, fun, and well done. Their website lets you build your own Whopper just the way you like it, and it's plenty fun to watch those "condiments" leap onto one another on their way to finishing that Whopper.
Just thought I'd share.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


We netizens seem to be a bit schizophrenic on the topics of privacy and its relative, identity theft.
  • We get outraged at the idea that the government can see the aggregated searchings of us all through Google (although they're fighting the subpoena at this time), Yahoo!, MSN, et al.
  • We quake with fear before sending our credit card numbers or Social Security numbers across an encrypted connection to buy or confirm something.
  • We lie about our ages, incomes, pretty much everything except a valid email address when registering for access to various websites.
  • We post the most intimate details about our lives, loves, hates, bodies, friends, whatever; seemingly with no thought for the fact that anyone in the world might run across that stuff.
It's a bit frightening to realize just how easy it is to learn something that you'd just plain rather not know about people with whom you're acquainted.
I suppose this has some relationship to the general coarsening of our society. When "family hour" programs persist in showing us precocious kids explaining the ins and outs of sexual relationships to their peers and parents, it probably shouldn't be surprising that kids think that's normal. Frankly, there are plenty of things I'd never put out here in my blog, and I don't know that anyone ever really reads this stuff anyway. I just wish I didn't feel so square / old-fashioned / out of it for thinking this way.

As the saying goes, grr.