I understand every word, but not the comic itself.—sherlip
is apparently the only person who is aware of the context of this cartoon. Unfortunately, he was slightly coy in explaining it. And it's not clear that Randall is familiar with the particular discussions wisnij linked to; but he's certainly aware of the general topic of those links.
To wit, the words used in the sentence are among the most reported disliked English words. Unfortunately, Randall conflates two different types of disliked words and this is what is confusing people here, I think. One type of words—irregardless
, for example—are commonly disliked as "incorrect"
; usually by those with both a prescriptivist and a "peevish" bent. The second type of words are disliked on less intellectual and more visceral grounds—in short, they're often "icky"
. For example, women in particular seem to object to moist
. (We can imagine why many women might object to moist
; but it seems that pretty much all individuals have words that they just plain don't like at a gut level, often inexplicably so, even when they are otherwise considered entirely "correct" and are in widespread usage.)
Removing the forum link is justified if for no other reason that this comic was guaranteed to inspire an orgy of peeving along with an instance of the never-ending prescriptivism/descriptivism debate. I desperately want to avoid this train-wreck, but my own personal vice is that I peeve about prescriptivist peeves. Some statements such as:
The last major change in letters and spelling change was during the shift from Old English to Middle English; the last major pronunciation change was the slow creation of United States, Australian, and Indian English; the last grammar change was the Anglo-Saxon shift.
Those arguing that neologisms offer nuances, shades of meaning, and connotation not otherwise found in the English language should learn Ancient Greek. I've heard rumors that it allowed a speaker to be very specific about connotation.
...just to pick two out of numerous candidates in this thread. Prescriptivist peeves have a regrettable tendency to assert factual claims authoritatively which are false. Both these claims include some qualifiers that allow a bit of wiggle room but their intended assertions are clear and those intended assertions are false.
In the former example, "major" is the weasel word but the assertion is intended to give the less-knowledgeable reader the impression that English letterforms, orthography, and pronunciation have all not changed almost at all since the shift to Middle English. This is false. Anyone who's read books and manuſcripts (either the originals or faithful reproductions) from the 1500s to the 1800s knows that both orthography and ſpelling have changed, the latter a great deal. Indeed, anyone who knows about the hiſtory of the English language at all knows that there was eſſentially no ſuch thing as regularized ſpelling
until Noah Webſter's dictionary and his advocacy of ſpelling reforms in the early 1800s. Prior to this time, it was extremely common to find various different ſpellings of the ſame word within the ſame manuſcript
Pronunciation, of course, changes all the time and this is trivial to research on the web. However, the poster also seems to think that such changes occur primarily or exclusively during mass migrations. He/she also seems to think that the source location necessarily retains the "correct" pronunciation while it's in the destinations that the pronunciation changes. This is false. Indeed, for a good while the inverse was often thought (by some) to be true: that language changes more rapidly in its geographical core and less rapidly in its fringes. The proponents of both sides of this debate had ulterior motives for asserting it: they were attempts to rationalize notions that their native dialect was "more correct" than the other. Anyway, in truth, both things can and do happen and it's not really possible to strongly generalize about this. (It should be mentioned, however, that a great many supposedly non-standard regional American usages are actually "archaic" usages that were native and correct within the areas of ethnic origination within the British Isles at the time period of emigration to the US.)
All I will say about the claim in the latter quote—that "ancient" Greek was somehow more powerful in denoting explicitly what is merely ambiguous connotation in English—as someone who studied academically Homeric, Attic, and Koine Greek, I can confidently assert that this is false. And the underlying notion—that some languages are more powerfully and/or efficiently expressive—is also quite false; though a very, very common sort of apparent "wisdom" about comparative linguistics which doesn't withstand actual rigorous scrutiny.
A not-infrequent irony about the prescriptivist vs descriptivist debate is that many of us on the descriptivist side are temperamentally at least
as peevish and as much pedantic, arrogant jerks as are the prescriptivists. That is to say, what bothers me most about almost all presciptivists is that almost all of their claims and arguments are factually wrong and scientifically ignorant. They tend to wrongly assume that language is like a designed formal system, like math. They tend (or, at least, back in the days of widespread education in Greek and Latin) to misapply Latin grammatical rules to English. And, worst of all, they tend to externalize their own idiosyncratic usage likes and dislikes onto some poorly-rationalized absolutist notion of what English "really" is (or should be). And they rarely ever bother to research the claims they're inclined to make in order to ascertain if they are, in fact, true.
And this is because, ultimately, for peevish prescriptivists, this is really not an empirical argument or even, ultimately, an argument about authority. It's fundamentally an argument about taste
. And all such arguments about taste (including, notably, arguments like "Your Favorite Band Sucks"), while they usually involve various positions that seek credibility on empirical and authoritative grounds, are ultimately often acrimonious and unresolvable.
There's really no point in this thread being a re-hash of the presciptivism/descriptivism wars. What would be much, much more interesting is discussion and speculation about a) why some words more than others tend to elicit peeved reactions from people; and b) particularly why words like "moist" tend to elicit visceral reactions that aren't even intellectualized.
(*) Yeah, so I didn't feel like going to the trouble to find variant spellings of words in this paragpraph to make a similar point.