Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ignorant Slobs!

Following up on my plurality post, Jon Stevens showed me this video done by Kory Stamper, an associate editor at Merriam-Webster. Based on the comments, it looks like it's gone a little bit viral.

What is so striking to me is the fictional dialogue she presents at the beginning.
So let's say you're swimming in the ocean, and you see some eight legged cephalopods. You say to your friend, "Hey! I saw a group of octopuses." And your friend says, "Hey! You're an ignorant slob! You saw a group of octopi."
I'm sure that Kory Stamper herself doesn't believe that a person's moral fiber is assayable from how they speak. Instead, I think she is simply, and accurately, representing the attitude of a great many people who some us have to deal with quite regularly.

And, I think that the trigger of the "ignorant slob" judgment here is very telling. We're not talking about a non-standard dialect which may, for instance, employ negative concord (a.k.a. double negatives), or feature different verb agreement patterns. Those people are too far gone to even begin engaging with. We're not even talking about misguided prescriptive proclamations, like "don't end a sentence with a preposition," or "don't use the passive voice." That's high school English class material, unworthy of debate.

No, we are talking about the plural form of octopus.
You are unworthy.
Only performance on a task as esoteric and irrelevant to every day life as forming the plural of octopus is adequate to separate the elect from the damned. Woe unto you who accepts the heresy of octopi. You must accept the Truth of octopodes into your heart if you don't want to sound like a fucking idiot.

On a related note, no matter what their origins were, I suspect prescriptive proclamations like "don't end a sentence in a preposition" and "don't use the passive voice" only continue to be considered virtuous because they are nearly impossible to adhere to. (Hey! A twofer!)

1 comment:

  1. I know these rules as "a preposition is not a good word to end a sentence with" and "passive constructions should be avoided at all cost".


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