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  • Word's diversity checker

    Microsoft Word's Wokeness checker is asleep on the job

    Microsoft has added a diversity checker to its Office 365 spelling and grammar tool. If you check the appropriate boxes in its drop-down menu, Word will scan your writing for age and cultural bias, ethnic slurs, gender bias, gender-neutral pronouns, gender-specific language, racial bias, sexual orientation bias, and socioeconomic bias. The goal is to replace the sensitivity readers that some publishers use to vet manuscripts for conscious or unconscious bias and anything else that might offend an audience. tl;dr: machine edits can't replace humans.

  • Definition of iel in Le Petit Robert online

    Don’t blame the new French pronoun on Americans

    The French are blaming American “wokisme” for their new nonbinary pronoun, iel, recently recognized by the authoritative dictionary, Le Petit Robert, in its online edition. The French frequently blame Americans for polluting their vocabulary. Although it’s true that interest in both gendered and genderless pronouns has increased in the US as part of the larger discussion of LGBT rights, the first genderless pronoun was actually coined by a Frenchman some 250 years ago.

  • Corpus linguistics, public meaning, and the Second Amendment

    Conservative jurists claim to focus on the text and nothing but the text as they seek to discover the original public meaning of the Second Amendment. But it’s not clear that the amendment ever had a single shared meaning, or if it did, whether that meaning is recoverable. That’s true of any text, not just legal ones. The best we can hope for when investigating an older text is to examine how it was discussed around the time it was written and to use historical sources to glean the meaning of any difficult or ambiguous words or phrases. And even so, there’s no guarantee that a reasonable reader in 1791 would interpret the Second Amendment the same way as their equally-reasonable neighbor. When the Supreme Court said in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) that it had determined the original public meaning of the Second Amendment, its reading, like any linguistic interpretation, involved both an examination of the text and a certain amount of guesswork. . . .

    Corpus linguistics, which some hail as better than dictionaries for legal interpretation, allows us to access and analyze large swaths of digitized text. Take this example  . . .

  • The right's new slogan: My free speech, not yours

    Conservatives are attacking what they call “cancel culture” for violating their First Amendment right to free speech, so much so that the theme for the ultra-conservative CPAC conference in Orlando last February was “America Uncanceled.” 

    Everywhere you turn, conservatives are wrapping themselves in the Constitution as readily as they wrap themselves in the flag, but they do so selectively and hypocritically. My right to pray, not yours. My right to bear arms, not yours. My right to vote, not yours. And of course their culture war slogan, “My free speech, not yours.”

  • It’s National Grammar Day, so stop grammar shaming

    March 4th is National #GrammarDay, a day that’s a complete sentence. Except it’s not. March 4th, or March fourth, if you must, is a noun phrase. It’s only a sentence if you don’t take it literally and instead respell fourth as forth. March forth, get it? But many grammar sticklers want you to take words literally. That’s how you celebrate good grammar, by using words like literally to refer only to the letters of the alphabet, and insisting that words like irregardless don’t exist, even though irregardless is at least 100 years old.

    But I have a better idea: use National Grammar Day to stop grammar shaming.

  • Trump’s words on January 6 were a clear and present danger

    The defense in Donald Trump’s second impeachment rested in large part on the assertion that his fiery words to protestors on January 6 were protected by the First Amendment. Republican senators used free speech—along with other pretexts—to ignore Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors. But they were wrong. Trump’s incitement was not protected speech. His words posed an unambiguous, clear and present danger.

  • Ana Suda and Martha Hernandez were detained in Havre, Montana, by a Customs and Border Patrol agent for speaking Spanish

    Shopping while Spanish in Montana

    In 2018, Ana Suda and Martha Hernandez were detained in Havre, Montana, by a Customs and Border Protection agent for speaking Spanish while buying groceries at a gas station convenience store. Both are US citizens, fluent in English and Spanish. Both lived in Havre at the time and had valid Montana drivers licenses. Yet CBP agent Paul O’Neill singled them out because, “you guys are speaking Spanish, which is very unheard of up here.”

  • The First Amendment, from North Carolina's copy of the original Bill of Rights

    Will the Supreme Court soon be policing your speech?

    Last week Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito delivered a politically-charged speech to the conservative Federalist Society. He denounced same-sex marriage, bemoaned the loss of religious freedom in America, complained that the Covid-19 pandemic gave government unprecedented control over our lives, and lashed out at experts influencing public policy. Justice Alito also reminded his sympathetic audience of the dangers to the First Amendment posed by the “growing hostility to the expression of unfashionable views” on campus or in the office. His one example: “You can’t say that marriage is the union between one man and one woman.”

    In June, Alito dissented from a Court opinion upholding the rights of gay and transgender employees. In a section of his dissent headed “Freedom of Speech,” he attacked laws and regulations targeting language discrimination, citing what he considered two blatant First Amendment violations: a New York City’s human rights law that makes ignoring someone’s pronoun a punishable offense; and unspecified college regulations that require the use of singular they or coined gender pronouns like xe, zie, and hir. These rules encourage the use of inclusive language, but Alito implied he would welcome litigation asserting the First Amendment defense, “You can’t make me say your pronouns.”

  • Pronoun backlash

    According to the Pew Research Center, most Americans have heard something about gender-neutral and nonbinary pronouns, and one in five adults knows someone who uses such pronouns. As these pronouns gain currency, they’re also generating some backlash, especially on social media, where people feel free to say a lot of not nice things that may not always be carefully thought out.

  • House Joint Resolution 1, presenting what would become the 19th Amendment, passed June 4, 1919; ratified by the states Aug. 18, 1920; became law Aug. 26, 1920.

    There are no pronouns in the Nineteenth Amendment

    The Nineteenth Amendment reads, 

    The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

    It was ratified 100 years ago, on Aug. 18, 1920 – in time for more than eight million women to vote in the presidential election that year. 

    There are no pronouns in the Nineteenth Amendment. There are two reasons for this:

    1. The amendment, originally proposed in 1878, mirrors the language of the 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, which extended voting rights to African Americans, and which has no pronouns.
    2. Pronouns are ambiguous, especially gender pronouns, especially in the law.
  • Pronouns on TV: pop culture meets inclusive language

    You know that gender pronouns like hie and zie are a thing when they start showing up in TV dramas. If you haven’t noticed them, never fear, for I, your professor of pronouns, will now enlighten you.

    Let’s start with hen. It’s Swedish, not English, but be patient, because there’s an English tie-in at the end. 

  • Chicago Tribune headline, Mrs. Young invents pronoun . . . makes principals gasp

    Heer, hiser, himer: Pronouns in the news, 1912 edition

    On January 7, 1912, a headline in the Chicago Tribune breathlessly announced, “Mrs. Ella Young Invents Pronoun . . . Makes Principals Gasp.” Ella Flagg Young, Superintendent of Chicago’s public schools, told the Tribune she thought up what she called the “duo-personal” pronouns he’er, his’er, and him’er as she walked to a meeting with school principals. The story went viral. Then it unraveled.

  • Cover of What's Your Pronoun? Beyond he and she.

    The oldest genderless pronouns are lo and zo, for French, and e, es, em, for English

    In 1765, Joachim Faiguet de Villeneuve invented two genderless third-person pronouns, lo (singular) and zo (plural), for an artificial language that he called Langue nouvelle, or ‘new language.’ English didn’t catch up until 1841, when Francis Augustus Brewster coined e, es, and em.

  • Cover of What's Your Pronoun? Beyond he and she.

    A grammar lesson for Justice Alito

    By a vote of 6-3 in Bostock v. Clayton County, on June 15, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII.”

    But in a section in his dissent in the case headed “Freedom of Speech,” Justice Samuel Alito warns that the Bostock decision not only opens up bathrooms and locker rooms to sexual predators, it runs afoul of the First Amendment by forcing people to use gender pronouns against their will.  

    Justice Alito is wrong about pronouns, and so here’s a little grammar lesson for him. 

  • La Marianne, symbol of the French Revolution

    The French Academy wants you to remember, this virus is feminine

    With millions around the world getting sick and dying from a pandemic virus, the French Academy wants you to know that the virus is feminine: la covid 19, not le covid 19. Young and old, previously healthy or immuno-compromised, recently arrived from abroad or never been out of the hexagon, breaking quarantine or sheltering in place, it seems that the French have been treating the pandemic as masculine. But the rule makers at the French Academy want to put a stop to all that.