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Dennis Baron's go-to site for language and technology in the news
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  • Grammar-shaming Trump

    Donald Trump is torturing the English language. Says New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, the president “is as inept at English as he is at governing,” adding, “He’s oxymoronic: a nativist who can’t really speak his native tongue.” What got Bruni riled up was not just the nonstop alt-right ravings, but also Trump’s constant misspellings, his oddball capitalization and bizarre punctuation, and his word-manglings like hamberder and covfefe. 

    Berating someone for making language mistakes is called "grammar shaming." Grammar shaming ordinary people doesn’t work: their English still won't meet your expectations and they'll resent your superior attitude. And there’s no point grammar shaming Trump because he’s incapable of feeling shame....

  • The Song of Singular they

    When the singer Sam Smith announced on Instagram that their pronouns were they, them—which got more than half a million likes in less than a day—the Oscar and Grammy winner acknowledged “there will be many mistakes and mis gendering but all I ask is you please please try.”

    Smith was correct that there would be some misgendering. In reporting the story, CNN, the BBC, and the Guardian all referred to Smith as “they,” but over the course of a 5-sentence story the Associated Press called Smith “he” and “his” seven times.

     

  • Can a Swedish pronoun cure sexism?

    Can a coined gender-neutral pronoun reduce sexism? A recent study by Margit Tavits and Efrén O. Pérez published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is optimistic that it can. According to Tavits and Pérez, now that the new, ungendered Swedish pronoun hen is official, Swedes will be more open to women in public life and more likely to support the rights of LGBT people. Only hen is not really official in any meaningful sense, and Sweden was already socially progressive decades before hen gained prominence.

  • Commas don't kill people

    According to one legend, the Irish nationalist Sir Roger Casement, convicted of treason for supporting the Irish rebellion, was “hanged on a comma.” But that's wrong, the comma didn't kill him.

  • Nonbinary pronouns are older than you think

    October 17 is International #PronounsDay. We have grammar day, mother language day, dictionary day, punctuation day! apostrophe day’, talk like Shakespeare day, even talk-like-a-pirate day. But this is the first time ever that a part of speech gets its own day. And not just a part of speech, but a part of a part of speech. Oct. 17 is not a day to celebrate all pronouns. We don’t celebrate the interrogatives, demonstratives, and relatives, worthy as they may be. We don’t even celebrate all the personal pronouns. Instead, October 17 is set aside for just the third-person singular gender-neutral and nonbinary personal pronouns.

    It’s the day for ze, hir, E, per, xi, ip, thon, heesh, co, um, le, and singular they. These may seem new, but they’re older than you think.