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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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. 

  • Thats all Folks: The Apostrophe Protection Society Gone for Good

    With all that’s going on in the UK—an election, Brexit, terror on London Bridge, another Donald Trump visit—it was surprising to see the British media so eager to report the death of the Apostrophe Protection Society. The Times, the Standard, the Independent, the Daily Mail, BBC radio and TV, and RTE all ran stories about it, as did the Guardian (two articles on two consecutive days), together with outlets as far flung as Australia and New Zealand, not to mention the Washington Post and the New York Post. 

    What happened was that the society’s 96-year-old founder announced that the ignorant had won, and he, the nation’s self-appointed pedant-in-chief, no longer had the energy to campaign against the rude, apostrophic errors of the ignorant. So he called it quit’s.

  • 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....

  • A mummy announces their pronouns

    Teachers' pronouns

    I’m a teacher; my pronoun is _______.

    If you answered, My pronoun is they, you’ve done nothing wrong. Yes, teachers are expected to model good grammar as well as teach it—sometimes the job depends on it—but no matter what you’ve been told before, singular they is grammatically correct, and the American Psychological Society’s influential Publication Manual (7e) is the latest authority to agree. The APA manual stresses correct grammar in writing, and it approves the use of they, them, their, themselves, and even themself, when an individual’s pronouns are unknown or irrelevant.

    Teachers have a reputation for stressing grammatical correctness, but the last time the National Education Association had a style manual, back in 1974, it didn’t even consider singular they as an option. At the time, Mildred Fenner, editor of Today’s Education, reported that for many years the NEA journal used generic she for teachers because most teachers were women. But in the 1960s men began to complain that expressions like the teacher . . . she were responsible for teachers’ poor public image and their low salaries. One man objected at an NEA meeting that generic she was both bad English and a bad look for the profession. . . .

  • Jacob Rees-Mogg and his style guide

    Forget Rees-Mogg, Fowler, and Strunk & White, the arbiter of English today is Autocorrect

    Jacob Rees-Mogg, the foppish MP newly-appointed Leader of Britain’s House of Commons and sometimes called the Honourable Member for the Eighteenth Century, has issued a no-nonsense style guide for all writing done by his staff. Like any set of language do’s and don’ts, Rees-Mogg’s guide to utterly correct if somewhat outdated English, prepared some years ago for use in his Somerset constituency office and now to be used in the leader’s new office, includes rules to be followed and words to be banned.

    But all style guides are doomed to fail--except maybe Autocorrect, whose decisions prove difficult to reverse.