04 May 2015

Snippets from Pinker on style, Ch6, part II: Common issues

p200: What follows is a judicious guide to a hundred of the most common issues of grammar, diction (word choice), and punctuation.

p201: ... flat adverbs are identical to their related adjectives ...
p206: When enough careful writers and speakers fail to do something that a theory of syntax says they should, it could mean that it's the theory that's wrong, not the writers.
p208: ... the traditional distinction between can ... and may (permissibility) is tenuous at best.
p210: ... some dangling modifiers should be avoided, but they are not grammatical errors.
p211: ... in formal styles it's not a bad idea to keep an eye open for them (dangling modifiers) and to correct the obtrusive ones.
p215: In English, a past-tense form ... can also be used with a second meaning, factual remoteness.
p221: The problem with stranding a preposition is that it can end the sentence with a word that is too lightweight ...
p222: The rule (concerning the predicative nominative) is a product of the usual three confusions: English with Latin, informal style with incorrect grammar, and syntax with semantics.
p231: subjunctive mood and irrealis were.
p235: that and which.
p236: The spurious rule against restrictive which sprang from a daydream by Henry Fowler in Modern English Usage in 1926.
p239: ... such neologisms make it easier to think
p241: ... whom has long been perceived as formal verging on pompous.
p243: ... a fewunmistakeable informal sentences in which whom is so natural as to be unnoticeable.
p244: absolute and graded qualities (very unique).
p253: As many linguists have pointed out, the purists have botched the less-fewer distinction.
p255: Many purists claim that singular they is a LOLcat-worthy grammatical howler ...
p257: English has no gender-neutral pronoun.
... there is a bug in the English language.
p258: Today, it is sexist usage that stops readers in their tracks and distracts them from the author's message.
p259: ... they functioning as a bound variable ...
p260: So singular they has history and logic behind it.
... singular they is less acceptable in formal writing then in informal writing.
p261: ... a more grammatical-than-thou reader may falsely accuse you of making an error.
p263: Though less nonsense is disseminated about word meanings than about grammar, the nonsense factor is far from zero.
p283: But the most twisted family of look-alike and mean-alike words in the English lexicon is the one with lie and lay.

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Full circle

After completing a BSc in physics and maths in Australia and extended travels in Africa I found a job in Paris that left me with considerab...