I’ve been meaning to set up some sort of occasional round-up of interesting pieces on the rest of the Internet, and with the new year, there’s no better time to start. I’ll be posting these (hopefully consistently) every other Friday, starting today. This edition is going to go a bit outside the past 14 days; I hope this doesn’t sour you to it.
A couple links with commentary:
* Jonathon Owen’s post on relative pronouns and the silly proscriptions they engender is really darn good, and having been posted on Christmas Eve, it would have made a great present, if only I’d seen it then. This part I’m quoting isn’t even my favorite part, that’s how good it is:
If you think the system doesn’t make sense, the solution isn’t to try to hammer it into something that does make sense; the solution is to figure out what kind of sense it makes.
* This isn’t exactly language-related, but here’s a post from Christopher Simmons on the University of California’s scrapped new logo & brand identity. The core point of the article is the debate about to what extent knowledge of the underlying purpose or process is necessary in order to fairly critique the outcome. In the case of the logo, was it fair to hate it without knowing exactly how it was used, how the designers presented it, and what the University asked the designers for?
I see a parallel here with language; we often wonder when it’s fair to critique someone’s usage, and to what extent one must know their background or dialect. I disagree with many of Simmons’s points; logo design is more about the impression it makes than the intent behind it, so it seems to me that a reaction like “I don’t like it” must be taken into account — just as I must occasionally swallow my pride and write “needs to be done” instead of “needs done” in formal writing, even though I can fully justify the usage. But I like his thoughts on valid and invalid, helpful and unhelpful, and justified and unjustified complaints. (Full disclosure: I thought that the new logo & identity were a poor choice, especially compared to the semi-traditional identity that they were intended to replace.)
* Also a bit afield from the usual here, but John McIntyre wrote yesterday that (journalistic) editors are supposed to provide skepticism at least as much as they provide story improvements. I was a little embarrassed, having finished the piece, that I’d never thought of such seemingly obvious points — the true sign of a good and well-needed discussion. We too readily bemoan the loss of editing in contemporary publishing when we see errors that don’t matter (like a headline I’ve seen for three straight days on a website, confusing “effect” for “affect”), but we miss out on the really crucial losses — the fact-checking and oversight of the information we receive.
A couple without:
* Geoff Nunberg on big data misinterpreted as a plural.
* Ben Zimmer recounts the ADS word-of-the-year voting.
A picture to close it out: