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I became aware of the Society Against Grammatical Boobery in the same way as I’ve learned about everything important over the last year: Twitter. I have good news for all of you for whom the Queen’s English Society has grown stale, and that’s that the SAGB follows in their footsteps of over-reactions to minor grammatical errors and a staunch belief that their personal opinions ought to shape your English, but adds the word boob over and over again to keep it fresh.

[SAGB Logo]

But dang, they do have a good logo.

By way of introduction, I’ll offer up a few of the complaints from their “Booberies” section, along with my thoughts on them. Let’s start with their condemnation of “inappropriate” commas in this caption on a New York Times article:

“Tyler, the Creator, of Odd Future, at the Coachella music festival in Indio, Calif., last month. His new album, “Goblin,” will be released this coming Tuesday.”

Not one of those commas is incorrect. Tyler, the Creator is the stage name of Tyler Okonma, and the name contains the comma. of Odd Future is a non-restrictive prepositional phrase, so it should be offset from the rest of the sentence by commas. Cities and states are separated by commas, and states are followed by commas in most newspaper styles I know. “Goblin” is another non-restrictive modifier, so that needs its surrounding commas as well. Sure, the caption might look nicer if it were reworked to require fewer commas, but as it stands, I wouldn’t remove a single one.

Let’s move on to this complaint against a whole ‘nother:

“Some people speak a whole ‘nother language! ‘Whole’ is not an infix.”

An infix is an affix that is inserted into a word stem instead of being attached to the beginning (i.e., prefixes) or end (i.e., suffixes). An example is the Tagalog infix -um-, which is inserted after the initial consonant or consonant cluster. Thus the word sulat becomes sumulat.*

Formal English has no infixes, but colloquial Englishes do have some things that are either infixes or like infixes. A prime example of it comes in the Australian poem “Tumba Bloody Rumba”, which takes its name from the town of Tumbarumba. The full poem is available here as a video, or here as text, and in both cases the word bloody is inserted into words such as kangaroos, meself, and enough. American English has this as well, with such uses as the non-profane Ned Flanders’ diddly or the quite profane abso-fucking-lutely. Or, as one with any familiarity with homey American English would surely be aware, a whole nother.

Jose Flanders

"Buenos-ding-dong-diddly-días, señor."

Whole does not appear to be a productive infix like Tagalog’s -um-, by which I mean that whole doesn’t get infixed to words other than another. As such, it may be better described as an instance of tmesis, a literary device wherein one word is inserted into another, rather than a true infix. Nevertheless, the idiom a whole nother has existed for at least a century. It’s a casual usage, sure, but it’s not noteworthy, and certainly not cringeworthy.**

The rest of my objections can be lumped together under the heading of “treating their opinions in debatable matters as gospel truth”, much the same thing we all had a laugh at the Queen’s English Society for doing. They admonish Oprah Winfrey for not using the serial comma. They refuse to accept apostrophe-s for plurals of acronyms/initialisms/individual letters. And boy, do they ever have a thing against comma splices, even when used judiciously.

All in all, it’s a site that alternates between suggesting people are boobs for making minor errors and suggesting people are boobs for having made different choices than the SAGB did. Pretty much the same boring griping schtick as always, with the only distinguishing characteristic being their obsession with the word boob, an eccentricity that gets tiresome pretty quickly.

*: More on this infixation as an open issue in Optimality Theory is available in this article [PDF, $] if you want to go further down the phonological rabbit-hole.

**: Or, as the SAGB puts it, “booberific”.


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A lot of people make claims about what "good English" is. Much of what they say is flim-flam, and this blog aims to set the record straight. Its goal is to explain the motivations behind the real grammar of English and to debunk ill-founded claims about what is grammatical and what isn't. Somehow, this was enough to garner a favorable mention in the Wall Street Journal.

About Me

I'm Gabe Doyle, currently an assistant professor at San Diego State University, in the Department of Linguistics and Asian/Middle Eastern Languages, and a member of the Digital Humanities. Prior to that, I was a postdoctoral scholar in the Language and Cognition Lab at Stanford University. And before that, I got a doctorate in linguistics from UC San Diego and a bachelor's in math from Princeton.

My research and teaching connects language, the mind, and society (in fact, I teach a 500-level class with that title!). I use probabilistic models to understand how people learn, represent, and comprehend language. These models have helped us understand the ways that parents tailor their speech to their child's needs, why sports fans say more or less informative things while watching a game, and why people who disagree politically fight over the meaning of "we".

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