Monday, 16 June 2014

Hoist with his own PÉTARADE

My text today is The English language is state of in demise. (Does that really need a 'sic'? If so, look again.)
Let's take the charitable course, and assume that a rogue grammar checker has 'corrected' the 'in' to 'is', not understanding the conventions of newspaper headlines. It was then, in this charitable world, left with 'in state of demise'. But demise isn't a state; so the rogue grammar checker threw in another 'in', thinking (mistakenly) that this would  turn 'demise' into a state.

The less charitable explanation is that the 'writer' (I use the term loosely in the sense 'bozo with a keyboard and a thesaurus') used 'demise' as a fancy variant for 'decline' or 'degeneration', believing that 'in demise' was an acceptable collocation; it's not, even in American English (where my instincts are less than sure-footed [if you'll excuse the oddly mixed metaphor, which seems to cast instincts as some kind of mountain goat]). The Corpus of Contemporary American English notes a single instance of the phrase, used in just this sense, in a Rolling Stone article dated 1992. Rolling Stone is famously trend-setting; but in this case, after 22 years with the collocation not recurring, I think we can conclude that no trend has been set.

Anyway, you have to savour the irony. A language Nazi in St George, Utah (I note that only for information; far be it from me to deploy the 'argumentum ad provenantiem', tempting though that may be in some cases) writes an article arguing that the language is going to hell in a handcart, and a sub-editorial gremlin adorns his work with an illiterate headline.

But the gremlin has not finished yet.  In his fifth paragraph the writer throws in what seems to be a logical hand-grenade: 'I wax hyperbole'. What can this possibly mean? On first reading, I thought that perhaps in American English the verb wax could be followed by a noun (without that noun ending up with a showroom sheen). But this search (ignoring obvious exceptions like 'wax paper-lined') confirms the suspicion prompted by this search – that in phrases that have 'wax' followed by a noun, 'wax' doesn't mean 'grow'.

So what has happened? Even my fertile imagination is at a loss. But I'm not inclined to overtax my brain. The next sentence involves an example of that most odious of solecisms – the abuse of  'such that' in a device lamentably popular among science graduates...
(an observation sadly but unavoidably due to my 20 years in the IT business.
          <rant intensity="the heat of a million Suns">
The problem is that a typical science question might (quite rightly) take the form
'ABCD is a quadrilateral such that AB = CD = n metres.'
Fine. 'ABCD is a quadrilateral of such a kind that...'. If your meaning is adjectival, use 'such'. But our 'state of in demise' writer says:
I learned the English language and learned it well. I wax hyperbole. It is indelibly etched in my mind and heart, such that I will never forget. I have learned that proper terminology opens doors.
This 'such that' tries to mean 'in such a way that'. And there's a word for 'in such a way': SO . If your meaning is adverbial, use 'so that'.
.  So I'm afraid I lost it at that point, and didn't enjoy any further pearls of wisdom (or indeed purlers of inanity).

By contrast, the 'hell in a handcart' school can't have enjoyed this bit of news from the BBC: Texting 'can boost children's spelling and grammar'. Tee hee . I have more to say about this, but it'll have to wait for an update.


Update 2014.06.16.15:25 – Added this PS:
PS Re my subject line: a pétarade, in this usage, is  'a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing'. Originally it meant 'a flurry of farts'. What a marvellous language, to have a word like that.

Update 2018.06.08.10:40 – Added this note:
=An argument based on where the other guy came from; as far as I know, this special case of the argumentum ad hominem is my own invention.

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