Monday, 22 May 2017


Time for another of my periodical looks at Harmless Drudgery‘s vital statistics.
In  Oct 2016 I wrote of the previous 2 years and 3 months:
It would be unrealistic, I think, to expect a similar near-doubling readership over the coming 9 quarters;  and, besides, it takes quite a bit of (writing) effort to maintain interest – which is at odds with the original purpose of the blog [which, longer-term visitors will know, was to support my other writing efforts].
In April 2015, in a PS to this) I had written of a record average of daily visits of 55. Well, 55 schmifty-five. The average for this month so far is about four times as much – over 200. The trend started about Christmas 2016, followed by another up-tick at Easter 2017, leading me to think that maybe my key demographic was teachers, who saved their recreational blog-reading for the school holidays, but page visits in May are already (after about two-thirds of the month) almost as high as the total for April (5,147).
HD stats, courtesy of Blogger
And while we're on the subject of numbers, I have long felt something that grates on my ear as "just American"...
(pace Susie Dent, whose Americanize!: Why the Americanisation of English Is a Good Thing on Radio 4 last Saturday neither was  particularly persuasive nor had to be; I don't need persuading. I prefer -ize myself where admissible – certainly NOT in the lamentable cases of *televize or *analyze, for example  And incidentally, I suppose the inconsistency of that programme's title [Americanize but Americanisation] was intentional)
...needed further attention – preferably on the basis of numbers. My source as usual is the British National Corpus (BNC) and its much bigger and more recently updated transatlantic cousin the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA). My first three searches seemed to confirm my prejudice:

sooner rather than later (just click and sit back while BNC does its thing) 65
sooner than later (just click and sit back while BNC does its thing)
sooner than later (just click and sit back while COCA does its thing) 105.

QED. Sooner than later could be assigned, along with I could care less (and incidentally I don't buy Steven Pinker's irony argument – but I don't have time to trace the reference, given the length of the grass) to the Expressions that don't make sense in American English pile.

But COCA is more than five times the size of BNC, so I might have expected a frequency for the preferred form of more than 5 times 65 – well over 300. So I looked again in COCA.
sooner rather than later (just click and sit back while COCA does its thing) 486
So what was demonstratum was not what was demonstrandum. Based on those corpus figures, sooner rather than later is more than 10 times as commonly used by British English speakers/writers than sooner than later. But among American English speakers/writers the predominance is similar; just more less pronounced – less than half the ratio of sooner rather than later to sooner than later. And perhaps the preference is on the wane – taken up by a smaller proportion of linguistic ground-breakers on this side of the Atlantic; the sort of comparative-historical corpus query that could prove that though is beyond me.

Enough. Biomass destruction is the hors-d'œuvre of the day, and the mower awaits.


PS – a clue to be going on with:
  • VIP? Mark; a nut, when crushed. (6,5)
Update: 2017.05.22.22:40 – Added PPS

PPS – Whoops; got the polarity of the comparison wrong, fixed in bold.

Update: 2017.05.26.14:10 – Added PPPS

PPPS – I said I'd write more about Americanisms. I find it hard to say anything new, because I've been fighting this prejudice for so long and in so many different forums.
(And there's another one – pluralizing of words with a clear Latin provenance. I'm with Fowler on this one, as I've said before. He wrote:
 ...that all words not English in appearance are in English writing ugly and not pretty, and that they [HD: Latin plurals] are justified only (1) if they afford much the shortest or clearest, if not the only way to the meaning ... or (2) if they have some special appropriateness of association or allusion in the sentence they stand in.
A consequence of the practice of using English endings is that you avoid solecisms such as syllabi; incidentally, for what it's worth – not a lot for writers of English – the Latin plural of syllabus is syllabūs [or a u with some such diacritic – we didn't need them for the exam, so like any self-respecting school-child I ignored them.)

A few years ago I wrote here:

...Less well-informed commentators go so far as to say - when asked the difference between authorise and authorize -
No difference at all ... only that americans spell it different cos they feel the need to be different . The correct spelling is with an -s-

Oh dear. In one such discussion I said
There's nothing unBritish about the spelling 'apologize'. It has been the house style of The Times for well over a hundred years, and is used by many large and influential publishers (Oxford University Press, for example). I'm tired of being accused of flirting with modernity and excessive American influence, just because I use a spelling that millions of British people use (so long as they haven't been got at by generations of school-teachers peddling misinformation).
That may have been true of The Times at the time of writing, but 'the times they are a-changin''. A few cases of '-ize' pass the scrutiny of the subs' eyes - especially when there is a strong etymological justification - as in the case of 'baptize' (where there is a zeta rather than a sigma in the original Greek); but fewer and fewer.
But to quote the Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors

The first line is crucial:

WHERE verbs can be spelled with either an -ize or -ise ending...

American and British English speakers simply disagree over that can: not, say we, in a case like televise; to give it a z would be to suggest that there was the noun or adjective telev - and if you televized something you made it either more like one (in the case of the noun) or just more televvy (in the case of the adjective).

The rest, as Professor Brian Cox might say, is science (sic).

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