Descriptive linguistics FTW!

Last night after a Board meeting, I was talking with friends and one expressed shock bordering on horror that I text using abbreviations and conventions created and commonly accepted within that linguistic space.

“I’m rather surprised to find out you’re an LOL and OMG and emoticon person.”

Well, I’m a linguistically adaptable person, actually. I don’t use those conventions outside texts and social media, in which characters are constrained and, generally, keyboarding is limited. I don’t say “LOL” in conversation, nor when using a keyboard. I do, though, use LOL where it is a standard part of the lexicon, because I’m speaking in a colloquial language and don’t feel the need, surrounded by LOLers, to destroy my reputation and thumbs with “oh, wow, that is truly funny.”¬† Recall David Foster Wallace’s review of Bryan Gardner’s Modern American Usage (which review appears in the nonfiction essay collection Consider the Lobster, and which review reiterated the annoying grammatical tic in which Wallace uses “which” in ways that make me itch ), in which Wallace explains that, when talking with Midwestern friends he uses expressions like “where you at?” because conditional, situational lexical conformity performs significant social functions including masking an erudite prescriptivist snobbery amongst those who disdain such ridiculousness. You know the type…for instance, the raised eyebrow of disdain arched toward a friend who fully embraces emoticons in text messages.

My friend last night seemed to believe that my using LOL and winky emoticons made me shockingly deviant in my linguistic standards. But am I actually failing the language because I OMG when I reply to a text about how awful I am at karaoke? Of course not. (I am, however, failing both George Michael and Rick Springfield when I belt their songs in a key somewhere between those singers’ ranges and my own. Said performances deserved several horrified OMGs.)

The older I get, the more I tend toward descriptivist linguistics. I have been out of academia long enough to know we can’t stem the tide of language shifts, texting enough that I appreciate the culture’s willingness to embrace an abbreviated language parallel to government employees’ acronym dialect, and old enough to know that my pedantic “kids these days are ruining the language” tendencies unveil a knowledge that kids these days are actually going to rule the world. And I, for one, I don’t want to be railing against their language from my rocking chair, cane aloft, countering every miscast objective¬†who with “it’s whom, you linguistic hoodlums!”

Okay, yes, I do.

But I am in my old age moving toward the point of linguistic early adoption, at least within technological theaters.¬† I gleefully read the Atlantic’s piece about the new preposition, used in online English. Though I was late to OMG and LOL and LMAO, I have jumped on the prepositional-because trend, thanks to my social-media bestie, Twitter.

I love Twitter. I don’t read my feed as much as I used to, for in the land of “may your days be merry and bright starting next week with a rare Thanksgivukkah,” I don’t have time to get my Twitter fix. But I’m quite fond of the prepositional-because.

I do plan, however, on shaking my cane from my rocking chair and bellowing, “it’s not a ‘because-noun!’ Because grammatical naming conventions!”

Go check out the article, whether you find my texts irritatingly colloquial or not. The Atlantic has posted as pleasant a read on descriptive-linguistic developments as possible, and that’s saying a lot.

Which language deviances do you commit in limited settings? Do you eschew LOL unless you’re actually laughing out loud? Will you text a “K” to avoid all those messy characters in “okay”? Do you reject all emoticons or employ them with reckless abandon? Have you crossed into “srsly” and “pls” to save characters or do you share Steve Martin’s insistence on proper spelling in Tweets?

Word geekage

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the ad campaign to move people back to the paper OED from the, in my opinion, indefensible online OED.

The logophile in me rejoices. The linguist in me joins the fight. The inveteratist in me sighs with relief. The keleusmatic in me appreciates the opportunity. And the marketing professional in me applauds.

Choose a word falling into disuse. Adopt it. Use it with impunity. Save the words while you can.

Bad, bad, bad

I knew this would happen, and I knew it would happen once Peanut got to school. He now knows the word “bad.”

We avoided that word for the first four years of his life, because he doesn’t need it. There are few really “bad” things in this world, and those are so off-the-charts horrible that he doesn’t need to know about them. We’ll spare the discussions about terrorism, homicide, and even theft and greed until later. Most people are basically good, but some can make better choices. When we say it that way, everyone has a chance, you know? Someone at school who has a grumpy day and takes toys or hits needs to know there are better ways to be angry. But she’s not bad. Most cats expressing themselves with feces are frustrated and need understanding and training. They are not bad. Their actions are frustrating and disgusting and won’t be tolerated, but the cat, himself, is not bad. In our house, fruit rots; it’s not bad. We feel ill or crummy; not bad. I’m not saying that this approach is right; I’m just explaining why it was weird to hear my child use the word “bad.”

Just as I tried hard to teach P that I love him and I don’t like hitting, so he knew that the person and the action are not the same thing, we tried to teach him that some things were good choices and some were not good choices. We never needed the word “bad” and we liked it that way.

So when he came home last week and asked what “bad” meant, I said it can mean a lot of things; where did he hear it and I could tell him what the person meant. “Big bad wolf tried to get in some pig houses.”

“Oh,” I said. “Well, I know that story, and I guess, in that case, they mean bad because the wolf ruins the pig houses and scares them and doesn’t listen to their words. So in that case, bad is kind of like ‘not being nice’.”

So, predictably, for the next few days, he tried out his new condemnation on a variety of subjects. The cat is bad, Mom is bad, Dad is bad, this macaroni is bad…I’m going out of my mind. Because I want to let him try it, and not call attention to it for all the reasons parents *know* not to call attention to behaviors they don’t like, but that word KILLS me. It’s like a 1950s black and white world where we judge people and count them out because of one poor choice.

Spouse and I don’t say “good boy” because it makes him seek praise for any action, laudable or otherwise. Labeling a child good makes them second guess their every move to see if someone else will tell them they are good, instead of finding their own sense of self worth and justice. And being a “good boy” or a “bad boy” implies a permanence. There are no all good or all bad children. There are people who need better parenting and time to learn and help finding better choices. Even those people don’t have “bad” parents. They have parents who don’t know better or who don’t try hard enough.

Anyway. I’m miffed about the “bad.” Other parents freak when their kid comes home spewing four-letter words and I’m thrown at just three.

Onebody, twobody, redbody, bluebody

Peanut, at the playground: Not anybody here….
Hey! Onebody here!…………….
Mama! Twobodies riding bicycles!…………………………..
Hey! Allbodies here is ladies!

The linguist in me loves this stuff.

Makes me want to dust off the letters of rec. and start working on a linguistics PhD this fall. Everybody else says have another kid. I say I have things to do and this one doesn’t sleep as it is. In fact, allbodies are up around 3 every, morning trying to convince onebody that human bodies need sleep.

Last night’s bedtime:
P: Peanut wake up at nighttime, say Mommy Mommy Daddy Daddy.
M: Mommy and Daddy need to sleep at nighttime. If you wake up you know you’re warm and safe and cozy, and you can see it’s nighttime, so you cuddle your doll and relax back to sleep.
P: If something hurt you, Peanut cuddle doll.
M: Yes, if something hurts you, your doll will cuddle you. What do you think imght hurt you?
P: Bees.

At 3am:
P: [screaming] Mommy! Mama! [crying] Something hurt you. Please, Mommy, cuddle.
M: Something hurt you?
P: Yes.
M: [suspicious that this is a ploy] What hurt you?
P: A lizard
M: [swallowing simultaneous urges to laugh and storm out] Well, tell the lizard to go home to sleep. Nighttime is for sleeping.
P: Go sleep, lizard.
M: Yeah. The lizard says it’s sorry for hurting you. It didn’t know you were sleeping. Sorry.
…..

P: [lying down and grabbing doll] Peanut sleep at nighttime, lizard.

You tell ’em.

Next time by yourself, though, please. What’s up with this early-childhood, needing-help crap? Don’t they make two year olds who can handle everything by themselves? Where do I get me one of them?