Linguistics by amateurs

I was reading Romenesko’s journalism blog at the Poynter institute website, and well, one link led to another, and I found myself reading Roy Peter Clark’s bleg for the book he’s writing, The Glamour of Grammar.

(Don’t bother asking. Obscure Scottish etymological link, stretched to a faretheewell.)

Happens, I was a grad student in linguistics (Minnesota, 1988-1992), and I know when I’m reading balderdash. I am not, however, sufficiently current to explicate authoritatively in what way it is balderdash.

So I called in heavy air support, offering as fisk bait to the denizens of Language Log plaza this inimitable sentiment:

Articles are slippery. You might be fooled into thinking that a can only be used in the singular and that the carries the plural until you read “A million dollars will get you the rarest baseball card in the world.”

Mark Liberman of UPenn sliced and diced this inanity, and summed up,

“So I’d advise Prof. Clark to remove the whole paragraph that starts “Articles are slippery”. The only trouble is, that leaves the rest of the essay.”

Oh, I wish I’d written that.

Liberman also eviscerated Clark’s take on Noam Chomsky.

The thing is, I’ve heard Clark speak several times at writing seminars — the Poynter Institute puts them on around the country. I thought he was pretty good. Maybe the sloppy thinking slides past because if you’re listening to a speech you don’t have time to process the analytical details and what comes through are the telling anecdotes.

But in general, writing seminars for journalists are about as useful as professional development inservice for teachers, where they learn about paper folding and multiple intelligences.

About linsee

Linda Seebach retired in 2007 from the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, where she was an editorial writer and columnist.
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