• Monthly Archives: December 2016

Orthoepic Shibboleths (*good-paying and *electóral)

December 17, 2016

With the growth of literacy and the spread of mass communications has come the dominance of linguistic standards all over the world. This is true of English as well as the languages of the rest of the first world. However, even among native speakers of the standard in any country there will always be the incidence of variation, specifically as regards older or traditional norms being superseded by innovations that contravene the latter, even among educated speakers.

Two vivid contemporary examples of this trend in Standard American English are the rise of the compound adjective *good-paying (instead of the correct well-paying) and the simple adjective *electóral (instead of the correct eléctoral), both of which were heard as uttered today on the National Public Radio program “Morning Edition Saturday” by a female college professor of sociology.

When linguistic errors become frequent enough to be part of an ongoing language change, they can be regarded as orthoepic shibboleths, as signs of the speaker’s cultural level (and typically of their chronological age). As with all such phenomena, contraventions of the linguistic norm always fall into the category of signs of human behavior that serve as criteria by which we judge each other and are, therefore, material to how societies work.


The Glossary of Useful Words 9: ‘pullulate’

December 4, 2016

A word I learned from my late wife Marianne, and which she used quite frequently in her everyday discourse, is the verb ‘pullulate’, defined in full by the OED as follows:

  1. trans. To engender, bring into existence; to cause to spring up abundantly or multiply. Now rare.
  2. intr.
    a.To be developed or produced as offspring; to spring up abundantly, multiply.
    b. To teem, swarm. Freq. with with.
  3. intr.
    a. Of a seed, plant, etc.: to germinate, to put out shoots or buds. Obs.
    b. Of a bud, shoot, propagule, etc.: to appear; to sprout, grow. Obs.
  4. intr. Med. To develop growths; to proliferate. Obs. rare.
  5. intr. Of a cell or animal, esp. a pathogenic organism: to breed, multiply; to reproduce prolifically.
    pullulating adj. budding, sprouting, flourishing.

Origin: A borrowing from Latin. Etymons: Latin pullulāt-, pullulāre.Etymology: < classical Latin pullulāt-, past participial stem (see -ate suffix3) of pullulāre to send forth new growth, to sprout, to sprout out, spring forth < pullulus young nestling or chick, young shoot or sprout < pullus young of any animal, chick (see pull n.2) + -ulus -ulus suffix. Compare French pulluler (c1350 in Middle French in sense 2a, first half of the 15th cent. in sense 3b, end of the 15th cent. in sense 2b; the transitive use in sense 1 is apparently not paralleled in French before 1764), Italian pullulare (1313).

Marianne (petnames Mooyin, Mumpkin) used it most often in meaning 2b and in the derivative adjective. Here is a paragraph containing the word as used by me in a recent e-mail message from Cali (Colombia), where I stayed for a week and reported on what I observed:

“The people here have been extremely nice and welcoming. The sponsor [of my lecture], Universidad del Valle, put me up in a first-class hotel and paid all my other trip expenses. Especially memorable was an iguana I saw at the University’s park yesterday. A truly splendid creature! The city is pullulating with people and animals and vegetation.”

As I wrote the sentence with ‘pulluate’, I thought of my Mooyin––as always––and of her beautiful speech.


Grammatical Errors and Imperfect Learning (Verbal and Adjectival Government)

December 2, 2016

Speakers of Standard American English, perhaps more often than speakers of any other European standard, make grammatical errors that are clearly not lapsus linguae (slips of the tongue). Nowhere is this more evident than in the government of verbs and adjectives, where the prepositional complements are frequently being confused, particularly for, with, and to. This was glaringly observed in the mistakes made today by interviewees on the NPR program “Morning Edition” on National Public Radio.

One such mistake was *rife for instead of the correct rife with; the other was *complying to instead of complying with. That any adult native speaker of contemporary American English can commit such grammatical errors testifies not only to what is called imperfect learning but to a fundamental lacuna in their command of the language. Since the speakers sounded on the young side, these mistakes––which could be multiplied manyfold in public oral discourse––can only be attributed to insufficient experience with the written word and a near-ubiquitous reliance on social media, which by their very nature promote frequent heedless neglect of the rules of grammar.