Skip to main content

Those wacky Rebelskys

Topics/tags: Those wacky Rebelskys, language, short

For about as long as I can remember, my kids have said that their friends are sometimes intimidated by visiting the Rebelsky household, at least at dinner time. Our dinner conversations tend to veer wildly between topics, including topics that only some of us comprehend well. For example, when Youngest and I talk about computing, the others do their best to follow; when Middle talks about his work in Chemistry, Youngest and I have trouble following; when Youngest and Middle talk about music, Eldest generally follows and Michelle and I try. When Youngest and Eldest discuss Math, the rest of us just nod our heads. But I think the scary part is when we have something we all know about [1]. I was reminded of that yesterday.

Youngest decided to purchase the electronic version of Garner’s Modern English Usage [2]. He already had the hardcover, but you never know when you might need to look up a subtlety. One enjoyable aspect of the electronic version is that it includes a series of multiple-choice quizzes about grammar. Do you write, He beseeched her to marry him or He besought her to marry him [3,4,5]? Should you ask, Is either of them sufficient? or Are either of them sufficient? [6].

Middle discovered the quizzes while we were driving in the car yesterday. As they took some of the quizzes, we all [7] piped in with opinions and commentary. Youngest helped explain Garner’s five stages of verbal change [8]. I’m surprised that we did not get into a debate as to whether Garner is a descriptivist; he seems to have clear preferences, even in cases when multiple spellings or forms are used [11,14]. We also had some fun realizing some of the things we get wrong. It never occurred to me that the phrase I think of as for all intensive purposes is really for all intents and purposes [15]. But it certainly makes sense.

Of course, we’re Rebelskys. We don’t always agree, with each other or with authorities [16]. What was the latest challenge? Oh, yeah. How should one pronounce ophthalmologist?

Postscript: How did Middle respond upon seing the title of this musing? Let’s see how many typos we can find! And then he read it aloud, including all the punctuation [17].

[1] Or maybe it’s the puns.

[2] It used to be Garner’s Modern American Usage, or some such. I assume that the introduction explains the renaming, but I have not read it yet.

[3] I would be unlikely to write either of those statements; I suppose the real question is which one one should write.

[4] Garner tells us to use besought, noting both that the OED indicates that beseeched is now regarded as incorrect and that besought appears about five times as frequently as beseeched.

[5] I was amused to discover that Grammarly is happy with beseeched but not besought. And no, Grammarly, I don’t mean brought.

[6] And how should I have punctuated that sentence?

[7] Well, all but Eldest. Eldest now lives far away.

[8] I don’t recall them. But I did find a description in the essay entitled The Ongoing Tumult in English Usage [9]

Stage 1: A new form emerges as an innovation (or a dialectal form persists) among a small minority of the language community, perhaps displacing a traditional usage.

Stage 2: The form spreads to a significant fraction of the language community, but remains unacceptable in standard usage.

Stage 3: The form becomes commonplace even among many well-educated people but is still avoided in careful usage.

Stage 4: The form becomes virtually universal but is opposed on cogent grounds by a few linguistic stalwarts (die-hard snoots [10]).

Stage 5: The form is universally accepted (not counting pseudo-snoot eccentrics).

[9] There’s probably some sensible way to cite the essay. At the moment, it escapes me. I found the essay in an app called GMEUApp. The description available as a guide in the same app provides similar information.

[10] Snoot is a term that David Foster Wallace’s family used to describe people who care deeply about language.

[11] I am unhappy to see that he prefers adviser to advisor, even though he acknowledges that the latter spelling is almost as frequent [12]. At least he doesn’t mark advisor with the dreaded asterisk, which indicates that it’s a form to be avoided.

[12] Surprisingly, Grammarly prefers advisor to adviser.

[14] Or maybe someone else wrote the quizzes.

[15] At least Grammarly gets this one correct.

[16] Like Garner.

[17] Unfortuantely, he has not learned Victor Borge’s system.

Version 1.0 released 2019-09-14.

Version 1.1.1 of 2019-12-28.