If you are comparing only 2 things, should you use the comparative (eg bigger) or the superlative (eg biggest)? Style guides tend to advise us to use the comparative. But I came across a case where the comparative could be ambiguous. Suppose you are writing about 3 brothers from the perspective of the youngest. You…… Continue reading An ambiguous older brother
Collins Dictionary has selected permacrisis as Collins Word of the Year 2022 (for English). Collins defines it as ‘an extended period of instability and insecurity, especially one resulting from a series of catastrophic events’. This is one of 10 words Collins highlights. They all relate to continuing crises faced by the UK and the world.…… Continue reading Collins words of 2022
The Italian publisher Treccani will change how it lists nouns and adjectives in the next edition of its Dizionario della Lingua Italiana (Dictionary of the Italian Language), due to come out in October. Previous editions have followed the traditional practice of listing nouns and adjectives under only the masculine form of the head word. The…… Continue reading Italian dictionary will now include feminine forms
A Raritätenkabinett (cabinet of rarities) is a collection of things, living or dead, which are considered worth collecting (and perhaps exhibiting) because they are rare. An online collection of grammatical rarities is available at https://typo.uni-konstanz.de/rara/ The site classifies the items it contains into the following categories: rarum (plural rara): ‘a trait (of any conceivable sort:…… Continue reading Cabinet of grammatical rarities
When I last reported on my youngest granddaughter’s progress in learning language, she was still clearly at the 1-word stage (at 20 months). She was still there a couple of months later, though maybe just starting to produce 2-word phrases or statements. https://languagemiscellany.com/2022/04/early-words She recently had her 2nd birthday and is now very definitely in…… Continue reading Into the 2-word stage
It was widely reported a couple of years ago that Pope Francis told the Vatican communications team not to use adjectives, saying: “I am allergic to those words.” https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/24/pope-francis-criticises-overuse-of-adjectives Ironically, the Pope’s own words include an adjective: ‘allergic’. Such jarring clashes between advice and practice are common when people dispense gratuitous advice on writing. I…… Continue reading The Pope is allergic to adjectives
Does the verb be have the same function in the two phrases was born and was killed? I don’t thing so. I just tried writing the following sentence: He was born in 1898 and killed in action in 1918. To my ear, that sounds very odd. I think it needs to be He was born…… Continue reading Was born and was killed
Over the last 10 years or so, I have seen more and more sentences starting with the phrase Similar to. These sentences often say something like: Similar to A, B does X. Here is a slightly abbreviated version of a recent example I saw in The Times [of London]. Similar to much of myalgic encephalomyelitis…… Continue reading ‘Similar to’ in starting a sentence
In Mandarin, adjectives behave like verbs in some respects. As a result, some analysts suggest that adjectives are just a subset of verbs in Mandarin. This post summarises evidence that adjectives are in fact separate from verbs. The evidence comes from Chinese Syntax, by C-T James Huang, Y-H Audrey Li and Yafei Li (2009). The…… Continue reading Are Mandarin adjectives just a type of verb?
Language is the least important casualty of our current political crisis, but it is a casualty nonetheless. In December, London’s Metropolitan Police foolishly suggested that their policy is not to routinely investigate ‘retrospective’ breaches of the law. I’m not qualified to discuss the legal, constitutional and ethical rights and wrongs of this notion. But linguistically…… Continue reading What are retrospective breaches?