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November 5, 2010
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I dunno. To me a malapropism is a funny (in fact ridiculous) error based on an ignorant confusion of two similarly pronounced words. Certainly all of Mrs. Malaprop's errors were of that sort.
Still, malapropism or not, "I'm having a lamppost" is very funny. It obeys the standard rule of humor of preparing the hearer for one thing and then doing another.
Deliberate grammatical "errors" are all over the place. Advertisements are rife with them, as are the lectures of good teachers and the sermons of good preachers. They serve many uses--adding interest, inserting humor, waking the reader or listener up, making something more emphatic ("I ain't gonna do that,"), or even something routine like my "I dunno" that I started this post with--a non-confrontational way of saying I think you might be wrong.
I have looked around and cannot find a name for them, so I suggest we choose a name. First, they would fall under the category of Figures of Speech. Ideally the name would itself be a grammatical error. At a minimum I would say it should tell us immediately what is being done, so the word "gross" in the name suggests itself. Something like, "gross wordifucation?"
I am not quite sure you mean what you seem to be saying, but remember that a pair of scissors or a pair of pliers, etc., is only a single thing, and takes a singular verb. That you have to use a plural verb when you don't use the "a pair of" phrase, even though you may be speaking of only one of the object, is illogical. At any rate it presents a problem to my Vietnamese students (but then their language does not force them to deal with number unless they want to).
Complicating matters are other objects that come in pairs (shoes, boots, socks, gloves, mittens. and earrings) where one can use a singular when talking about just one of the object or one can take a matching two of them and treat them as a single object by using the "a pair of" phrase. I think this is where the use of "a pair of" for things like pants came from, even though it is illogical to think of pants as being a matched pair (only native English speakers seem able to do it).
The seeming duality of such objects is no doubt part of the reason English evolved this way, but that does not make it rational. We cannot expect languages to be rational.
Jjaay--I don't see where exaggeration is analogous to infinity. Exaggerations are all over the field, from slight (the fish was ten cm.) to huge (the fish was a whale). Although there is a branch of mathematics that deals with "sizes" if infinity (aleph numbers), it is true that infinity is not comparable with any finite number.
I think that phrases like "over-exaggerate" seem redundant and make for poor writing style, but they are in the common speech, to me a good clue that they serve a purpose.
Thanks for the praise: if one is going to insult (my intention), I think it can be more effective to try to be clever than to just call someone names.
I don't think he would have responded to either of us. My reaction is that he was bewildered and felt a need to react, but didn't know how. That of course is just a guess--I wouldn't want to even try to understand such a person.
I just don't care about getting them right since I would hope I would never use either: they are both cliches.
I have to say I agree with Nonie--"everybody" seems to imply taking the group as a body while "everyone" puts more emphasis on taking the group as individuals. This is, however, a subtle difference, so that there is room for other opinions.
There are several things that refer to a single object but take a plural construction, not just "pants" and "trousers." There are "scissors," "pliers," "shears," "tweezers," and no doubt others.
The standard English way to refer to just one of such a thing is to attach the phrase "a pair of" in front and use a singular verb ("pair" is a singular noun), not to drop the "s" or otherwise try to create a singular noun.
When one does not use the "a pair of" phrase, one is forced to use a plural verb and live with the numeric ambiguity ("my pants are dirty"). Sometimes English, as with all languages, is just that way (inconsistent among other things).
The use of "fags" (don't be facetious--of course he means homosexuals--in fact he means effeminate homosexuals) and similar labels to describe smart people is a defense mechanism used by dumb male adolescents to maintain their self-esteem in the face of not having any notion of what is going on in class. I think this is okay. At least it is better than their dropping out so that there is no one to baby-sit them
There are times when this cannot be avoided, but they are rare. About the only time I have actually used it is in undergraduate essays where some instructors insist on both absolutely correct grammar and exact quotation--and it is important the instructor not think I made the mistake. Usually the fact that the error appears in a direct quote should be enough to exonerate one. Also,it is a bit much to point out someone else's error, and there is always the possibility that it is not really an error.
Of course, there are times when the error is the reason for the quote, and I guess if one really wants to dig the hole even deeper, a "sic" in brackets can help.
There have been a few occasions where I have thought about using the device as a way of telling the reader, "Yes, the guy really did say that," but I think that when I want to say such a thing, actually saying it is better than any sophisticated Latin.
Modern dictionaries are "descriptive," not "prescriptive." Therefore they are not decisive, nor, in fact, even particularly useful, in making usage choices. That an option appears in a dictionary only records that the dictionary's compilers found examples in published sources.
Therefore, the absence of a choice from a given dictionary does not make something necessarily wrong (although I will admit such an absence does increase the odds that it is wrong). Further, and more important, the presence of an option does not mean it is equally acceptable in all situations, nor even in any situation.
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