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Those Illiterates -- Chaucer, Sir Walter Scott, and Ruskin:

A commenter writes:

Baloney, we should not accept the degradation of distinctions, clarity, etc., that illiterates introduce into the language. To grill is not to barbeque. At present does not mean presently. Anxious does not mean eager. And to beg the question does not mean suggests the question. Except to people who have no concern for communicating clearly.
OK, that's what the pseudonymous commenter stubbs reports. Here is what the Oxford English Dictionary reports:
3. a. At the present time; at this time, at present, now.
Apparently avoided in literary use between the 17th and 20th centuries, but in regular use in most English dialects and by Scottish writers; revived in the 20th cent. in the U.S., subsequently in Britain and elsewhere. Regarded by some usage writers, esp. after the mid 20th cent., as erroneous or ambiguous.

?a1425 (c1380) CHAUCER tr. Boethius De Consol. Philos. V. pr. vi. 122 The science of hym..lokith in his simple knowynge alle thingis of preterit ryght as thei weren idoon presently ryght now. c1450 (1410) J. WALTON tr. Boethius De Consol. Philos. (Linc. Cathedral 103) 325 {Th}e estate of souereigne god on hye Is stondyng euere in one..All-gates in hym-selfe presentlye. 1489 CAXTON tr. C. de Pisan Bk. Fayttes of Armes I. v. 11 Charles the fyfthe..fader of this that presently regneth. a1533 LD. BERNERS tr. A. de Guevara Golden Bk. Marcus Aurelius (1546) G g ij b, Dedes done presently in our daies. 1563 L. HUMPHREY Nobles of Nobilitye sig. vii, Wherfore the quaffing of the dutche Nobilitye is presently haled through al realmes. 1637 R. HUMFREY tr. St. Ambrose Christian Offices I. 31 A reward to be rendred hereafter, not presently. 1697 tr. C'tess D'Aunoy's Trav. (1706) 191 It is, says he, too long and melancholy a Mischance to relate presently. 1740 J. TULL Horse-hoeing Husb. Suppl. 257 Enough to make the Horse hoing common in Time to come, if not presently. 1764 T. REID Inquiry Human Mind vi. ยง17 The question presently under consideration. 1826 SCOTT Provinc. Antiq. 85 Sir William Rae, Baronet,..presently Lord Advocate. 1849 J. RUSKIN Seven Lamps Archit. vi. 171 Our presently disputed claims. 1897 A. GEIKIE Anc. Volcanoes Brit. I. I. i. 5 The presently active volcano must be the basis and starting-point of inquiry. 1901 Leeds Mercury 4 July, A young man belonging to Rotherham and presently staying with his parents at Bridlington. 1939 Topeka (Kansas) State Jrnl. 20 Feb. 12/1 Sunner is presently minister of interior and one of the outstanding leaders of the Falangists. 1957 G. MARX Let. 12 Apr. (1967) 213, I am presently building a house and doing my own show, but sometime within the next two months I'll make it. 1958 Economist 9 Aug. 433/1 The praise presently being heaped upon him seems to be..a consequence of the recent recovery in the Conservatives' fortunes. 1971 Nature 2 July 23/1 The Caribbean area is a subplate presently attached to the South American plate. 1997 Independent 5 May (Media Plus Suppl.) 4/1 Good Housekeeping..presently makes a tidy sum selling cookery books and kitchenware.

My question: Even if you are a prescriptivist, should you trust the prescriptions of "stubbs" and those who take his view, and treat the "at present" sense of "presently" as having been "introduce[d] into the language" by illiterates? Or should you take the view that what Chaucer, Sir Walter Scott, and Ruskin -- as well as many other users of the English language -- have written is actually quite literate?

More broadly, how can you, in the face of this evidence, claim that "At present does not mean presently"? What odd meanings of "does not mean" and "illiterates" would you need to use to make such claims?

frankcross (mail):
I think prescriptivists simply want to prescribe for everyone else what they choose.
Sometimes you see this in politics too.
7.24.2007 1:52pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
"...as thei (sic) weren (sic) idoon (sic) presently ryght (sic) now..."
7.24.2007 2:00pm
James Ellis (mail):
How could you go along with a prescriptivist who says "baloney" instead of "Bologna"?
7.24.2007 2:02pm
AF:
Professor Volokh, you've won the argument against any prescriptivist who says that widely accepted usages are "wrong" or "incorrect" or "misuses." I'd be interested to hear you address the broader question: why shouldn't we actively resist (rather than passively avoid) usages that we think are bad?
7.24.2007 2:06pm
Richard A. (mail):
"To grill is not to barbeque?"
Here in Jersey, we drop the first two syllables. When we have a cue, we cue the burgers. That's how language develops, and the OED provides endless examples thereof. I'm sure our prescriptivist uses hundreds such words every day. He needs to spend more time reading and less writing.
7.24.2007 2:07pm
Laura S.:
Professor:

Your argument is too sloppy. Sir Walter Scott was hardly illiterate, but just because contemporary users may be branded illiterate does not mean historical users may be so branded as well. You seem to be neglecting that language can be refined by thought and reflection, and in the process you are passing off a faulty syllogism in an attempt to make your point.

Christiaan Huygens was a brilliant, well-educated man--a man who also proposed the luminiferous aether. In contemporary times, a person believing such things would rightly be regarded as uneducated. Huygens gets a pass; he belonged to a more ignorant age.
7.24.2007 2:12pm
bobolinq (mail):
I've been enjoying these posts quite a bit. It's remarkable how some people insist on characterizing certain usages in terms of "right" and "wrong" that really should be described (as you have noted) in aesthetic (or esthetic) or sociological terms.

The only explanation is psychodynamic. The right/wrong people โ€” I am deliberately not calling them prescriptivists; I don't think all prescriptivists see their prescriptions in terms of "right" and "wrong" โ€” like thinking of language in this way because it allows them to feel superior to others. Doubtless their personal histories feature important people (parents, teachers) who led them to believe that people who use "right" language are superior to those who use "wrong" language.

Because emotion, and not reason, drives the right/wrong people's attachment to their beliefs about language, those beliefs are largely unaffected (and incapable of being affected) by the kinds of arguments you have been making here.

The folks at Language Log are always amusing on the topic of misguided prescriptivism (their word). Here, for instance, is a "field guide to prescriptivists."

I am one of those folks with a stack of usage manuals at my desk, and people often bring their "grammar" questions to me. Most of those questions are really usage questions. True "grammar" questions sometimes have right and wrong answers ("He eating book my" is not a well-formed English sentence); usage questions almost never do (which is not to say that they don't have answers).
7.24.2007 2:22pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Dave Hardy: Of course it's possible that some meanings or spellings used by Chaucer have become obsolete -- the OED quote, though, shows that this is not true as to presently.

Laura S.: The commenter to whom I was responding wrote, "we should not accept the degradation of distinctions, clarity, etc., that illiterates introduce into the language." We can't literally know who introduced "presently" to mean "at present," since it was likely introduced orally, or in writings that do not survive. But the OED reports on who used "presently," and thus helped preserve it. That list includes some pretty literate people. It also suggests that there is not much of a "distinction" here that could be "degrad[ed]."

If you then want to say that though this usage of "presently" was engaged in, and preserved, by great writers, nonetheless today it is only illiterates who continue it, then be my guest -- but (1) produce some evidence, (2) explain why what was good enough for Scott and Ruskin is not good enough for us, and (3) don't talk about "distinction[s]" being supposedly "degrad[ed]" or new meanings being "introduce[d]," which wrongly suggests that "presently" is a modern departure from longstanding tradition.
7.24.2007 2:35pm
Alan Gunn (mail):
Some of Eugene's posts condemn prescriptivism, while others, like this one, condemn particular prescriptivist claims. I'm inclined to agree with most--perhaps all--of Eugene's examples of bad prescriptivist claims. And one particular kind of prescriptivism--the insistence that a "rule" that has never been an accepted part of English usage is nevertheless so desirable that those who fail to adopt it have blundered (Fowler's which/that distinction as insisted on by Strunk & White, for instance)--is indeed absurd: a claim about a language that's not based on any actual practice is crazy. But it doesn't follow from the unhappy tendency of many writers to denounce perfectly good uses of which they disapprove that all claims of "incorrect usage" are flawed. I read Eugene's strongest claim as saying that so long as people are not misled about meaning, there's no such thing as an error in usage. At the same time, it's clear enough that Eugene prefers some uses to others. So what is the debate really about? If it's about whether the world is full of prescriptivists who don't know what they're talking about, I'm with Eugene. If it's about whether presciptivism per se is wrong, I'm agin' him. And, if it's the latter, I don't think it's fair to use examples of bad prescriptivism as evidence that prescriptivism is bad. To borrow Laura S's metaphor, it's like saying that because Huygens was wrong about the ether, science is worthless.
7.24.2007 2:36pm
r4d20 (mail):
I think prescriptivists simply want to prescribe for everyone else what they choose.

I dont like it and you better not either!!!


Sometimes you see this in politics too

Surely you jest.
7.24.2007 2:42pm
Constant:
Never mind what is right or wrong. You probably want to write to be understood. You may on occasion, for this reason, want to avoid using the word "presently" to mean "at present", so as to prevent your readers from wondering whether you mean "at present" or "soon". You may want to avoid using the word "anxious" when you mean "eager", lest some of your readers get the wrong idea.
7.24.2007 2:44pm
frankcross (mail):
Interesting approach, Alan Gunn, but there's a serious question about your approach. I.e., what is the probability that prescriptivism will be used correctly, as opposed to incorrectly? It doesn't carry much freight to have a theory that, if used by a God, would be a good plan. You need a theory that can be beneficially executed in practice. This is the difference with science. Bad science is corrected by the scientific method itself. But I don't see the systemic ability to provide that good prescriptivism prevails over bad prescriptivism.
7.24.2007 2:44pm
Elliot123 (mail):
So, what literate authority introduced "to barbeque?"
7.24.2007 2:46pm
dearieme:
I shall cease to use "presently" momentarily.
7.24.2007 2:50pm
SFBurke (mail):
"To beg the question" seems to almost always be used in the sense of "to raise another question" rather than in the sense of "to avoid answering the question". Which is too bad. There is plenty of the latter going on, and the former is a perfectly good, well understood phrase. It is unclear why this "misuse" has become so common.
7.24.2007 3:08pm
Bill Dyer (mail) (www):
As a lawyer, I'm often perturbed by the blurring of "disinterested" and "uninterested." When I appear in court for a client, I insist upon a judge who is disinterested, and if he is not, I may be able to get him to recuse himself, or failing that, to get him disqualified. Unfortunately, I have no such remedies for judges who are uninterested, and must instead resort to things like loud noises, bad puns, or sexual innuendo to keep his attention.

Following good usage rules is like preferring to wash one's hands most of the time with regular soap instead of the anti-bacterial kind, so that when you really need the antibiotic effect, it will still be available.
7.24.2007 3:11pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
Alan Gunn: I can't speak for Eugene, but I think my post above speaks to your question. Prescriptivism is of course correct, but the criterion for prescribing should be unclearness, unpersuasiveness, inappropriateness for the intended audience, or something else that's somehow tied to what goals you're trying to achieve with what you're saying or writing.
7.24.2007 3:14pm
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):
How can you look at Chaucer's spelling and not call him illiterate? :-)

Although, if you really want to give a prescriptivist a headache, show him this line from the romance "King Horn"


He axede what hi soghte
Other to londe broghte.


Yup, that's "axede" for "ask" dating to the 13th Century.
7.24.2007 3:14pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Alan: My most recent posts have pointed out the mistakes many prescriptivists make, mistakes that are mistakes even if one accepts prescriptivism.

As to the broader philosophical issue, my view -- which I understand is the general descriptivist use -- is that there surely are errors in usage, but "correct" usage is defined as what the great bulk of English speakers actually says. So even if someone isn't mislead about meaning, a usage may be incorrect if it departs from what the great majority says. Descriptivists are happy to recognize the existence of rules; they just think that the rules must reflect how the language is actually used, rather than how some self-appointed authority thinks the language should be used.
7.24.2007 3:15pm
Alan Gunn (mail):
Frank Cross wrote:


Interesting approach, Alan Gunn, but there's a serious question about your approach. I.e., what is the probability that prescriptivism will be used correctly, as opposed to incorrectly? It doesn't carry much freight to have a theory that, if used by a God, would be a good plan. You need a theory that can be beneficially executed in practice. This is the difference with science. Bad science is corrected by the scientific method itself. But I don't see the systemic ability to provide that good prescriptivism prevails over bad prescriptivism.


I think the answer, as with things like using law professors' writings in arguments, is to be careful about whom to listen to. Copperrud (spellng?), Fowler, Barzun, and Partridge are fine; Safire and Kilpatrick should be avoided. Webster's Dictionary of English Usage is more tolerant than I am, but it's a fine source of information, and one can decide for oneself what to do with that information. For some kinds of things, like basic punctuation, almost any handbook is perfectly OK. Margaret Schertzer's The Elements of Grammar (which covers a lot more than grammar) is one of my favorite books, as is Claire Cook's Line by Line. I personally have great difficulty with capitalization; Schertzer helps a lot. There are lots of sensible prescriptivists out there. None of them are infallible, but any of them beats guessing.

A nice example of idiotic prescriptivism from a recent Chicago paper. Some guy wrote a piece to the effect that one shouldn't say that a team "pulled to within three points" when meaning, for instance, that the score became 73 to 70, because "within three points" means "less than three points." I guess he wants us to say "within four points" in this case. Moral: avoid taking language advice from people who don't know about idioms.
7.24.2007 3:21pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Alan: Your post may well offer excellent guidance for judgments about what's elegant, effective, or whatever else. What puzzles me as how someone can say that a certain usage is wrong because it's condemned by Fowler and Barzun even if it's called acceptable by Safire and Kilpatrick (just to focus arbitrarily on some of the names you mention). Who died and made them Language Kings, entitled to prescribe the rules and not just to advocate on judgments of taste?
7.24.2007 3:31pm
Alan Gunn (mail):
EV wrote:


"correct" usage is defined as what the great bulk of English speakers actually says.


I may be wrong, but I think the "great bulk" of English users, in the U.S. anyway, use "lay" for "lie," always say "you and I," even when conventional use calls for the objective forms, and use apostrophes to form plurals (particularly plurals of names). Indeed, I suspect that the majority of college graduates use these forms. I'm not going to, and I have occasionally told students not to do these things either. I suppose we agree that "correct" use depends (largely) on some people's actual use, but I'm not sufficiently populist to defer to majority use. I guess the best I can do off the top of my head is "use by people whose speech or writing convinces me that they care about the language, have learned the traditional forms, and don't have tin ears."

BTW: One thing about Webster's that interests me is that, although they are latitudinarians about grammar, they are word fascists when it comes to pronunciation. Look at "PHTH," for instance. No "majority rule" there.
7.24.2007 3:34pm
Laura S.:
Professor:

You misapprehend my point.

Your argument relies on a flawed syllogism. It simply does not follow that being literate today means the same thing as it did centuries ago. I do not argue whether or not "at present" is faulty diction, but I find your argument that it is within the purview of literate writers weak.

This is not the same as arguing that your position is wrong.
7.24.2007 4:01pm
AF:
Bad prescriptivist: It is objectionable, and therefore it is wrong, though it is commonly used.

Descriptivist: It is commonly used, and therefore it is not wrong, though it is objectionable.

Good prescriptivist: It is objectionable, and therefore it should not be used.

This leaves aside the question of authority -- the bad descriptivist would be less bad if he could point to a generally accepted authority -- but that is appropriate, as there are no generally accepted non-descriptive authorities.
7.24.2007 4:17pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
When I'm dictator, I'm prescribing. Some usages will be right; some will be wrong. Anybody who uses words incorrectly will be executed. Then when Eugene says, "Who says?" in response to a prescriptivist claim, the answer will be "Me."
7.24.2007 4:37pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
David Nieporent: OK, I'm dying to know -- was the last word of your post a deliberate dig at the logical consequences of one sort of prescriptivist shibboleth? (If it wasn't, that's perfectly fine; I just wonder whether it was.)
7.24.2007 5:01pm
hey (mail):
Since we are not French, there is no Language Authority to deem what is Correct. Thsi is all to the good, as demonstrated by the evolution of English. We do not need to wait for some centralised bureaucracy to tell us what new words have been approved for new concepts. The inherent statism in the whole existence of L'Academie de la Langue Francaise is hilarious, especially in contrast to the actual useage patterns in the streets of Paris. English is absorbing French in France, a very ironic outcome gievn where half of English vocabulary came from.

English would be much poorer if "illiterates" were unabe to introduce new usages for new concepts or even to create new words. One famous illiterate has his graffitos strewn throughout the language and his horrid little pamphlets are taught to all students - the only saving grace is that "his" trash may have been written by an aristocrat rather than a peasant's son. But enough about Shakespeare!
7.24.2007 5:09pm
frankcross (mail):
Alan, I'm sure there are better sources, but as EV notes, there's no consensus on which are the better ones. And without a "God of language," who is to say which are better?

I think language is a little like the common law (or evolution). You can be precriptivist in a sense, propounding what you think best for now (though really I believe this should be pragmatic and grounded considerably in descriptivism). But language is fundamentally descriptivist, because it will change, slowly, as societal norms change. Which means that the prescribed language will change over time. People can fight those changes but it comes down to who wins the fight. I see prescriptivism as demanding a "forever" rule, which is surely hopeless (or we would be speaking in a more Gaelic tongue today).
7.24.2007 6:00pm
David Conrad (mail):
At present, "at present" doesn't mean "presently", but presently it will.
7.24.2007 11:21pm
stubbs:
"Apparently avoided in literary use between the 17th and 20th centuries, but in regular use in most English dialects and by Scottish writers; revived in the 20th cent. in the U.S., subsequently in Britain and elsewhere. Regarded by some usage writers, esp. after the mid 20th cent., as erroneous or ambiguous."

Now is there anything above to suggest that some people, even some literary people, might find fault with the use of presently to mean at present? James A. H. Murray's army of readers attempting to find every use of a word in its earliest instances, including in Chaucer and others, seems just too powerful a feat. So do we now yield to the authority of Chaucer?

Is it impossible that a student writing today will be negatively judged because he uses presently to mean at present? If he understands that some will judge him negatively, should he go ahead and use it anyway, because Chaucer did so as well?

Incidentally, I just reread the first letter Virginia Stephens wrote. It has about four sentences connected without punctuation. A new norm for us all!
7.25.2007 1:50am
Alan Gunn (mail):
EV Wrote:


Alan: Your post may well offer excellent guidance for judgments about what's elegant, effective, or whatever else. What puzzles me as how someone can say that a certain usage is wrong because it's condemned by Fowler and Barzun even if it's called acceptable by Safire and Kilpatrick (just to focus arbitrarily on some of the names you mention). Who died and made them Language Kings, entitled to prescribe the rules and not just to advocate on judgments of taste?

I haven't argued that everything these people say is for that reason right: we all have to make these decisions for ourselves. In seeking guidance, though, some sources are more useful than others. I was responding to Frank Cross's comment, which seemed to me to say that prescriptivism is bad because no one can possibly get English right, so why try. I offered these names as useful sources of guidfance, not as "Language Kings." Here's a legal analogy: It's not necessarily the case that a decision by Lord Ellenborough is wrong, or that one by Lord Mansfield is right. But all of us think highly of Mansfield's work, and less highly of Ellenborough's. Safire and Kilpatrick repeatedly make judgments that, so far as I can see, are unsupported by history, knowledge, or even common sense; Kilpatrick even thinks "has been" is an infinitive. So their views seem to me not worth considering.

I continue to wonder whether there are any usages you think wrong, as opposed to just "not in good taste." Do you or don't you think it "wrong" to use an apostrophe to form the plural of ordinary English words? (I use this example because I can't think of anything more clearly both wrong and common.)
7.25.2007 10:04am
Seamus (mail):
You don't need to go so far as Chaucer, Scott, and Ruskin. The editors of Webster's Dictionary of English Usage take glee in pointing out instances where even language mavens such as E.B. White violate their own rules on "correct" and "incorrect" usage.
7.25.2007 11:33am
Ahcuah (mail):
I highly recommend folks try to get a copy of The Unfolding of Language by Guy Deutscher. It gives a really nice overview of how language develops (and in the end it is all pretty descriptionist).

There is always a constant tension between language getting sloppier (can't, gonna) or stale (where a word like "unique" loses its, um, uniqueness), and folks then having to add elements in an attempt to be clear or add emphasis. When "unique" really doesn't mean unique anymore, we have people then saying "very unique", which is of course anathema to prescriptionists, but that's the way languages develop.

He also goes over all sorts of other mechanisms of language development, such as the importance of metaphor, and the search for regularity (even when the regularity really isn't there).

Back to emphasis, my favorite example in the book is his description of the current French colloquialism "au jour d'aujourd'hui", meaning "really today." He traces it to an unattested Latin "hoc die", meaning simply "this day." By the time of attested Latin, extreme use had simplified it to "hodie". Old French simplified that further to "hui", but when you really wanted to say TODAY, this wasn't good enough, so they added words (very unique), "au jour d'hui", that is on-the-day-of-this-day. This of course simplified into a single word, and became aujourd'hui, which one again doesn't have enough emphasis. Hence, au jour d'aujourd'hui.

Another example of that sort is "up above", literally, through its etymoloty: "up on by on up."

I suspect anybody interested in this current discussion will be fascinated by the book.
7.25.2007 11:35am
JM Hanes (mail):
I gather that the use of "presently" in the sense of "shortly" is actually the usurper here. Over at Dictionary.com I was amused to find that this particular controversy is apparently historic and ongoing. Two titans of meaning weigh in. Here's Random House:
Usage note The two apparently contradictory meanings of presently, "in a little while, soon" and "at the present time, now," are both old in the language. In the latter meaning presently dates back to the 15th century. It is currently in standard use in all varieties of speech and writing in both Great Britain and the United States. The sense "soon" arose gradually during the 16th century. Strangely, it is the older sense "now" that is sometimes objected to by usage guides. The two senses are rarely if ever confused in actual practice. Presently meaning "now" is most often used with the present tense (The professor is presently on sabbatical leave) and presently meaning "soon" often with the future tense (The supervisor will be back presently). The semantic development of presently parallels that of anon, which first had the meaning, now archaic, of "at once, immediately," but later came to mean "soon."
Here's American Heritage:
Usage Note: An original meaning of presently was "at the present time; currently." That sense is said to have disappeared from the literary language in the 17th century, but it has survived in popular usage and is widely found nowadays in literate speech and writing. Still, there is a lingering prejudice against this use. The sentence General Walters is ... presently the United States Ambassador to the United Nations was acceptable to only 48 percent of the Usage Panel in the 1999 survey.


Reader bobolinq's distinction between grammar and usage is worth highlighting here. In the case of "presently," its grammatical position within a sentence (syntax) will generally make the intended sense clear, so its contrary meanings are not particularly problematic as a matter of effective communication. Tellingly, perhaps, I think that makes the prescriptive case against one usage or the other harder to argue.
7.25.2007 1:27pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Alan: I take the view -- which I think is most descriptivists' view -- that there are surely rules in English, but they are rules defined by usage. Usage that is outside what the great bulk of English speakers say is wrong. Usage that is outside what the great bulk of English writers write in edited writing is wrong in edited writing.

Some things are therefore clearly wrong. Examples: "Some things is therefore clearly wrong." "Things some are therefore clearly wrong." "Sum things are therefore clearly wrong." "Some things are therefore clearly rong." No dispute at all there.

Some more commonly seen things are also wrong, so long as they are not so common that they have become an accepted alternative. My sense is that pluralizing with an apostrophe-s (except in certain situations) is still quite uncommon in edited prose, and thus remains an error -- with the authority again being the actual practices of edited English prose.

On the other hand, "presently" to mean "at present" is common enough in edited prose, and has been common enough for centuries, that it is one of the definitions of "presently." Likewise, "nucular" as a pronunciation of "nuclear" is as much an acceptable variation as "ah" as a pronunciation of "I" (though the "ah" is usually present only in otherwise recognizable dialects, while "nucular" is often present even among speakers of what would otherwise be standard middle-American dialect).

Of course the English language has rules. All languages have rules -- regularities, usually near-unanimous regularities, of meaning and syntax. Descriptivists gladly acknowledge that. They just think that the test of the rules is English as it is spoken or written (as the case may be), not what some self-appointed authorities assert.
7.25.2007 1:28pm
BBQ!!!:
Alan: "I read Eugene's strongest claim as saying that so long as people are not misled about meaning, there's no such thing as an error in usage."

EV: "All languages have rules โ€” regularities, usually near-unanimous regularities, of meaning and syntax."

stubbs: "To grill is not to barbeque."

I'm enjoying reading this conversation among scholars, but all I really care about is barbeque. However, regarding the uses of language, a descriptivist, a prescriptivist or anybody else talking about food can misuse a term such as "barbeque" in the same way. We might also agree that they can develop this term to include a completely different meaning as well. This should all be true unless, as the post above appears to assume, all barbeque is meat from a grill. But, as any lover of the rich variations of the cuisine of sauces, marinades and slowed cooked meat known as "barbeque" should know, the preparation of this dish does not require a grill or an open flame. The adaption of the word "barbeque" to the meaning "to grill" is therefore improper or radically altered into a different meaning unless the intended definition was meant to articulate the burning of meat to a crisp on a grill. Perhaps the commenter referenced in the post had all this in mind and the professor knows good barbeque. I concede that the question remains open as to whether to cook meat slowly with a regionally-native sauce or marinade could also be "to barbeque" the meat. But it appears that issue is whether, if enough people agree, can we call anything barbeque.

Happy eating!
7.25.2007 3:04pm
stubbs:
FOWLER ON PRESENTLY:

<b>P=at present....This sense of p. was said by the OED to be obsolete in literary English since the 17th c. though in regular use in most English dialects and common in Scottish writers. It is now enjoying a vigorous revival, though whether for any better reason that NOVELTY HUNTING may be doubted, seeing that we have available for the same purpose not only <i>now</i> but also for those who dislike monosyllables <i>at present</i> and <i>currently</i>.</b>

To repeat something earlier said regarding Fowler, I think this tells you all that you need to know.
7.26.2007 12:51am
David M. Nieporent (www):
EV: "Yes."
7.26.2007 5:17pm