Zo with the Flo

I had high hopes when I engaged issues recently around a Zoe Williams article in the Guardian interrogating issues around notions of rape in popular culture. And Zoe — what a thinker! — nearly fulfilled those hopes. I nearly had another scintillating sample for my award-winning “Oh My Guardian” series. This is nearly a perfect opening for a sentence of echt Guardianese:

In terms of narrative tropes…

But it should of course have been:

In terms of core narrative tropes…

So near — and yet so far. Still, “In terms of narrative tropes” is pretty darn good, worthy of the Great Gary himself. And it prompted me to interrogate issues around one of the core linguistic enigmas of our day. Here are two graphs from Google nGrams:

In terms of (UK English)

In terms of (US English)


What on earth is going on? Why have ITO usage metrics continued to rise in British English while peaking and falling in American English? This hasn’t happened with other core items of progressive English, like “issues around”:

Issues around (UK English)

Issues around (US English)


And “notions of authenticity”:

Notions of authenticity (UK English)

Notions of authenticity (US English)


And “engagement with” (in its progressive sense):

Engagement with (UK English)

Engagement with (US English)


If those keyly core items of Progressivese are “spiking” so healthily on both sides of the Atlantic, why is the even keylier corer “in terms of” not doing so? At least, I would say ITO is keylier corer, but does the ITO fall in America suggest that it isn’t?

Maybe not. One possibility is that “in terms of” has been depreciated in an influential (and anti-progressive) American manual of style that hasn’t been influential in the UK. However, American speakers have failed to see that the same grounds for rejection apply to “issues around” and so on.

But it’s hard to see why American progressive would take any notice of sensible advice about rejecting ITO. It’s also hard to see why the American drop in “in terms of” shouldn’t have influenced the UK even if this hypothetical style-manual (or arbiter) isn’t influential in the UK.

Something mysterious is going on and more research is plainly needed.


Previously pre-posted:

Septics vs Dirties
Get Your Tox Off
Guardianistas — all posts referencizing this core progressive demographic and their glossocentric performativity

Are U Worthy?

If you’re nagged by doubts as to whether you really are a keyly committed core component of the counter-cultural community, then simply engage issues around the following issues…

1. In terms of “in terms of”, how often do you hear this phantasmagoric phrase in terms of a daily basis?

2. Please hierarchialize the following core components of the counter-cultural icon community in terms of their “in-terms-of”-usage metrics: Will Self, J.G. Ballard, William Burroughs, Alan Moore, Miriam Stimbers, Michael Moorcock, Kathy Acker, Genesis P. Orridge, Alan Ginsberg, Stewart Home, Hubert Selby Jr., Norman Foreman (B.A.). (I.e., if you think Foreman uses “in terms of” most in terms of usage metrics, put him first; if you think Acker uses it second-most, put her second; etc.)

3. Engage issues around 1 and 2 again, replacing “in terms of” with “prior to”…

4. Engage issues around 1 and 2 again, replacing “in terms of” with “issues around”……

5. Engage issues around 1 and 2 again, replacing “in terms of” with “Vote Corbyn”………

Once you’ve engaged issues around the above issues, email your answers to Evaluator!@NakedKrunch and you should have your doubts laid to rest within 23 working days…


Previously pre-posted on Overlord of the Über-Feral…

Les Sez
Don’t Do Dot…
Terminator!
Metricizing Michael…
Terminal Breach
More Termination…

Oh My Guardian #2

“Instead, Mr Comey has rocket-fuelled a venomous contest just when Mr Trump was desperate for a lifeline…” — The Guardian view on the FBI’s Clinton probe: exactly the wrong thing to do


Previously pre-posted…

Oh My Guardian #1
Reds under the Thread

Which Switch

Why didn’t George Orwell sort his relatives out? I don’t mean his family: I mean his pronouns. In The King’s English (1906), the Fowler brothers say this:

The few limitations on ‘that’ and ‘who’ about which every one is agreed all point to ‘that’ as the defining relative, ‘who’ or ‘which’ as the non-defining.

Here are some examples:

• The cat that sat on the mat ate a rat. (Defining)
• The cat, which is three, never sits on mats. (Non-defining)
• The cat that you see on the mat eats rats. (D)
• The cat, which you saw yesterday on a mat, eats rats. (N-D)
(The third example can also be written without an explicit relative: “The cat you see on the mat eats rats.”)


But Orwell doesn’t follow these simple rules consistently in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). In the opening chapter of the book, you can find many defining relatives using “which”:

• …one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move
• …a list of figures which had something to do with the production of pig-iron
• …an oblong metal plaque like a dulled mirror which formed part of the surface of the right-hand wall
• …the blue overalls which were the uniform of the party

But you can also find defining relatives using “that”:

• …his skin roughened by coarse soap and blunt razor blades and the cold of the winter that had just ended
• …there seemed to be no colour in anything, except the posters that were plastered everywhere
• You had to live – did live, from habit that became instinct – in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard (note implicit relative after “sound”)

Here Orwell uses “that” and “which” as defining relatives in the same sentence:

• Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it, moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard.

I can’t see any clear reason for the alternation, but it would be interesting to analyse the sentences more carefully and see if it’s possible to discover what conditions his use now of “which”, now of “that”. When I looked at the same phenomenon in the work of Evelyn Waugh, I found that “that” seemed to occur more often when the noun was governed by a preposition. That may also apply to Orwell.

Now let’s move from a particular writer to something more general. It’s possible to use a modification of the rules given above. If the noun and its defining relative are separated by several other words, I sometimes prefer “which” to “that”. Here’s an example from Orwell:

• He had a trick of resettling his spectacles on his nose which was curiously disarming…

The noun is “trick”, not “his nose”, so “which” doesn’t seem so bad to me, because it helps to disassociate the relative from the nouns that separate it from its antecedent. In its non-defining form “which” has what might be called a disjunctive role, and the disjunctive association is still there when it’s used as a defining relative. That’s why “which” doesn’t seem right as a defining relative when its antecedent stands directly before it.

But the possessive of “his nose” also helps to dissociate the relative, so I would also be happy to use “that” in this particular case. In the other examples, “that” is the clear winner (except perhaps in “an oblong metal plaque like a dulled mirror which formed part…”).

Do many foreign learners of English feel the same way about “that”? I doubt it. It must often be difficult to separate the three meanings of “that”: the demonstrative pronoun, the defining relative, and the coordinator. Not many foreign speakers of English would understand this sentence easily:

• It’s confusing that that “that” that’s a relative pronoun is written in exactly the same way as that “that” that’s not.

If English had a governing academy, we might spell the three thats differently: that, thæt and thatt, for example. And if I had my way, we wouldn’t use a digraph for the dentals. That is, the opening sentence of Nineteen Eighty-Four would look like this:

• It was a bright cold day in April, and ðe clocks were striking Þirteen.

Terminal Breach

It’s said that, if you hear “in terms of” 23 times in 23 hours on the 23rd of the month, the ghost of William Burroughs will appear and offer you a heroin enema.

I don’t know whether this is true.


Elsewhere other-engageable:

William S. Burroughs
Alan Moore, C.B.E.
Michael Moorcock
Will Self
Stewart Home
Cormac McCarthy
Dr Joan Jay Jefferson
Serpent’s Tail
Titans of Trangression

Bash the Pash

An heretical Guardianista keyly critiquizes a core component of Guardianese:

I recently considered nominating for a board position on a professional association to which I belong, so I had a look at the biographical statements of the incumbents. One claimed to be “passionate about helping individuals, businesses, and communities thrive”, another declared “a particular passion for thought leadership and executive profiling”, and another revealed “a passion for social inclusion”. Yet another claimed “a passion about creating valuable career development opportunities for the profession”. The best was the one that stated, without irony, “a passion for working on meaningful projects”.

In days gone by, job applicants listed hobbies. These days, it appears candidates are expected to declare, not merely interests or things they like doing, but things they are allegedly passionate about. — Being enthusiastic is no longer enough. Now we must all be passionate, Paul Begley, The Guardian, 13/vii/2016.


Elsewhere other-engageable:

Ex-term-in-ate!
Reds under the Thread
Titus Graun — Heresy, Homotextuality, Hive-Mind
Oh My Guardian

Don’t Do Dot…

It’s a mistake to think that Guardianese, the optimal dialect of keyly committed core components of the counter-cultural community, mandates optionizing on a permanent basis for the pretentious and polysyllabic. Yes, Guardianistas are addicted to phrases like “in terms of” and “prior to”, but they also like urgently throbbing monosyllables like “key”, “core” and “spike”.

These are unnatural words, taken from headlines, not from normal English. They reveal an important truth: simplicity can be pretentious too. The two aspects of Guardianese come together in phrases like “key indicator” and “core metric”. I would say that “vital sign” and “important statistic” are better and more natural English, but you can’t tell that by counting syllables.

And sometimes Guardianese doesn’t use any syllables at all…  Guardianistas also like the stylistic trick of trailing dots. I find it cheap and irritating, so I’m glad that one of my favourite writers thought the same long ago. In his essay “Stories I Have Tried to Write”, M.R. James (1862-1936) said this:

In parenthesis, many common objects may be made the vehicles of retribution, and where retribution is not called for, of malice. Be careful how you handle the packet you pick up in the carriage-drive, particularly if it contains nail parings and hair. Do not, in any case, bring it into the house. It may not be alone… (Dots are believed by many writers of our day to be a good substitute for effective writing. They are certainly an easy one. Let us have a few more……) (“Stories I Have Tried To Write”, 1929)

In short: Don’t do dot…


Elsewhere other-engageable:

Ex-term-in-ate!
Titus Graun
Reds under the Thread

Terminal Teraticity…

Americotrop-ism: n. literally, a tendency or habit of moving towards America; hence, a tendency or habit of adopting American culture, vocabulary and usage when one is not oneself American. | -ist, -ic(al) [Americ(a) + -o- + tropism, on the analogy of phototropism, chemotropism, geotropism, etc]

• “The Guardian-reading community displays a marked Americotropism.”

Term-in-ator!

V. disappointed by China Miéville on BBC Radio 4’s Book Club (Sunday 1st November). It took him eight minutes to say “in terms of”.

Metricizing Michael…

All right-thinking folk are agreed that the Peckham-based author and visionary Michael Moorcock is a core colossus of the counter-culture. As the Guardian put it in 2007, he’s “the incendiary keystone of the visionary vortex that crystallized around New Worlds magazine in the 1960s, sparking a transgressive tornado that has sculpted paradigm-defying narratives of mutant sexuality, psychology and politics on an almost daily basis for over fifty years.”

But how often have keyly committed components of the Moorcock-fan community wished they had some objective mode of metricizing the coreness of the colossusness of his counter-culturality?

Well, the wait is over:

site:http://www.multiverse.org/ “in terms of”

About 4,910 results (0.56 seconds)

• in terms of sci-fi recommendations, I gotta go — Moorcock’s
• They’re really rebellious in terms of gender, in terms of sex, in terms of politics, the portrayal of society and race, and I really want that to be …
• In terms of games I am rediscovering Zelda: Majora’s Mask with updated graphics and sound.
• … and to describe such elements in terms of Good and Evil seems (as I hope I demonstrate) a rather useless way of looking at our problems.
• We’ve reached a point, in this new century, that can be identified as both technologically and sociologically, futuristic, even in terms of the very recent past and …
• I’m wondering about stillborn-siblings in terms of esoterica: are they the next sibling born after the stillbirth, making a short appearance (i.e. is …
• I can say I’ve had one good experience with a press release distribution service, in terms of acquiring reviews.
• In terms of chronology, however, it would have to fit in somewhere between the novels The Fortress of the Pearl and The Sailor on the Seas of [Fate]


Elsewhere other-posted:

Ex-term-in-ate!