PRINCIPLES OF USAGE: STANDARD WRITTEN AMERICAN ENGLISH
by Joseph Suglia
Table of Contents
PRINCIPLES OF USAGE: STANDARD WRITTEN AMERICAN ENGLISH
by Joseph Suglia
Table of Contents
An Agreeable Global Pandemic
by Joseph Suglia
1.) Despite what Jordan Peterson implies, agreeable does not means “tending to agree,” “complaisant,” “obedient,” “submissive.” Agreeable means “pleasant.” EXAMPLE: “Nothing could be more agreeable” means “Nothing would be more pleasant.” Disagreeable means “unpleasant.”
2.) To beg the question means “to move in a circle argumentatively.” Begging the question means that what was supposed to be proven has not been proven–the premise of the argument has been merely repeated. EXAMPLE: “Schools need to be reopened because not to do so would be to keep them closed.” To beg a question does not mean “to prompt a question.” It is tautologous, like an Ouroboros, the snake that eats its own tail.
3.) “Global pandemic” [sic] is a pleonasm (writing the same thing twice or saying the same thing twice). Pan- means “everything.” Of course, a pandemic is global!
4.) Reactionary does not mean “reactive.” It is a politics which is unreconstructed, a deeply entrenched adherence to tradition.
5.) Moot is a term of law. It does not mean “mute,” despite the phonetic identity. Moot means the precise opposite of mute: What is moot is what is discussable, not what is indiscussable. What is moot is what you may talk about, not what you may not talk about.
6.) Nothing irritates me more than the misuse of the word performative. Since I am a comparatist, I have spent many years of my life studying literary theory, and postmodern literary theory draws many of its concepts from linguistics. Performative comes from the work of the philosopher J.L. Austin. A performative is a sentence that has the word “I” as its subject and which appears to elicit an action. A performative is illocutionary if it is direct (a promise or a command) or perlocutionary if it is indirect (a form of persuasion or seduction). “I promise to cook your breakfast” is an illocutionary speech act because it might lead to the action of cooking someone’s breakfast. A perlocutionary speech act would be: “Would you be willing to cook my breakfast tomorrow morning?”
7.) I have written about this elsewhere (cf. “Literally”), but to repeat for the purpose of emphasis: “I literally cannot hear the music” does not need the word literally.
8.) Some cliches are useful. A useful cliche is a high-frequency expression. EXAMPLES: “If you play stupid games, you win stupid prizes”; “When you’re in a hole, stop digging.”
9.) Enttäuschungsgelüst is a word that I have coined which means “the pleasure in someone else’s disappointment.” Let us say that someone wants you to be unhappy. Your happiness makes your enemy disappointed; you feel Enttäuschungsgelüst as a result. Perhaps you feel Enttäuschungsgelüst when someone else is disappointed when you decline the invitation to a party. The fact that your presence is desired and missed fills you with Enttäuschungsgelüst.
10.) It makes no sense to say/write that someone has a “fragile Ego,” a “big Ego,” or an “inflated Ego,” unless one intends thereby the construction of the Ego Ideal. The Ego Ideal is the idealized and self-preserving image of the self.
11.) Never say/write that a character or a person is “relatable,” unless you specify to what or to whom that character or person can be related. “The characters in the Netflix program are very relatable.” To what? To whom? And what does “very” mean in this sentence?
12.) “No problem” is a problem. Prefer “You are welcome” or “My pleasure,” which is the preferred expression of welcome by the employees of Chick-fil-A.
13.) Avoid superfluous words and phrases. Instead of saying/writing, “She was able to create a painting,” say or write, “She created a painting.”
14.) Capitalize all of the letters in RADAR, for it is an acronym. But should one capitalize all of the letters in robot?
15.) Avoid portmanteaux (see my forthcoming guide The Ten Punctilios of Style). I invented a number of portmanteaux to emphasize how silly they are. One is momsterpiece.
16.) “A little bit extreme” is an example of antiphrasis (if something is extreme, it is not “little”). “I, personally” is an example of a pleonasm (there is no reason to write, “personally”).
17.) Stop saying/writing, “the new normal.” Simply say or write, “the way that we do things now.”
Hyper-cautious, hyper-serious, hyper-competitive, hyper-complex, hyper-concentrated, hyper-correctness, hyper-criticize
by Joseph Suglia
To be hyper-cautious means not to be cautious.
To be hyper-serious means not to be serious.
To be hyper-competitive means not to be competitive.
To be hyper-complex means not to be complex.
To be hyper-sexualized means not to be sexualized.
To be hyper-concentrated means not to be concentrated.
To be hyper-correct means not to be correct.
To be hyper-modern means not to be modern.
To hyper-criticize means not to criticize.
To be hyper-emotional means not to be emotional.
To be hyper-nationalistic means not to be nationalistic.
To be hyper-endemic means not to be endemic.
To be hyper-sensitive means not to be sensitive.
To be hyper-excitable means not to be excitable.
To be hyper-parasitic means not to be parasitic.
To be hyper-functional means not to be functional.
Why is this? Because hyper– means, properly, “beyond” or “transcending.” It does not mean “extremely” or “at a high level.”
The same may be written of meta-, ultra-, and supra-. These prefixes also mean “beyond” or “transcending.”
If you want a prefix that means “at the interior limit,” “superior,” “at a high level,” or “extremely,” use super– instead. I understand the reluctance to do so, since super– sounds identical to the adjective super, which sounds schoolchildish rather than schoolish. However, I would argue that the prefix should be rehabilitated. So:
super-nationalistic (supra-nationalistic would mean “globalistic,” “cosmopolitan,” or “internationalistic”)
James Joyce has no problem using superseriously (without the hyphen, of course, since he is Joyce).
A Few Words of Introduction to PRINCIPLES OF ENGLISH USAGE: STANDARD WRITTEN AMERICAN ENGLISH by Joseph Suglia
Since there is confusion around the term “usage,” let me write a few words of introduction here.
Usage covers three areas:
a.) whether certain words should be used at all
b.) when certain words should be used
c.) where words should be used
The language of choice is Standard Written American English not because it is the only form of English or because it is the best form of English. It is the language of choice because it is the form of English that is political and institutional. Standard Written American English is no better than, for instance, Spanglish or Chinglish. It is simply the form of English that has been, by a series of historical accidents, politically and institutionally accepted.
Is “lightning” a verb? Is it acceptable to write, “It is lightninging”?
According to Standard Written American English, it is.
Is “you guys’s dog” Standard Written American English?
The descriptivists would say that it is, since the descriptivists believe that a community of language users does not need to be told how to use “their own” language. Descriptivists believe that language is a game without any rules. Language, according to the descriptivists, is a game of tennis that is played without a net, without a court, without a ball, and without rackets.
I would argue, on the other hand, that every language has its own set of rules already. It is absolutely fine to write, “you guys’s dog” in colloquial English. It is absolutely wrong to write, “you guys’s dog” in Standard Written American English.
What determines acceptability? The boundaries of acceptability are set by that which one can explain. All I am arguing for is a greater consciousness-in-writing. I wish that today’s writers would become more conscious writers.
When there is a question of meaning, instead of looking to the dictionaries, one should look at etymologies. The verb peruse is a good example of an amphibolous word. To peruse means, according to most dictionaries, both “to read carefully” and “to read carelessly.”
If one knows that the prefix per- means “thoroughly,” the choice becomes clear: To peruse means “to read carefully” in Standard Written American English, despite what dictionaries might tell you.
Dr. Joseph Suglia
ANALOGY BLINDNESS by Joseph Suglia
Over the years, I have invented a number of words and phrases. Genocide pornography is one that I am especially proud of (cf. my essays on Quentin Tarantino); anthropophagophobia is another word that I coined, which means “the fear of cannibalism” (cf. my interpretation of Shakespeare’s As You Like It). I would like to introduce to the world (also known as Google) a new linguistic term:
analogy blindness (noun phrase): the inability to perceive what an analogy represents. To be lost in the figure of an analogy itself, while losing sight of the concept that the analogy describes.
The Analogist: Polygamy is like going to a buffet instead of a single-serve restaurant. Both are inadvisable.
The Person Who is Blind to the Analogy: People love buffets!
The Analogist: Being taught how to write by Chuck Palahniuk is like being taught how to play football by a one-legged man.
The Person Who is Blind to the Analogy: A one-legged man who knows how to coach football? That’s great!
The Analogist: You should not have reprimanded her in such a rude manner for taking time off from work. You treated her as if she were guilty of some terrible offense, such as plagiarism.
The Person Who is Blind to the Analogy: But plagiarism is bad!
Derived from Hui-neng: When the wise person points at the Moon, the imbecile sees the finger.
“Happy Birthday to Infants!”
Please never say or write, “Happy Birthday!” (notice the capitalization and the exclamation mark), unless you are wishing happiness to a neonate who is coming into the world on the day on which you utter or inscribe these words.
If someone is seventy-eight years old, why wish that person a “Happy Birthday,” since s/he was born long ago? After all, she or he was not born today.
“Happy Birthday!” implies the giving of happiness on the day of someone’s nativity.
Instead say / write, “Happy Birth Anniversary!” I admit that it would be cumbersome / stilted / artificial to say or write, “I wish you happiness on the anniversary of the day of your birth” or “Happy Anniversary of the Day of Your Birth!”
Please note the punctuation and capitalization:
They shouted, “Happy Birth Anniversary!”
They wished her a “happy birth anniversary.”
“I find your tone very gratuitous”
“It is very nice to meet you, and I hope to see you again soon,” Cheyenne said with the most gratuitous tone she could muster into the phone.
And did I not have something of the same gratuitous tone where my wage-earning was concerned?
While the article is written in a somewhat gratuitous tone, I think that it is meant to be informative.
The three sentences above have two things in common:
a.) They are three of the most invasively galling and aggressively grating sentences that I have ever read in my life.
b.) They couple the words gratuitous and tone.
Despite what descriptivist dictionaries might tell us, gratuitous should not signify “unnecessary” or “unwarranted.” Gratuitous is derived from gratus and originally meant “what is freely given,” “what is given without the expectation of compensation.”
Thus, it makes no sense to write, “Abel Ferrara’s Body Snatchers (1993) contains a gratuitous scene of violence,” unless you are suggesting that the scene is given to audiences without the expectation of compensation.
Use supererogatory or superfluous instead.
Whenever someone says/writes the word tone, I usually do not understand what that person means. “You have to establish a tone in your writing”: In order to establish a tone, I must first know what the word tone signifies.
Tone is the vaguest, slipperiest word in the English language, and I wish that it would go extinct.
The color of her writing, the atmospherics, the mood of Daphne du Maurier’s novels — these terms, at least, are clear. Color, atmospherics, mood. I understand what prose style is.
Tone is more general than any of these words and refers to everything and nothing with equal acuity or vacuity.
Tone is used these days as a surrogate for the refutation of an argument: “I agree with what you are saying, but I don’t like your tone.” Instead of a reasoned disagreement, there is the accusation of a “bad tone,” and this accusation is supposed to shut down one’s argument.
There is no defense or recourse against such an accusation. Tone is irreducibly subjective.
When pressed, the accuser will say, “Well, I just don’t like the way that you said that.” This leads me to believe that tone is a camouflage word. It disguises the bluntness of “I don’t like the way that you said that.”
The German correlative of tone is der Ton and has a clearer meaning. For a contemporary use of this, consult Haneke’s film Funny Games (1997). Friedrich Hölderlin knew what he meant by the word when he employed it in his theory of tonal modulation (Wechsel der Töne).
My advice? Never use the English word tone, ever.
No one can convince anyone of anything. That’s right. You can persuade someone of something, but you cannot convince someone of something. However, you might be convinced of something or convinced that something is true.
EXAMPLES: I am convinced that he is trustworthy.
I am convinced of his trustworthiness.
BUT: She persuaded me that he is trustworthy.
Sarah Palin, who relishes killing animals, wrote in her book Going Rogue:
“[W]e had to control predators, such as wolves, that were decimating the moose and caribou herds that feed our communities.”
This is an instance of abusive misusage. To decimate means “to kill every tenth being.”
Deism vs. Theism—Or: Why I am Such a Spiritual Person
Deism is the belief in a creative demiurge. Theism is the belief that God intervenes in human affairs.
A deist believes that God created the world and then retired to a better place. A theist believes that God cares about your conduct: who you marry and how often you pray, whether or not, or when you eat bacon and fish sticks, etc.
Is it then possible to be an atheist and still believe in God? Strangely, the word adeist does not exist in the language.
The word spiritual is necessarily meaningless and ought to be stricken from our vocabulary. When people say that they are “spiritual,” I suspect that they mean they are deists—believers in God who do not adhere to any particular form of religiosity.