Rurik Tywoniw


Microblogging about words

Prescriptivist li(n)es

As old as the issue may be, linguistic prescriptivism is still in our faces, now thanks to the backseat style-checking that is pre-enabled in most word processors now. This is additional to the long standing spell-checker squigglies and grammar squigglies we’re used to. The new checker, which you can see in action to the right, is there to catch grammatically acceptable, and correctly spelled, swaths of text that are simply not Strunky or Whitey enough. Sometimes this feature catches comma splices, and reminds you that your apostrophized contraction might anger your boss (will it?). In my mind, the most pernicious style policing these checkers do is about “conciseness”, which I am certain the algorithm has a cogent definition of (it got mad right here) and has a reasoned argument for why concise phrasing is strictly better than elaborated phrasing (spoiler: it doesn’t).

In one email, the checker hit me three times over conciseness issues. It wanted me to change “bring up” to “mention”, which I think is reasonable enough.

It then wanted me to change “come up with” to “produce”. The implicit object in this case was a set of ideas, but it’s hardly correct to assume “produce” is strictly a better phrase that “come up with” for ideas. “I’ll let you know what ideas we produce”? Please, no.

Finally, it suggested I cut “in order to” down to just “to” for conciseness. In this sentence, that would leave me with the foul-tasting “Who do I… build a bridge to to…", and in the email register, I’m certainly not starting a question with "To whom.”

I understand economy of page and the importance of brevity, but the suggestions above were hardly synonyms that could be slotted in for brevity’s sake without sacrificing tone and meaning.

What are goals?

This is my Daruma friend -->

When I received the Daruma as a gift when I started my PhD, it had no eyes. Its eyes are meant to represent your progress towards a specific goal. You receive a blank Daruma, you add a single eye at the beginning of your progress, and add the other eye when you read your goal. As you can see, the Daruma is whole.

Yet, it remains offputting. Its expression seems to convey the panicked message “What now!?”

It silently bores this into the back of my head from its shelf with its newfound eyes. And I understand why: we accomplished the goal, right? Even with a major accomplishment like finishing a doctoral degree, it does not take long before my mind shifts to feelings of stagnation and self-doubt. I immediately return to thinking it is time to start a new massive project or else wallow in an unenjoyable sense of accomplishment.

Is this healthy? Maybe. Keeping productive on the tails of an achievement is good, so a goal can just be the promise of satiation which encourages forward progress. But maybe a little celebration and relaxation is good too, so is a goal instead the promise of respite? Daruma isn't sure.