Monday, April 21, 2008

Tag, you're innit

From I got a link to an interesting little articlette on the BBC Web site about the use of innit to finish sentences as what they identify as a tag question. The article specifically notes that innit, which is a contraction of the contraction isn't it, is becoming or has become an all-purpose tag question.

Examples from their text:

"We need to decide what to do about that now innit." (don't we?)
"I'll show young Miss Hanna round to all the shops, innit." (won't I?)

The piece says two things that I kind of wonder about, but don't have the wherewithal to go investigate, namely:

But kids in urban Britain are using 'innit' to cover a wider and wider range of situations.

My wonderings:
  • kids: I wonder whether this is in fact limited to kids and teens, or whether it's established among (some) adults as well when they're speaking non-standard English.
  • wider and wider. I heard innit used when I lived in the UK many moons ago. The article is suggesting that semantic range of innit is actively increasing. True, or is this just another instance of the recency illusion?
In my experience, this is strictly a British usage, but we have one or two equivalents in the U.S. as well. The one that springs to mind is you know?, which we can substitute in the examples above:

"We need to decide what to do about that now, you know?"
"I'll show young Miss Hanna round to all the shops, you know?"

Are there other constructs that we can plug in here?

I already know that you know? drives people to distraction in the US, and I imagine that innit does the same in the UK. The article is at least putatively in response to the question "Isn't innit ungrammatical?" I am delighted that their answer is "no" (coz it's just a tag question) and that the article specifically references similar tag-question particles in other languages, like ¿verdad? in Spanish. Which probably drives a lot of people to distraction in Spanish-speaking countries. I am reminded also that in German, gell is used in this considered-substandard way. Which probably drives a lot of Germans to distraction.

Anyway, yay for the BBC for not just whining about those damn kids and how they're ruining the language, innit?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Well-grounded verbs

Michael B found something today in the MSN money blog entry that discusses the latest from Starbucks:

Starbucks needs to do everything it can to improve its image as a purveyor of premium coffee. The move towards pre-grinded coffee beans and automatic espresso makers left it vulnerable.
This is a little surprising. Historically, it's not unusual for irregular/strong verbs to move toward using the regular/weak pattern, which consists of whacking a -d/-ed ending onto the stem. (And no sound change.) We use this pattern in new verbs pretty much without exception. And we see it when a traditionally irregular verb is used in a new way that is sufficiently different to cause users to "forget" that it has an existing irregular past tense. (Examples frequently cited, including by me, are to fly out; to grandstand.) You can sense when verbs are teetering between irregular and regular, as I've noted before: what's the past of to troubleshoot? What about of to cheerlead?

What's surprising about grinded here is that the usual past tense -- ground -- is in constant use even in this context. People talk about fresh-ground coffee and about dumping the grounds. But perhaps that pre- threw off the writer; if we give him the benefit of the doubt here, he's analyzing to pre-grind as a new verb (to pregrind, let's say), and new verbs always take -d/-ed.

It's a mistake, from a purely editing perspective, but it's one that follows a rigid pattern, so to speak. If a body is going to get the past tense of to grind wrong, odds are that they'll get it wrong in exactly this way.

So, Google. The search grinded +coffee yields about 6 cups about 45,000 hits, including fresh grinded coffee and fine grinded and hand grinded and just plain grinded. (In fairness, a few of these are not native speakers, but a lot of them are.)

Grinded still sounds odd to me, but to quite a few people, apparently it does not. (Is it more prevalent in writing than in speech? That's a question that we here are not equipped to research, alas.) Let's check back in 20 years, see how things are developing.

Update (5 June 2008): Found this in a blog today: "While there was some discussion of how to fix the problems, it got overwhelmed by grinded axes swinging wildly against certain personalities in Microsoft India leadership."

Monday, April 07, 2008

noun rage

I ran across a reference today to something that's apparently not particularly new, but it's set me off on another one of these blog posts, dang it. The term was wrap rage, which I found (still with quotation marks -- single ones, how odd) in a C|NET article. They define wrap rage as "... what some consumers suffer when struggling to remove a product from a sealed plastic shell resistant to poking, prying, and tearing."

Not that this has ever happened to me. Haha.

Paul McFedries noted this term in 2005, but his cites go to 2003, and he notes that package rage is at least as old as 1999. I can only imagine that in those long-ago days, package rage was all about CDs.

So, time for a rage hunt, specifically of the form noun + rage. The first one that sprung to mind was road rage, which is when those morons around you just do not know how to drive. :-) (George Carlin: "Have you ever noticed? Anybody going slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac.")

Not so many rages as I thought, tho. McFedries had already found road rage, of course (first cite 1989), plus Web rage (mad coz your connection is so slow), air rage (bad-mouthing flight crews with extreme prejudice), and work rage, which might lead to going postal (1996).

Another one I remembered was roid rage, allegedly set off by overuse of steroids. An artificial example is Cage Rage, which involves guys fighting in a ring.

The pattern is clear enough -- rage set off by noun. (Cage Rage therefore doesn't follow the pattern, so we'll just dismiss him.) Given the examples, one might also conclude that the pattern calls for a single-syllable word preceding rage to get the appropriate spondee meter.

AFAIK, this pattern is not used when rage is used in the sense of popularity, e.g. all the rage.

What else can we find (or heck, invent) along these lines?