Far from the Madding Gerund
and other dispatches from the Language Log

by Mark Liberman and Geoffrey K. Pullum

Note: this site is not giving legal advice, simply organizing information from various classes and texts. If you need legal advice consult your lawyer.

Chapters:

  1. Random monkeys & mendacious pontificating old windbag [some (mostly false) claims about language]
  2. The meaning of the lines [precision in language]
  3. Common and inevitable [language in evolution]
  4. Slips of the ear [hearing, speaking, and spelling]
  5. Learn your grammar, Becky [some disastrously unhelpful guidance on usage]
  6. Avoiding pseudo-text in cyberspace [language goes to college]
  7. The fractal deconstruction of Yankeehood [vocabulary lessons]
  8. The sixteen first rules of fiction [and other writing tips]

Chapters:

Some key quotations to give the sense of each chapter, with page numbers from the 2006 paperback version.

Foreword by James D. McCawley

1. Random monkeys & mendacious pontificating old windbag [some (mostly false) claims about language]

Pullum pans Strunk and White relentlessly. A few early samples:

the perennially clueless Strunk and White [p.5]

Strunk & White's stupid little book
... it is not just that Strunk & White offer crappy advice; it's that they demonstrate that their advice is crappy whenever they write, because they are unable to follow their own advice, even on a bet. And as Mark [Lieberman] says, nor should they. [p.7]

Lieberman is delighted by "Effle":

a useful word for the pseudo-language of many phrase books (and some linguistic examples), and claims that Ionesco's Bald Soprano was written (in French) as an imitation of Effle sentences in the books from which he learned English.

... The examples are mostly meaningful enough ... But they have a sort of artificial feeling, like not-quite-real computer-generated movie scenes. [p.15]

Pullum relishes his aggravation of copy editors:

Oh, dear, I've made a copy editor irritable. [p.41]

and enthuses over use of adjectives:

the people who decry adjectives as indicative of bad writing are totally nuts. [p.67]

2. The meaning of the lines [precision in language]

Oh, the aggrieved self-righteous mockery is amusing in small doses, but now that I am looking back over the book to pick out characteristic quotations, I can see that it's a bit repetitive and I have more interesting things to do, like reading my way through the Booker Prize winning and nominated books (currently on the 2002 Booker Prize short lister, Sarah Waters' Fingersmith) and sorting through my T-shirt collection and filling a box for Goodwill.

3. Common and inevitable [language in evolution]

4. Slips of the ear [hearing, speaking, and spelling]

5. Learn your grammar, Becky [some disastrously unhelpful guidance on usage]

6. Avoiding pseudo-text in cyberspace [language goes to college]

7. The fractal deconstruction of Yankeehood [vocabulary lessons]

8. The sixteen first rules of fiction [and other writing tips]