Pinker on language


in Books and literature, Psychology, Writing

Language is not a protocol legislated by an authority but rather a wiki that pools the contributions of millions of writers and speakers, who ceaselessly bend the language to their needs and who inexorably age, die, and get replaced by their children, who adapt the language in their turn.

Pinker, Steven. The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. p. 3 (hardcover)

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

. October 27, 2014 at 9:15 pm
. July 9, 2016 at 2:11 pm

Prevailing winds

The “usage wars” are coming to an end, and good sense is winning

. September 9, 2017 at 6:25 pm

EVERY trade is also a tribe, and journalists are no exception. One way that tribes, from teens to programmers, signal membership of the group is through language. Hacks do the same. They write “hed” for headline, “lede” or “intro” for the first sentence in a story, “graf” for “paragraph”, “nut graf” for the core paragraph that gives the story’s main idea. The last line is always the “kicker”.

In the main text, journalists tend to the opposite sin. Instead of being obscure, they make prose feel so drearily familiar that the reader wonders if the paper came out last month—or even last year. A satirical piece in the Washington Post covered the white-nationalist marches in Virginia as though written by a hack foreign correspondent, describing “tribal politics” and “flashpoints” in which the “Trump regime” sided with the “ethnic majority”. Good editors have a list of clichés that they strike from their pages with zeal. Only a journalist finds “fresh” a fresh synonym for “new”, so that the reader hears of “fresh clashes” or “fresh elections”, or in one grisly example, “fresh bodies” washing up weeks after a tsunami. Only in the papers do time periods “see” this or that: March saw major demonstrations, April saw fresh clashes, and so on.

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