Sunday, May 10, 2015

Volcano gods angry!

My favorite potential band name from the recent ACES conference came when one of the dictionary editors was defending the standards of the trade: "We're not free-love descriptivists." Few word people are. Some innovations work, and some don't, and it's probably a good idea to hold off on the champagne until you have an idea of where stuff is going and how likely it is to get there. Apparently, that isn't happening downtown (online hed shown above, bullet item from the print edition at right).

Sorry. "Offer" doesn't do that -- or, worse, that's exactly what "offer" does in the OED's first definition:

To present (something) to God, a god, a saint, etc., as an act of devotion; to sacrifice; to give in worship

Yes, there follows a definition ("now chiefly archaic or regional") meaning "to make an offer," mostly of marriage, but it takes the preposition, as in "Lord Lansdowne offered to Miss Molesworth." A similar one, to offer on a house, crops in British, Canadian and US usage. But "offer" meaning "to make an offer to" is a new one on me. Still,  rimrats as well as writers seem to recognize it, it gets passive the way verbs do, and story subjects themselves use it elsewhere in the Saturday paper. It's clearly a verb for some people who write about college football recruiting.

I'd be less annoyed -- well, not much less annoyed -- if I hadn't seen this at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network around the same time:
Sure, you can upgrade to first class, but tropical cyclones don't invent weather scales and probably don't even use them. Somebody has to upgrade the poor things; they can't upgrade themselves. You can't make "Ana upgraded" better by making it active; you only make it sillier.

Descriptivism is sort of the grammar equivalent of realism. You don't have to like a regime or what it does or the people who run it, but if it's been in power for six decades, you should probably go ahead and treat it like it's in power. As a corollary: If you don't like seeing jargon slip into news coverage, the time to stop it is now. Tell people to write for their audience, not for their sources. Tell cops writers to stop sounding like cop reports; tell sports writers to stop sounding like the sort of dirtbags who recruit junior-high kids to play Division I revenue sports. Don't be a Free Love Descriptivist -- though if you do, rehearsals are in my basement.

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Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

But even they use it as bitransitive once they go to a full sentence. And bitransitive verbs can put their indirect object in the subject slot in passive (unlike many languages, including English of five centuries ago) but ONLY if the direct object is included: he was offered a scholarship, he was sold a bill of goods. English passive still interprets an empty direct-object slot as meaning the subject came from there.

Ps- do they really say "ESU offered the student"?

5:57 AM, May 10, 2015  
Anonymous raYb said...

The Ridger is probably 100% on that, but it takes a lot of sorting out that newspaper readers have little time for. The phrasing might be admissible in court, depending on what was being offered and the presence of a proposition, uh preposition-The man offered the heroin TO the junkie FOR ...

3:22 PM, May 10, 2015  
Blogger fev said...

Yeah, they really do say "ESU offered the student" (or "Student offered" in the headline passive).

As far as I can tell, it's pretty recent in print, for which it has to get past at least one (you'd hope) editor as well as the writer. The first one I can find is from April 30, which uses both "verbally offered a scholarship to (Hinson)" and "are not the first school to offer Hinson."

It's apparently widespread enough among athletes that one of the eighth-graders in question quoted a coach as saying "tell him that Akron football was the first one to offer you." I don't know if that means it's too late to stop it.

7:06 PM, May 10, 2015  

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