May 21, 2012

Pink-collar jobs

The American Dialect Society chooses its "Word of the Year" at the society's annual convention in January. Words are nominated in several categories. If it catches on, would like to nominate the expression "pink collar job" as WOTY in the category "most outrageous word." (Nominations can be sent to  woty@americandialect.org any time.)


I came across the expression in an article in the NY Times today, about more and more men working in jobs that are normally dominated by women, such as dental assistants or kindergarten teachers.
Even more striking is the type of men who are making the shift. From 1970 to 1990, according to a study by Mary Gatta, the senior scholar at Wider Opportunities for Women, and Patricia A. Roos, a sociologist at Rutgers, men who took so-called pink-collar jobs tended to be foreign-born non-English speakers with low education levels — men who, in other words, had few choices.
(When I did a Google search, I realized that "pink collar" workers have been around for quite some time, see, for example, this 2003 article in USA Today. Duh.)

May 18, 2012

Misidentification of the passive is not prudent

I've complained more than once about the bad rap the passive voice is getting in style manuals. What's most annoying is that the people who would like to see the passive banned often have no clue what they are talking about. The result can be seen in this excerpt, from an advice column in Slate magazine (highlighting by me):
Dear Prudence,I've come to understand that some misbehavior is common among men who travel for business, but I don't really know where I stand. I love my wife dearly, and we have a happy marriage. We both travel a lot for work. As soon as I arrive at a new destination, I find myself sitting in strip bars, going to porn theaters, and cruising through red light districts. I don't know why I do it, and often I don't even want to be there, but something keeps pulling me to these places. I've never cheated on my wife, but I'm afraid that I'm going to make a terrible mistake. Once I found myself in a (legal) brothel being solicited by women who I'm sure were wondering why I was there if I didn't want sex. I left, felt nauseated for the rest of the trip, and could barely look my wife in the eye when I got home. Would it be OK to go to only strip clubs, but not other sexual establishments? Or do I need to cut it off entirely, something that I'm not sure is possible? I've debated finding new work, but that would only solve half of the problem as my wife travels as much as I do, and similar problems appear when I'm home alone.
—Feeling Bad

Prudence writes:

I'm sure there are many diagnoses that can be slapped on your illicit conduct, but how about if you start practicing being as responsible about your sexual behavior as you are about your work behavior. Toward that end, stop with the passive voice. You don't "find" yourself at brothels and strip clubs. You get to town, look up their addresses, then get a ride there.  


To which I say: Stop throwing around terms like "passive voice," when clearly you have no clue what they mean. If you consider yourself an authority on interpersonal behavior, stick to that domain in your advice column. 

May 17, 2012

Talkin' 'bout an evolution

President Obama has changed his mind on same-sex marriage. No, wait, his position on the subject has "evolved". What an interesting choice of verb. In Modern English, it can be used as a non-agentive intransitive verb (or a so-called "unaccusative" or "ergative" verb), meaning, "To be transformed from one form into another by a process of gradual modification."

This use of "evolve" is fairly recent (19th century). According to the OED, originally, the verb was used transitively and agentively, meaning "to bring to light," "to release." But that is precisely not what President Obama had in mind when he made the famous (and often-ridiculed) statement listed below:

President Obama, December 2010: "My feelings about this are constantly evolving" (note the use of progressive aspect "is evolving")

..... evolving..... 

.....more evolving .....

....lots of evolving ..... 

... Vice President Biden going on record with saying he is "absolutely comfortable" with same-sex marriage...

President Obama, May 2012: "I've been going through an evolution of this issue... " (note the use of perfective aspect: "have been")

And the result?
I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married." (ABC News Interview)
Note that the verbs used here (conclude, go ahead, affirm, think) all express deliberate involvement of the subject. Note also the use of the first person. The subject is now the President himself, not some part of him, like "his feelings." It makes you think of the etymology of "to evolve": In Latin, "evolvere" means "to eject with a rolling motion, to roll out our away".

See video snippets of the President's linguistic evolution here.