June 29, 2010

between you and I and Larry King

“I talked to the guys here at CNN and I told them I would like to end ‘Larry King Live,’ the nightly show, this fall and CNN has graciously accepted, giving me more time for my wife and I to get to the kids’ little league games,” Mr. King wrote in the blog post.
What's stunning about this statement is not so much that Larry King will not renew his contract for his daily talk show on CNN, nor that he and his wife are bent on spending time together after filing for divorce earlier this year, rather, it is the fact that after several decades as a journalist (Wikipedia talks about more than 40,000 interviews) he still falls into the coordination trap.

Mr. King, between you and I: Prepositions are not followed by nominative case, period. It's "more time for my wife and me," not "my wife and I." Rule of thumb: For the second coordinate, use the same case as for the first. You wouldn't say "more time for I," and "for my wife and I" is not any different.

June 27, 2010

repeat with me: the ghoti-joke is a myth

There is no evidence that the playwright George Bernard Shaw ever said that English spelling was so little systematic, the word "fish" might as well be spelled as "ghoti" ("gh" as in "laugh", "o" as in "women," and "ti" as in "nation," in case you were wondering). And yet, the lame ghoti-joke is attributed to GBS over and over again. One cannot set the record straight often enough. Here's a recent attempt by Ben Zimmer:

English spelling does not actually work by stitching together parts of words in Frankensteinian fashion. Ghoti falls down for the same reason, if you stop to think about it. Do we ever represent the “f” sound as gh at the beginning of a word or the “sh” sound as ti at the end of a word? And for that matter, is the vowel of fish ever spelled with an “o” in any word other than women? English spelling might be messy, but it does follow some rules.

[...] Victorians often amused themselves with genteel language games, so why not one involving the rejiggering of common words? Into the 20th century, other jokey respellings made the rounds, such as ghoughphtheightteeau for potato (that’s gh as in hiccough, ough as in though, phth as in phthisis, eigh as in neigh,tte as in gazette and eau as in beau).

Ghoti was elevated above these other spelling gags when it became attached to the illustrious name of Shaw — who, like Churchill and Twain, seems to attract free-floating anecdotes. If Shaw never said it, who was responsible for the attribution? I blame the philologist Mario Pei, who spread the tale in The Los Angeles Times in 1946 and then again in his widely read 1949 book, “The Story of Language.” Pei could have been confusing Shaw with another prominent British spelling reformer, the phonetician Daniel Jones (said to be one of the models for Shaw’s Henry Higgins in “Pygmalion” ), since Jones really did make use of the ghoti joke in a 1943 speech.

With Shaw’s supposed imprimatur, ghoti lingers with us. Jack Bovill, chairman of the Spelling Society, told me that despite its jocularity, ghoti is nonetheless “useful as an example of how illogical English spelling can be.” I beg to differ: if presented with ghoti, most people would simply pronounce it as goaty. You don’t have to be a spelling-bee champ to know that written English isn’t entirely a free-for-all.

June 25, 2010

travels to germany

Some impressions from recent travels to Germany.

aloha from harlem

Harlem is about to get its first new hotel in decades, and 75 or so applicants hoping to land a job there mingled on a soundstage at the Apollo Theater wearing brightly colored leis, sang along to Michael Jackson videos and introduced themselves with nicknames like Amazing Ashton and Phenomenal Patti. [...] The hotel — part of a fast-growing, youth-oriented chain run by the people behind the W hotels — has a sassy attitude, said Aleks Truglio, the hotel’s sales and marketing director. It also has its own lingo, referring to its employees as “talent." [...] We’re looking for people who are sassy, savvy, outgoing — the people who love working with other people and who embrace human contact,” Ms. Truglio said, adding that the hotel’s check-in desk, where guests will be greeted with “aloha” rather than “hello,” was round, so as to feel welcoming from all angles.

Ridiculous, but easily trumped by the lingo used at the Amalfi hotel in Chicago, where memebers of the housekeeping staff are referred to as "comfort stylists."