Posts Tagged ‘OED’

Monday Medley

What we read while asking Bob Costas his thoughts on the fiscal cliff…

Stylish

9780205309023Who died and put Strunk and White in charge of the English language?

If you talk to anyone who takes the rules of grammar and usage seriously, the names Strunk and White are bound to come up. The Elements of Style, the “little book” that was originally self-published by Professor William Strunk, Jr. at Cornell University and then, fifty years ago, was edited and mass produced by his former student, E.B. White, has become the definitive authority for amateur grammarians.

Wondering what constitutes a split infinitive? Check Strunk and White. Need to know when to use a semicolon? Check Strunk and White. What’s the difference between “shall” and “will”? Check Strunk and White.

But where exactly does their authority come from?

On the one hand, it comes from the fact that the snobs who always correct you when you misuse the subjunctive mood and wince when you use “good” as an adverb generally worship at the alter of Strunk and White. Its brevity and sardonic tone (“Prestigious: Often an adjective of last resort. It’s in the dictionary, but that doesn’t mean you have to use it.”) help to make it handy for every show-off on the go. Continue reading

On “You’re Welcome”

I find social norms interesting especially when it isn’t entirely clear why they exist. One I was pondering in a state of half-sleep last night was the norm of saying, “You’re welcome” after “Thank you.”

Why do we say it? The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) cites the first documented usage in W.W. Jacob’s 1907 Short Cruises. And, OED defines it as “a polite formula used in response to an expression of thanks.” While “you’re welcome” is sometimes used as a “polite formula,” those who use “you’re welcome” often have a more precise intended meaning. When someone responds, “you’re welcome,” they are acknowledging that thanks is owed. Let’s call this type of response to “thank you” a category one reply.

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