Re: Style Guide Word List: Filename / File name (was Re: Style guide feedback)

On Thu, Dec 20, 2001 at 10:24:22AM +0100, Rebecca J. Walter wrote:
> On Wed, 2001-12-19 at 20:57, Eugene O'Connor wrote:
> > Hello all,
> > 
> > I don't think we need to retain the term "file name". The term
> > "filename" is far enough along the evolutionary trend to the solid form
> > for us to use it in the solid form also. I think the same also applies
> > to the term "user name", which also appears in the Word List. 
> > 
> > Next time I update the Word List, I'll delete the terms "file name" and
> > "user name" and update "filename" and "username".
> > 
> > Thanks for raising this Darin.
> *bex runs away screaming
> sorry. my opinion is that just because a bunch of people do it wrong
> doesn't mean that you should standardize doing it wrong.
> but most people will probably disagree with me.  i just felt compelled
> to complain once.

So who gets to say what's "right" and "wrong"? Language is defined by
use, not by the International Union of Retired Grammar Teachers. 

I heard a marvelous talk several years ago by Steven Pinker, the MIT
linguist, that helped clarify this point for me.

The talk included a historical review of what we think of as "correct
grammar". Pinker argued that it is an artifact of 19th century Great
Britain, imposed as a way of distinguishing the upper classes (those
who knew "correct grammar") from everyone else. The poorer classes
spoke with a different grammar, not one that was intrinsically
"wrong," but simply one that was different from the one used by the
folks in charge. The upper classes used grammar as a way of
delineating themselves from the hoi polloi.

A grammar, Pinker argued more broadly, is a functional rule set
encoded implicitly through usage, not by any formalized set of
rules. The only thing that can be "wrong" about it is if it doesn't
work effectively as a communication tool for the people actually using
it. And then (is there any problem the evolutionary metaphor can't
aid?) it'll simply die out. Useful grammar propagates through the
language, non-useful grammar dies.

This does not mean anything goes, just that the notion of a "right"
and "wrong" grammar doesn't offer a helpful distinction.

A better concept, I think, is "standard" and "non-standard". You still
need a rule set, and you probably need it to be written down. But it
needs to reflect the reality that language is constantly changing. To
communicate most effectively, you need to pick a grammar that most
effectively communicates with the audience at hand.

If I'm using a conversational grammar in an email to a friend or my
Advogato diary, I'll use "gonna" and "prolly". If I'm writing a
newspaper story, I would never use those in the body text, but I might
in a quote to convey the colloquial language of a speaker. If I'm (God
forbid) writing a legal brief, I would use the charmingly stilted
grammar of the legal world. And if I'm writing computer documentation,
I'd use the language in most common use there, which is what Eugene is
arguing for.

None of these grammars is "right" or "wrong". Each is "standard" in
its area of application.

John Fleck
jfleck inkstain net (h),
"A M00se once bit my sister..."

[Date Prev][Date Next]   [Thread Prev][Thread Next]   [Thread Index] [Date Index] [Author Index]