Monday, August 12, 2013

Haplologizing the peeververein

Catching up with the well-deserved praise for John McIntyre posted at Barrie England's Caxton blog, I noticed a tiny and (to me) very interesting slip. England wrote:
The peeverein should read [McIntyre's post], but of course they won’t. I recommend it in its entirety (it isn’t long), but here are his trenchant comments on some of the tired old grumbles.
Now, peeververein, with four syllables, is John's own coinage, as far as I know; it's a bastard German word meaning "band of peevers" or "society of peevers." I admired it when it debuted, but I also wondered if it wasn't a good candidate for haplology, the excision of one of those nearly identical syllables. Why not just make it peeverein? And that's what Barrie England has done.

It's true that it's not a perfect haplology if you're approximating a German verein, pronouncing the ver more or less like "fair." (At least that's my distant memory.) But if we can haplologize odoriferous to odiferous (as many do), surely we could handle peeverein for peeververein? I eagerly await the response of the esteemed neologist himself ...

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Garden path to nowhere

Today, a Boston Globe headline on a story about an antiques auction truly mystified me. It wasn't your garden-variety garden path sentence, requiring only the the shake of a head to rejigger the interpretation -- it was a puzzle that took several paragraphs to solve. The hed:

Imperfect appeal to the impecunious

My reading was that some dealers (of the secretary, ladderback chair, clock, or portrait that were shown in photos) were insufficiently sensitive to the financial constraints of potential buyers.  That is, their appeal to the impecunious [customers] was imperfect. 

If you read the story, you learn that what the hed means is, approximately: Imperfect [antiques] appeal to the impecunious [buyer]. (That is, the buyer who will spend $300-$500 for a foot-long wood finial taken from an 18th-century house in Dorchester, or $400-$600 for a painted Bible box.)

It looks as if the hed writer gave in to an obvious temptation. As the text explains, "most of the furniture [in the auction] is pictured in [John T.] Kirk's 'The* Impecunious Collector's Guide to American Antiques' ... and his 'The Impecunious House Restorer: Personal Vision and Historical Accuracy.'" I  don't think this justifies using "impecunious" in a newspaper headline -- almost nothing would -- but if it were "impecunious buyers appreciate the imperfect," at least the reader might understand it.

(I think someone at the paper may agree with me. I couldn't find the headline anywhere in the online newspaper, even in Today's Paper, supposedly a page-by-page replica.)

*My fellow Cranky Old Editors will remember when you dropped the "The" from a title if -- I quote the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed. -- "it does not fit the surrounding syntax." Thus, "Hawking's Brief History of Time explains black holes" and "That dreadful Old Curiosity Shop character." Less experienced editors -- the ones who put a hyphen in "a more-perfect union" -- seem wary of leaving anything out, tradition or not. Maybe because you can't be wrong if it's all there, however unnecessary.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

How do youse spell it?

Headlining today’s report on the Whitey Bulger trial, my hometown paper went with a defiant quote from Whitey’s affirmation that he would not be testifying:

Hmm. I don't know about youse guys, but I've never thought of using yous for that (usually plural) dialect variant of you. It's normal in plurals like thank-yous and how-could-yous, and both spellings are used for the contraction of "you is," but yous guys? Not in my spelling book.

It may have been a Globe style ruling: The yous version also appeared in Kevin Cullen's column, though it may not have been his choice.* After quoting Whitey, he added a comment with a more colorful spelling: "Sort of appropriate that his final word would include a 'yooze.' For all his literary pretentions, Whitey is a thug, and he talks like one."

(Interestingly, a story on the Globe's website filed yesterday, when testimony ended, has neither youse nor yous: The quote has Whitey saying “Do what you want with me.” But cleaning up quotes, a labyrinthine issue, is not today's topic.) 

The court transcript of the hearing may be the reason for today's use of yous: That's how the court reporter wrote it. For me, that's not a good enough reason. The court's idea of how to spell the word has no special authority; it could just as easily have been transcribed as youse or youze. And the Globe has historically chosen youse as its preferred spelling, though naturally examples are scarce. In the archives since 1988, there are 37 instances of youse, and only two (besides the Bulger cites) of yous.

I haven't the time (nor the brains, possibly) to design a wider search for the yous spelling that won't drown me in a sea of thank-yous and I-dare-yous and such. But a Google Ngram search (American English) for yous guys (blue) vs. youse guys (red) puts youse far ahead, for what it's worth.

On the other hand, the online OED, in an entry updated last year, gives only the spelling yous, with the label "regional (chiefly Irish EnglishU.S., and Austral." -- even though three** of its eight cites spell it youse. (Youse is mentioned only as an 18th-century variant.) And several American dictionaries give both spellings, though I haven't found one that offers only yous.

Maybe this is just a word that appears so rarely in edited prose that a consensus spelling hasn't emerged. Or is it a generational thing, like mic vs. mike, with younger people, more distant from the hard-boiled baddies of earlier fiction, inventing the spelling anew (and dropping the final e)? It seems to be a live issue; just last month, the staff at NewsWorks, the news site of Philadelphia's WHYY, hosted*** a debate on yous vs. youse.

I'm sure I've left many stones unturned in this quest, so I'm looking forward to hearing some helpful testimony from y'all, yinz, youse, and all the rest of you guys (of both sexes) out there.

*I have e-mailed him asking for clarification.
**One American, one English, one Australian.
***I'm so glad host as a verb is no longer taboo.