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Thread: Precision in Language

  1. #1 Precision in Language 
    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
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    I believe that careful and proper use of language facilitates communication. Obvious? I would have thought so, yet many people seem to delight in their inability to comprehend, or at least use, basic language conventions.

    I'm not talking here of persons who are posting in a second, or third language. They have my admiration for any language abilities they bring to the table. I mean native or at least fluent English speakers. What especially disturbs me is when they use this sloppy English to wriggle out of what they have said.

    Here is an example, lifted from another thread. You will not be surprised to see that I have used our old friend archie to illustrate my point.

    Quote Originally Posted by archaeologist
    evolutionists here prove they are worse than christians
    Quote Originally Posted by John Galt
    So you admit Christians are bad. The sequence is bad, worse, worst. If you say evolutionists are worse (a comparative) then that requires that Christians be bad.
    Quote Originally Posted by archaeologist
    distortion. said no such thing. did your english class teach you to do that as well/ i am just writing very simply so you all will be able to understand it.
    I can assure you of this archie, your English skills are average, but they lack the precision required for meaningful discussion.

    Are you unaware that adjectives come in three forms?
    • Basic
      Comparative
      Superlative

    Examples would include big, bigger, biggest. Mean, meaner, meanest.
    Where a distinct word does not exist for the comparative and superlative forms the words more (or less) and most (or least) are used. For example, gullible, more gullible, most gullible.

    The basic form of the adjective is used to describe a singular instance. It was a large house. It is a blue flower. I would like to go on a nice holiday. In these examples there is only one house, one flower and one potential holiday.

    The comparative form of the adjective requires at least two instances, though there could be more. It was a larger house than his brother's. (Comparison with one other house.) It was a bluer flower than the others in the border. (Comparison with several other flowers.) It was a nicer holiday than the one he took last year. (Comparison with one other holiday.)

    The superlative form of the adjective requires two or more instances. The described word possesses the decribed characteristic to a greater (or lesser) degree than any other. It was the largest house in the street. It was the bluest flower in the vase. It was the nicest holiday he could imagine.

    So, unless you are using the basic form of the adjective you are automatically making a comparison of the degree of the characteristic defined by the adjective. Your sentence was "evolutionists here prove they are worse than christians."

    To remind you, the adjective is bad and its comparative is worse.

    The comparative and superlative of bad are worse and worst respectively. For evolutionists to be worse than Christians, Christians must be bad. Otherwise there is nothing for the comparative to compare with within the sentence. Therefore, the meaning of your sentence is that Christians are bad (but evolutionists are worse).

    This is not, as you claim, distorting your words, but reading them accurately as they have been written. Now I know you did not intend them the way you have written them. But that is my point. Your written English is substandard. Substandard writing skills are often associated with poorly formulated, illogical thought processes. Those, I suspect, lie at the heart of your problems.


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  3. #2  
    Forum Professor marcusclayman's Avatar
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    Thank you for the English lesson. I'm sure it missed the target but I found it helpful.


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  4. #3  
    Forum Junior Artemis's Avatar
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    I agree it would be a lot easier, if everyone would respond in proper english, still you can't expect everyone to master your skill in english. It seems that especially bta (math) oriented people have difficulty with grammar issues. It's a good point showing their mistakes though, as long as you do it in a 'kind' way :P
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  5. #4  
    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Artemis
    It's a good point showing their mistakes though, as long as you do it in a 'kind' way :P
    I will always strive to be diplomatic and 'gentle' with either the very young, the not so bright, or foreign language speakers. I don't reserve that approach for a known troll like archie.

    I need to make one amendement, or comment on my initial post. I wrote it from memory of secondary school English classes forty years ago, so I checked it against Fowler's English Usage (The second edition edited by Sir Edward Gowers.) when I got home. Keep in mind this is vintage 1964 and I think acceptable usage has changed somewhat. At any rate Fowler prefers that the comparative be used for comparisons between only two instances, though he accepts the occasional use of it for more.
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    I will always strive to be diplomatic and 'gentle' with either the very young,
    Ahhh, I can breathe again. :-D
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  7. #6  
    Forum Professor marcusclayman's Avatar
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    "Ahhh, I can breathe again."

    What do you mean... Didn't you say you were 50? :P
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  8. #7 Re: Precision in Language 
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Galt
    The comparative and superlative of bad are worse and worst respectively. For evolutionists to be worse than Christians, Christians must be bad. Otherwise there is nothing for the comparative to compare with within the sentence. Therefore, the meaning of your sentence is that Christians are bad (but evolutionists are worse).
    "Worse" can also simply mean "of lower quality" or "inferior to." One might say "Bob is worse than Steve at darts," and it doesn't necessarily imply that Steve is in any way bad at darts - it could simply mean that Bob is inferior to Steve, however good they both might be.
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  9. #8 Re: Precision in Language 
    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scifor Refugee
    "Worse" can also simply mean "of lower quality" or "inferior to." One might say "Bob is worse than Steve at darts," and it doesn't necessarily imply that Steve is in any way bad at darts - it could simply mean that Bob is inferior to Steve, however good they both might be.
    Only if you are speaking third rate English. That's not an error I've seen you commit.
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  10. #9 Re: Precision in Language 
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    Whether or not it is "third rate" is arguable, but the Oxford English Dictionary lists "Less good, not so good, inferior; of lower quality or value" as an accepted usage.
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  11. #10 Re: Precision in Language 
    Forum Freshman jp1989's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Galt
    I believe that careful and proper use of language facilitates communication. Obvious? I would have thought so, yet many people seem to delight in their inability to comprehend, or at least use, basic language conventions.

    I'm not talking here of persons who are posting in a second, or third language. They have my admiration for any language abilities they bring to the table. I mean native or at least fluent English speakers. What especially disturbs me is when they use this sloppy English to wriggle out of what they have said.

    Here is an example, lifted from another thread. You will not be surprised to see that I have used our old friend archie to illustrate my point.

    Quote Originally Posted by archaeologist
    evolutionists here prove they are worse than christians
    Quote Originally Posted by John Galt
    So you admit Christians are bad. The sequence is bad, worse, worst. If you say evolutionists are worse (a comparative) then that requires that Christians be bad.
    Quote Originally Posted by archaeologist
    distortion. said no such thing. did your english class teach you to do that as well/ i am just writing very simply so you all will be able to understand it.
    I can assure you of this archie, your English skills are average, but they lack the precision required for meaningful discussion.

    Are you unaware that adjectives come in three forms?
    • Basic
      Comparative
      Superlative

    Examples would include big, bigger, biggest. Mean, meaner, meanest.
    Where a distinct word does not exist for the comparative and superlative forms the words more (or less) and most (or least) are used. For example, gullible, more gullible, most gullible.

    The basic form of the adjective is used to describe a singular instance. It was a large house. It is a blue flower. I would like to go on a nice holiday. In these examples there is only one house, one flower and one potential holiday.

    The comparative form of the adjective requires at least two instances, though there could be more. It was a larger house than his brother's. (Comparison with one other house.) It was a bluer flower than the others in the border. (Comparison with several other flowers.) It was a nicer holiday than the one he took last year. (Comparison with one other holiday.)

    The superlative form of the adjective requires two or more instances. The described word possesses the decribed characteristic to a greater (or lesser) degree than any other. It was the largest house in the street. It was the bluest flower in the vase. It was the nicest holiday he could imagine.

    So, unless you are using the basic form of the adjective you are automatically making a comparison of the degree of the characteristic defined by the adjective. Your sentence was "evolutionists here prove they are worse than christians."

    To remind you, the adjective is bad and its comparative is worse.

    The comparative and superlative of bad are worse and worst respectively. For evolutionists to be worse than Christians, Christians must be bad. Otherwise there is nothing for the comparative to compare with within the sentence. Therefore, the meaning of your sentence is that Christians are bad (but evolutionists are worse).

    This is not, as you claim, distorting your words, but reading them accurately as they have been written. Now I know you did not intend them the way you have written them. But that is my point. Your written English is substandard. Substandard writing skills are often associated with poorly formulated, illogical thought processes. Those, I suspect, lie at the heart of your problems.
    I agree with you in that the proper construction of an argument leads to rational communication which is desirable in an information oriented medium such as the internet. More emotional exchange is suited for sexual encounters, discussions with my mother, rock concerts and MMORPG.
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  12. #11  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard icewendigo's Avatar
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    Work vs casual discussion, error vs ignorance

    When you prepare a homework or a letter, its not a real time fluid activity, in that you typically do more thinking before forming the sentence in writing, you often evaluate what you wrote, make adjustments correct errors, and re-read the whole text, etc. You get a certain level of quality (less errors of types you know) but at the expense of time.

    When you have a casual verbal discussion its fluid and comparatively fast, you dont go back in time to correct any error, and various contractions and mispronounciations occur in casual conversation.

    The internet is now a new meeting place, and some people use it as an equivalent to casual discussions even if its in written form, which means you write what comes to mind with relative haste with the devil may care about errors as a reasonable price for expresing your opinion or saying something and then move on with other things in you life.

    Personally speaking, most(but not all) of the numerous errors I make are due to a casual haste and the inability to produce a written text thats both correct and fluid(on-the-spot-direct/quick/natural) in its delivery.

    :wink:
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  13. #12  
    Forum Junior Artemis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by icewendigo
    The internet is now a new meeting place, and some people use it as an equivalent to casual discussions even if its in written form, which means you write what comes to mind with relative haste with the devil may care about errors as a reasonable price for expresing your opinion or saying something and then move on with other things in you life.

    Personally speaking, most(but not all) of the numerous errors I make are due to a casual haste and the inability to produce a written text thats both correct and fluid(on-the-spot-direct/quick/natural) in its delivery.

    :wink:
    True, but when you want to make a point with your argument and be taken scientificaly serious you can't permit to make those 'casual mistakes'. I have to admit I make them myself (also because I'm not a native speaker), but I try to avoid them as much as I can, while there are others who don't make an effort at all.
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  14. #13  
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    Language is about communication. Communicating ideas, emotions, etc. For any given circumstance such as a scientific journal, an Internet forum, text messaging and so on the language is fine (or not) depending on what the original purpose is. Was the purpose achieved?

    Posters on a forum such as this who can't convey an idea in 15 lines or less are usually failing at communication more often than the individual with an unique use of grammar or spelling. The failure is so great that many readers do not even attempt to read or wade through their convoluted posting.

    Brevity, preciseness, wit etc.are more valuable as communication skills on the Internet than long ponderous postings.
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  15. #14  
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    Quote Originally Posted by raptordigits
    Language is about communication. Communicating ideas, emotions, etc. For any given circumstance such as a scientific journal, an Internet forum, text messaging and so on the language is fine (or not) depending on what the original purpose is. Was the purpose achieved?

    Posters on a forum such as this who can't convey an idea in 15 lines or less are usually failing at communication more often than the individual with an unique use of grammar or spelling. The failure is so great that many readers do not even attempt to read or wade through their convoluted posting.

    Brevity, preciseness, wit etc.are more valuable as communication skills on the Internet than long ponderous postings.
    Excellent points. :wink:
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  16. #15  
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    The comparative and superlative of bad are worse and worst respectively. For evolutionists to be worse than Christians, Christians must be bad.
    Excuse this non-native English speaker's asking for clarification. If my basement is colder than my living room, does that imply that my living room is cold? Exactly how cold would it be, i.e. what would be its temperature? What does "cold" mean in this context? Can you determine an absolute measure from nothing but the relation of two unspecified values?

    So, if Dopey is taller than Grumpy, Dopey must be a really tall guy... because Grumpy is already tall?

    What an awesome language this is!
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  17. #16  
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    Quote Originally Posted by M
    The comparative and superlative of bad are worse and worst respectively. For evolutionists to be worse than Christians, Christians must be bad.
    Excuse this non-native English speaker's asking for clarification. If my basement is colder than my living room, does that imply that my living room is cold? Exactly how cold would it be, i.e. what would be its temperature? What does "cold" mean in this context? Can you determine an absolute measure from nothing but the relation of two unspecified values?

    So, if Dopey is taller than Grumpy, Dopey must be a really tall guy... because Grumpy is already tall?

    What an awesome language this is!


    Yeah, that's kinda what I was thinking (and I'm a native English speaker). So... if the sequence goes bad, worse, worst, does that mean I'm supposed to say that evolutions are bad than christians? (Which I wouldn't want to, but it's the example being used here). I was always of the opinion that worse simply meant inferior to. What other word would suffice in a case such as this?
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    I would be more upset about the logic.

    Scientists are worse than Christians

    Humans are worse than humans

    Moreover, human action or inaction is always evaluated on subjective basis.

    The original statement is based on certain evidence. Another observer could easily derive the statement:

    Christians are worse than scientists

    from the same dataset.

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  19. #18 Re : 
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    Hello Friend ,
    http://www.langlearner.com LangLearner takes a different approach and allows people to learn languages regardless of native tongue by allowing flexible language pairing. Learn French to German, or Dutch to Chinese. Learn a second, third, or even fourth language with innovative, all-inclusive platform.
    Gud Luck Friend!!
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  20. #19  
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    you can teach yourself for free by using wikipedia

    plus you will also be able to sound smart in different languages, which is priceless
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    The original poster makes no sense at all! Why is everyone agreeing with him? Imagine two houses on a block..one is a dog house and the other is a mansion. The mansion is larger than the dog house. Does that mean the dog house is large? Ridiculous...
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    It annoys me when black people say "you stupid" or "what you talkin' bout?". I'm not racist....just honest. I mean, they say those things with a full awareness of correct grammar as they were taught the same things I was taught in school. I'd never say that to a person's face unless I knew them well enough for them to understand why it annoys me (b/c I'm smart and suffer no fools...lol). If I said it to a random black guy/girl they would probably scream RACIST!!!! It's cool if they speak that way jokingly but when they are serious and speak that way constantly it makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time. What angers me infinitely more than poor grammar, however, is a bad attitude. Unfortunately, both bad attitudes and bad grammar tend to come together as a two-for-one deal.
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    My list of most-hated misuses of grammatical conventions:

    Using the wrong prepositions:

    Example: "Compared with" being used rather than "compared to"


    Using the wrong words:

    Examples: Using "desert" where "dessert" should be used; using "site" rather than "sight"

    Using the wrong verb tense:

    Examples: "Yeah, he done that yesterday"; "What you got there?"
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    Quote Originally Posted by krazyboi
    The original poster makes no sense at all! Why is everyone agreeing with him? Imagine two houses on a block..one is a dog house and the other is a mansion. The mansion is larger than the dog house. Does that mean the dog house is large? Ridiculous...
    I think they agree because saying that "evolutionists are worse" is an erroneous statement and they dislike the poster's comments. Also, the statement can imply (but doesn't necessarily imply) that Christians are "bad" (whatever that is..haha) ..but not for the reason the OP mentioned.

    The reason is that the phrase "___ is/are worse than _____"
    has become something of a popular comedic punchline. The emphasis is usually on the word "worse" and is used to imply that something is terribly bad as compared to something else that is also pretty bad.
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