March 24, 2007

Successful linguification

The folks over at Language Log (well, mostly just Geoff Pullum) rail with some regularity against what they've termed "linguification": using a linguistic claim about a situation as a metaphor for the actual situation. The canonical linguification would be something like this:

I wouldn't even mention Sam in the same sentence as Alex.
Taken literally, this is obviously false (the speaker just did mention them in the same sentence), and Pullum complains that this is abusive of linguistics, and not at all the same thing as hyperbole.

I don't really buy it.

I mean, a lot of the examples do show an unfortunate dearth of linguistic training, as when people make claims like "I don't use adjectives or adverbs; I exclusively use good solid nouns and verbs" in order to make some claim about the forcefulness of their discourse, usually contradicting themselves immediately by using adjectives and adverbs (like "exclusively", "good", and "solid"). But in at least some cases, a linguification can be quite effective as a rhetorical device. In today's column "An image tarnished", Eric Zorn concludes:

Police Supt. Philip Cline has said the right things about the attack: "It was disgusting. It was despicable conduct. ... The fact that he is a police officer is even more damning."

But to understand why this story is so big and feels so ominous to so many, he needs to look beyond the attack. Cynical, street-smart Chicagoans are weary of adjectives. They want answers.

Now that's what I call linguification!

"I think sometimes we focus a little too much attention on whiz-bang medical technology (like stents) while losing the broader picture that, basically, the only things we have found to save people from the #1 killer is what you learned in second-grade nutrition lessons." --Keith Winstein

Posted by blahedo at 2:15pm on 24 Mar 2007
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