Not ((over-negation) | (prepositional confusion) | (unworthy of a blog post))

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2007/08/12 03:01 -04:00, original URI:

A friend of mine was reading some Language Log articles and saw Bill Poser's The Word "Islamic Terrorism".

He was struck funny by a bit of the text in that article:

Opinions vary as to how the Republicans are doing in the War on Terror, but they're definitely losing in the War on Incorrect Grammatical Terminology.

He argued to me that since it was a Republican candidate who made that claim that the noun phrase "Islamic Terrorism" was a word, it is quite clear to him that Republicans may well be winning the War of Incorrect Grammatical Terminology. So wasn't this an example of over-negation, he asked me?

Actually, no, I had to explain. In this case there is apparently some confusion between the meaning of two very different terms:

Clearly the Language Log article uses the former, and was correct usage. Think about "The War On Drugs" versus "The War of the Worlds" and the difference between of and on and this difference is perhaps clearer.

So while the latter would indeed have been amusing to consider a case of over-negation, the former would not be (and that is what was in the post).

My friend's next thought was that maybe his error was due to the phenomenon with English having more prepositions than Hebrew (he is from Israel, though he does not remember much Hebrew since he and his parents left at an early age) as I have mentioned before, though I had to point out that he was mistaken again -- of and on are not represented the same way, unlike other prepositions (e.g. on and in).

He decided he should quit while he was behind and stop trying to send me email about something interesting enough to be worthy of a topic for Sorting It All Out.

"Wrong again!" I told him....

And then I wrote the very post you are reading right now. :-)


This post brought to you by ב (U+05d1, a.k.a. HEBREW LETTER BET)

Igor on 12 Aug 2007 7:31 PM:

If you think deep enough, that issue is all about politically correct speach.

How about writing "War against Incorrect Grammatical Terminology" instead of "War of Incorrect Grammatical Terminology"?

Or in your example "war against drugs" instead of "war on drugs"?

Second one sounds to me like warriors are being intentionally drugged so they can perform better in war.

War can be either for or against something/someone, using those words would make sentences clear.

Downside is that people would be able to understand more easily that for example "War on Iraq" is actually "War for ______"... no wait, it is "War against ______"... err... I can't decide. That is why they just say "War on Iraq" -- to obfuscate.

So in my opinion your friend is right for not liking those ons and ofs.

By the way, I sent you an email. Drop by to when you have some spare time. Bye!

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