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Far from the Madding Gerund: And Other Dispatches from Language Log [Paperback]

Mark Liberman , Geoffrey K. Pullum
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

May 18 2006 1590280555 978-1590280553 1
Mark Liberman and Geoffrey K. Pullum have collected some of their most insightful and amusing material from Language Log, their popular web site. Often irreverent and hilarious, these brief essays take on many sacred cows, showing us--among many things--why Strunk & White is useless, how the College Board can't identify sentence errors in the SAT, and what makes Dan Brown one of the worst prose stylists in the business.

There is plenty here to inspire deeper thoughts as well. Why do Pete Rose's statements fall short of saying "I'm sorry," and can we learn how to apologize by analyzing his mistakes? Is there such a thing as mind-reading fatigue? What is the meaning of "pluralism" and "Yankeehood"?

Language Log is a site where serious professional linguists go to have fun. There's plenty of fun and plenty to get you thinking about language in new ways in this collection.


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5.0 out of 5 stars Putting the fun back into proper grammar July 25 2006
By Daniel Jolley TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
I've always been sort of a grammar freak (which is not to say I don't make my share of mistakes), but I now know I'm not quite ready to play with the big boys. Mark Liberman and Geoffrey K. Pullum are definitely two of the big boys, and they do indeed like to play. That's part of the reason they started an online magazine called Language Log and began filling it with mini-essays, observations, and occasional rants on all sorts of grammatical topics. Their overriding goal was to reintroduce the general public to linguistics and the proper use of the English language. Even now, it sounds like a crazy dream -- after all, I certainly don't remember the last time a break room conversation at work turned into a debate over linguistics -- but I think it is safe to say the site has been wildly successful. It's not all that hard to see why. Liberman and Pullum are not your prototypical linguistics professors, and they don't write boring, pedantic, stodgy old posts about arcane topics. Instead, their writing is witty, pithy, sometimes surprisingly irreverent, and -- well -- fun. Most of their posts are borne of things they hear on the news, read in a book, come across on a web page, etc. Scholars by day -- working on articles that take months to appear in journals only those in the profession will likely ever read -- these fellows, as they readily admit, have a blast working on The Language Log, largely because the site affords them the luxury of instant publication, grants them the means to correspond with a growing readership of laymen genuinely interested in the proper use of language, and allows them to express ideas they could never truly address in a peer-reviewed journal. Read more ›
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  19 reviews
59 of 71 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sometimes Fascinating - Sometimes Rambling June 23 2006
By Lisa Shea - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I write for most of the day, every day. That's my chosen occupation, to write content for web pages. I was therefore quite interested in Far from the Madding Gerund, which is a collection of blog entries from the Language Log. I normally don't have much free time to read blogs, and the book form seemed to be a nice way to read snippets during breakfast or other non-computer times.

I found a lot of really interesting information pieces in here. There's discussion about Dan Brown and the DaVinci Code, and the many flaws in Dan's writing style. There is commentary about various political leaders. There are nit-picky (to most of us, at least) arguments about how often X word is used instead of Y word. It's interesting that as "proof" they turn to Google to see which is used most often. Since a large number of web pages are created by illiterate young teenagers, I don't think I'd ever use a random Google search as a sign of anything :) Heck, if we went by Google, then the most important issues facing the world today involve Paris Hilton and a baby born in Africa.

But the real problem I had with the book, while it's a really cool concept, is that it is pretty much a verbatim dump of the blog. I'm talking straight to the book, with sentences such as:

"Follow-ups in our pages and elsewhere (here, here, here, here, here) discussed many cases of developments of a different kind ..."

The five "heres" are all in light grey text, meaning a little sidebar gives a one-line summary of that thread's topic and then gives you a (I kid you not) 63 character long URL that you have to type in to see what the reference is. On a blog, this works fine - you hit the link and go read the reference. In a book?? You completely miss half the story. This doesn't just happen once a chapter. It happens over 10 times on some pages, and is happening pretty much on EVERY page. I found it a little amusing at first - but as I worked my way through the book, it got more and more frustrating. If you are interested by the topic, the whole point is that you want to understand what they're saying - and you are unable to because they don't provide the content. They just say "Go read it elsewhere, manually, later on".

I'm not saying the book is uninteresting - I read it through in an afternoon (when I suppose I should have been writing web content). But that's part of the problem. The topics of the book ARE interesting - but you are constantly being bombarded with messages about "and the rest of the story can be found online here ..."

I suppose you could pose the argument that, had they included the related posts, the book would have been much larger. On the other hand, the chapters are completely unrelated to each other. The Dan Brown content has nothing at all to do with the Monkeys Typing Shakespeare content. Or maybe they are related (grin). In any case, they could easily have made a book on ONE of the topics presented, and presented it fully, so you got all of the meaning. They could have had an editing team summarize the related posts, if they didn't feel like including them fully, so that you received all the meaning while you went. However, as it stands, it feels like giant chunks of the book are missing. It really does make you wonder, just why am I reading this in book form? If I was going to do this, maybe I should have just gone online and read it there, where it is in fact a linked blog, instead of putting up with this disjointedness.

When I finished the last page, I wondered what I had really learned here. Maybe it was that blogs are meant by their nature to be read online, with links intact. Maybe it was that the book was really just a way to make quick money without having to write any new content at all - they hit "print screen", sent it to a publisher, and were done. Maybe they didn't have time to actually edit and work on "a book". I also had to wonder if the book was Funded By Google, given the huge amount of credence given to what is, in essence, just a search engine. As much as I love Google and use it daily, I would never consider it to be a serious research tool without applying some rather serious filters to the sites being used.

In any case, maybe I'll actually go visit the Language Log website someday, where I can read the content for free, with links intact. But since that would seem to be a multi hour time sink, maybe it's better that I keep my addiction level low while I still have free will.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Language Guys Speak to the Rest of us. July 6 2006
By Warren Kelly - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
When I found out that I was going to get the opportunity to review Far From the Madding Gerund, I was a bit intimidated. I had a mental image of two men who would pick my review apart, pointing out every misplaced modifier. And God forbid I would ever end a sentence with a preposition. So I dug out my ancient copy of Strunk and White's Elements of Style and set it next to my computer, ready to refer to as I wrote.

Then I began reading the book. On page 5, Strunk and White are called "perennially clueless." And it gets better from there. I gleefully tossed my ancient copy back into the hole from which I had pulled it, and settled in for an enjoyable read. I also promptly subscribed the the RSS feed for The Language Log -- which only makes sense. The book is a collection of posts from the blog. Not just random posts, though, but a "best of" compilation that fans of The Language Log will enjoy. It will quickly get newcomers hooked on the blog.

But the target audience is not language pedants -- those people who never split their infinitives, or dangle their participles. Those people who know that a preposition is not the sort of thing with which to end a sentence. In fact, Liberman and Pullum will raise the ire of liguistic prescriptivists. They split infinitives. They break rules. And they make people think and laugh at the same time, which is important.

Just a few examples of targets that get skewered in the book (and on the blog):

* Those who mock George W. Bush for his "Bushisms": there is, in fact, a standing invitation for author Jacob Weisenberg to join Liberman for dinner (Liberman's treat) at the restaurant of Weisenberg's choice, provided that the conversation can be taped and studied for "howlers" that would later be published in a book of "Weisbergisms."

* Best-selling author Dan Brown: Brown is taken to task for his repetitive plotlines ("[t]he simple fact is that if you are ever mentioned on page 1 of a Dan Brown novel you will be mentioned with an anarthrous occupational nominal premodifier ... and you will have died a painful and horrible death by page 2, along with several curiously ill-chosen cliches and mangled idioms" is just one example of their criticism of Brown's writing). It's refreshing to read someone who doesn't like Dan Brown because he's not a good writer. Popularity does not mean quality, and Liberman and Pullum are quick to point out the syntactic flaws in Brown's works. And yes, they've read them all.

The point of much of the book is that rules, including grammatical ones, are meant to be guidelines. They aren't engraved in stone, and often need to be broken so that someone can make their point.

A point needs to be made about the whole "blog as book" idea. One of the things that has always worried me about blogs turning into books is how the use of hyperlinks would be handled. Footnotes are one obvious solution, but constantly looking down at the bottom of the page to check what the footnote is about can get tedious, especially when there are a lot of notes. Liberman and Pullum avoid this by using light gray lettering (rather than black) for links, and placing the corresponding URLs in the outside margin of the page, next to the referral. This makes checking the link content a lot easier, and if it's not a standard procedure for blogs-turned-books, it should be.

Far From the Madding Gerund is a fun book, and an interesting look into linguistics. The study of language doesn't have to be boring - it can even be fun.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious, cogent, intelligent contemporary communication defects! June 26 2006
By Grady Harp - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Mark Liberman and Geoffrey K. Pullum could be accused of making the best of an already satisfactory situation in publishing this book that reiterates their ongoing blog on linguistics. But for this reader, having never visited their blog (until now), this book is a treasure trove of quips and oops and pooh bahs and evidences of the strangely twisted manner in which we communicate.

Written in a casual style that makes the faux pas revelations more cogent, the authors share embarrassingly poor writing from the media, from authors, from those in control of the country (as though the mentality of the US might somehow be reflected in the malapropisms of George W. ...Yikes!), and yet reading this blogline of information never seems vitriolic. Criticism is one of the most substantial ways to create change and hopefully this book and blogline will focus many minds on the misuse of the English language, perhaps effecting some much needed corrections.

FAR FROM THE MADDING GERUND (didn't you always wonder why Thomas Hardy used that word in the title of his great novel 'Far from the Madding Crowd'?) is a book to pleasure the mind - and humor - and a fine resource for perusing before writing or speaking to a group of wise souls. So maybe it is a print form of a blogline, but for those of us who tire of wading through the computer for reading, it is a complete (?compleat?) pleasure! Grady Harp, June 06
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A handy reference tool for Language Log users June 24 2006
By Amanda Richards - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Language Log is an on-line magazine founded by Mark Liberman and Geoffrey Pullum, specifically dealing with the right and wrong way to use language (the polite kind mostly.) More than two million people have ventured through the virtual doors of the site since launch time, and this book is made up of excerpts from the site, neatly categorized into printed chapters for those who can't retain everything they read and need some back-up to tame that madding gerund.

I'm not a blog person, preferring the feel of a crisp piece of paper between my fingers (and the computer is a trifle uncomfortable and hard to balance for reading in bed), but be warned that the information here is taken directly from the internet, and it contains links which unfortunately can't yet be accessed from printed pages.

Written by the aforementioned duo, who happen to be Professors of Linguistics, this book aims to share observations about everyday topics like the quality of Dan Brown's writing style, Bushisms, popular malapropisms (say that six times fast - I dare you), grammar and the rules of writing fiction, but targets the more general audience of the linguistically-challenged.

For a preview of the content of the book you can always check the website, but if you've a yen for the printed word, this is a handy reference tool.

Amanda Richards, June 24, 2006
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Snowclones in Spring! June 1 2006
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Doing a proper review, or even justice to their weblog, is really beyond my powers, but this book seems to capture quite perfectly their mixture of whimsy, skepticism, accessible scholarship, and pure good-natured zeal for their subject. If you have been reading them, then you will find these little essays as good as you remembered, if not better, and you'll wonder how you forgot about some; if you have not been reading Language Log, then their book should convince you to start. Either way, reading it will make you better and happier. (Disclaimer: I got an unsolicited review copy of this book this week, which didn't help my productivity any. Also, when I gave a talk at Penn on April Fool's Day last year, Mark was kind enough to let me crash in the hospitality suite at One Language Log Plaza.)
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