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Friday, October 1, 2010

language rules the waves, Google waives the rules

To check language in six on-line corpora.

Below is what’s on Google’s home page on May 16, 2009:

Over 28,000 children drew doodles for our homepage.

Vote for the one that will appear here!

Test yourself:
Can you find the two so-called grammar errors?
Do you find anything you would write otherwise?

Ask yourself:
Am I voting for the child or the doodle? Which will appear on the homepage?

1 - The AP Stylebook says "over 28,000" and OVER is a way to move—a preposition, then it must be followed by a noun phrase. So “more than” must precede a number.

But Penelope Trunk is on crack. Like many would-be grammar teachers don't pay due attention to the difference between grammar and style.

Nothing in standard English grammar prevents "over" from being used in front of a number. For example, no one would say that it is a grammatical error to say:
"To see this movie you must be over 18".
In fact, you have to say "over" there. If you say "more than" you would have to say "more than 18 years old" or similar.

2- Also, if you are voting for one, specific doodle, then the AP Stylebook tells you to use “which” rather than “that.”

So maybe "Click here to choose your favorite doodle" is better,
since it's simple and even more mysterious.


As Language Log tells us:
Whoever wrote the passage probably got into trouble by packaging two things into a single sentence using a relative clause:

Thing 1: Vote for one (doodle). That is, vote for your favorite doodle.

Thing 2: The winning doodle — the one with the most votes — will appear here.

You can put them together, but not with a relative clause; what you want is a coordination:

Vote for your favorite doodle, and the winner [quite probably not your favorite, out of 28,000] will appear here.

And everyone knows about Churchill's margin-scribbled comment in response to an editor correcting a sentence-ending preposition?

If not, go learn. Extrapolate from those lessons.

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