Ruminations on grammar, philology, standardized testing, and anything else that strikes my fancy

Illustrating the Unhelpfulness of that/which Rules

The lede of this TPM article made me do a double-take:

"Gawker writer J.K. Trotter published a report on Monday that alleged Fox News host Bill O'Reilly was accused during divorce proceedings of assaulting his ex-wife before they separated."

Lord Reginald and Proper Grammar

In "honor" of grammar day (an event which profoundly annoys me because it always brings out people's pet peeves about grammar, I present the following Punch cartoon (cited in Richard Bailey's Nineteenth-Century English, showing that middle-class insecurity about language has been around for a long time. It's the governess, not the rich kid, who cares about "proper" speech. She's the one who is socially insecure, after all.

A Real Grammar Quiz

I hate Internet grammar quizzes. Most of them are heavy on matters of punctuation (e.g., its vs. it's), spelling (e.g., there vs. their), and word choice (e.g., less vs. fewer) but light on measuring one's explicit knowledge of grammatical structure. And what grammatical assertions they do make are often wrong, or at least highly debatable. Their primary function seems to be to stroke the egos of those who want to be assured that they are part of the educated elite.
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How Many Points is Your Name Worth on the SAT?

TL;DR: Your name isn't worth any points.

The question comes from the flip remark that, because the minimum score on the SAT is 600 (200 each for the Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing components), you get 600 points for just for filling in your name. In point of fact, this claim is untrue on several levels.

First, if you merely fill in your name on an SAT score sheet and submit it with no questions filled in, College Board interprets the lack of answers as a request to cancel your scores, so you will get no results at all.


Delayed for Administrative Review

A certain number of SAT takers each year find their scores "delayed for administrative review." Whenever this happens, the students affected are naturally upset or worried, but if this happens to you and you took the test in the U.S., it's almost always good news, assuming of course you didn't actually cheat. (You didn't, did you?)

A (mostly) sensible list of grammar errors

Normally, when I see a headline about a list of grammatical errors, I can predict that it will piss me off (and at least half the complaints will really be about spelling rather than grammar). This list, 10 Grammar Mistakes People Love to Correct (That Aren't Actually Wrong) is actually pretty sensible.

You're doing it wrong

Randall Munroe is a smart guy, but to me it looks like he flubbed the punchline here in the latest XKCD:

Do These Clowns Even Know What an AP Course Is?

Over the last few weeks, there has been a spate of news items about various conservatives bashing the College Board's framework for the AP U.S. History test, culminating in the Colorado students who have been protesting their school board's attempts to change the AP curriculum.

Passive Fail Redux

Linguist Geoff Pullum has been cataloging instances of well-educated people who cannot distinguish the passive voice from other syntactic structures, the fruits of which are an excellent article, "Fear and Loathing of the English Passive," to appear in Language and Communication. If you teach writing, I highly recommend it.

Goodbye to Sentence Completions

When the SAT changes in 2016, there will be no more sentence-completion questions. The College Board didn't announce this change directly. Instead they said that "No longer will students use flashcards to memorize obscure words, only to forget them the minute they put their test pencils down."


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