And Now a Brief Message to/from Our Sponsors—A Letter from the Managing Editor SpecGram Vol CLVI, No 1 Contents An Advance Critique of the Psammeticus Press <i>Contrastive Grammars Series Series</i>—Anonymous

Letters to the Editor

Dear Editors,

Should I use systemize or systematize? In a perfect world, should the words have different meanings though they are seemingly used interchangeably?

I consulted Kenneth G. Wilson’s book The Columbia Guide to Standard American English (1993), which had this to say:

Both verbs mean “to put into a system or to arrange systematically,” but systematize seems to get the American call almost every time. Perhaps the choice between the two reflects the same love of polysyllables represented by our apparently growing preference for the verb orientate over orient.

I was hoping the esteemed editors of SpecGram could provide better guidance.



Dear Shawn,

Thanks for the question. Typically any two words that have nearly identical meanings will end up one of two ways: either one of them will fall out of use, or they will drift apart and come to have different meanings.

Another example is utilize/use. Utilize has a more precise, possibly measured, technical or mechanical feel, a distinction that is more obvious comparing utilization and usage. On the other hand, lots of people (especially business people) like to utilize utilize because it sounds more erudite (to them). The problem with being a careful utilizer of words is that the riffraff will win out in the end because there are so many more of them. If you don’t get that, and live long enough, you just turn into a bitter, pedantic prescriptivist like William Safire. Just quote Beowulf at anyone who decries the imminent demise of the English language.

Back to your example, Wilson has a point; Americans have a polysyllablism fetish. Though I’d take it farther. Anyone who uses orientate for orient needs to be linguistically pimp-slapped. It’s probably just a back-formation made by careless speakers from orientation. Similarly college math students who are so careful to say matrices rather than matrixes will then end up talking about one matricee. But those are mostly engineers, so what did you expect?



Speculative Grammarian accepts well-written letters commenting on specific articles that appear in this journal or discussing the field of linguistics in general. We also accept poorly-written letters that ramble pointlessly. We reserve the right to ridicule the poorly-written ones and publish the well-written ones... or vice versa, at our discretion.

Dear Editors,

I was disappointed to read Jonathan van der Meer’s very poor description of the Russian accent in “What is Linguistics Good For, Anyway?”.

Real Russians replace /ð/ with /dj/ or /z/ or /v/, and /θ/ with /t/ or /f/, stereotypically. Your Cunning Linguist’s “example” is horrible! I’ve never met anyone from Russia who sounds like that.

A Concerned Reader


Dear A.,

“Ivan” didn’t actually say he was Russian. We didn’t want to complicate matters with all the details. I can’t remember what his accent was supposed to be. Maybe Ukrainian, or Old Church Slavonian or something.

No, wait, it’s Bad Russian Accent! That’s a bad attempt at a Russian accent, not the accent of a bad Russian. It was perfect.



To the editors:

Listen, jokes are funny, and the whole bit about “Langualogy” is a gas, but be careful how you spell it, because I will not subscribe to any publication that satirizes Languology. Say what you will about your made-up “Langualogy” and “langualogists”, but don’t ridicule the already poorly-understood field of Languology. As we speak, hard-working languologists are trying to answer some of the most important questions facing modern humans todayquestions such as, do winged fibs float in lava? How many is up or down? If you flatten an apple, why isn’t it considered a terrorist? And just when will panoramas be fudge o’clock?

I’m sure it was just a coincidence, and I’m sorry if I’ve ruffled any feathers, but if I don’t speak up for the literally tens of languologists around the globe trying to figure out if we are human or we are dancer, no one will.



Dear Deej,

We relayed your concerns to Professor Debra Tarrnen, Chair of the Department of Langualogy, Deictic Institute of Modern Blogging, University of Lower Bougravia, and she had this to say:

Joke? Funny!? Langualogy is serious business. Deadly serious, in fact. Professor Bikerton lost an eye, an ear, two fingers and three colleagues while escaping from the Linguistics Department of the Upwind Community College, Hawaii. The Languologists stood by and did nothing, watching a Phlegmaticist and two Faunologists get mowed down in their prime by a madman with a verb particle beam. Darn you, sir. Darn you straight to Heck!



And Now a Brief Message to/from Our Sponsors—A Letter from the Managing Editor
An Advance Critique of the Psammeticus Press Contrastive Grammars Series Series—Anonymous
SpecGram Vol CLVI, No 1 Contents