Sunday, September 14, 2008

David Foster Wallace is Dead

He hanged himself on Friday. It's a shame. You should give Infinite Jest a go - it's very funny, particularly the bit where the kids play a tennis-themed nuclear war simulation.

Online and much shorter, you can read Wallace's hesitating embrace of prescriptivism, an entry in the "Eats, Shoots & Leaves" genre that's nicely written, if not totally persuasive.

He was 46, very sad.


Leo said...

I find the prescription/description debated extremely tiresome. Here's a bit of linguistics for you:

If you don't want people to think you're a fucking idiot, you should make sure to use plural verbs with plural subjects and singular verbs with singular subjects.

Prescription or description?

factory123 said...

It's a description of a prescription.

I like seeing prescriptivists screw up grammar, because deflating pomposity is fun, particularly when the name of the game is knowledge of silly arbitrary rules.

But I do think that that what's going is mostly that this language business is mostly about enforcing class/race norms. And so your advice is very good advice.

Leo said...

I agree. I guess my point is that really good, practical, useful descriptive linguistics looks an awful lot like prescriptive linguistics.

Take the OED's entry for "ain't." It includes to descriptors: "dial. and colloq." How about "fuck"? "Coarse slang."

To me, that's a prescription without the moralizing. Certainly, that's how it will be viewed by almost everyone that opens the dictionary.