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Kardashian? Intellectual? Hmmm.

Cast your vote: Mark Nichol is saying sensible things at Daily Writing Tips about the singular they, long established in English usage but shunned by hard-shell prescriptivists. In addition to making a good case for the usage, he is polling readers about their preferences. You know my view: The everyone/their construction is unobjectionable in all but the most formal contexts. Now you can express yours.

Looks and rights: I decided that it’s time to pour more coffee when I saw the words Kim Kardashian and intellectual in the same sentence. But it’s true. A post at Language Log explains that Ms. Kardashian is suing Old Navy because the company has engaged a model who looks like her, asserting that this is an infringement on her intellectual property rights. Geoffrey Pullum wonder to what extent the appearance of face, hair, and breasts constitutes intellectual property.

Speak up: We welcome back Alex McCrae to the ranks of You Don’t Say commenters as he convalesces from surgery. I see that Picky and John Cowan are going back and forth over whether English is an official language in Britain. I know that there are scores and hundreds of you out there listening in, and I would like to repeat my periodic invitation for you to join in.

Here in Wordville, as they used to call this site at Dining@Large, your views are welcome. You don’t have to hold more degrees than a thermometer. And you will not be subjected to rough treatment; we are a civil polity. Your statements may be subjected to examination and dispute, but you will not be insulted or impaled on a spit for a typographical error. (You do, however, get to say rude things about me. I do not fall upon the thorns of life and bleed.)




Posted by John McIntyre at 10:59 AM | | Comments (19)


Kim Kardashian and "intellectual', property, (or otherwise), mentioned in the same breath? We've definitely entered that wacko territory of 'Oxymoronia'.

Here's a marginally talented (some would say clearly untalented), all-be-it fairly attractive young, ambitious woman, who recently offered up her more than ample backside for X-ray scanning to prove to the world that her sizable tush (challenging the 'amplitude' of both posteriorly well-endowed J-Lo and Beyoncé) was indeed, 'all that'----100% natural, pulchritudinous flesh. No surgically enhanced, butt implantation here, girl.

Hmm..... there goes that theory that the size of the derriere is directly proportionate to the size of the intellect. (Claude Lévi-Strauss, you blew that one. Stick to totemic archetypes)

Only in America can sheer mediocrity rise to the top of the pop culture heap. Where one can become an overnight celebrity for little more than releasing a titillating personal sex tape on YouTube, while telling the world at large that you're a somebody, and deserve public fascination, and mass adoration.

Paris Hilton appeared to be the defining template for this no-talent celeb phenomenon, and the likes of Ms. Kardashian, (and siblings), Snooki of "Jersey Shores", Kate+8 Gosselin, Octomom, and the litany of "Housewives of...." franchises followed suit. (Admittedly, they all didn't pawn off a sleazy sex tape to create social networking buzz. A few had multiple births, however. A surefire route to cable reality TV stardom.)

Andy Warhol's "15-minutes of fame" appears to be very much alive-and-well as we embark on the second decade of this new century. Sadly, that fifteen minutes, for many vacuous, annoying instant celebs has stretched out way beyond the designated expiration date. Somethings rotten in Denmark.


P.S.: ----Prof. McI., thanks for your little welcome back acknowledgement. It feels great to be back in the fold.

I too have thoroughly enjoyed the back-and-forth discussion between John Cowan and Picky re/ the status of English back in the U.K., and its place as the dominant language in the U.S. (Although living in Southern California, we are witnessing a major increase in Spanish-speaking residents.)

I appreciate their spirited give-and-take, and both should be commended
on showing us how two bright blokes, equally passionate about the language (English.....dah!)), can cogently argue their positions without descending into self-righteousness, and inflexibility. Great stuff all round. I'm learning a lot.

@Dahlink, missed you as well. Thanks for the kind words. Wishing Laura Lee would join us more often w/ her sage comments, and fitting classic poesy. Hope she's doing well.

TA-DAH! Alex becomes the author of the 10,000th comment on You Don't Say.


So Prof. McI., pray tell, what's my big booby prize for authoring the 10,000th comment on "You Don't Say"? (No cash prizes? HA!)

Hmm........ an all-expense-paid trip to your Charm City, w/ a personally guided tour of the 'paragraph factory' by none other than John McIntyre himself might suffice.

Perchance throw in a gratis large stack of banana/ pecan flap-jacks, drizzled w/ blueberry syrup, w/ a side of grilled sausage at the infamous Cafe Hon. And the real capper----- a face-to-face audience w/ Baltimore's own gifted, off-the-wall auteur/ director/ bon vivant, John Waters?

Is this really asking too, too much?

Dream on McCrae!

I knew there was a compelling reason for coming back to the blog, even though compromised by the nagging travails of post-surgery. Serendipity has triumphed once again.

Sadly, the 10,000th commentary had to focus on the rather trite Ms. Kim Kardashian.

I wish her no ill will. Seems like a sweet, harmless gal. Her nuptials beckon, and I wish her a long, harmonious, and happy marriage w/ her NBA-playing future spouse. (Frankly, a pre-nup would be advised. Just sayin'.)

Folks, it feels great to be a winner. Now let's get crackin' on the NEXT 10,0000 comments. HA!


10,000th comment?! You don't say. And to think it went to Alex; what were the odds.

Welcome back Alex, you deserve a prize. It's good to see you again.

I'm a little surprised that so few people have opted for the female version of singular pronouns in the poll. I was always taught that the PC thing to do these days when picking a gendered pronoun was to go with the female. Although I guess I was taught this by the same person who insisted that "they" cannot under any circumstances be used as a singular pronoun.

Welcome back, Alex. I number among the silent-but-loyal regulars, and it's good hearing your voice again (as it were).

It's worth pointing out that Prof Pullum has updated his post to include an email discussing the precise legal definition of 'intellectual property', which includes a public persona ('right of publicity'). In which case Old Navy probably is in violation. This leads the good professor to conclude:

'we may simply be seeing a sign that the phrase intellectual property is becoming lexicalized (at least in legalese), which means you cannot anymore compute its meaning from what intellectual means and what property means.'

This, I guess, is the inherent difficulty in technical lingo derived from the vulgar (in the old sense).

Don't spend it before you get it, Alex. I had this same problem with the Grand "You Don't Say" World Limerick Championship (P. the Terse, prop.). Built up the hopes of the starving grandchildren and then ... nothing! Well, nothing but some rather withered laurel. If any laurel arrives, don't sign for it.

Picky, old lad, I trust your winning "You Don't Say" limerick contained neither the words "Nantucket", or "Aer Lingus". Have to keep the integrity of this upstanding blog on the moral high-ground, as it were.

Bye-the-bye, where's our Patricia the T. these days? Perhaps on an extended summer travel adventure?

Picky, I always loved the pungent aroma (almost medicinal) of crushed laurel leaves, although smashing up a prized victory wreath would be ill advised. Très gauche. I'm not holding my breath on a UPS laurel diadem delivery for my most recent triumph.

A number of years back I sculpted a fresh root burl of camphor, a variant of bay laurel. While in the process of hand carving this swirly-grained sizable chunk of wood w/ various steel gouges and rasp files, I savored the wonderful, very distinctive scent emanating from this naturally fragrant wood. What an unforeseen bonus. Piece turned out pretty awesome, as well. But I digress.

@ Laura Lee.---- Great to touch bases again. I appreciate your kind thoughts. Sounds like you are in fine fettle. Hope you-and-yours have had an enriching, and eventful summer, thus far.

@ Mr Pond-----You may regard yourself as "among the silent-but-loyal regulars" on this blog, yet when you do, on occasion, toss a comment 'on-the-waters', it has a resounding, positive ripple effect, as is want for most ponds. HA!

Mr Pond, I for one welcome more commentary from your perspective.

It's nice to be back. Hopefully my surgeon managed to remove some of my
verbosity while he was exploring my 'innards' , yet thankfully left my funny bone in tact.


Alex, congratulations on being 10,000th! If Laurel shows up at your door, a) what will you do with her, and b) what will your wife say?



Thanks for the kudos!

Sadly, (or maybe not. HA!), to your point, I'm currently unmarried, sans wife as it were, although I've taken the big plunge once in my life, until I succumbed to the dreaded 7-year-itch, and then amicably divorced back in the early '80s after six years of marriage. She was Bulgarian. What can I say?

So, if perchance the fetching "Laurel', a veritable Botticelli nymphet rising, (one can dream, no?), was to grace my front door step, I would undoubtedly immediately invite the fair, flaxen-haired maiden into my humblest of abodes to view my etchings....... and then, pray tell, who knows what might transpire (oops!) from there?( Actually, along w/ sculpture I studied etching and stone lithography back in art college in Toronto some 40 long years ago.)

Frankly, post -surgery, I'm neither in the mood, or in quite the optimal physical shape for any manner of 'indoor sports' (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). But thankfully, the imagination is still firing on all cylinders.

Anywho, my sweet girl-friend of many moons residing down Orange County, CA way, might get wind of my extracurricular dalliance, and the upshot would not be pleasant. She has an uncanny sense of smell, and would pick up on that distinctive hint of laurel fragrance wafting from my every pore. That Laurel was insatiable. Dream on. HA!

True confession----I'm an unconvincing liar/ secret keeper, and prefer intimacy w/ ONE of the fairer sex at a time. Juggling serial partners ain't my style. May sound slightly boring, but experience has shown it's truly the best policy..... at least for this loyal-in-matters-of-the-heart dude. HA!



If memory serves me, the Greek god, Apollo, pursued the fair nymph, Daphne, in vain, as she suddenly morphed into a laurel tree.

The great Italian sculptor, Bernini, managed to masterfully capture the transformative mythical moment in pure white marble when the fleeing Daphne began sprouting laurel roots, bark, and branches, as her flowing tresses turned into leaves, w/ the smitten Apollo in hot pursuit.

The stunned Apollo, as the ancient tale goes, managed to snatch some of Daphne's leaves, which he fashioned into a laurel wreath, From that point hence, the laurel tree has been revered in the Hellenistic culture as a most sacred tree. Of course, early Olympic Games victors were awarded a wreath of laurel as literally the crowning symbol of their athletic achievement.

On a personal note, back in the early '70s I had the good fortune to visit the Galleria Borghese in Rome, where Bernini's Apollo & Daphne sculpture resides. It's an incredibly striking, dynamic work in the master's typical flowing, life-like Baroque style.

Not as emotionally riveting as say his recognized signature masterpiece, The Ecstasy of St. Teresa, or his impressive David, nevertheless his Apollo & Daphne, IMHO, represents one of many of Bernini's most stellar works. But I digress........ as usual.


Thanks for the mythology, Alex. So a laurel wreath actually commemorates a crushing failure, the girl that got away? Puts things in a while 'nother light.


Shortly before pulling up this article, I read my daily e-mail from Daily Writing Tips. The author of the "singular they" posting looks like Mark Nichol. Is Jon Winokur an AKA?

I'm a fan of 'singular they' with indefinite references. The discussions of it though always tend to get my dander up due to the nastiness surrounding discussions of generic he/she. Perhaps one could shift the argument to being one related to effective communication rather than being about taking shots for/against P.C.ness. If one intends to convey information about males, then 'he' works quite well; if one intends to convey information about males and females or indefinite references where gender is unknown or irrelevant, then there are other options, including 'they', that allow for greater clarity. I like the notion of sidestepping the political slurs and dealing with the meaning of the words being used. It seems a useful stand toward civility.

I've corrected the citation, and I apologize for the error.


Perhaps more aptly, in light of the Apollo & Daphne myth, the laurel wreath signifies unrequited love.(Sob!)

Here in L.A., the meandering Laurel Canyon Boulevard wends its way up and thru the Hollywood Hills, beginning its ascent to Mulholland Crest from 'The Valley' at Ventura Blvd.

'The Canyon' gained significant pop culture renown back in the '60s/ '70s as the creative crucible of a unique brand of original folk/ rock music crafted by such noted gifted local denizens as Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, Carole King, The Eagles, .Jackson Browne, Mama Cass Elliot, and Frank Zappa. And that's just the short list.

Here was this bucolic, vibrant, verdant, natural rural oasis surrounded by freeway insanity, and seemingly endless suburban sprawl. Some notable scribes have likened the '60s/ '70s Laurel Canyon music scene to the creative foment percolating on the Left Bank in Paris of the early 20th century. Perhaps a bit of a stretch, but both 'scenes' did have lasting creative influences that resonate to this very day. Joni Mitchell, meet Pablo Picasso. HA!

Can't say today that 'the boulevard' abounds w/ laurel trees. Likely far more California sycamores, Coast live oaks, box elders, Fremont cottonwoods, and native fan palms. But Laurel Canyon Blvd. it be, nonetheless.

Picky, old lad, you unwittingly created a veritable laurel 'monster' here. Probably about time we put the arboreal beastie out of its misery for good? HA!


Alex, as The Mamas and The Papas told us: young girls are goin' to the Canyon.

PtheT, here.

Excellent. Greetings, P!

Sometimes us thousand readers are just interested in what you have to say. It may take a little bit for us to find something to say back.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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