Sunday, February 17, 2013

Increasingly fashionable linguistic errors (continued)

Following up my previous posts on Getting it right with "may" and "might" and A few more prevalent linguistic errors, here is an updated tally of some annoyingly common linguistic barbarisms, many of which are also logically fallacious, that I notice have increasingly infected writing and conversation over the past few decades. Of course, this doesn't pretend to be a comprehensive list.

    I'll start by reiterating examples I've already mentioned:

(1)  When people use "may" where they really mean "might", the resulting formulations don't really make sense, and often sound silly to anyone paying attention.  For further explanation, see here.

(2)  It is remarkably common for people to use formulations along the lines of "more X than anyone" or "more X than anything" when simple logic should tell them they really must mean "more X than anyone or anything else".

(3)  It has also become increasingly common for people to say "hone in" when the expression they're really groping for is "home in". I suspect that a phonological slippage from "home" to "hone" is part of the explanation, and I also suspect that part of the problem is that many people no longer have any idea what "hone" means. To "hone" something is to sharpen it, as in honing the edge of a knife--or, by metaphorical extension, making something more acute or effective. If you hone your analytical and linguistic skills, you can use them to home in on errors like this one.

(4)  And even a great many otherwise intelligent and educated people appear to believe that the phrase "this begs the question" means something along the lines of "this raises the following question" or "this forces us to ask the following question". It doesn't.

(5)  When I posted some of these examples a few years ago, my friend Mark Gerson added:  "Yes – also: 'I could care less'. It’s the precise opposite of what people mean when using the phrase."

(6)  And now let's add another increasingly common linguistic misdemeanor, usefully nailed by Mark Kleiman:
“Loath” is an adjective meaning “reluctant.”
“Loathe” is a verb meaning “abhor.”

Therefore a phrase such as “They would be loathe to admit it” is gibberish. Any given instance could be a mere typo, such as I constantly make in this space. And it’s a typo the spell-checker won’t catch, since “loathe” is a perfectly good word. But I detect a trend of substituting “loathe” for “loath,” which would be a shame.

Yours for sensible & literate discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

P.S.  It's also vitally important to prevent the extinction of the final serial comma.  If you're not sure why that's true, see here.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Conference Announcement: "Sharia and Halakha in America" (Chicago, April 15-16, 2013)

Back in 2005 my friend Sam Fleischacker, who is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Illinois in Chicago and (unlike me) an observant Jew, launched an effort to promote intellectually serious and rigorous comparative study of Judaism and Islam through a Jewish/Muslim Studies Initiative. Unlike many promising initiatives along those lines, this one is still going strong ...

... and in April the Jewish-Muslim Initiative at UIC and the Chicago-Kent College of Law will be co-sponsoring a major conference on Sharia and Halakha in America (April 15-16, 2013). Sam asked whether I could help spread the word, and I'm pleased to do so. (See below.)

This will be among the very few US conferences so far to address the challenges faced by both Jewish and Muslim legal systems, and to "invite people from these two traditions to learn from one another's experience." The conference is free and open to the public. Anyone who is interested, and who expects to be in or near Chicago in mid-April, can get further information and register on-line HERE.  (And if you know anyone else who might be interested, please pass this along.)

—Jeff Weintraub

Chicago-Kent Law School and the Jewish-Muslim Initiative at the University of Illinois-Chicago are pleased to announce a conference this April on: 

Sharia and Halakha in America
April 15-16, 2013

Islamic religious law — shari'a — has come under fierce attack in recent years, as a system that threatens American freedoms.  More quietly, there has been an attempt in San Francisco to ban circumcision, a ritual central to both Jewish and Muslim law, and bans on both Jewish and Muslim modes of slaughtering animals have been enacted in a number of European countries.  Indisputably, prejudice and hatred have played a large role in motivating these developments, but they have also raised some deep questions -- often untreated in media accounts -- about how liberal democracies can and should accommodate legal systems that are not themselves originally grounded on liberal or democratic principles.  One can pose a similar question from the opposite perspective: to what degree can systems of this sort adapt themselves to a liberal democratic environment?  This conference will explore these questions, as they pertain to both shari'a and Jewish law (halacha), from a variety of angles.  It will address the challenges faced by both Jewish and Muslim legal systems, and invite people from the two traditions to learn from one another's experience.  Speakers include professors of law and religion, some of whom have served on Jewish or Muslim courts, as well as journalists and activists.  We hope to help spark a richer, better informed public discussion of these issues than they have, thus far, generally received.

  Confirmed speakers: 

Wajahat Ali, playwright, attorney, new media journalist

Michael Broyde, Professor of Law, Emory University;  Former Director and Currently Dayan (judge) Beth  Din of America

Mustafa Baig, Lecturer in Islamic Studies, University of Manchester

Mohammed Fadel, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto

Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert, Associate Professor, Religious Studies, Stanford University

Samuel Freedman, New York Times columnist;  professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

Michael Helfand, Associate Professor, Pepperdine School of Law;  Associate Director, Glazer Institute for Jewish Studies

Mohsen Kadivar, Visiting Professor of Religious Studies, Duke University

Asher Lopatin, Rabbi, Anshe Shalom;  incoming President of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

Nadia Marzouki, Jean Monnet Fellow, European University Institute

David Novak, Professor of the Study of Religion and Professor of Philosophy, University of Toronto

Eboo Patel, Director of the Interfaith Youth Core;  member of Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships

Lena Salaymeh, Robbins Post-Doctoral Fellow, UC Berkeley School of Law

Suzanne Stone, Professor of Jewish Law, Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University

   Conference Schedule (full schedule available in March):

April 15, 2013  (9 a.m. - 6 p.m.)
Chicago Kent College of Law, Room 580

565 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL

April 16, 2013  (9 a.m. - 4 p.m.)
UIC Institute for the Humanities
University of Illinois at Chicago

Lower level Stevenson Hall, 701 South Morgan, Chicago, IL

This conference is free and open to the public.
For more information, and to register, see

Organized by:
Samuel Fleischacker, Philosophy, UIC
Mark Rosen, Chicago-Kent College of Law