Grammar peculiarities: "Mose well"

I find it kind of satisfying when I Google the crap out of something and don't ultimately come up with a decent result. It means a couple of things:

  • it means I'm looking for something incredibly obscure, which is always satisfying
  • it means there's an opportunity to fill a gap in the internet, even if I'm filling it with my own opinion

Case in point, the phrase (or fragment of a phrase), mose well. 

It means, rather obviously, "might as well". "I might as well eat an apple" could be contracted to "I mose well eat an apple".

Some examples, trawled from the results of a Google search:

A fair question -- I'm not so pleased with the answer, though. I'm not sure what Samantha means by "the first way is the correct way". Does she mean "mose well", or "most well"? Or "might as well"? My head hurts.

I have that problem ALL the time.

Yes. Yes, you should. 1184 people are waiting with bated breath.

Arnt you?

It's more of a verbal slur than a contraction, and its something that has found its way into writing by purely descriptive means -- people writing they way they speak.

A brief aside on prescriptive versus descriptive recording of language, if I may --

When the words and usage of a language are recorded in the way they should be used, the recording is prescriptive. It's giving an instruction (a prescription, if you will) for how to use the language. A dictionary, usually, is prescriptive.

Descriptive recording is the recording of a language as it is spoken, with all its flaws, with the kind of "bad grammar" that evolves over time through a culture of people who use the language as a tool for communicating efficiently with one another. Historically, this kind of record is found in the writings of authors who mimic the voice of characters, inflections and pronunciations exaggerated or enhanced. Today, you'll find it everywhere, from Facebook status updates to "txt speak" and SMS messages.

There's some discord among scholars and pedagogues about which of these methods of recording is right or good, and at the end of the day the answer is always both and neither.

I digress.

Mose well is an informal contraction of "might as well". The closest similar terms I can think of are informal abbreviations like should of, would of and could of. These three examples are descriptive recordings of pronunciation, where the "ov" sound of the contracted "have" in should have, would have and could have has been replaced with its homonym: the word of. In my opinion -- for what that's worth -- should of, could of and would of are wrong. It's entirely possible they're going to worm their way into the English language anyway.

They mose well.

Educational arcs

I have a new annoyance. It's another one of those pieces of English that no one seems to know how to use. It's deeply misunderstood. It's the term "learning curve". I'm continually, it seems, encountering people who believe that because something involves learning, that the entire project can be described as a "learning curve". "It's a learning curve." "This is difficult. It's a learning curve."

This is not correct.

It may have a learning curve. In fact, I guarantee it has one.

A learning curve is not the mere existance of learning. A learning curve is a way of describing the increasing (or decreasing) difficulty in the learning process for a given activity. A steep learning curve exists when a task is difficult to master, a more gentle curve when the job is easier.

You can read about learning curves in far more detail than I care to go into over at Wikipedia, the bastion of opinion-disguised-as-fact and the bane of high school paper graders world-wide.

If you have a new skill to learn, remember that it has a learning curve, and if you want to complain about it, it's probably a steep one.

Bill Bryson: What the hell?

I’ve just finished reading Bill Bryson’s “Mother Tongue”, a reasonably amusing edutainment book exploring the history, complexity and potential future of the English language. All in all, it’s a suitably entertaining read, but I find it’s somewhat flawed by the small issue that factually, it’s probably wildly innacurate. I base this assumption on the various passages devoted to the Australian dialect of the English language, most of which are fundamentally, well, wrong. While I’d like nothing less than to simply reproduce these passages verbatim for your own edification, I have a moral aversion to plagiarism, and shall instead address the various “examples” of Australian speech/grammar/spelling, and then we’ll discuss whether or not anyone ever actually uses them.

Another temptation I shall avoid is the urge to address Mr. Bryson’s quoting from “Lets Talk Strine”, a comedic parody of a book written in 1965 by this bloke, and not representing anything realistic whatsoever about the way anyone did, does, or likely ever will speak.

Anyhow, the actual examples that annoy me:

“Tucker”. This word means “food”. It’s commonly used as part of the term “bush tucker”, and by Australia’s version of rednecks. It’s very quickly disappearing from the language. (And good riddance, say I.)

“Slygrogging.” I have never ever heard this word spoken, nor have I read it prior to seeing it in this book. Apparently (and somewhat evidently, I admit), it defines the act of sneaking out to have a drink. Where I come from, we call that “sneaking out to have a drink”.

“Nong.” A nong is an idiot. No one has used this word since 1987.

“Don’t come the raw prawn with me.” Oh, god. How I both love and loathe this phrase. This alleged common element of Australian parlance, along with various others (”technicolour yawn” for vomit, as cited in this very book is another) survive thrivingly on tea towels and in useless Australian language phrase books. No one ever says them.

Furthermore, the next paragraph in the book proposes a few additional facts that are entirely debatable:

“In Australia, people eat cookies, not biscuits.” No, we don’t. We eat biscuits. Americans eat cookies. If you want to be thoroughly pedantic, we eat cookies when we buy them from Subway.

“They spell many words the American way - labor rather than labour, for instance.” To hell we do. If I’d have spelled the word “labor” in school, I’d have been sorely reprimanded for it, and rightly so. The Australian Labor Party is a vestige of some idiot’s idea of modernising the image of the political party (well, as modernised as it could get in 1912), and is the only time we spell the word without the “u”. As a rule, we follow British spelling conventions, not American conventions. No “-ize” endings, no “-or” endings. And no nukular.

It’s inconsistencies like these that make me doubt the other “facts” presented in the book, particularly when I’m unable to verify them myself and am forced to take them at face value.

I also dislike the easy-to-digest approach when it’s used to present incorrect information, because, frankly, people are more likely to remember rubbish when it’s presented in an amusing format.

I’ve had my whinge. You can all go home now.