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  • It’s interesting that you don’t see the same sort of fractious debates between gardeners and botanists as you do between descriptivists and prescriptivists. I wonder why that is. Perhaps vegetable organisms simply don’t inspire as much passion as language.

  • Jonathon: If they do, they inspire it in fewer people! I think one reason there’s so much acrimony in language debates is that people are inclined to think themselves experts because of their everyday familiarity with language, whereas with botany or gardening most people willingly defer to experts. Also, inasmuch as language is a matter of etiquette and social behaviour, people may feel a greater sense of duty to express their opinions on how others should do it or discuss it. I’m sure there are other reasons.

  • Good point, Stan. In a way, every single speaker of the language is a linguistic gardener. Having invested in our own linguistic gardens likely makes us feel like greater experts than we’re really entitled to be, because we rely so much on intuition and experience rather than explicit knowledge.

  • Exactly, Jonathon. We’re not ideal judges of our own usage, but I think we often assume that we are. And there’s a common tendency to universalise our personal preferences. It takes systematic analysis, or an editor or other attentive third party, to see our blind spots.

  • I’m not sure that the world of gardening is immune from fractious debates, though perhaps gardeners tend to defer to botanists because of their their expertise. But gardening styles can arouse great passions – Christopher Lloyd was greeted with howls of protest when he dug up the rose beds at Great Dixter. And I know from bitter personal experience that the humble allotment can be the scene of rivalries and animosities to match those afflicting the labour party in the Brown-Blair years.

  • Thanks for the insights, Liz. No doubt differences over gardening styles have led to many a war of words, and there is the added danger of all those implements lying around.

  • Another one I read recently: “Nobody would attack a botanist merely because that botanist was interested in finding out what plants are like, instead of creating beautiful gardens.” It’s by Larry Trask in Introducing Linguistics; full passage here.