The Closing Of The Conservative Media Mind

Two more defections from the stable of writers at RedState provide further proof of the extent to which conservative media has become a pro-Trump echo chamber.

Back in April of last year, RedState, which is owned by Salem Media Group, a media conglomerate that includes a radio network as well as ownership of several well-known conservative outlets on the Internet, fired a cadre of top-tier, high-traffic writers who had gained a reputation for being strongly critical of President Trump and many of his policies. While the company claimed at the time that the dismissals were not ideological in nature, noting that several writers who were critical of the President still remained on staff, the explanation seemed hollow given the fact that all of the writers and editors who were fired were decidedly anti-Trump and that many of them were people whose writing drew some of the highest traffic on the site.

Today, two of the Trump critics who ended up not being let go write on The Bulwark, a site that has become home to many “Never Trump” conservatives, about what happened after that round of firings and explain why they decided to leave RedState:

Before that purge, RedState had a healthy mix of stories that were critical of Trump and supportive of him. Afterward, despite holding on to some Trump critics, the tenor of the site shifted. The leftover Trump critics wrote fewer entries and the hostility toward those who still did was palpable.

We learned personally that writers who dare to examine President Trump or the MAGA mentality are purposely suppressed in private or even publicly criticized. In one case, one of us (Kimberly) wrote a piece that was critical of Trump supporters’ attempts to dismiss bomb threats as a liberal hoax. It was published but any references to it on Twitter or Facebook were deleted and done so repeatedly without explanation. Only after speaking up did she learn the piece wouldn’t get shared on social media, and instructions came down from Salem management to stop discussing the incident with colleagues.

Though we continued on in the hopes the atmosphere might change, that approach is now untenable.

A cursory glance at the front page of RedState reveals the transformation that Salem wanted is now complete. There is no local editorial control. Decisions are made behind the scenes at Townhall and subject to its review.

The writing was on the wall for some time. Purging Trump critics at RedStatewasn’t the only time Salem revealed it cared more about loyalty to Trump than about ideology. CNN reported that in 2016, Salem told its talk radio hosts to treat then-candidate Donald Trump more positively. According to emails obtained by CNN, chief executive officer Edward Atsinger had emailed Salem radio hosts Hugh Hewitt and Michael Medved at senior vice president Phil Boyce’s suggestion to provide them with “a very well-stated case for supporting the GOP nominee because we have to beat Hillary.” Meanwhile, according to CNN, general manager Terry Fahy told co-hosts Elisha Krauss and Ben Shapiro via email in July 2016 that their show had “not been in the spirit of ‘supporting the GOP nominee'” —although Krauss told CNNMoney that the month of July 2016 “was the highest ratings we had.” Krauss was ultimately fired in January 2017.

(…)

We can no longer support Salem, and we feel that remaining at RedState gives the impression we do. Furthermore, we no longer feel as though we can adequately counteract Salem’s pro-Trump stance.

We take no pleasure in writing this as we still like and respect many of our former colleagues.

We both have our own points of criticism regarding mainstream media outlets, and we, therefore, believe a healthy conservative media is not only beneficial but necessary. Unfortunately for RedState, the focus on clicks above all else, the fight over loyalty rather than ideology, and the refusal to accept any legitimate criticism of Trump is a stain on a once proud conservative publication.

We are conservatives. We believe in limited government, the free market, the Constitution, and protecting the rights of the unborn. We have therefore supported the Republican Party and believed in the Republican Party for years. But a healthy Republican Party cannot exist without a healthy conservative media; likewise, a toxic, poisonous conservative media is like a parasite for the conservative movement— and, make no mistakeit will  eventually kill it.

We publish this with the hope that it serves to push the Republican Party and conservative media back to the ones we respected, admired, and believed in.

Like James Joyner, who wrote the initial post here at OTB back in April about the mass-firings at RedState, I had not been a regular reader of the site in quite some time outside of clicking on a link to a piece that was posted there on another site or on Twitter or Facebook that appeared interesting. Even before the Trump years, the site was somewhat too conservative for my taste and far more concerned with activism rather than the analysis and debate that I’ve come to prefer from online media on the left or the right. For that reason, I can’t say I was following the content on the site very closely, but the developments from last year, and this column by now-former RedState contributors Kimberly Ross and Andrea Ruth follow a pattern that has become all too apparent in conservative media since the moment that Donald Trump became the Republican nominee in June 2016.

Prior to Trump winning the nomination, the criticism of the President among conservatives was widespread, and quite loud indeed. Most commentators understandably dismissed him as a clown and a buffoon and spoke out against many of his excesses such as his remarks about Mexicans, his attacks on women such as Megyn Kelly, Carly Fiorina, and Heidi Cruz his mockery of a disabled reporter for The New York Times and, most especially, his call in December 2015 for a ban on any Muslims from entering the United States for any reason. As the primary season drew closer, most of the well-known conservative pundits were backing other candidates, such as Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Even as Trump continued to win, many of these pundits still held out hope that there might be some way to deny him the nomination even as that idea became more and more far-fetched.

Once Trump won the nomination, some of that criticism began to die down and many of Trump’s previous critics got behind him in an effort to defeat what they believed was the greater threat of another Clinton Presidency. Even then, though, the Trump resistance wasn’t entirely silenced in conservative media, as evidenced by the support that some pundits put behind the long-shot candidacy of Evan McMullin, which really didn’t have a noticeable impact on the Presidential race anywhere outside of Utah, which Trump still won anyway. To some degree, that resistance was revived in 2016 with the revelations about the Access Hollywood tape and the charges of sexual harassment, and worse, made against Trump by nearly two dozen women. By that point, though, any resistance to Trump was too little and too late and, in any case, the news clearly didn’t have much of an impact on the outcome of the Presidential race as a whole since the President went on to win a narrow Electoral College victory in November 2016.

Once Trump became President, though, the idea of a significant “Never Trump” voice in conservative media clearly came to be something that was not going to be accepted, especially at conservative media sites owned by decidedly conservative media conglomerates such as Salem and Sinclair Broadcasting as well as other such conglomerates as Clarity Media Group, owned by conservative billionaire Philip Anschutz. From that moment forward, it quickly became apparent that any criticism of the President or his policies was largely frowned upon and in some cases, quite obviously strictly forbidden. Additionally, many sites on the right seemed to be as obsessed with attacking people on the right who remained critical of Trump as they did with criticizing Democrats.

In many cases, of course, the unquestioning support of the Trump Administration was largely a matter of course. Nobody is surprised, for example, that sites like Breitbart News, World Net Daily, Gateway Pundit, and other conservative sites that are generally dominated by hack writing and shoddy “journalism” have fallen in line behind a President that largely echoes what they have been saying about issues such as immigration for years. What was perhaps more surprising, though, was the extent that other sites that had previously been open to a wide range of opinions from the conservative side of the aisle quickly turned into pro-Trump echo chambers where dissent would simply not be tolerated. Also surprising was the extent to which some pundits who had previously been heavily critical of the President suddenly turned into pro-Trump sycophants seemingly overnight.

This isn’t to say that the entirety of conservative media has become a place where arguments critical of the President are forbidden or discouraged, of course. National Review, which became famous during the Republican primary for its publication of what was essentially an entire edition devoted to pieces critical of Trump from a wide variety of conservative and libertarian columnists who have contributed to the site over the years, remains a place where one can still find writers willing to criticize the President, the Administration’s policies, as well as some of the egregious examples of the President’s outrageous behavior in public and online. These writers include people such as David French and others, and even some of the NR columnists who have been supportive of the President. Similarly, Hot Air, which is also owned by Salem as RedState is, does not come across as a cheerleader for the President in the same manner that Townhall, which is also part of the Salem media family, does. Additionally, The Bulwark, where Ross and Ruth published their column on their resignation from RedState, is a new site that emerged in the wake of the closing of The Weekly Standard, which had been one of the few conservative media sites left where criticism of the President from the right could be found.  Founded by former Weekly Standard Editor-At-Large and conservative talk show host Charlie SykesThe Bulwark has in fact quickly become a must-visit site for those looking for conservative-based criticism of an Administration that most conservatives, especially those at sites owned by conservative media conglomerates such as Salem, do not seem willing to engage in. There are also other sites on the right where one can find prominent and eloquent anti-Trump voices such as  Commentary and The American Conservative. For the most part, though, what passes for conservative media online today is decidedly behind the President and unwilling to tolerate dissent. Which explains what happened to Ross and Ruth quite well.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Donald Trump, Media, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Teve says:

    conservative media got the GOP some early victories, but in the long-term it’s the biggest enemy conservatives could have. It fills them full of lies, trains them to avoid other media and thereby immunizes them from the truth, and leads them to expect impossible accomplishments the GOP couldn’t hope to fulfill. All the while coddling and amplifying their bigotries, ensuring that they can’t expand their membership.

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  2. Teve says:

    OT but I can’t help myself, Bloomberg is reporting that Trump is considering naming Herman Cain to the Federal Reserve Board.

  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    ‘Conservatism’ as understood by people like George Will, to take one example, collapsed for the same reason communism did: they were both predicated on lies. American conservatism has been and will probably always be, misogynist, racist, greedy and callous. It has now collapsed like a dying red giant into a white dwarf, a superheated, condensed mass of spite, resentment and hatred.

    There is no reviving American conservatism in the Reagan model because it was always a con job. There is no such thing as kinder more open more honest conservatism. It was always an illusion.

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  4. CSK says:

    What interests me most, as a writer, is that so few of the frantically pro-Trump commentators are actually literate, in the most basic sense. They can’t write parallel sentences, they misplace modifiers, they don’t know the meanings of the words they use, and they damned sure can’t punctuate.

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  5. Kathy says:

    I read some online conservative publications in the mid-2000s, largely at the time of the W. Bush presidency. There was some criticism of Bush and his policies, though they were generally supportive.

    Movements tend to take on the personalities of their leaders, or to pander to their leader’s personality traits and preferences. IMO, the adoption of authoritarian-like censorship of criticism, reflects Dennison’s authoritarian-leaning personality and preferences.

    Call it the Stalinization or Sovietization of the conservative movement.

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  6. James Pearce says:

    Once Trump became President, though, the idea of a significant “Never Trump” voice in conservative media clearly came to be something that was not going to be accepted, especially at conservative media sites owned by decidedly conservative media conglomerates such as Salem and Sinclair Broadcasting as well as other such conglomerates as Clarity Media Group, owned by conservative billionaire Philip Anschutz.

    There’s some overlap between the “closing of the conservative mind” stuff and the “corporate boards are terrified of social media mobs” stuff. As I’ve seen celebrated in web-corners that should know better, “Deplatforming works!”

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  7. CSK says:

    @CSK:

    And do not get me started on subject-verb agreement. Oh, well. I suppose the intended audience doesn’t notice.

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  8. Joe says:

    @CSK:
    You and I are going to have to talk about the use of the comma compared to the use the period in your rant about bad punctuation. My best college writing instructor told us repeatedly that “the two greatest tools of the writer are the period and the trash can.” I commend this lesson to you.

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  9. EddieInCA says:

    I was a fan of the original iteration of RedState, but very quickly realized and learned that the whole lot of them were scumbags. Joshua Trevino ended up being a foreign agent for the Malaysian Government (well, not technically but accurate enough).
    Streiff is just a nasty piece of shite.
    Krempasky is the worst kind of DC Establishment Conservative asshole. His wife is Monica Goodling, who almost lost her law license for how she handled herself in the Attorney General’s office during the G.W. Bush administration.
    Erick Erickson’s arrogance is only overshadowed by his complete lack of being able to read political tends. Talk about clueless.
    Lastly, Leon Wolf is only the worst kind of hypocrite.

    As a site, RedStates’ submission to Trump follows the familiar pattern of most Conservative media. So much for principles.

  10. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Joe:
    @CSK is a professional writer, as am I, though I’m more heavily weighted toward fiction. I won’t speak for her but I am less interested in ‘proper’ than I am in ‘effective.’ I use the punctuation that works to get my point across. In writing fiction I will deliberately overuse periods to create incomplete sentences. Because I want to. Because I want each sentence to stand on its own. Because I want to control the pace of the reader, to speed him/her up, to slow them down, to frustrate them when they want to read quickly, to lay some weight on a phrase, or just to duplicate the rhythm of dialog. Sometimes I just want the reader to feel a sense of blur of things happening too quickly to focus on detail too fast to parse too much of a rush to slow down man we gotta keep going.

    I also make up my own rules about paragraphs.

    Because ‘white space’ on the page sends its own message.

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  11. Neil Hudelson says:

    From one of the many links in the Bulwark article:

    It’s been a month since the midterms, and the grand scale of the calamity that has befallen the Republican Party grows clearer by the day. And yet Republicans in Washington seem intent on denying it.

    In his wild meeting Tuesday with Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Charles Schumer, President Trump emphasized the fact that the GOP expanded its majority in the Senate by two seats.

    I think at this point there are maybe a total of two people in the U.S. that believes losing control of one chamber of Congress while expanding your majority by 4% in a chamber you already controlled is ‘winning.’

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  12. Kylopod says:

    One reason for the collapse of the NeverTrump movement is that there never really was much of a distance between them and Trump to begin with. Take Erick “goat-f*cking child-molester” Erickson, who had already left RedState a while before the mass firing. I was actually a little surprised when he joined the NeverTrumpers in 2015, and remained with them even after Trump captured the nomination. From what I saw, he always shared most of Trump’s views on most things. For example, for years he was one of the leading advocates of shutting down the government to extract concessions from Democrats. Not surprisingly, he’s been completely supportive of the recent shutdown, and he has relentlessly defended Trump while attacking Congressional Republicans as well as Democrats.

    So what did he have against Trump when he ran? It’s because he thought Trump was a pro-abortion baby-killer. No, I’m not kidding:

    Donald Trump believes the federal government should fund Planned Parenthood. Donald Trump believes there are good things the child killers do…. If Trump were elected President, there would be members of the pro-life movement who would compromise their convictions for access to power.

    The two main things that seemed to bother the NeverTrumpers were (1) They believed he’d get crushed in the general election by Hillary Clinton (2) They believed that if elected, he would not govern as a reliable conservative. His being a racist, misogynistic authoritarian with the temperament of a 2-year-old was rarely at the top of the list of NeverTrumpers’ objections except as seen through the lens of his alleged unelectability.

    Of course this wasn’t true of all conservatives. There were some like David Frum who had been apostates for years. The problem was for those who remained comfortably in the party until Trump came along, and who held that Trump was an aberration who didn’t represent the GOP–a belief that was increasingly hard to maintain with a straight face as he went from being a novelty candidate with “no chance of winning” to the party’s actual leader.

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  13. reid says:

    If you think you’re paid to be a journalist but are discouraged or forbidden from writing anything negative about “your team”, then you’re just a propagandist tool.

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  14. Neil J Hudelson says:

    @Michael Reynolds: @Joe:

    Churchill’s (apocrypyhal) comment on proper grammar: “This is the sort of pedantic nonsense up with which I will not put!”

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  15. PJ says:

    @Teve:

    OT but I can’t help myself, Bloomberg is reporting that Trump is considering naming Herman Cain to the Federal Reserve Board.

    NEIN! NEIN! NEIN!

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  16. Jen says:

    @Joe: I’m going to second what Michael said–I too write professionally (freelance writer), and there are times to follow rules and times to write for effect/emphasis.

    I can always tell when someone has been instructed to Hemingway-ize their writing because depending on the topic, it can sound stilted and stiff rather than having a more natural cadence.

  17. Stormy Dragon says:

    Even before the Trump years, [RedState] was somewhat too conservative for my taste and far more concerned with activism rather than the analysis and debate that I’ve come to prefer from online media on the left or the right.

    Analysis and debate ultimately don’t matter. Politics is ultimately non-ideological, and any claims to be ideological is merely rationalizations for policies driven by other more atavistic reasons.

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  18. Joe says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    I have no objection to non-standard punctuation, particularly in the setting you describe. And, even in a more standard setting, I would not seriously pretend to correct CSK because I am not a prescriptionist and I think there is latitude in the use of commas and periods. My chain-yanking obviously did not come through, but I found it humorous under the circumstances to see a series of full subject/predicate clauses set off by repeated commas. For the reason I explained, I err on the side of the period.

  19. Moosebreath says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    “I think at this point there are maybe a total of two people in the U.S. that believes losing control of one chamber of Congress while expanding your majority by 4% in a chamber you already controlled is ‘winning.’”

    The other one comments here.

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  20. James Pearce says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    I think at this point there are maybe a total of two people in the U.S. that believes losing control of one chamber of Congress while expanding your majority by 4% in a chamber you already controlled is ‘winning.’

    You say that, but the Dem House needed 35 days of misery and the closing of LaGuardia to break Mitch McConnell’s “won’t pass a bill Trump won’t sign” nonsense. That 4% is small, but it’s the deciding factor.

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  21. Teve says:

    @CSK:

    What interests me most, as a writer, is that so few of the frantically pro-Trump commentators are actually literate, in the most basic sense. They can’t write parallel sentences, they misplace modifiers, they don’t know the meanings of the words they use, and they damned sure can’t punctuate

    One can literally scan comment sections and 75% of the time pick out the Trumpers in one’s peripheral vision. Three commas in a row? A space then a period, then no space before the next sentence? No commas in the right place? Trumper, Trumper, Trumper.

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  22. James Pearce says:

    @Moosebreath:

    The other one comments here.

    Comments here, yes, but lives –rent-free apparently!– in various heads.

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  23. Gustopher says:

    @James Pearce: And, the Democrats wouldn’t have been able to do it at all last year.

  24. Neil J Hudelson says:

    @James Pearce:

    You say that, but the Dem House needed 35 days of misery and the closing of LaGuardia to break Mitch McConnell’s “won’t pass a bill Trump won’t sign” nonsense.

    Highlighted the important parts for you.

    EDIT: Ah, Gustopher beat me to it.

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  25. Warren Peese says:

    If they weren’t a pro-Trump echo chamber after the “purge”, they are one now.

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  26. @Neil J Hudelson:

    Acccording to the reporting about what led to the end of the shutdown, it was the failure of the Senate to pass either of the bills that were before it last Thursday that led McConnell to call the President and tell him that he did not believe he could hold the GOP Caucus together much longer and the reports about airport delays on Friday that led Trump to agree to a deal that had largely been worked out between McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

  27. Teve says:

    Interesting comment from former Republican John Cole:

    Beyond the fact that Schultz is just fucking stupid, and beyond the fact that literally no one is clamoring for another billionaire President, and beyond the fact that his advisors are cynically telling him to attack Democrats, and beyond the fact that he might swing another election to Trump, the reason I hate Howard Schultz with a contempt I normally reserve for people who leave their shopping carts in the middle of the parking lot or ask “Cold enough for you?” when it is 2 degrees out is the fact that anyone advocating centrism at this point in time is basically a fucking proto-fascist.

    The country’s policies (despite the wishes of the majority of the people) have swung so far to the right on virtually every issue, whether it be protecting the bankers, tax policy, environmental policy, abortion rights, you name it. We won’t even feel the true impact of the total radicalization of the courts for decades. I’ll be 75 and we’ll still be suffering from the lunatics being put on the bench the past two years.

    Anyone who supports centrism right now is basically ok with all of that. They’re ok with the status quo. What they want is today’s fascism, but with more polite dialogue and milquetoats Ted Talks and fewer four letter words and would you people please stop being mean to rich people eating in public and can’t we just agree to disagree while I strip away your voting rights and reproductive freedom and raise the price of your insulin 40,000%.

    Fuck Howard Schultz. This country needs a hard swing leftward. After AOC’s second term as President and she has four new Justices seated we can talk about a couple test case blue dogs.

    😛

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  28. Jen says:

    @Teve: Where is that from? I find myself interested in reading more–if there is more. 🙂

  29. Gustopher says:

    @Teve:

    former Republican John Cole

    I think the time has come when we can stop referring to John Cole as a “former Republican.” It’s true, but it seldom adds any meaningful knowledge.

    It’s like referring to you or I as a former Republican, or Doug Mataconis as a Yankees Fan — relevant for certain topics, but generally not.

    Unless you are suggesting that the fine Mr. Cole still needs to get his hate on, and has just changed targets… but even then, I blame the animals for keeping him riled up, rather than his innate Republican nature.

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  30. Kathy says:

    @Jen:

    Found it

    A search engine and the internet is the next best thing to being omniscient.

  31. Teve says:

    @Gustopher: The reason I called him Former Republican John Cole is because I was reading political blogs, including his, during the George W Bush administration when he slowly, painfully wrestled with his transition from Republican to Democrat. I watched as the George W Bush administration ruined his entire political identity and caused him to rethink his entire value system, which he did publicly. It made a big impression on me, even though I had left conservatism behind over a decade before that. A lot of people simply don’t have the intellectual integrity to do what he did, especially when he was already a fairly well-known right winger on the internet and had a nice comfy niche he could easily have stayed in.

    https://www.balloon-juice.com/2012/04/04/what-a-good-night-2/

  32. James Pearce says:

    @Gustopher:

    And, the Democrats wouldn’t have been able to do it at all last year.

    So? When are they going to work on stuff like affordable housing, high speed internet, public transit? I’m sick of being expected to give them a standing ovation for such minor shit. They’re not toddlers.

    @Neil J Hudelson: Doesn’t change the fact that Dems can’t push anything through Congress because they lost seats in the Senate. I just don’t understand why this fact is being minimized. Is it because I said it?

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  33. @EddieInCA:

    Erickson hasn’t been affiliated with RedState for several years and now writes at another site. The same goes for Leon Wolf.

  34. An Interested Party says:

    Comments here, yes, but lives –rent-free apparently!– in various heads.

    Jenos liked to crow the same line whenever someone mentioned him…ahh, the human ego…

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  35. just nutha says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Indeed. When I was a comp. teacher, I noted to students that there was a great swath in literature–both fiction and non-fiction–including academic writing–where authors use fragments to create pace and emphasis. It’s also consistent with how we use oral language. Well placed fragments will create emphasis.

    Every. Single. Time.

    ETA: “They can’t write parallel sentences, they misplace modifiers, they don’t know the meanings of the words they use, and they damned sure can’t punctuate.”

    In grammar, this is called a “list sentence.” Each of the clauses is part of the same list, so it’s logical to punctuate them as we do other lists.

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  36. Joe says:

    @just nutha:

    I spent a large part of college believing there were comma laws that I was having trouble comprehending. Then, with the prior permission of both, I submitted the same term paper to two PhD professors of English in a highly regarded English department. The result was an epiphany when both copies of the same paper came back with different comma edits, some added, some subtracted. It turns out there is subjectivity in punctuation, some examples of which both Mr. Reynolds and just nutha provide.

    I recently came across another fabulous method of signaling pace and emphasis. In a text from a parent to a teenager:
    call
    me
    back
    NOW
    No punctuation. Great pace and emphasis.
    My older son is a composer. He spends extraordinary amounts of time exploring through musical notation how to communicate pace and emphasis (and pitch and timbre, etc), and that is a whole ‘nother level of communication.
    But, not gonna lie: I still would have used periods.

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  37. Blue Galangal says:

    @Teve: I also watched that and applaud John Cole, former Republican (TM) for his bravery and his intellectual honesty (as some here know, I went through a similar journey). So I feel your qualifier lends context. I recently had the opportunity to attend a Balloon Juice meet-up and aside from the sheer relief it was to talk IRL to other people who knew who Adam Schiff was, we had a lively conversation about epistemic closure and how one gets from Point R to Point D.

    Tl;dr: I <3 the irascible, iconoclastic former Republican John Cole.

  38. EddieinCA says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    @EddieInCA:

    Erickson hasn’t been affiliated with RedState for several years and now writes at another site. The same goes for Leon Wolf.

    I was aware of that, Mr. Mataconis. However, I was making the larger point that while I was a fan initially, I quickly realized they were all – to varying degrees – unprincipled hacks who picked when they were going to be “principled”. Erick Erickson’s complete 180 on Trump is a perfect example.

  39. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Joe:
    No, I got that you were tweaking her, as I’m sure she did. Much as I was tweaking you.

    To be perfectly honest, I never learned the rules of grammar in any formal way. I literally don’t know without Googling what the word, ‘participle’ means. There was an old movie about chess in which this child prodigy becomes a street hustler, but has to be taken under the wing of the master to become a true grand master. I’m that kid. I’ll win 90% of my matches, but won’t be a grand master, which is absolutely cool by me. I wouldn’t be able to stand some of those people. My rough estimate is 30,000 published pages in give or take 26 years in the business and it is the best job ever.

  40. EddieInCA says:

    @Blue Galangal:

    I went through John Cole’s transformation as well, but 10 years previous. It was Pat Buchanan’s speech at the 1992 GOP convention that made me switch from the GOP to the Dems, and it was difficult initially. I’ve always voted the person closest to the center, left or right until that election. I’ve voted Dem since and never have looked back.

    Ironically, the older and wealthier I get (and I’m not rich by “rich people standards” but I’m comfortable), the more left I turn. I’m just this side of a socialist now.

    And I don’t see that trend changing.

  41. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Joe:
    I was going to draw the comparison to music but I have a nearly superstitious respect for people who can make music and it seemed presumptuous. But yeah, I’m creating on the page the pace and rhythm I hear (for lack of a better word) in my head. Andante. Allegretto. Lento. All those Italian words. Do the readers hear it the same way? Can’t say.

  42. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Joe: Nothing wrong with periods. The difference is that readers are more likely to decode the elements as four discrete points rather than 4 factors of one failure. That’s a pretty small difference.

    Personally, I usually try to group all related pieces into a single statement, but it’s likely that I lose some rhetorical force at times by doing so. On the other hand, It’s been a long time since I’ve cared too.

  43. Kari Q says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Because ‘white space’ on the page sends its own message.

    White space! When my friends share their writing with me, this is frequently my first and only criticism. Put in paragraph breaks! Really, I’d rather have too many than none at all. Especially if I’m reading it on a screen instead of printed.

    White space is your friend.

    Your best friend.

    Or at least your readers’ best friend.

  44. James Pearce says:

    @An Interested Party: It should be rather clear now that I don’t have much ego. But go on, try and bruise it anyway.

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Do the readers hear it the same way? Can’t say.

    I once heard a 12 year old use those very words –Andante, Allegretto, and Lento- to describe Animorphs #31.

    But you didn’t write that one.

  45. DrDaveT says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    To be perfectly honest, I never learned the rules of grammar in any formal way.

    Actually, you learned the rules of grammar just fine. Every native speaker does. What you did not learn (formally or otherwise) were:
    1. the technical vocabulary of talking about grammar
    2. any of the various competing prescriptivist standards for vocabulary, usage, punctuation, and pronunciation

    What the angry pedants call “bad grammar” is a mishmash of nonstandard, informal, and changing language use that fails to conform to what they were taught was ‘proper’ when they were children. It’s really no deeper than that.

    I highly recommend the writings of University of Michigan scholar Dr. Anne Curzan, professor of both English and Linguistics. Her speciality is the history of prescriptivism in English, and its effect on how English has evolved. It’s very eye-opening; for example, we know exactly who* invented the alleged ‘correct’ usage of ‘that’ and ‘which’ to distinguish restricted and unrestricted clauses… and it happened in the 20th Century. Similarly, we know exactly which (male) 19th century writer of “how to speak correctly” books decided that using ‘they’ and ‘them’ as singular pronouns is unacceptable, and that ‘he’ and ‘him’ should be the default when the sex of the person is unspecified.

    When Dr. Curzan teaches English, she teaches Standard American essentially as the prestige dialect of a foreign language — it’s not that how your family talks at home is wrong, it’s that there are prejudiced people who will mistake your correct use of your native dialect for ignorance or laziness. It’s up to you how to respond to that, and she will help you learn the prestige dialect if that’s what you want to do. Because whoever controls more dialects for more situations wins.

    *H. W. Fowler, as it happened.

  46. Kylopod says:

    @DrDaveT: John McWhorter’s 1998 book Word on the Street is in part a general critique of prescriptivism, but placed within the context of the Ebonics debate. McWhorter is an African American linguist whose specialty is creole languages (a topic that cannot be fully understood while operating under prescriptivist assumptions). Here’s a quote from the book:

    “What we must realize…is that during these changes, because renewal always complements erosion, all languages are eternally self-sustaining, just as while our present mountains are slowly eroding, new ones are gradually being thrown up by the movement of geological plates. Thus at any given time, a language is coherent and complex, suitable for the expression of all human needs, thoughts, and emotions. Just as linguists have encountered no languages that do not change, they have also not encountered any languages whose changes compromised their basic coherency and complexity. We have encountered no society hampered by a dialect that was slowly simply wearing out like an old car. Anthropologists report no society in which communication is impossible in the dark because the local dialect has become so mush-mouthed and senseless that it can only be spoken with help from hand gestures. In other words, there is no such thing as a language ‘going to the dogs’–never in the history of the world has there existed a language that has reached, or even gotten anywhere near, said dogs.”

  47. Jen says:

    @Kari Q: RE: white space– some of the writing I do is for websites, for individuals/companies that are more familiar/comfortable with formal journal writing.

    I have to explain, often, that you need more paragraph breaks online than in print because of the way people read. Some have (repeatedly) tried to group things I’ve broken up back into longer paragraphs, and I have to break them back up again, saying, most people skim online text. You get more across if there’s WHITE SPACE.

    Le sigh.

  48. An Interested Party says:

    But go on, try and bruise it anyway.

    That’s OK, I don’t need to do that…you aren’t that important…

  49. DrDaveT says:

    @Kylopod:

    McWhorter is an African American linguist whose specialty is creole languages

    I’ve read all of McWhorter’s popularized linguistics books (my favorite is Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue), and a couple of his politics-of-race books (e.g. Losing the Race). He’s one of my go-to linguistics writers, along with Guy Deutscher and Anne Curzan.

    The cool part about Curzan’s research is that linguists have tended to completely ignore prescriptivism as a whacko religion that doesn’t affect real language — but then they can’t explain phenomena like hypercorrection, which are real and do change how the language is spoken at all levels.

  50. James Pearce says:

    @An Interested Party:

    you aren’t that important

    <—True.

    @DrDaveT:

    I’ve read all of McWhorter’s popularized linguistics books

    Have you seen any of his conversations with Glenn Loury on bloggingheads?

  51. DrDaveT says:

    @James Pearce:

    Have you seen any of his conversations with Glenn Loury on bloggingheads?

    No, I haven’t. Are they linguistics, or something else?

  52. Kathy says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Reading “Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue” I found out two things. One is that I’m not very interested in linguistics. The other is that John McWhorter is really good at writing about linguistics.

    So I haven’t read any more of his books, but I do listen to his podcast, “Lexicon Valley,” every two weeks.

  53. James Pearce says:

    @DrDaveT: Sometimes, but it’s usually about current/cultural events. Check it out.

  54. Joe says:

    @Michael:
    I spent 8 years diagramming sentences under the watchful eye and ready paddle of the Sisters of St. Joseph. But I never understood any of it until I studied Japanese in college. Curiously, they tried to teach us Japanese using western concepts of grammar: noun, verb, adjective, adverb. After a couple of months of that, I finally figured out English grammar (and I can now explain the difference a transitive and intransitive verb), but what I really figured out is that Japanese does not really follow those rules. There are kinda nouns and not-nouns. Adjectives have past tenses. Anyway, it’s hard to understand something from the inside.

    While not a prescriptivist, I am a lay/lie fanatic with my kids. My favorite lesson was the fascinating (and incorrect) distinction attributed to those words in a Snow Patrol song where lay became the first person singular and lie was assigned the second person singular “If I lay here, would you lie with me?” I would audibly roll my eyes every time it played. When my oldest was writing songs for his band in high school, he purposely juxtaposed a correct usage of lay/lie in one line of a song “so lie down, lay down all your fears.”

    This probably needed more white space.

  55. JohnMcC says:

    Kind of OT about OT, I guess. But how interesting that a topic about conservative media evolved into an amazingly interesting discussion of language and grammar.

    4
    1
  56. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I was going to draw the comparison to music

    You know, there’s athe hint of a good analogy there. How about, “If Grammar Nazis were Music Nazis all compositions would be in C, in 4/4 time.”

  57. @JohnMcC:

    I was thinking the same thing. Technically off topic but it’s interesting nonetheless.

    2
    1
  58. CSK says:

    @JohnMcC: @Doug Mataconis:

    You’re welcome.

    Or, in Trumpkinspeak, “your welcome.”

  59. Kylopod says:

    @Joe:

    While not a prescriptivist, I am a lay/lie fanatic with my kids.

    I remember an essay by Geoffrey Nunberg (one of my favorite linguist-writers along with McWhorter), who for years was in charge of the usage notes in American Heritage Dictionary. He discussed some of these pedantic distinctions such as each other vs. one another, partly vs. partially, and he commented that even though he knows most of these were invented out of whole cloth and have been ignored routinely by some of the finest writers, he finds himself becoming a stickler for some of them anyway. He just can’t help himself.

    I think we all have our linguistic pet peeves, no matter how “enlightened” we are about the follies of prescriptivism. One of mine is when people end questions with a period rather than a question mark (as in “Why did you say that.”), even though I’ve done it myself when I wasn’t paying attention. Maybe it’s because I “hear” the sentences in my mind, and a period usually signals a falling tone rather than a rising one, so when you end a question that way it almost sounds apathetic to me, like the person is shrugging their shoulders. Even though I know that’s not what was intended, it nevertheless grates on me. It just strikes me as careless.

    Of course the prescriptivist rules can’t be ignored totally, because the fact is that they play a role in formal communication to some degree, and children do need to learn some of these rules at some point. I don’t think lay/lie makes much of a difference anymore, but avoiding sentences like “Billy and me are going to the store” is still widely expected of educated speakers in some situations, and as long as that’s the case, it’s useful to be aware of.

  60. Modulo Myself says:

    There can be a bad operatic quality to white space. I’ve read enough literary fiction where forthcoming big events are signaled with a single-sentence paragraph:

    And then he stopped.

    Yes, no shit. But the above sentence existed in relationship to a nice normal and readable fifty-eight page paragraph by Proust or Faulkner. Music gets bleary and boring, which is why style exists. I suspect that style is tilting away from relying so heavily upon the visual cues of white space in language and going somewhere else.

    I know very little of linguistics, and I’m not sure how credible the book is, but Alice Becker-Ho’s The Essence of Jargon is a study of the Roma and other underground classes in Europe, and how they used argot as a means of duplicity rather than expressiveness (dialect). What’s particularly fascinating (she claims) is that argot is far more stable than language which is expressive.

  61. Joe says:

    @Kylopod:
    What do you do with questions that are polite commands? For example:

    Could you please clean up your room.

  62. Kylopod says:

    @Joe: I dunno, I’m not really familiar with that construction in writing; at least I don’t think it’s that common.

  63. DrDaveT says:

    @Kylopod:

    I think we all have our linguistic pet peeves, no matter how “enlightened” we are about the follies of prescriptivism.

    One of the fun things about Dr. Curzan (who gave a live Smithsonian seminar entitled “Grammar Peeves”) is that she has her own arbitrary set of peeves. She encourages people to own their peeves, recognizing them for what they are, rather than trying not to care.

    A few of the things that make me personally crazy are hypercorrections (e.g. “My mother gave cookies to Tommy and I.”); the “historical present” (“In 1865, Lincoln is meeting with his cabinet. Three weeks earlier, he is surprised to learn that…”), especially when used inconsistently; missing Oxford commas (put the damn comma in already); and saying ‘infer’ when you mean ‘imply’.

    ETA: And of course saying ‘literally’ when you don’t literally mean literally. This one is doubly egregious because as far as I can tell there is no other easy way to convey this particular meaning (i.e. that I mean the words I said in their precise denotative senses) in English.

  64. dennis says:

    @Kathy:

    Agreed, Kathy, although, conservatives demonstrated infatuation with Vlad P. during GWB’s administration.

  65. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Joe: Well yes, but the problem is that there is “lie & lay” (the tenses) and “lie and lay” (the two discrete verbs with different meanings) and “lie” (the verb with yet another meaning) and probably another “lay” (or “lie” or both) that I’ve forgotten to include.

    And that doesn’t even consider “lei” the noun.

    ETA: and your kid wasn’t juxtaposing anything if he meant recline (lie) and set aside (lay) your fears.

  66. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Or “lei” the verbalization that can exist from the act of putting a lei around someone’s neck at Honolulu airport.

  67. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @DrDaveT: When I was in graduate school, I read an article about the decision to eliminate Oxford commas in the AP Writing Guide where the author claimed that it was essentially a cost saving measure that saved several thousand dollars over the course of a year in ink expense if the press run was large enough.

    I never quite bought it completely but still think it’s an interesting idea.

  68. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Here’s an illustration, from a book dedication, of an instance in which the Oxford comma would have clarified matters considerably:

    “I’d like to thank my parents, George Bush and God.”

  69. MarkedMan says:

    @DrDaveT: My peeve isn’t exactly grammar related, but instead that incorrect word usage destroys the usefulness of particular words, leaving nothing to replace them. “Literally” is one example. It now simply means “very”. “Semi-” and “Bi-” are two more. Quick how many times a year does a semi-monthly meeting occur? How about a bimonthly one? Every time I find myself saying “every other month” or “twice a month” a part of my soul dies…

  70. Kathy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    “Literally” is one example. It now simply means “very”.

    Oh, no. Would that it were the problem. it now means “noise used as an intensifier to an exaggeration that doesn’t need to be intensified.”

    If you say something like “I’m starving,” or “I haven’t been to the movies in a million years,” you’re exaggerating to denote you’re very hungry, or haven’t been to the movies in a long time. Saying “I’m literally starving,” or, “I haven’t been to the movie in literally a million years,” is more akin to gilding refined gold. It’s ridiculous excess, as Shakespeare said.

    When this trend started, many people claimed the right term to use was “figuratively.” This would make sense, literally, but it would render the effect of the exaggeration toothless.

  71. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Kathy:

    At one time “really” meant the same thing as your use of “literally”. It shifted to its current meaning via the same process that “literally” is currently undergoing.

  72. gVOR08 says:

    @Stormy Dragon: On another thread I felt it necessary to explain that when I said the Republican Party was an existential threat to the country I meant a threat to our existence, not “bad”. But I’m a simple man. I’d be satisfied if I just never again saw in a major newspaper “tow the line” or “reign in”.

  73. MarkedMan says:

    @gVOR08:

    I’d be satisfied if I just never again saw in a major newspaper “tow the line”

    I may be guilty of this one, but in my defense I spent a lot of time living near the original site of the Erie Canal, where historic markers revealed “towing the line” was a real thing.

  74. MarkedMan says:

    Here’s one for you: “Beyond the pail”. Can’t even imagine what that might mean. “Beyond the pale”, on the other hand, is richly evocative of both self inflicted life choices and the sometimes arbitrary and capricious doom brought down by the powers that be. A pail is used to haul water while a pale was (among other things) the fence around a church and graveyard indicating the limits of consecrated ground. Those who died with the stain of mortal sin must be buried beyond the pale.

  75. Teve says:

    That the meanings of words and phrases will change over time is always something I’ve just taken for granite.

  76. Barry says:

    @EddieinCA: “Erick Erickson’s complete 180 on Trump is a perfect example.”

    They will be deleted now, but Erick, Son of Erick, tweeted criticism of Dems for being silent on Gov. Northrup (i.e., Erick lied). Now that it’s likely that he’ll soon be ‘Former Governor Northrup’, Erick is criticizing the Dems for punishing somebody for something that he did 35 years ago.

    He’s like ShameDevil – ‘the man immune to shame!’.

  77. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @MarkedMan: Alas, bimonthly meetings can happen every two weeks just as semimonthly ones do. Yes, it’s not common, but bimonthly is defined as every two months or twice a month. If you want to be clear, your heart will have to break. I’m sorry.

  78. MarkedMan says:

    @Teve: Puns now. You are on rocky ground.

  79. Kylopod says:

    Re: Literally

    There’s a fallacy here that I think we need to get out of the way, and it speaks to the broader issue of prescriptivism. A few years ago Gene Weingarten made a semi-facetious rant against nonliteral literally, and in the column he quoted Ambrose Bierce predicting that “within a few years the word ‘literally’ will mean ‘figuratively.'” Weingarten didn’t seem to notice the irony of producing that quote to make his point. It was from the 19th century. Obviously Bierce’s prediction did not come true–at least not within that timeframe.

    The fact is that people have been using the word literally in this loose way for over 200 years, and it hasn’t caused the word’s original meaning to disappear. Does that mean the loose sense is harmless? Not exactly. It does dilute the meaning of the word somewhat, and it opens up for potential confusion. But it’s possible for two meanings of a word to coexist simultaneously for a long time. There are many examples of this. Probably literal literally is in no immediate danger of disappearance. Even people who use the looser sense of the word usually know and understand its stricter meaning.

    Part of what leads to the looser sense is that our language is filled with dead metaphors that go unnoticed much of the time. So when people say things like “My boss literally exploded,” what I think is really happening is that they’re ignoring the metaphor and simply trying to convey that the point they’re trying to make (the boss had a fit) is no exaggeration.

    So even when people have legitimate complaints about the way language is used or misused, often the complaints turn out to be overblown. In the aforementioned column by Gene Weingarten, he also offhandedly complained about the words blogosphere and webinar. My reaction is, what’s wrong with those words other than their newness? And that gets to the larger point that what language critics are really objecting to is change, even when they try to wrap up their complaints in “rational” arguments about making communication easier. Indeed, there are cases where a Standard English rule makes less sense than its colloquial alternative (e.g. you vs. y’all/youse). And there’s this fallacious belief that if people are left to their own devices their language will descend into chaos, which (as McWhorter pointed out in the quote I mentioned earlier) shows a poor understanding of how language actually develops.

  80. grumpy realist says:

    @Joe: Oh gods, trying to map Japanese onto Indo-European grammar….

    I had the fortune of going through the program pioneered by the late, great Eleanor Jordan created to stuff as much Japanese as possible into one in the shortest period of time (originally created for graduate students who wanted to study Japanese, but also used by the Foreign Service.) Trying to map Japanese on to Indo-European grammar is a fools’ attempt and will immediately land you in a pickle because of all of the “exceptions”. Nouns that are adjectives, “direct objects” that aren’t, “indirect objects” that are direct objects….

    Most languages can more or less be mapped on to each other. (The Romance languages are so close that I never bothered to get an Italian-English dictionary but stuck with an Italian-French one.) Japanese? Ha!

    I studied Japanese day in and day out 10-12 hours a day for a full year. My mind finally threw its hands up and said “ok, I DON’T know how a language works!” and had to go all the way back to rebuilding my language skills from the very beginning, from the ground up. Which is why I have Japanese and English in two totally different tracks in my brain, can babble in either of them when totally sloshed but can’t translate worth a damn.

  81. DrDaveT says:

    @Kylopod:

    The fact is that people have been using the word literally in this loose way for over 200 years, and it hasn’t caused the word’s original meaning to disappear.

    No, but it has made it impossible for you to tell whether someone intends the word’s original meaning or not. Which is effectively the same as eliminating that sense — if you can’t tell what I mean, the word no longer means that thing.

    However, in the bigger picture, I think you missed the part about peeves being personal and irrational. I don’t object to people saying “spitting image” because nobody knows what they mean — I object purely emotionally, because it’s wrong and ignorant. When the day comes that “spit and image” is forgotten entirely, and only “spitting image” survives, the language will survive just fine and everyone will know what they mean — but it’s still a peeve of mine.

  82. DrDaveT says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    bimonthly is defined as every two months or twice a month

    Defined by whom?

    Bimonthly is defined as occurring every other month. Bimonthly is used by various people to mean either that, or “occurring twice a month”. It’s used that latter way because lots of people get it wrong. If enough of them get it wrong for long enough, then it will eventually just mean either one, no matter who is speaking to whom.

    For the present, there are still a lot of people in positions of authority who will think you are illiterate if you use ‘bimonthly’ to mean “twice a month”, no matter what your favorite dictionary says. That’s a social judgment, like using the wrong fork to eat your salad, but it is nevertheless real enough to harm your chances of getting a particular job or promotion or contract. The best dictionaries (e.g. American Heritage) will both tell you that people use the word both ways, and that one of those uses is considered ignorant and illiterate by a lot of people whose opinions might affect your life.

  83. Kylopod says:

    @DrDaveT:

    but it has made it impossible for you to tell whether someone intends the word’s original meaning or not.

    No it hasn’t. When someone says “I literally exploded,” nobody’s confused over what that means. Many people may find the sentence grating, but it isn’t ambiguous. There may be examples of ambiguous usages of literally, but context makes the meaning clear the vast majority of the time.

  84. DrDaveT says:

    @Kylopod:

    There may be examples of ambiguous usages of literally, but context makes the meaning clear the vast majority of the time.

    I literally don’t know why you think that.

  85. Kylopod says:

    @DrDaveT:

    I literally don’t know why you think that.

    And how is that sentence supposed to be ambiguous? There’s literally no metaphor there. So it’s obvious you’re using it as a synonym for “really.” The problem comes when the word is used with concrete language that may or may not be metaphor or hyperbole: “He literally used up his dad’s bank account.” That is the sort of sentence that could be potentially ambiguous. But how often do you run across a sentence like that? And what are the chances you’d really be confused by it in its full context? I’d say, as a conservative estimate, that at least 90% of the time when literally is used, which meaning of the word you have in mind is obvious in context.

    Again, let me make clear: I’m not advocating the looser sense of the word, I’m just saying that the worries about the original meaning of the word being destroyed are literally overblown.

  86. Joe says:

    @Teve:

    That the meanings of words and phrases will change over time is always something I’ve just taken for granite.

    Change is written in stone.

  87. DrDaveT says:

    @Kylopod:

    And how is that sentence supposed to be ambiguous?

    Seriously?

    Do I know why you think that, or not? There’s no way to tell. It’s perfectly ambiguous between the original sense, the hyperbole sense, and the ironic sense — two of which are exactly opposite in meaning.

  88. Kylopod says:

    @DrDaveT:

    It’s perfectly ambiguous between the original sense, the hyperbole sense, and the ironic sense — two of which are exactly opposite in meaning.

    What do you mean by “the original sense”? The original meaning of literally would never be used in such a sentence. If I say “There are over 100 people here,” that could be hyperbole because I could be exaggerating the amount of people and using it to express that there’s just a really big crowd, and so the word literally in its classical sense would be useful there. But how can “I don’t know why you think that” be an exaggeration? Exaggerating what? Either you know or you don’t know. There aren’t gradations of knowing in this context. What hyperbolic meaning of “I don’t know why you think that” did you have in mind? To me it doesn’t sound like the sort of sentence that could be subject to hyperbole.