Recently I was on a panel about language "usage and abusage." The idea was for me and three other language specialists to answer the audience's questions about why there is such an epidemic of "sloppy grammar" afoot in America. "Why are people using interface as a verb?" "What's with ‘nucular'"? [...]
The reality that animals and plants have changed eternally has gained a pride of place in enlightened conversation, such that creationism is on the defensive. On the other hand, the general public has yet to join the 21st or even 20th century when it comes to language. The educated person is taught that a language is something enshrined in its "right" form in dictionaries and Strunk & White, such that any departures from this book and guide are "mistakes."
In fact, it is every bit as inherent and inevitable for languages to change as it is for animals and plants to. What we are taught to recognize as "mistakes" are simply tomorrow's version of the language.
Valentine's Day provides an object lesson, in that humble yet marvelous word — love. A simple, proper word, some might believe. But, in fact, like all words, it has a chaotic mess of a history.
It is one of several offshoots of a little piece of lexical kudzu that some bands of land-hungry Neolithic farmers infected in Europe. We only know so much about them. Apparently they were eager to make the world safe for horses, wheels, and patrilineal inheritance, and they emerged either on the steppes of southern Russia or in what is now Turkey. But the language they brought with them when they spread westward into Europe is the seed for most of today's European languages.
In that language there was a word, leubh, that meant "to care" or "to approve of." In each region of Europe these people's language spread throughout, leubh settled in with them and morphed into different shapes and meanings, rather like Web log became blog.
By two millennia ago, this was happening to leubh in the language that was soon to become "Englisc." The word love was one outcome — one may well have love for something that one cares for or approves of. Love was as a noun, but quickly started being used as a verb as well. That is, when you say, "I love you" to someone, you are using a word that began as a noun just as fax, interface, and green-light did.
Yet we would have little interest in an early Englisc-speaking shepherd scolding us for using love as a verb. And love was only part of the story anyway. Meanwhile leubh also morphed into what we know as leave — not as in departing, but as in the archaic expression "I give you leave to … ," or in other words, it meant "approval." This leave is more alive to us as it was bound into the word belief — belief means approval. Like other nouns, belief was turned into the verb believe.
Plus, notice the jump from leubh to leave: people started "mispronouncing" leubh just as you-know-who pronounces nuclear as nucular. But the planet keeps spinning and we have no sense that the "proper" pronunciation of belief is "beleubh." It was the same with the transformation of leubh into love. Every time we say love or belief, we are, technically, mispronouncing leubh!
[...] One could note that the word love is the descendant of an ancient word that contained within it desire, approval, belief, and permission. That's sweet, but a tad antimacassar.
The word love that we will hear in such proliferation today is one dollop of restless horsemen's heedless splattering, unconcerned with its multifarious fates, of leubh all over Europe.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Oooh, tissue differentiation! Most interesting, no? Dr. Cheng's most recent Big Splash is the identification of the gene causing the golden mutation in zebrafish, the putative cation exchanger slc24a5. Should be a good talk all around!
In order to discover new vertebrate genes that control tissue differentiation, we have performed a screen for histological mutants using larval array technology developed in our laboratory. Both organ-specific and multi-organ mutations were found, including
one with cytological phenotypes highly reminiscent of cancer. We expect the mutations to affect key decision points in processes including cell polarity, cell proliferation, and cell-cell interaction.
Monday, February 05, 2007
Aw, heck, why don't they just introduce a resolution declaring, "We, the Senate, like all the good parts of the war and disapprove of all the bad parts. We demand all credit for anything that goes right, and reject any blame for anything that goes wrong"?
If only. Think how educational, how enlightening it would be for your constituencies--oh wait, no, so much for that idea.
Sunday, February 04, 2007
In my view, the theoretical justification for Chevron is no different from the theoretical justification for those pre-Chevron cases that sometimes deferred to agency legal determinations. As the D.C. Circuit, quoting the First Circuit, expressed it: "The extent to which courts should defer to agency interpretations of law is ultimately 'a function of Congress' intent on the subject as revealed in the particular statutory scheme at issue.'" An ambiguity in a statute committed to agency implementation can be attributed to either of two congressional desires: (1) Congress intended a particular result, but was not clear about it; or (2) Congress had no particular intent on the subject, but meant to leave its resolution to the agency. When the former is the case, what we have is genuinely a question of law, properly to be resolved by the courts. When the latter is the case, what we have is the conferral of discretion upon the agency, and the only question of law presented to the courts is whether the agency has acted within the scope of its discretion-- i.e., whether its resolution of the ambiguity is reasonable. As I read the history of developments in this field, the pre-Chevron decisions sought to choose between (1) and (2) on a statute-by-statute basis. Hence the relevance of such frequently mentioned factors as the degree of the agency's expertise, the complexity of the question at issue, and the existence of rulemaking authority within the agency. All these factors make an intent to confer discretion upon the agency more likely. Chevron, however, if it is to be believed, replaced this statute-by-statute evaluation (which was assuredly a font of uncertainty and litigation) with an across-the-board presumption that, in the case of ambiguity, agency discretion is meant.
It is beyond the scope of these remarks to defend that presumption (I was not on the court, after all, when Chevron was decided). Surely, however, it is a more rational presumption today than it would have been thirty years ago-- which explains the change in the law. Broad delegation to the Executive is the hallmark of the modern administrative state; agency rulemaking powers are the rule rather than, as they once were, the exception; and as the sheer number of modern departments and agencies suggests, we are awash in agency "'expertise."' If the Chevron rule is not a 100% accurate estimation of modern congressional intent, the prior case-by-case evaluation was not so either--and was becoming less and less so, as the sheer volume of modern dockets made it less and less possible for the Supreme Court to police diverse application of an ineffable rule. And to tell the truth, the quest for the "genuine"' legislative intent is probably a wild-goose chase anyway. In the vast majority of cases I expect that Congress neither (1) intended a single result, nor (2) meant to confer discretion upon the agency, but rather (3) didn't think about the matter at all. If I am correct in that, then any rule adopted in this field represents merely a fictional, presumed intent, and operates principally as a background rule of law against which Congress can legislate.
If that is the principal function to be served, Chevron is unquestionably better than what preceded it. Congress now knows that the ambiguities it creates, whether intentionally or unintentionally, will be resolved, within the bounds of permissible interpretation, not by the courts but by a particular agency, whose policy biases will ordinarily be known. The legislative process becomes less of a sporting event when those supporting and opposing a particular disposition do not have to gamble upon whether, if they say nothing about it in the statute, the ultimate answer will be provided by the courts or rather by the Department of Labor.
Scalia, Judicial Deference to Agency Interpretation of Law, 1989 Duke L.J. 511, 516-517. Hmm. Perhaps you had to be there :)