Month: July 2014

Tips from the Editor – We Are Literally Going to Hell in a Hand Basket

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By Kelly Laycock

As I often do when contemplating the beginning of a new blogpost, I looked to The Oatmeal for some inspiring words of wisdom. They are literally the best medicine for the Monday blues.

If you are one of the few who question (or possibly abhor) my usage of the word literally in the previous sentence, then prepare yourself for some major irritation. I just learned that we’ve been using the word incorrectly for, like, ever.

Well, not literally. In fact, only recently. To many of us, literally means free from exaggeration or embellishment, actually. It is usually contrasted with the word figuratively, as in a figure of speech. He’s a sailor who knows his ropes, literally and figuratively. But recently, the dictionary gods have decided to play a mean little trick on us. Literally can now also be used to mean figuratively.

Dana Coleman of the Salon website says this:

Thanks in part to the overuse of “literally,” Merriam-Webster says the word can now mean its exact opposite. Huh? Webster’s first definition of literally is, “in a literal sense or matter; actually.” Its second definition is, “in effect; virtually.” In addressing this seeming contradiction, its authors comment:

“Since some people take sense 2 to be the opposition of sense 1, it has been frequently criticized as a misuse. Instead, the use is pure hyperbole intended to gain emphasis, but it often appears in contexts where no additional emphasis is necessary.”

So it’s okay to use literally to mean figuratively as long as you really, really, really need to do so? Hmph.

The Guardian took their exasperation a little further:

It’s happened. Literally the most misused word in the language has officially changed definition….”Literally”, you see, in its development from knock-kneed, single-purpose utterance, to swan-like dual-purpose term, has reached that awkward stage. It is neither one nor the other, and it can’t do anything right.

It does seem rather, I dunno, capricious. Just because some people couldn’t get the hang of using a simple term correctly, doesn’t seem reason enough to change the rules completely. What about the integrity of the English language?

Caroline Chin from BooksonFirst.com was flabbergasted when she heard someone on public radio say, “Hearing that literally struck terror in my heart.” She tried to think of what to use instead, but soon realized she couldn’t:

No one says, “Hearing that figuratively struck terror in my heart.” No, he would say, “Hearing that struck terror in my heart.” No “literally” and no “figuratively,” because “struck terror in my heart” is already a figure of speech. It suddenly struck me (figuratively): “Literally” is being used as emphasis. It really, really, really did strike terror in my heart — no ifs, ands or buts about it….And, I thought, welcome to the 21st century, where language along with civil society has been going to hell in a handbasket for over twenty centuries, while those advocates of living language say, “Fuhgeddaboudit.”

Being a former student of linguistics, I am an advocate of living language (meaning that the only constant you can rely on with language is that it is going to change and develop with each new generation or group of speakers) but I can’t quite “fuhgeddaboudit.” I prefer descriptivism (observing and describing actual language use) to prescriptivism (setting out hard-and-fast rules for how the language ought to be), but I am not in favor of lazy language usage that causes confusion for its speakers. Both the term literally and its root, literal, seemed quite obvious and useful to me. Honest, even. And figures of speech seemed to work smoothly on their own, helping speakers express their ideas through metaphor. What possible purpose could there be for changing the meaning of a fully functioning word to its exact opposite?

There isn’t one. The word has not taken on a better, more effective use for communication; it’s just a fad. A trend. A slang usage. That in itself is not surprising. Language is always being used and changed for fun. What is surprising is that the dictionaries and the respected institutions behind them, decided to jump on that bandwagon. Perhaps the about-face of the word literally is an indicator of lowered standards and expectations in academics, or perhaps it reflects the increased consumerism and use of shock-value marketing in western society. Everything has to be bigger and better, more bang for your buck. “It’s raining cats and dogs out there!” is no longer strong enough to describe a downpour. No! Instead, we need to hyperbolize an already hyperbolic figure of speech and say, “It’s literally raining cats and dogs out there!”

And while my gut tells me to argue, my dictionary says, Don’t bother. It’s perfectly acceptable to say that cats and dogs are literally falling from the sky.

I guess all I can do is blame it on climate change.

175 Apply to Pay Fees with Barley (Throwback Thursday)

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elevatorBy Jenneth Hogan

On August 1, 1969 Saskatchewan Premier Ross Thatcher declares the government will accept feed grain as payment for university tuition. As a follow-up, the Leader Post wrote this short article:

Regina Leader Post
August 5, 1969. p.3

A barley-for-fees program announced by the University of Saskatchewan this spring has drawn fewer than expected applications.

A university awards office official at Saskatoon campus said by the Aug. 1 deadline, 175 applications had been received, although it was expected up to 500 applications might be made.

However, the 175 applications are still over the limit of approximately 50 students and the university scholarship committee will make the selections strictly on the basis of need. The selection of students who will be allowed to pay their tuition fees with barley will be completed by Aug. 20.

The policy under which the university will accept 15,000 bushels of high grade barley for tuition fees is separate from the program announced Friday by the government of accepting grain for fees.

The university, which will use the barley for experimental feed lot purposes, is limiting the amount of barley to 300 bushels per student.

The government policy is limited to 200 students. Under the program the government will pay the university for the grain the government accepts in lieu of tuition fees. The government selection will be based on need but complete details of the program have not been announced.

 

Source:

Learder Post archive: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=w9EjUEod0xMC&dat=19690805&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

Book Review – Canadian Law of Toxic Torts

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By Ken Fox

toxictortsThe Canadian Law of Toxic Torts
By Lynda Collins and Heather McLeod-Kilmurray
Toronto: Canada Law Book, 2014
305 pp

It seems we’ve been experimenting with chemicals as of late. By “we” I mean everyone, and by “as of late” I mean for several decades, a mere keystroke in the epic of our evolving physiology. Our official knowledge of the effects of this self-experimentation is confined to an activity we call science, and science is for the most part unsure, preferring to err on the side of caution. Thus, it would be careless for the government to remove a carcinogenic substance from the market when there is less than 100% proof that it is causing cancer (pg.32).

When we do know to a certainty that chemicals are harmful, we don’t let that stop our earnest industry, but switch to different chemicals, about which we know less. The legal term for this is “Manufactured Ignorance” (pg.24). As a result, carcinogens, hormone disrupters, developmental toxins and neurotoxins are now a part of our regular body chemistry (pg.95), and where our ecosystems falter and our immune system fails us, we ask the law to step up to defend us.

Fortunately, unlike our regulators, the courts do not require 100% certainty in order to find a substance is harmful (pg. 127-8). They only need to demonstrate causation on a balance of probabilities. This is the essential story of the Canadian Law of Toxic Torts, which traces the mostly positive developments of the common law concerning toxic tort claims against a backdrop of regulatory ineffectiveness.

The book covers the basic cases and concepts you would find in any standard tort law text, but outlines problems and complexities particular to the area of toxic torts, such as the lapse in time between a negligent act and its harmful effects, and resultant difficulty in establishing causation.

At pg.99, the authors discuss a defect in tort law where, because the plaintiff bears a burden to demonstrate the foreseeability of a wrong committed by the defendant, manufacturers benefit from knowing as little as possible about the products they produce. The authors recommend a policy change towards finding liability in cases where industry lacks knowledge about a toxic substances. Later (at pg. 153 ff.), they propose several other reforms, including a shift in the burden of proof  to the defendant that would incentivize manufacturers to better understand the potential effects of their products.

The Canadian Law of Toxic Torts is the tale of the interactions between our bodies and our industry raised to a conflict. It is a well-told tale, as far as law books go. The authors point out several times that we live under a false assumption if we believe that chemicals are safe on the basis that their use has been approved by regulation.

Many of the issues related to toxic torts – proximity, causation, scientific proof, failure of legislators – come to a head in the highly speculative penultimate chapter on climate change. The authors believe that unlike in the U.S. (and unlike administrative law claims related to climate change in Canada), climate tort actions may be justiciable in Canada, meaning the courts can try the cases on their merits, and not defer the matter to legislators as an issue of public policy. It is difficult to imagine that an effect so diffuse in its causes and so global in its impact as climate change could be addressed by a branch of private law created to compensate victims for specific harm. But in the broadest sense, tort simply means “injury” or “wrong.” The authors predict that climate torts may play a growing role until such a time as legislators take effective action against harmful emissions (pg. 294).

Indeed, after reading this book, one cannot help but wonder why we rely so heavily on the courts, and not our elected legislators, to defend us against negligent polluters, pharmaceutical companies and chemical manufacturers. But as our Director of Legal Resources is wont to say, it is what it is.

 

Tips from the Editor – Isn’t It Ironic?

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ironic2By Kelly Laycock

“I can’t, um, really define irony, but I know when I see it!” –Winona Ryder’s character, Lelaina Pierce, in Reality Bites (1994)

Like Lelaina Pierce, we all have a sense of what irony is, but perhaps we’ve forgotten our grade 10 English lessons and can’t quite remember how to define it. We know it usually makes us laugh or roll our eyes and that it’s somehow related to sarcasm, but beyond that, things get a little fuzzy. In other words, we know it when we see it.

At least, we think we do. But it is surprising how many of us aren’t actually sure, and instead, many people tend to use it in the following way:

First Person: “I was running late for work today when I had a really important meeting, and got stopped by a damn train!”
Second Person: “Ah, the irony.”

You aren’t alone if you’re left scratching your head, but I’m afraid that this is not irony. How do I know? Let’s start with the definition in Merriam-Websters and the Oxford English Dictionary to clear up our confusion.

Merriam-Websters:
: the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really think especially in order to be funny
: a situation that is strange or funny because things happen in a way that seems to be the opposite of what you expected

Oxford English:
The expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect:‘Don’t go overboard with the gratitude,’ he rejoined with heavy irony.

Notice that I highlighted the word opposite in each of these definitions. The real key to spotting irony is to find that unexpected reversal in a situation or statement. In the train example above, there is nothing opposite to our expectations. The train wasn’t doing anything a train doesn’t normally do. It was just bad luck.

But now that we have the definition, let’s see if we can recognize irony when we see it. Take Alanis Morissette’s song “Ironic”, for example (Sorry, but a conversation about irony simply isn’t complete without a stab at Alanis. If I didn’t mention her, I would be rather poor company to every other blog post and website discussion on this topic):

It’s like rain on your wedding day
It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid
It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take
Who would’ve thought … it figures



line
Ironic? No. There is no reversal of expectations.
Ironic? No. It’s just bad luck.
Ironic? Again, no irony there.
line

The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation explains what went so terribly wrong with that catchy song:

When something is ironic, it has a grimly humorous or paradoxical twist, as if the universe were playing a wicked practical joke. Thus, it is ironic if a speeding car crashes into a “drive safely” sign, or if someone named Joe Friendly turns out to be a serial killer …. Do not use irony or ironic to describe a simple coincidence.

It’s unfortunate that Alanis’s lyrics in “Ironic” are decidedly not ironic, but what she has described are merely coincidental circumstances to someone’s detriment. I guess if you find someone else’s misfortune funny, you might find humour in those situations, but no irony, I’m afraid. There seems to be so much confusion about this concept that websites are now devoted to the debate. IsItIronic.com allows people to post their questions about irony and readers then vote as to whether they think it is ironic or not. While I’m not sure popular vote really accounts for much when you don’t know who your readers are or their experience in parsing ironic situations, but it makes for some humorous reading. For example:

Is it ironic that I can’t go to church because I have a theology test to study for?
Reader’s Verdict: 95% NOT IRONIC; 5% IRONIC. Final Verdict: NOT IRONIC.

What do you think? Is there irony hiding in there? One astute reader points out that it depends on how the situation is framed:

“I can’t go to church because I have a theology exam to study for” isn’t ironic–because there is no appearance clearly contraposed to the reality. But if the sentence were “I chose to study for my theology exam rather than go to church,” I think there clearly is a difference between the appearance (I am a devout person who values religious practice) and the reality (I am willing to forego religious practice in the pursuit of good grades in my religious studies program). [1]

I completely agree. Lots of things aren’t ironic until we set them within the right parameters. Rain on your wedding day is just bad luck, unless you planned your wedding to be in the desert to avoid the chance of rain. I mean, you would never expect rain in the desert, and then the one day it rains all year … well, that’s ironic. You see what I mean? Poor Alanis just didn’t have enough room in each stanza to fully explain what made her lyrics ironic*. She’s just misunderstood.

Now sarcasm is a different beast altogether! I even love the etymology of the word: from the Greek sarkasmos, meaning “to tear flesh, bite the lip in rage, sneer” (according to the Oxford English Dictionary). Ouch! Here are some examples:

Please, keep talking. I always yawn when I am interested.

I refuse to engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed person.

If I want to hear the pitter patter of little feet, I’ll put shoes on my cats.

Does your train of thought have a caboose?

Although sarcasm is considered verbal irony, one of the three main types of irony**, not all verbal irony is sarcastic. But is all sarcasm ironic? The examples above are obviously sarcastic, but I don’t consider them particularly ironic, if we stick to the dictionary definitions of irony. There is no reversal of expectations, just biting tone of voice and the intent to ridicule. Not a problem, says the Sarcasm Society, because verbal irony isn’t limited to oppositeness. “It can also be used to over-emphasize, embellish or make light of an idea or circumstance.” So irony and sarcasm can go hand in hand. Here are some examples taken from sarcasmsociety.com:

“I wish we were better strangers.”

“You have delighted us long enough.” –Jane Austen

I am not young enough to know everything.” –Oscar Wilde

“He was happily married – but his wife wasn’t.” –Victor Borge

“He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.” –William Faulkner

“Well, that was fun!”

So, I’m sure I’ve managed to illuminate my readers on the subtleties of irony (Not!) But I do hope I’ve managed to waste a few moments of your busy day making you smile. In case I’ve failed to manage that, I’d like to draw your attention to one last, related topic: Air Quotes.

Air quotes, also called “finger quotes” or “ersatz quotes” are virtual quotation marks formed in the air with one’s fingers when speaking….Air quotes are often used to express satire, sarcasm, irony or euphemism, among others, and are analogous to scare quotes in print. [2]

Here are some links to some wonderfully misused air quotes that will surely bring joy to your sarcastic heart. http://news.distractify.com/people/the-30-most-unnecessary-uses-of-quotation-marks-in-history/

 

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[1] http://www.dailywritingtips.com/what-is-irony-with-examples/

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_quotes

*Check out this attempt on Huffington Post to take Alanis’s song and make it ironic: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/11/its-finally-ironic_n_3580371.html

**The three types of irony are verbal, situational and dramatic, but dramatic irony only occurs in works of art, such as movies, books, poems and plays, so we aren’t really touching on that in this post. For more examples and some clarity, check out this fun infographic from the artists/grammar geeks at The Oatmeal.

Power of Attorney Publication

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By Melanie Hodges Neufeld

Our featured blogger, Reche McKeague, wrote an informative post in April about the Public Legal Education Association of Saskatchewan (PLEA) and the value of PLEA as a starting point when researching a new area of law. PLEA’s publications can be viewed online or ordered in hardcopy. PLEA recently added a new publication, Power of Attorney,  to its catalogue. This publication provides information about the requirements for making a power of attorney, different types of power of attorney, duties of an attorney, ending a power of attorney and how to deal with concerns.

Reform of the Land Contracts (Actions Act): Final Report

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By Melanie Hodges Neufeld

The Law Reform Commission of Saskatchewan recently released Reform of The Land Contracts (Actions) Act: Final Report. The Final Report considers the steps required by The Land Contracts (Actions) Act (the LCAA) for non-farm land mortgages and recommends reforms to better protect borrowers in current conditions. Foreclosure involves lengthy legal proceedings taken in the Court of Queen’s Bench and is governed  by several statutes, including The Land Contracts (Actions) Act (the LCAA). The LCAA is consumer protection legislation intended to protect borrowers by requiring lenders to obtain leave of the court before starting foreclosure. The protection is provided as time: time to bring the mortgage up to date, refinance, or sell the property before foreclosure or judicial sale or, if that is not possible, time to find alternative accommodation. The LCAA is 70 year old legislation, having been enacted in 1943.