All right and alright

Usin’ alright?

Prolly shouldna.

But, seriously. Along the lines of what yabob said about The Who, what is wrong with this exchange:

“Did you get any ducks?”

“I got the ducks alright, but I used up a box of shells, dropped the shotgun in the mud, and tore my good waders doing it.”
I think this bit of language is well on it’s way to being accepted and proper.

Wonderful how language will do that, is it not?

I agree with the above. I mean, I will go to my grave insisting that “alright” is an abomination, but it is certainly neither the first nor the last such abomination in English orthography. I complain about people who cannot get its / it’s right, but really, whose dumb idea was it that the possessive [s] morpheme should have an apostrophe, unless it’s in a pronoun, unless that pronoun is “one” ? And what about the un-etymological [h] in whelk? Or the one in ghost? I’ll keep on fighting the good fight, but some of these battles are going to be lost to folk etymology and folk orthography, and we’ll just have to deal.

Regarding the descriptivist / prescriptivist debate, I think it’s a red herring in this case. The spelling “alright” isn’t reflecting pronunciation or a change in the language, it’s merely a different way of representing the same sounds. To my mind, it’s an inferior way, because the other al- words are all unstressed on the first syllable, whereas “all right” is fully stressed there. So it’s “wrong” insofar as it’s logically inconsistent with the other words in its spelling category.

I don’t know of any in-house publishing manual that allows alright yet. I’m unaware of any of the major newspapers that use it. This isn’t to say that it isn’t used in print media intentionally. I have noticed its use quite a bit in movie captions, but I don’t know that there is any particular guide or manual used for that process.

Descriptivists don’t decide what is correct; they “describe” what was/has been used. They are observers and reporters of the language.

Is the most common usage then the goal? Wouldn’t we risk losing some of the natural beauty of a well-turned phrase? What about aesthetics?

None of us have the ability to know the motives of others who post here. The OP did ask for input on what the rules are. You can’t very well blame the prescriptivists for providing answers.

In the Harbrace College Handbook, Eleventh Edition, p 189, the words all right are listed under “Words Frequently Misspelled.” No alternate spelling is listed.

But the wheel is turning and the change is being made. I will be one of those at the end of the line dragging my feet and protesting. Some balance is needed to keep the language from becoming unintelligible overnight.

In at least one language, I wonder why ~. is a sentence with an imbedded interrogative sentence.

Be happy you’re not the person who came up with the “brilliant” slogan for AAFES. For a few years now, they’ve had We save you money…everyday! as the slogan.

Do you really suppose there’s any danger of that? Languages do eventually change drastically (I can’t exactly read the original Chaucer unaided, Beowulf is not even recognizably English to a modern speaker, and who in Latin America understands Latin?) but not so quickly that any speaker finds himself unable to communicate with his peers. People in general aren’t going to use an expression if it only impedes their ability to converse. They’re pretty good at working out how to effectively communicate; after all, it was people in general who made the language the way it is in the first place, not any special academy or self-appointed language mavens.

There are basically two kinds of language rules we can talk about. There are the rules which govern intelligibility and unawkwardness, the sort of things which every native speaker knows subconsciously, telling us that “John dog lots of eater” and “Me think post of Indistinguishable am stupid” are incorrectly constructed sentences (I mean, besides the fact that no post of Indistinguishable’s is ever stupid). The thing is, even though it communicates information alright, you’ll never find a native English speaker who will naturally spit out a thing like “Me think post of Indistinguishable am stupid”, or who could be fooled into thinking it was an ordinary, well-formed sentence. You don’t need any schooling to see that those are ill-formed; you could be a brilliant professor or a dimwitted drop-out, but as long you’re a native speaker with no serious language disorders, those will set off alarm bells. I’m not saying everything that comes out of someone’s mouth is well-formed: production errors happen, people have false starts, revise their sentences on the fly in the middle of composing them, etc. But, with the errors of this first category, every native speaker will be able to notice that something is wrong, upon careful sober reflection. They may not be able to enunciate the particular nature of the transgression, they needn’t consciously know the rule, but they know how to follow it and are sensitive to its violation. (Keep in mind that the rules of this sort could differ from one speech community to another; what strikes a Californian as normal might strike a Manitoban as bizarre, and vice versa. And what strikes a Californian as normal in an informal register might also seem out of place to them in a formal register. But those are still examples of rules of this sort. Even a thing like “don’t say ‘ain’t’” is a rule of this sort, accurately describing the speech of many communities, perfectly valid as long as one keeps in mind its proper scope and the fact that there are many other speech communities where it doesn’t apply.)

Then there’s the second kind of rule, where the native speaker would never notice anything was amiss until he was specially instructed to think of it that way. Things like “don’t split an infinitive”, “don’t end a sentence with a preposition or start one with a conjunction”, "don’t use speaker-oriented ‘hopefully’ or singular ‘they’ ", "Always use ‘that’ in restrictive clauses instead of ‘which’ ", "The correct plural of ‘person’ is ‘persons’, not ‘people’ ", and all the other maxims of this sort. Here, as opposed to the first category, the potential for the game of “grammar gotcha” arises, because it’s actually possible, even likely, for a native speaker to be utterly unaware of one of these rules, since they’re violated on a frequent basis. Ultra-frequent basis. There’s really no way to pick up one of these rules from just observing the speech of one’s peers, because they don’t accurately describe the speech of any community. They don’t have any grounding in empirical fact.

Now, my point with making this distinction is to lay to rest the idea that descriptivists can’t accept any rules beyond “Get your message across”. Descriptivists accept lots of rules, all kinds of rules of the first kind. Professional linguists, who are a pretty much uniformly descriptivist lot (and doesn’t that say something?), spend loads of time investigating such rules. They just don’t give any stock to the old wives’ tales which pass for rules of the second sort. Prescriptivists, on the other hand, spend their time ranting, for some reason, about rules of the second sort. A prescriptivist language guide won’t tell you anything about rules of the first sort; no native speaker would need it, as they’d never intentionally violate those rules anyway.

Anyway, the rules of the second sort, by their very nature, play no part in ensuring intelligibility. Since they’re violated so often by so many people, every native speaker is well-accustomed to interpreting speech which doesn’t follow them, and does so with no more difficulty than when dealing with speech which does. The rules which matter for intelligibility are those of the first sort, and these need no explicit regulation; people follow them very well on their own, and when those rules begin to move, they do so slowly, hand-in-hand with the speech community, with no speaker getting lost behind. (We lost “thou” and “ye” and gained nominative “you” not all that long ago, in the grand scale of things, but one doubts those gradual changes were reached by going through periods of linguistic anarchy and Babelian confusion; rather, I imagine, the frequency of certain constructs would have slowly dropped while the frequency of other competing constructs came to replace them. We’re probably on a similar path to losing “whom”, but it’s of absolutely no matter in terms of the language’s intelligibility).

Can anyone who described “alright” as an abomination explain exactly why they think that this is so?

  • It’s been around for years, as the The Who song “The Kid’s are Alright” demonstrates.
  • It follows an established pattern of concatenating “all” with the following word and dropping an “l”: altogether, already etc.
  • It removes an ambiguity - “all right” may have multiple meanings in context.
  • I refuse to accept that any native English speaker/reader would not understand what is meant by “alright” as spelled, in fact, I’d bet a large percentage of native English speakers would default to the “alright” spelling, as opposed to “all right”.

Given that I’ve noticed that a large percentage of people (this is IMHO) who object to spelling (misspellings?) of words like these get excited over Portmanteaus and other made up words (serendipity, for example), I’m trying to find a pattern of when one word is acceptable and another isn’t.

What exactly is the objection to “alright”?

Zoe , I agree with you. You quoted this from me:

*“However most nits are picked for the purpose of establishing an educational superiority between the nit picker and the nit owner.” *

But right before that I said this:

“There is a broader, more worthy goal of slowing down the natural evolution of language so that we can all say what we mean and mean what we say.”

Indistinguishable , I share your conviction that intelligibility is the fundamental good, and I agree with you that there is a tendency on the part of prescriptivists to establish and “enforce” rules which serve no purpose other than pedantry in its most pejorative and ostentatious sense.

I do not share your confidence in the masses. It has not been my observation that all, or even most, native speakers are able to really say what they mean, mean what they say, and interpret accurately what someone else has said or meant. Of course, almost any native speaker with a rudimentary linguistic intelligence can get along. Consider, though, how much of our culture (and comedy) reflects miscommunication.

The ability to present a discussion as cogently constructed as Indistinguishable’s, for instance, requires an English language which has been heavily dependent on the guardianship of prescriptivism in protecting the language from the polloi. It’s not that prescriptivists have been able to get everyone to take all their medicine, and it’s certainly true that much of the medicine is useless. But the notion that there is a proper English serves as enough of a brake to prevent liguistic fluidity from degenerating into “Babelian” turbulence. I like your distinction between two broad categories of rules–the pedantic gotchas and the rules which directly govern meaning. I am a little nervous over who gets to decide which rule belongs in which category, and I do not consider the difference between the two sets always intuitive or obvious. (In my home, of course, I make all the big decisions and my wife makes all the small ones. So far there haven’t been any big decisions.)

There is a richness and complexity in the English that derives from the inputs of both the teeming millions and the prescriptivists. We do well to distrust the intentions of the pedants and the competence of the masses. We should not automatically be dismissive of either.

I have tried to do so twice in this thread. I’ll try again.

A number of English words begin with “al-,” an element derived from “all.” In each case (already, altogether, albeit), the word “all” is unstressed, even though it is normally a stressed word. You can hear the difference in the sentence “Are we all ready already?”

Word…Stressed pronunciation…Unstressed


Some words are spelled differently when unstressed.

Word…Stressed spelling…Unstressed spelling

is…is…’s (he’s, she’s, etc.)
are…are…’re (they’re, we’re, etc.)
have…have…’ve (we’ve, you’ve)
you…you…ya (informal only: did ya see…)

All is in the last category. As a stressed word, it is spelled A-L-L. The one-L spelling, combined with the following word, indicates that it is unstressed. So “all right” is two words of equal stress, and “alright” is a single word, stressed on the second syllable, pronounced something like “ulRITE.” When speaking, most people don’t say “Are you doing ulRITE?” (at least not to my ear), so that the newer spelling is not actually helpful: it misleads the reader as to the pronunciation, and it doesn’t provide a needed distinction in meaning.

Alright, whatever.

American Heritage Dictionary says:

Despite the appearance of the form “alright” in works of such well-known writers as Langston Hughes and James Joyce, the single-word spelling has never been accepted as standard. This is peculiar, since similar fusions such as “already” and “altogether” have never raised any objections. The difference may lie in the fact that “already” and “altogether” became single words back in the Middle Ages, whereas “alright” has only been around for a little more than a century and was called out by language critics as a misspelling. Consequently, one who uses “alright,” especially in formal writing, runs the risk that readers may view it as an error or as the willful breaking of convention.

After the variety of answers already provided have failed to approach a consensus, you might prefer to go by what the dictionary has to say. This definition matches what’s in my Merriam-Webster Collegiate. If you don’t like to rely on dictionaries, I guess you can make up your own rules. :slight_smile:

I saw this only after posting a similar response within a few minutes of yours. At least the two sources support each other.

Yes, myself I don’t much see the point in using a word if everyone is only going to think I made a stupid mistake in doing so.

Agreed. And as long as you’re content to use a dictionary for spelling, it makes a little sense (not 100% of course) to pay heed to the usage remarks provided there. The “rules are for sissies” approach is harder to take once you’ve been exposed to “the rules.”

I understand the arguments in this thread alright, but I still think it’s an aweriffic word.

Ask Zoe. She teaches high school English and has a special love for pointing out when I violate these silly made-up rules.

And this is the usual rationale from the rule squad. Zoe, when I used “taller than me” rather than “taller than I”, and you corrected me for it (this was a while back; actually, I don’t remember what the exact phrase was, but it was a comparative and you “corrected” me for using an object pronoun after “than”), was my language “unintelligible”? Are you even familiar with the flimsy “reasoning” offered by prescriptivists for that particular rule? Do you really imagine that the only force ensuring that language is comprehensible is people reciting made-up rules like this one? It reminds me of that old joke. “What’s that rock for?” “It keeps the tigers from attacking.” “Does it work?” “Well, do you see any tigers around here?” Why, however did language possibly exist before there were schoolteachers enforcing arbitrary rules?

As a matter of fact, in the incident I’m thinking of, Zoe quite clearly was “correcting” my grammar in order to cast doubt on what I was saying - she naïvely believed that she could prove that I wasn’t a student of linguistics by demonstrating that I don’t follow these rules imposed, inevitably, by non-linguists. She was trying to show that she was better educated than me by correcting my grammar. That’s the social function of prescriptive rules - they provide an easy sort of shibboleth to determine whether someone has been taught such rules, and thus to gain a general idea of someone’s education level. They provide an easy way to dismiss what someone says on the basis of irrelevant details of surface presentation rather than its content. The notion of language as an area of academic study is sadly quite unfamiliar to most people, and Zoe’s certainly not the only English teacher I’ve met who doesn’t have the slightest knowledge of it. Still, it’s depressing to think that the people teaching children about language are people who’ve never actually studied it.

The really puzzling part of this is that so many people accept these rules when they’re exclusively taught by people who have never actually studied grammar and generally know very little about when the rules they’re teaching were invented or what the reasoning behind them was. A scientific approach to grammar makes it clear how silly such rules are, and so, ironically, the crowd of people who actually claim to be teaching language don’t actually know anything about how language actually works!

The problem here is that the idea that these rules prevent miscommunication is sheer fantasy. Is there ever any genuine confusion caused by people using object pronouns after “than”? Was the word “ain’t” condemned because it was confusing people? What’s the evidence for this? How can you prove that any of these silly rules has any significant impact on intelligibility? If most people aren’t very articulate speakers or writers (I wouldn’t argue that point!), how the hell are rules about when to use “that” and when to use “which” going to help? We know when and where and by whom many of these rules were invented - can you find evidence of the mass confusion caused by people speaking unintelligibly, and evidence of how they became clear and comprehensible in the wake of the required rule being enforced?

Of course not. And when you seriously look at this common argument, it becomes obvious how fantastical it is. It’s pure magical thinking, a flimsy, intellectually lazy rationale for unreasonable biases against particular usages. Those condemned usages are, not coincidentally, generally ones that spring up among poor folks and minorities. They have as much relationship to reality as biological “explanations” for black inferiority do. Claims that society will collapse without such rules are about as intellectually justifiable as claims that it will collapse if we allow interracial marriage.

Do you actually imagine that it would become impossible to understand other people without English teachers bitching about students using “they” as a gender-neutral singular pronoun? How would that happen? You’re actually claiming that a community would lose the ability to communicate through language without arbitrary rules to bind them together? Do you realize how fantastical that sounds? Do you realize that most language communities don’t benefit from having teachers enforcing meaningless rules? How could that possibly happen? If someone invented a new usage and was confusing everyone around them, they’d inevitably stop - there’s plenty of natural feedback built into the system to ensure that the members of a community retain the ability to understand each other. How could it be any other way? If someone was unable to communicate with everyone around them, they would put a brake on their own linguistic innovation strictly for their own benefit. The important rules, the ones that actually make for comprehensible language, are the ones that are learned implicitly and don’t need to be taught to students, and the ones that English teachers never even think about because we use them without being consciously aware.

That might just be you. I don’t have two stressed syllables in “all right”.
P.S.: Indistinguishable, very nicely explained.

Alright, already…

Do me a favor and don’t isolate my quotes out of context, please.

The issue is not whether rules which reflect only pedantic perseveration over nits are useful. It’s not that certain constructions don’t flow naturally to native speakers who have at least a rudimentary intelligence.

It’s that constraints of proper usage do not always readily sort into one category or the other. There is a net benefit, in my opinion, of an educated guardianship beyond descriptions of what comes naturally to the masses. You may not agree, but in my opinion your ability to argue eloquently is ultimately dependent on those guardians, and not the polloi. The baby of guardianship should not be thrown out with the bathwater of nitpickers.

So there. :wink:

So, Excalibre, there really was nothing wrong with lissener referring to Catalan and Basque as Spanish dialects, because he knew what he meant by it? And there should be no rule that prohibits people from expressing themselves however their little pink hearts shall choose?

If, for example, some Doper is planning to write an article for something Twickster edits, and wants to know if something is acceptable usage, my only proper answer is “Yes”??

What I’ve been saying is that there is a particular standard, evolving over time, for whether something is appropriate usage in particular situations or not. And that this, always regarded as prescriptivism, is actually descriptive of a particular usage. If Starving Artist is presented to Juan Carlos, or Colibri is asked to give expert testimony in a trial, they would be well advised to use Usted rather than tu in addressing the king or the judge. And it’s not because the tu forms are grammatically incorrect. It’s a question of what is appropriate usage where. And so is this.

Chief Pedant, great posts. I can, however, think of circumstances where neither educated use nor common acceptance drives propriety, and that is in what is the proper designand for a minority. To essay a truly horrendous pun in support of my point, in the recent contretemps regarding Nzinga, Seated and Mr Dibble, the decision to avoid use of “Hottentot” was driven not by educated usage nor by common parlance, but rather by the preferences of the Khoi polloi. :wink:

Both of those pronunciations (with the stress and without it) sound perfectly natural to my pronunciation/dialect. In fact, I’d say I don’t stress the “all” more times than I do stress it.

Besides, isn’t that a particularly weak reason for calling the spelling an abomination? English is hardly noted for its consistency.