On Chantable Phraseology

By Xah Lee. Date:

Fight or Flight. Nature or Nuture. Friend or Foe. Art or Science. Publish or Perish.

Which one art thee?

The English language, has developed these phraseologies galore that hang on the tongues of their chanters that pigeonhole. Just utter these wondrous sounds and you are guaranteed a nodding-audience eager to know which.

Why? Because one, it sounds great. Two, black and white is easy on the brain. Both hit the heart of the brain. Three, the needlessness of critical thinking is satisfying, especially when suggested subliminally.

The harm of chant phrases is more than skin deep. Phraseology creates a direction of thought or attention in a covert way. The mere existence of a appellative shapes the thought pattern, as does language shape thinking. From a historical perspective, the “Existence of God” had the philosophers ran in metaphysical circles for centuries, never thought about what God really meant.

“meanings, not words”

But next time just sprinkle these phraseologies onto your writings, and you'll have a hungry audience to begin with. And for the massive majority of readers, they cannot tell a donkey from a ass anyway, asides from pondering the effects of phraseologies on the brain or the stupidities of English from a semantic/info/communication theory points of view, even if they have Ph D tattooed on their foreheads.

For a list of chantable couplets, see: Chantable Couplets.

On “survived by” Phraseology

In English obituaries, it is customary to read lines that goes “xxx is survived by his wife …”. They cannot simply say the much clearer of “xxx's wife is still alive”. For obvious reasons, this direct communication prompts the reader the thought of the death of the wife. However, it is not difficult to communicate the aliveness of particular close relatives or loved ones without explicit mention, such as by saying “xxx's wife and so and so family members plans the funeral …” or such. Also comes to attention of this “survived by” phraseology is that it seems necessary or customary to have to mention who or which close relatives or loved ones are still alive. Perhaps by expressing who is not dead, it de-emphasizes the death situation. But overall i think there is a twist here that has little to do with the content of communication or decorum, and that is the play of English. People utter the “survived by” phraseology because: (one) it sounds fun, (two) it sounds educated.

All But One

Another logical peculiarity is the phraseology “… all but one…”: “She tried all the panties but one”. Does it mean she tried just one pair of panties or does it mean she did not try one of the pair? A better way, simpler, clearer would be “…just one…” or its opposite “… all except one”, but writers will stick to the “all but” form. Why? Because it is more traditional? Because it is less ambiguous? because it is correct? or because it is more grammatically correct? No. Because illogicality and novelty are mainstay in English communication.

When we think and analyze about communication, we are actually thinking about some artificial “content” of communication. When someone says “it'll be raining today”, the folly of common thinking is that it means precisely what is being said. Though, daily experience with a bit reflection shows that the message may be “i don't feel like going today” or “i'm feeling sad” or “you are a fucking moron” and so on, depending on the context. This is partially why, we have words like “diction”, “tone”, “intonation” or the poetic “what has not been said was understood by everyone”. So, when we see undying illogicality such as “all but”, it has much to do with the psychology and sociology of writers than the technicalities of the language or tradition.

Decapitalization Of Insignifica

Another thing, a customary thing, is the decapitalization of insignifica as in “Lord of the Rings”, “United States of America”. I much favor the systematic capitalization such as “Lord Of The Flies” or “Goddess Of Liberty”, may it be used in rubrics or quotes. Of course, the petty and pedantic class of people epitomized by grammarians will charge with tumultuousness. My attitude toward this type of people is “Off With Their Heads”. Alternatively, that they should posses a degree or equivalent in mathematical linguistics and or mathematical logic before they open their mouths on the fineries or trappings of English grammar and or usage. To add insult to the injury, grammarians should also have at least a smattering of information theory and communications studies or anthropological linguistics.


Another habit is “respectively” as in “A and B are colored black and white, respectively”. The addition of “respectively” is more of a custom. And, such custom is snowballed by pedantic tendencies of collective English writers than clarity necessity. A much clear way would be “A is colored black and B colored white”.