Pulse: Chatter: Five Questions for: Ben Yagoda

Ben Yagoda, University of Delaware professor, Philly Mag contributing writer, and author of When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It, out this month.

How do you make grammar interesting?
I don’t really spend a whole lot of attention on what’s right and what’s wrong. What interests me more is looking at the ways people actually use language. Take the TV show Pimp My Ride, which I talk about in the introduction. That’s using “pimp,” which is a noun, as a verb, and “ride,” which is a verb, as a noun.

Do you think viewers of Pimp My Ride think, “Hmmm, ‘pimp’ as a verb?”
I think I’m the only one who actually cares about the grammatical status of the title. That’s what I can bring to the table.

I was, like, so totally shocked to see you endorse Valley Girl lingo.
It expresses something. That’s the mark of good language — it communicates something that could not as easily be communicated in another way. If someone says, “I was like, you’ve gotta be kidding,” it expresses the idea, “I said something along the lines of ‘You’ve gotta be kidding.’”

Donovan McNabb once said he “conversated.” Explain.
I don’t think that’s any different from saying, “We conversed.” “We talked about it.” I’m not a fan of conversated.

How about “fo’ shizzle”?
I can’t comment on that one. That’s not a phrase I’m really familiar with. I’m not a fo’ shizzle expert.