Live by the sword…

Ranting about the lack of precision in language is one thing and quite a popular thing too, but being able to weed out all the imprecision in your own speech is another. I love “the skeptics guide to the universe” and James Randi, with his million dollar prize. I’m trying to listen to their entire back catalogue of podcasts (over 8 years worth) and enjoying it greatly.

The only thing that bothers me is that at times they can be quite prescriptive about language use. This doesn’t seem fitting for sceptics, -but at the same time, its hardly surprising for me to see scientists muscle in on linguists’ territory.

Anyway, episode 181 features a section with James Randi complaining about imprecision in language use; redundant’ phrases like “unfortunate tragedy”, “rich millionaires” and a “deadly fatality”. Fine, go ahead and complain about this stuff, but if you are going to complain Randi, then in the very next breath, don’t say something like this:


[interviewees] begin every single response with the phrase “well…”


Hold on, every single? As a oppose to what? Surely if you want to remove redundancy this should be “every response”. Randi has shown here that it’s a lot easier to pick at things you don’t like than to actually remove all of the supposed imperfections from your speech. If you’re going to criticize language use you’d better make sure yours is perfect. Five seconds before he makes this ‘blunder’ Randi says:

I understand that this is only an expression but it’s a careless one.

And here’s another expression “live by the sword, die by the sword.”

If you need to explain why it’s wrong…

Do you know what the word ambivalent means?

A student of mine was very pleased to be able to catch me out with this word. I had assumed it meant “not particularly bothered”, but apparently it doesn’t. I had a hunch about this word so I asked four of the native speakers sitting with us what they thought. Three said they had no idea and one said she thought it meant something similar to what I had thought. 

This student got me thinking; when no one knows the so-called ‘correct’ meaning, how can it still be considered correct? Likewise, if a language rules exists but no one follows it, is it still a rule? If an ‘h’ is dropped in a forest and no pedant is around to hear it, is it still wrong? Unfortunately language and language usage holds a kind of power over people and it’s very easy, if you’re that way inclined, to cow others into thinking they’re getting it wrong when it’s really rather questionable that they are. 

For example, everyone knows that “Two negatives make a positive“. So saying “I aint got nothing” must mean that you have something. Another example is ‘literally‘ used to mean ‘not literally’. “literally” means something actually happened, so if you say “I literally died” what you’re saying is that you really died!  That’s impossible, because how could a dead person say that? so when someone says “the cross to Rooney was literally on a plate“, listeners wonders how tableware has found it’s way on to the pitch.

Or rather they don’t. In  fact no one ever gets confused about literally, and no one ever gets confused by double negatives; annoyed, yes, confused, no. What actually happens is some smart arse informs everyone that it is ‘wrong’ and then explains why. The redundancy of this would beggar believe if it wasn’t for the fact it happens daily.

Is there any other area of human endeavour where we so readily assent to be told that we are ‘wrong’? If you baked a cake which tasted delicious and someone told you the way you made it was wrong or, when eating soup, someone sneered at you for lacking an oyster fork or cutting the bread too thickly you would (rightly) think they were either insane or an intolerable bore. Make this kind of ridiculous comment with regards to language and everyone will nod approving and consider you to be a very sophisticated sort.

People get by using double negatives in English all the time. As with all these silly rules, they are of course countless exceptions that the pedants oddly let slide such as “not impossible” or “it’s not that I don’t…”, “it’s not like I don’t want to”. In AAVE double negatives can strengthen a statement such as “I didn’t do nothing”. They also exist in a huge number of the world’s languages and no one gets confused. I have no problem criticizing language that is clearly illogical but this is just pedantry.

If we allow people to dictate language use to us, we end up with the bizarre situation such as the one I heard the other day on “In Our Time“. The situation arose because the speaker used the word ‘decimate’ which has the prefix “dec” meaning “ten” as in December, the 10th month (blame Numa Pompilius for this) and means “destroy one in ten. Most people use it to mean “destroy” because having a word for “destroy one in ten” isn’t that useful. On the show the speaker said, something like “the Romans decimated the enemy, -they literally killed one in ten of the enemy soldiers.” Call me an old cynic but if you need to explain a word after you use it maybe it’s time to admit that the meaning has changed and get on with your life and if you need to explain why something is wrong you probably need to think carefully about your definition of ‘wrong’.

 

I couldn’t care fewer*

I got told off by a guy at work once for saying “We have less students this year”.



“for god’s sake” he said “fewer!”

Especially shameful, supposedly because I’m an English teacher and so should know better. But doesn’t the fact I had lived a good thirty years without knowing better, not perhaps tell us something about this word?  In fact, it’s completely possible that  large numbers of people will live and die in English without knowing that they are getting it ‘wrong’. And the people they are talking to  often don’t know that they are also getting it ‘wrong’. In fact the only people who are bothered seem to be the ones getting it right.
 
Yeah Jane Moore!  You idiot!

And my god are they bothered. People actually get very worked up about this (check the tweets, right). You can read blogs about just how bothered here, here, here and here. Or here, here, or here. And some more here and here. People really hate this.


So what are the rules?

GrammarGirl, (who I talked about here) gives us this handy guide and it’s actually fairly straightforward. Countable nouns use “fewer” and uncountable nouns use “less”. If that isn’t clear then look at this table:

Less
Time, money, bread
Fewer
Students, problems potatoes


Simply put, things that you can count, (1 monkey, 2 squirrels, 3 turnips, etc) should be used with ‘fewer’, with other things, like money, (moneys) you should use ‘less’. Simple really, -so why can’t thick thickos like me (and supermarkets) get this into their thick thicko skulls?

Well when we examine GrammarGirl’s advice we find this interesting note:

There are exceptions to these rules
 

Oh yes?….do go on!

for example, it is customary to use the word less to describe time, money, and distance (2, 3). For example, you could say, “That wedding reception lasted less than two hours. I hope they paid the band less than $400.” So keep in mind that time, money, and distance are different, but if you stick with the quick and dirty tip that less is for mass nouns and fewer is for count nouns, you’ll be right most of the time

Ah-ha! so things are not actually that straight-forward. I don’t want to be right “most” of the time dammit, I want to right all of the time! OK, so just use “fewer” with count nouns, except for time money and distance…right? right, I’ve got it!

But what about weight?  Can I say “I weigh 5kg less than last year” or should it be “I weigh 5kg fewer?” The latter sounds ugly so I’m going to go ahead and add weight to those exceptions.  OK so, time money, distance and weight, got it!

Well not quite, it also seems that you can’t use “fewer” with singular count nouns. For example “that’s one less thing to worry about.” should be wrong but no one say “one fewer thing to worry about”. So is this another exception or do we have to make some ugly compromise like “Now I don’t have so much to worry about”

And what about “less” in the phrases “more or less”? Surely regardless of what number was being referred to  a person would always say less, like “I ate 10 of those cakes, more or less”, but they would never say “more or fewer”. So set phrases seem to be exempt as well. (This is turning out to be as useful as the I before E rule.)
 
“Illiterate” signs? Hmm

Don’t even get me started on the mind-boggling world of “least number/amount, fewest number/amount”. I’ve never heard anyone get upset about this, but a Google search shows a huge state of disarray. If you’re going to get upset at supermarket signs, then don’t go anywhere near this one. workers in the UK take the least number of paid holidays” says the daily mail, noting later in the same article that they take the fewest. If ‘holidays’ are countable then it should be “fewest”, no? And least number? Shouldn’t it be ‘least amount’ and ‘fewest number’? or just fewest? (head asplodes)

 
An important question that the people who get angry about this never seem to ask is, -why does  English even need two words for things being smaller in number/amount when we manage to get by fine with one word for things being larger in number? No one has a problem saying “more money, more friends, more time and more stupid grammar rules.” No one gets confused and feels the need to invent a word to fill that gap. So why do people get so upset about this? Why the mindless observance of this useless rule?
 
Some people might say that we need to retain the historically correct rules of English. That’s a nice idea but as the Motivated Grammar blog notes, this so-called rule has only been around for a few hundred years:

As it turns out, this whole notion that fewer is countable and less is uncountable has been traced back to 1770 by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage. And it wasn’t a rule back then, but rather a preference of a single author, Robert Baker.

That’s right, if you’re insisting on this in 2012 then you’re basically peddling the preferences of some eighteenth century dude. You’re getting angry over something someone 200 years ago didn’t like the sound of. You might imagine yourself the arbiter of “good grammar” but you might as well be running around shouting “don’t use the word bully, Jonathan Swift didn’t like it!”

The earliest example of someone getting it “wrong” was Alfred from Batman the Great who in 888ad wrote Swa mid læs worda swa mid ma, swæðer we hit yereccan mayon” or “with less words or with more, whether we may prove it.”. However I don’t think that people are concerned with historical value at all, they are concerned, as always where language is involved, with showing that they are more educated, more discerning and thus better than those oiks who get it wrong. Thus, like so much maven prescriptivism, this is yet another foundationless linguistic Shibboleth.

 
If we listen to these kinds of people we’ll end up with supermarket signs saying “10 items or fewer”, teachers saying “Write an essay of five-hundred words or fewer” and people being forced to say “that’s one fewer thing to worry about” and let’s be honest, that just sounds crap. Ignore these pedants, and if they insist then tell them that you couldn’t care fewer.




* Thanks to Florentina Taylor for pointing out that there is a difference between the adverbial use of “less” and the adjectival use.

 

That’s so gay!

Reading (actually listening to) Steven Pinker’s massive Better Angels of our nature, I came across an interesting section on the use of the word “gay” as a pejorative.  there was something of a storm a few years back when Chris Moyles of BBC radio 1 used it on air and there is a lot of hand-wringing about this modern usage; I always feel a bit guilty when I say it. 

However Pinker presents evidence to suggest that perhaps we shouldn’t feel so bad.  Referring to a survey of American views of homosexually, he notes:
Many people have informed me that younger Americans have become homophobic, based on the observation that they use “That’s so gay!” as a putdown. But the numbers say otherwise: the younger the respondents, the more accepting they are of homosexuality. Their acceptance, moreover, is morally deeper. Older tolerant respondents have increasingly come down on the “nature” side of the debate on the causes of homosexuality, and naturists are more tolerant than nurturists because they feel that a person cannot be condemned for a trait he never chose. But teens and twenty-somethings are more sympathetic to the nurture explanation and they are more tolerant of homosexuality. The combination suggests that they just find nothing wrong with homosexuality in the first place, so whether gay people can “help it” is beside the point. The attitude is: “Gay? Whatever, dude.”(Pinker 2011:619)
 
In short, young people may use the word “gay” more often than older people, but they are also the group with the most tolerant views of homosexuals.  It’s therefore difficult to equate using “gay”, in this way, with being homophobic.  That’s not to say that it wouldn’t cause offence, but that it’s likely none was intended, and to reinforce this, when questioned kids often adamantly deny they are homophobic
 
Is it possible that this is an example of words not necessarily being linked to their literal meaning as discussed by me here or could it be the birth of a new homonym, reminiscent of fat/fat (later phat to avoid confusion which mirrors the recent appearance of “ghey“) which was in use when I was an undergraduate or funny/funny which is, if you think about it, an incredibly inefficient word for communication,  requiring, as it sometimes does, confirmation of meaning with the phrase “funny haha or funny peculiar?”  These kinds of words prove that languages evolve and are not regular or perfect but messy and constantly changing.  Language is so gay!

Edit:  I did come across an article which claimed that heaing the phrase “that’s so gay” may cause students to be more likely to suffer from “headaches, eating problems and feelings of isolation”.  I haven’t had a chance to read the study yet. 

 

The False Gods of Grammar

In a recent tweet Conan O’Brien asked:


One reply was from Grammar girl, (mignon Forgarty) author of “quick and dirty grammar tips”. Grammar Girl is a grammar expert and is an editor and an MS graduate in biology,  -not linguistics, and while this shouldn’t matter, I’ll explain later why it does. Her reply was:

First of, it’s important to say that this is absolutely correct and she presents a completely accurate explanation of the differences on her websitetoo. My issue is with the rule itself. A grammar expert can repeat learned rules but it strikes me that someone with a background in science, like Grammar Girl, might want to peek a bit further behind the curtain and think about why those rules exist and if they are worth following at all. These kind of language ‘rules’ along with splitting infinitives and ending sentences with prepositions, only exist because people in authority have decided they should exist, and a small band of self-proclaimed “experts” (from the 16th Century at least) have pronounced on their particular proclivities.

What’s wrong with who/whom?

A good place to start would be this piece about John McWorter’s (professor of linguistics) take on Who/whom. “Whom” is a fossilized piece of old English which is somehow still clinging to life. In  “myths, lies and half truths of language usage” he notes that many language experts, including the influential Robert Lowth fought for the survival of “whom”. However, McWorther notes, Lowth also fought for the survival of Sitten (sat), spitten (spat), wert (was) and Chicken as a plural (I have two Chicken). How many of these strike you as worth keeping?

If we look at other similar pronouns we can see how odd “whom” is:

pronoun use

Subject 

Object

Place

Where

Where

Time

When

When

Things

Which

Which

People

Who

Whom

General all purpose

That

That

 Linguistics quirks like this serve no purpose, as far as I can see, but to intimidate others and give people the chance to demonstrate their superior learning. The whole thing works like something of a catch 22. You can willfully split your infintives or refuse to use “whom”, despite knowing the “rules” but the maven you’re talking to may judge you as being less well educated, so you might feel obliged to use it anyway. It’s also worth noting that who/whom has been a source of mistakes throughout history, with errors appearing in The Bible, and works by Shakespeare, Dickens, Churchhill and Swift. So if you are confused, you’re in good company.  It’s certainly no indicator of stupidity.

The Grammar


In grammatical terms, who/whom are pronouns, they often appear in relative clauses such as:
        The person who/whomyou’re talking to is a blithering idiot.



Grammar “experts” would tell you that because the word is an object here, then it “ought to be” “whom” not “who”. If we follow Grammar Girl’s rule (above) we would say “I’m talking to him” and thus use “whom”. This “ought to be” is what is called prescriptivism. But what does that mean?  Steven Pinker( linguist and cognitive scientist) defines it like this:

The contradiction begins in the fact that the words “rule,” “grammatical,” and “ungrammatical” have very different meanings to a scientist and to a layperson. The rules people learn (or, more likely, fail to learn) in school are called prescriptive rules, prescribing how one “ought” to talk. Scientists studying language propose descriptive rules, describing how people do talk. 

Most of what I write here has been said before, notably by Pinker in his 1994 book The Language Instinct. Although this is a lengthy quote it is worth reproducing here:

[who/whom] is one of the standard prescriptivist complaints about common speech. In reply, one might point out that the who/ whom distinction is a relic of the English case system, abandoned by nouns centuries ago and found today only among pronouns in distinctions like he/him. Even among pronouns, the old distinction between subject ye and object you has vanished, leaving you to play both roles and ye as sounding completely archaic. Whom has outlived yebut is clearly moribund; it now sounds pretentious in most spoken contexts. No one demands of Bush that he say Whom do ye trust? If the language can bear the loss of ye, using you for both subjects and objects, why insist on clinging to whom, when everyone uses who for both subjects and objects?

It also follows that if a person believes “whom” to be necessary when in an object position, shouldn’t they also extend that rule to spoken English? Look at the following sentences:

Who are you looking at?

Who do you think you are?

Both of these, according to the “rule” are incorrect. They should read “whom are you looking at” and “whom do you think you are”. Now if you think that this sounds odd and would rather say “incorrect” things like “who are you talking about?” then why on earth would you insist on using whom at all?

More expertise

Bill Bryson is another such language expert. His popular style guide troublesome words, shows again how keen people are for an authority figure to tell them what the “rules” are. People seem to crave this kind of stuff (judging from the reviews). The section on Who/whom is typical of much of the book. Bryson has done his homework and seems to understand the arguments against this kind of rule but inexplicably always chooses to support the rule anyway, because…well…he’s fond of it:

 

English has been shedding its pronoun declension for hundreds of years; today who is the only relative pronoun that is still declinable. Preserving the distinction between who and whom does nothing to promote clarity or reduce ambiguity. It has become merely a source of frequent errors and perpetual uncertainty. Authorities have been tossing stones at whom for at least 200 years. -Noah Webster was one of the first to call it needless- but the word refuses to go away. (Bryson 1984: 216)

Bryson then goes on to say, right after this barrage, “I, for one, would not like to see it go”.

As an interesting aside, Bryson also notes Grammar Girls “him/he” rules but then points out that it doesn’t always work. He offers the example of:
 

“They rent in to whoever needs it”

Apply the rule and we get “they rent it to him” him = whom (but who is correct) 

In order to apply this “quick and dirty” rule you have to have the grammatical knowledge that the clause “whoever needs it” is the object of “rent”, not “him”.That is you should say “he needs it” to reach the correction pronoun “who”.

Confused?

Language Experts

 

The problem again with advice like this is that it is not based on any empirical findings, but rather, as throughout history, on the predilections of “authorities” and the recitation of commonly accepted “rules” which usually again originate in the predilections of “authorities” or a mistaken/superficial understanding of how the English language works. The real experts, professors in applied linguistics for example, are usually ignored and words like “whom” are kept alive on the artificial respirator of prescriptivism.

I have shown above that linguistics like Pinker and McWhorter have quite a different take on who/whom than “language experts” like Bryson and Grammar Girl.  The difference is that  Bryson and Grammar Girl are essentially more involved with journalism and publishing than linguistics.  Writers and editors get their ideas from style guides like the Chicago Manuel of Style and Strunk and White who are again often just rehashing of previously held prejudices and blackboard grammar rules.  McWhorter comments that Strunk and White “made decisions based on how nice they thought something looked or sounded, just like arranging furniture.”  And while Grammar Girl and Bryson have made notable leaps forward, accepting, for instance, split infintives, there is still a tendency to let personal preferences dictate rules:

 

She also tends to accept the word of authorities without questioning them.  In this interview She notes that “like” is frowned upon but she uses it:

MF: I tend to use “like” as a conjunction. Technically, we’re supposed to say “It looks as if it’s going to rain” or “It looks as though it’s going to rain.” I tend to say “It looks like it’s going to rain.” That’s wrong, but I’ve been saying it that way my whole life and it’s a hard habit to break. I’m constantly correcting myself.



To a linguist, the idea of you using something your whole life which is “wrong” is an astonishing notion and one which Pinker gently mocks here:
 


Imagine that you are watching a nature documentary. The video shows the usual gorgeous footage of animals in their natural habitats. But the voiceover reports some troubling facts. Dolphins do not execute their swimming strokes properly. White-crowned sparrows carelessly debase their calls. Chickadees’ nests are incorrectly constructed, pandas hold bamboo in the wrong paw, the song of the humpback whale contains several well-known errors, and monkeys’ cries have been in a state of chaos and degeneration for hundreds of years. Your reaction would probably be, What on earth could it mean for the song of the humpback whale to contain an “error”? Isn’t the song of the humpback whale whatever the humpback whale decides to sing? Who is this announcer, anyway?

I have nothing against Grammar Girl personally. She’s a popular, talented and successful person, if anything I’m a bit jealous, -but I do wish she turn over the grammatical rocks and look a bit deeper underneath. It’s fine knowing the “rules” but it’s more important to know where those rules come from and if they are worth following. Admittedly the facts are perhaps not as crystal clear or as neat and satisfying as the “rules”, but surely the facts are more important.

 

References (not hyperlinked)


 

Bryson, B 1984 Troublesome words London: Penguin














 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The argument from linguistic regularity

The argument from supposed “linguistic regularity” is one of the key arguments language perscriptivists, mavens and their ilk use when trying to impress upon others the correctness of their view about language usage.  An example would be the word “innit” which comes in for much bashing and hand-wringing.  As with other terms which are derided or frowned upon, it is not surprising to find the term generally used by a groups which are also derided or frowned upon -namely young people, specifically inner-city young people.  It is important to remember that this is even true of favourable and less favourable accents in English.  Despite the language being perfectly understandable and used widely, it is considered somehow inferior, either funny or just unclear and weird. Brummies and  Scousers will understand this kind of attitude well.
 
So back to the example.  “innit” or so the argument goes, is not good English because it doesn’t make sense!  Innit is a tag question and as such should repeat the verb that precedes it, (or “do” in many cases):

You are, aren’t you?
he is, isn’t he
He went, didn’t he?
You haven’t been saying “innit” have you?

You like him, do you?
He went, did he?
You like him, you do!

So this regularity is presented as evidence that “innit” as an abbreviation of “isn’t it” is unacceptable. We say “you want to go, don’t you?” not “you want to go, isn’t it?” That doesn’t make any sense.  And so here we have an example of the argument from linguistic regularity.  However, as with most of these arguments, it is usually pretty easy to point out that “correct” language isn’t all that reliable or regular either.  In the case of tag questions we have this one.

I am, aren’t I?

Why not use the same form of the “be” verb here?  Why not say “I am, amn’t I”?  Obviously it sounds weird, because we don’t say it, but it much better fits the supposed “rule”.   The second problem is that we (or more precisely Americans) have no problem applying one tag to all questions.  The word “right” can be uniformly applied to every sentence, right?  It doesn’t seem odd, right?  It is something we’re used to, right?  It’s also pretty easy and not something English learners would have much trouble with.  French uses “n’est pas” in the same way and Japanese “ne” and according to the BBC these are called invariant tags.  Perhaps, therefore, if innit annoys you it is best to think of it as one word, like right, right?

The problem , I would argue, is that rules grew out of usage, not the other way round.  Like noticing people opening their umbrellas when it rains and assuming that the umbrella opening causes rain, we have perhaps got the relationship between rules and language the wrong way round.  Certainly we view written language as being more important, serious and accurate than spoken language despite the fact that written language has existed for a fraction of the time that spoken language has. 

English is not a regular language.Its plurals are odd and irregular (sheep, mice, children, wives,roofs, potatoes, cellos, babies, boxes, fungi), Pronouns are odd (I-me but you-you, I-we but you-you) spelling is weird (comb, bomb, tomb, finger singer), some verbs conjugate many times whereas others hardly change at all (eat-ate-eaten, look-looked-looked, put-put-put) some bjects look singular and yet are plural (glasses, jeans) and others look plural and yet are singular (the news, maths, physics), someone will write to you (if you’re british), but they won’t email to you.  And all of this is accepted with complete indifference. But should someone utter “innit” then call The Daily Mail because the world is possibly coming to an end.

 
 All living languages are like this so, why not just relax and enjoy the variety? Status Quo bias means we ignore the massive amounts of weirdness in our native language and only notice those new things we don’t like. Before you get upset about the way someone else is using language have a look at the roll call of history’ mavens and see how valid their complaints seem these days.

A Latte and a Panini, please!

Do you pronounce Latte the ‘wrong’ way?
 
Do you ever say you’d like a Panini?  

No doubt you are irritating a lot of people if you are.  As with my previous post, this one is going to look again at language which annoys others. 
I’ve been told a few times recently that I mustn’t say Panini because this is a plural noun and so can’t be used to talk about one of anything.  You wouldn’t say “I’d like a sandwiches” the theory goes and so don’t abuse Italian plurals. The same goes for “Latte” which people with a slightly posher pronunciation than mine tend to pronounce “lah-tte”.  The Italian experts among us know that ‘Latte’ is actually pronounced with a shorter ‘a’ and seem to take great pleasure in informing anyone who will listen that this is the case.
The problem is that these words are not being used in Italian. They have become albeit recently, English words.  Complaining about foreign “loan words” (as they are known) being misused in English and expecting to be taken seriously is asking a bit much since the logical conclusion would be the whole of the English language, which is constructed from odds and sods of other languages, unravelling. 
Even at a more basic level our Italian experts can’t have missed the other errors widely used in English.  Graffiti is a mass noun, spaghetti is never used with “are”  and zucchini is never changed to Zucchino when we only have one.  Not only this, ‘agenda’ is already plural and yet we have no problem sticking an “s” on the end.  We would never normally add an ‘s’ to media or data but both of these words have singular forms. In fact data (singular datum) is probably the only one still in contention with academics choosing to force the plural eg. “Where are the data?” whereas the singular mass noun is more comfortable for most native speakers “where is the data?”
As for the pronunciation issue, this is something that has always bothered me. People get quite upset about pronunciation and it’s linked quite strongly to people’s sense of identity.  Apparently the BBC has a pronunciation unit which strives to make sure names of people and places are said correctly.  I’m sure they would advise on “Latte” rather than “Lah-tte” but realistically how far can this be taken. There are hundreds of languages in the world and many of them have sounds which it is just not reasonable to expect a non-native speaker to produce. Like the word !Kung which most of us would fail at or pretty much any Chinese word. Yes, you might get the pronounciation of “Xiao” correct but you’ll probably not get the tone right, which means you’re prononuncing it so badly, it’s become another word altogether. Thus when a word enters a foreign language, it’s not surprising that it might change to fit the available sounds. 
I’ve also noticed that people only seem to get sniffy with European languages or languages they know. If you happen to pronounce ‘croissant’ (as my mother does) as “cross-on” then there will be a fair bit of eye-rolling. However, say “karaoke” the English way and no one will mind at all. Conversely if you do actually say it in the ‘correct’ way you’ll likely be considered a show-off or a bit of a weirdo. That’s assuming anyone understands you. No one would think of trying to correct others over this type of mistake so why is correction acceptable for some languages and for certain words?  Isn’t it rather bizarre to expect people to switch from one phonological system to another mid-sentence?  As I mentioned earlier, taken to its logical conclusion we would have to revert to saying “accident” , “various”, “cake”, “alcohol” and “shampoo” in French, Latin, Norse, Arabic and Hindi, respectively.  So why not just forgive the next person who says “lah-tte”?
notes: