We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
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Monday, January 26. 2009
Our Editor sent me AVI's piece on the inauguration and the split-verb (and split infinitive) myth. It's clear to me that Justice Roberts' inner grammatical gyroscope resisted the grammatical error in "to faithfully execute..."
This grammatical issue is discussed at Volokh. Well, I will boldly go where many others have gone before, and offer my own views on the subject.
(But first, let me say that some blog writing tends to the off-the cuff, conversational, informal (ie sloppy) writing. Most of us have real jobs, and dash it off. Nevertheless, good habits like good character tends to shine through if we have them engrained. We aren't perfect in that way, and our own Grammatical Sticklers Gwynnie and Dylanologist sit like Jiminy Crickets on our shoulder to try to keep us in line. Grammar School was called that for a reason.)
Are "rules made to be broken"? Well, kinda-sorta. Grammatical rules can be broken for effect. Poets, orators, and good writers do that all the time. However, the effect is lost when the larger context of a transposition of words (a hyperbaton) is grammatically unsound too. Here's a good hyperbaton: "Constant you are, but yet a woman." (Henry IV). Here's one of mine: "I will happily attend your soiree
Life is the same way: if you do one crazy thing, it is dramatic. If you do crazy things all the time, it isn't.
Let's take a look at split infinitives. I am of the school that views them as grammatical errors and as evidence of lousy schooling (but not of lousy intelligence). Split verbs have always been a similar subject of grammatical dispute. It is difficult to have a conversation without using them, but they are awkward-sounding.
I don't want to endlessly beat a dead horse. I suppose my point is that solid grammar and solid language are supportive of clear thinking and clear communication, but that rules can be broken for rhetorical purposes - but only by those who otherwise use the rules most of the time.
Sort of off-topic: One of my pet peeves which I see everywhere these days is the use of the quasi-legal term "absent." It is a kind of Lazy English which some seem to feel sounds elevated. "Absent a coordinated Republican resistance, tax-dodger Timothy Geithner will be approved as the new boss of the IRS." What's wrong with good old "without"?
Image: Sculpture of "Grammar" as one of the Seven Liberal Arts, Munster Church, Frieberg, c. 1270. As the source notes, "Notice that Grammar has a pretty good hold on the ear of one student and is holding a hefty cudgel that could whack the split infinitives and dangling participles from between the ears of any young and stubborn head."
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One of my pet peeves is the over-use of of "at best". Its over-use is one thing, but unless it follows the parallel structure of an "at worst", it is used incorrectly.
I've noticed many bloggers have fallen into the habit of superfluous phrases and words. It destroys writing for the eye and mind to get snagged on those unnecessary insertions. Clear, concise writing - such a pleasure! William F. Buckley... ohhhh what he did to our language. gak.
Our own Marianne is a great example of clear, concise writing.
Hey, BD... What is a 'real' job as opposed to a job?
oops.... Sorry, BD. I meant 'Barrister'.
Marianne, Silly. I know it's you before I see the name. I've found the older I get, the less patient I am with rambling writing that takes forever to get to the point. I remember teaching "Silas Marner" and having to read it to the kids in the beginning to ease them into the packed prose. I truly loved it because it was/is worthy prose, but I knew the kids would tune out. Charles Frazier, "Cold Mountain" has paragraph-length sentences that are a beauty to behold - part of what made the book such a marvel. Patrick O'Brain's Aubrey/Maturin series of 21 novels about the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Era took each reader some time to get used to his prose so beautiful was it with its rambling but perfect prose. (His readers are cultists, and I'm one of them.) But they are exceptions whose use of the language is a gift.
But when I want to 'talk' on a blog and grab information from a blog, you've got what is near perfect style to say nothing of perfect grammar and sum-upness. :) We all spend hours reading on the Internet, and when a writer like you suddenly eases our efforts and gets to the point, that is, as I think I said before, like a fresh mountain stream to the senses.
And you are correct: If you can't think, you can't write.
Meta, my dear ... [gasp] I'm a bit overwhelmed here on this otherwise bleak day. Praise from you is praise indeed. Thanks Much. Very much.
P. S. Barrister ... your stirring defense of our beleaguered English language is so correct. How can anyone think clearly and effectively if he can't write the same way? One leads to the other. MM
May-ann, (Southern for 'Marianne')
Look up. I answered you above you. d'oh. :) I had to tell BD I meant to say 'Barrister' and kept on writing.
Hey, what was that about good thinking = good writing. :)
To emphatically disagree, any time you have a two word phrase there will be times when the words do not occur together. That's the way the world works. To insist on a nonsensical constraint says nothing of one's character and far more of one's recalcitrance.
The point of good grammar and composition is to help get one's message across, not to show how well one has learned a set of rules. You write for people, not for grades.
your command of the language and skill of word placement makes your post a joy to read. Your willingness to share your experience and ideas ( at no cost ) are appreciated. You obviously have training as a wordsmith with the ability to take your readers comfort into consideration.
Captain Sully was able to make a forced emergency water landing successfully because he followed the rules he learned after years of flight training. He and his First Officer maintained a high standard in the last three minutes of flight 1549, he knew not to do so would lead to less than desirable results.
To acknowledge and adhere to a set of rules most of us learned in eighth grade English helps maintain ( at times) a high standard on MF. ..still knowing there is always room for Monty Python-Jim Carry silliness any time one has the creative urge .
Here's an as-good-as-any pedagogical ideal --tho i dunno what is so good about it --the technical 'why' is beyond my toolkit --i just know it's good. It's a dispatch back to his employer (a news service iirc) from Ernie Pyle, in London, 1941, under the Blitz. Read it (it's short) and marvel at the humble workman, master crafter.
All his stuff is simply amazing writing. I picked up his Brave Men, which you've probably read, in a used book store for next to nothing. Couldn't put it down.
Good stuff, Buddy. Note the minimum use adjectives and adverbs and zero metaphor. He's so good, he doesn't need them. His objective is to tell the story, but he goes beyond that with his singular style and puts you right there. That's magic.
"Grammatical errors...as evidence of lousy schooling (but not of lousy intelligence)."
Ouch. Okay why do I feel like I was just unintentionally outted as a drop-out.
"Grammatical errors...as evidence of lousy schooling (but not of lousy intelligence)." (Same with spelling, by the way.)
They didn't tell it all. Grammar is as much about what you heard growing up as what you learned in grammar lessons. I've never noted a grammatical error in your writing, and even if I did, the creativity of your writing would cover it up. :)
Thanks, Meta. On a certain level I'm aware of grammar, but the language--my language--is something I have more of a sense of rather than knowledge. An accompanying uncertainty rears its ugly head on occassions. I try to hide it by acting suave.
Skook, that's a book that every jr high in the nation ought to require. The writing is accessible to that age, and the themes and author's attitudes are just exactly what kids need to know about the best of their country --the peaceful serious decent well-mannered sense of respect for others, and rueful acceptance of bad luck (such as finding oneself in a war, and "yes, it needed fighting, but, oh, me, oh, my.") and wry humor at human foible, altogether make a masterwork of five minute reads that stick with you and take you down paths you know need traveling.
Magic --that's the word, Meta. Plain stuff that somehow lights up inside your mind's eye.
Skook, that's a book that every jr high in the nation ought to require.
If only. Never happen. But you know, I was on a US base overseas late last year, and the Armed Forces Network has these little blurbs about military history - on this day...etc. and the kids pay attention. That's because those particular kids want to.
"...because those particular kids want to" --and probably already undrstand that they're the nation's future bacon-savers and chestnuts-out-of-the-fire pullers.
My pet peeves: maybe I'm missing something.
1. I Do want you to join me for lunch-vs-I want you to join me for lunch.
2. You may have this FOR free-vs- You may have this free.
3. I was at this bar having a beer, ..right? then I asked the barkeep for peanuts,..right? --Hell, I don't know if it's right or not, I wasn't there... Are you axin' me do I agree, do I understand? ...Understand/ agree, beer and peanuts ?
Events advertised "no admission" --meaning free, which is pretty much a moot point anyway since no one will be admitted.
"Come see us!!"
Buddy and Marianne will get this. It's what Southerners say as they bid adieu after a brief encounter anywhere. Ya'll are smilin' an noddin' big time, and you know it's all bullshit.
"Come see us, ya hear?" Every time I heard it, every darn time, I'd think to myself how hilarious it would be to show up at dinner time one time unannounced. "HOWDY!"
ya'll come back ...hear ? ( ...not here. )
means you're welcome to return anytime .
does not mean turn around and come back here,at this moment.
ya' hear ?
hee hee. I meant to imply meeting someone on the street or in the grocery store or at the bank. ... especially someone you haven't seen in years.
"Ya'll come see us!"
"Oh, okey dokey....where ya headed?"
haw --yep --universal salutation --"Y'all come see us!" hot summer nights, front porches after dinner, three generations settin' and rockin' and wishin' they wuz daid.
If you were to happen upon a village of a hundred natives who spoke a rare language and you were trying to determine its rules and grammar, you would undoubtedly find controversy, as the language changes over the generations. If 98 of the native speakers said "aku," but two superannuated gents insisted that "no it's akua, because it comes from an archaic root 'kua,' these kids today just don't..." why would you believe the two old guys?
I am a stickler in my own usage, not because it is "correct," but because it is a cultural marker of what I care about. I taught my children the same social/cultural markers of language, and they proudly use the Princeton/Oxford comma, for example. It is a noble thing to resist language change, so that we might more easily understand those who came before. Yet that does not get us closer to "correctness." All native speakers of a language use it correctly, even when they differ.
My in-laws are linguists. My wife is an editor. This makes me very nervous when expressing myself to them with the written word. They know what goes where and why.
To me, language is something altogether too slippery to stay on the pages of a book. I respect well written technical manuals, revel in beautiful prose, honor the ineffable made approachable in poetry, but I believe like religion in language on a continuum--it's all things like jazz and the martial arts. Language is the grand dialectic writ large. It is not one thing. This is why the rules of language change, but the language carries on in new manifestations.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
that's good stuff, jephnol. we use words to form our ideas, our ideas to drive our acts, our acts to shape our world and state what we are in it. So? that self-talk --it ain't a home entertainment center; it's more of a kitchen--or an altar (alter?).
Knowledge is preferable to ignorance, and a rational approach to expression is almost always best. Reason does not inhibit creativity.
Wrong, due to ignorance and/or lack of reason:
I don't know if he is home. The data has not come in yet. The major media is biased.
Hilariously wrong sentences in my collection of blunders found in the wild:
As a child, my parents supplied me with books in order to keep me out of mischief.
After undergoing medical checks, the chambers are sealed and poison is injected through a tube, while “scientists” observe from above through glass.
What I have to say won’t go over well with those who want simple solutions to difficult problems. And, as a Mexican-American, some will see an ethnic bias.
A modern classic, Pirsig travels the countryside with his son and friends, and explores the competing principles of a Zen-like world view with those of logic and reason.
But as a physician, where our relationship with the patient is one of covenant, not contract, those responsibilities become ours....
Even though a dollar short and a day late, OhMyGov! salutes Secretary Leavitt for having the political courage to speak out on this important issue and hopes this does not cost him his job.
Discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003, controversy has surrounded the fossilized hominid skeletons of the so-called "hobbit people," or Homo floresiensis ever since.
In April 1992, six days after marrying Malika Souiri, a 17-year-old drunk driver hit Kinison's Pontiac Trans-Am.
Originally a photographer, Veronika's stunning looks soon put her on the other side of the camera and she is now one of the most sought-after adult models in the world.
Even funnier examples are found on page 804 of the 3rd edition of Fowler's.
Those are good --dangling participles aplenty.
wonder which rule governs "throw the cow over the fence some hay" ?
That sequence (where, then what) is found in modern German, and usually comes from the English spoken by the "Pennsylvania Dutch," who are descended from Germans, not Dutchmen.
"Er verkauft an der Ecke warme Wuerstchen." He sells hot dogs on the corner. (verkauft= sells, Ecke = corner, etc)
Parts of speech synched would be "He sells on the corner hot dogs." (CMIIAW, me too!)
have you heard of "Globish" ?
Buddy ... One of my favorite Milwaukee-German expressions from my childhood is "I'll meet you on the corner where the streetcar bends the corner around." It's kinda scary because I understand it clearly, even though it makes me wince.
Cute! I believe that is an example of English influenced by German's separable-prefix verbs. "Around" is not a preposition taking "corner" as its object -- it's the front part of the one-word verb "to turn around," (not in the sense of "rotate") and it came unstuck. But English influence in this utterance seems to have swamped the German, creating something that is not neatly cognate.... uh-oh, I think I have killed the charm of the language with needless pedantry! Apologies....
No... that kind of explanation for the origins of words is fun stuff. Very interesting!