Ceely's Modern Usage

Are there grafs in blooks?
There are two ways to spell "Renaissance," one of which I dislike. Doesn't matter: that disliked version is a legitimate, recognized variant of the word, and is to be accepted as such. Furthermore, that is how it should be.

Such liberality does not extend to the internet-created mistake "medireview," nor do I tolerate such frontal assaults on the language as "irregardless" and "thru." They are monstrous.

Which is why I was delighted to find this story this morning, in the online Telegraph: what, indeed, is the most irritating internet word?

But while the internet may be responsible for the greatest blossoming of new phrases since Shakespeare it has also been blamed for some of the most irritating.

Now a poll has revealed the web-related words that drive most computer users up the wall. "Folksonomy" was voted the most annoying new phrase in a survey to mark the 10th anniversary of the word "web-log".
But...no, not entirely. I've never encountered some of these words outside the Telegraph story itself. I refer to "folksonomy" and to " blook," although, yes, "folksonomy" is irksome, and "blook" should be a hanging offense in any civilized community. But others, it seems to me, were created out of necessity -- "blog," and "blogosphere," and "podcast," for example. Need noted. Word created. Done.

I demand equal time in a room, alone, with those 2000 poll respondents, for an offense of their own: they omitted (oh, it's all spite, I'm sure of it) some of the monstrosities I would have included. Where is "graf," eh? Where is "lede?" Where is the here's-proof-of-my-hipness "money quote?"

Zinsser noted, decades ago, that "ripped off" had graduated from slang to English because it filled a legitimate need in a colorful, vital way. He was right, too. I would extend the same consideration to "blog" and to "burn a CD." But "blook" and "lede" offer us nothing: they serve only to corrupt the mother tongue.

YouGov should conduct this poll again, and often, and the Telegraph should report the results. It should in fact be celebrated throughout the, er, the blogosphere. Absitively! There should not, I hasten to add, be any "ledes" or, heaven help us, "money quotes." Nor should a collection of the findings be published as a "blook." We have enough problems already.

Why, enough, in fact, to fill a ... well, not a "blook." Not if I can help it.
Author : noreply@blogger.com (Craig)
Publ.Date : Sun, 24 Jun 2007 00:55:00 +0000

Errors in Speaking and Writing, Part I
There are still lots of things to be learned from Lessons in Our Language (Quackenbos, 1882), as well as a couple of things to scratch our heads over.


Errors in speaking and writing are so numerous that the student cannot be too watchful for avoiding them. The most common mistakes have already been pointed out; further examples of these, arranged promiscuously, follow.

Apparently, "promiscuous" did not yet have the connotation it does today. I just cannot see using the word in a textbook that doesn't deal with psychology or sexuality. However, I have found that the old Randomhouse dictionary gives it no such connotation. It merely means "indiscriminate" or "casual." So, moving along.

Five dollars are a small sum to leave to the poor.

Five dollars being referred to as one sum, the verb are should be changed to the singular form is.

But we knew that, because we read Ceely's Modern Usage.

It was supposed that his first act would have been to have hurled defiance at his enemies.

The reference here is to an act future as regards the time when it was supposed. But have does not express future time; say would be and hurl.

The next one is an error that is still quite common, and many of us fall victim to it. However, we can see how correcting it would make our writing much more precise.

The class should here be shown a globe.

It is the globe that should be shown, and not the class. Make the right noun the subject: -- "A globe should be shown to the class."

And one more.

On examining his horse's foot, he found his shoe was loose and cutting his hoof.

In the first part of the sentence, his and he are used with reference to the rider; in the latter part, his is used for the horse. Change to "the shoe." "the hoof." -- In the same sentence, do not apply the same pronoun to different persons or things.

Now, here are a few sentences to correct on your own.

Five-eighths are more than one-half.

Another, perhaps, might have been able to have managed the affair better than me.

We were presented with sweet smelling nosegays.

When they looked at their stock of provisions they found they were near ruined with salt-water.

Angry men permit of no explanations nor apologies.

I have to say that your guess is as good as mine on some of these. The book does not provide an answer key.

Author : noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra)
Publ.Date : Tue, 12 Jun 2007 13:42:00 +0000

Too Fine
I've been gleaning old newspapers for genealogical tidbits - and I have found many good tidbits - and marveling at the news I find therein. Gruesome deaths, freak accidents, and brutal murders appeared on the same pages as notices that the "Misses Myers have returned from visiting friends in Chicago," and that the little daughter of Frank Bond had a birthday party and here is a list of the 5 to 10-year-olds who attended (my grandfather was mentioned in one such as this). But when I ran across this, I had to scratch my head.

Fort Wayne Weekly Gazette, Thursday, May 7, 1896

'Twas Too Fine

The Police Sends a Traveling Show Out of Town

A "fine art" show opened up Saturday in the vacant room adjoining the old National Bank, and it had run but a little time until word came to Superintendent Ligget that it was entirely "too fine." He made an investigation and the result was that the outfit was ordered out of town. The proprietor was quite indignant, but he had to go. He claimed that he had showed in Detroit and other large cities, and had never before been molested.

One can only assume that the show contained nudes, but I find the euphemism "too fine" a bit "too cute." I suppose readers of the paper knew exactly what it meant, but I have to wonder if even they thought the phrase was reaching a bit.
Author : noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra)
Publ.Date : Wed, 06 Jun 2007 14:09:00 +0000

The Unwritten Laws
I thought this was pretty interesting: there are rules that aren't really taught to native speakers of English, but are known anyway. By absorption, I guess.

Having done a lot of reading and writing in my time, some of it for that purest of reasons (the pursuit of filthy lucre), I'm quite uncomfortably familiar with the notion of Ruth Walker's title: "Rules no one teaches but everyone learns." Familiar because that's the way of it, really. Uncomfortable because I want to know more of the rules, the theory, the structure. My ambition is to take a side in The Great Adverb War.

And...to blog it.
Author : noreply@blogger.com (Craig)
Publ.Date : Fri, 01 Jun 2007 04:17:00 +0000

Literally and Metaphorically
It has come to our attention that there exists a blog with the unlikely name of "Literally: A Weblog." It describes itself in its subtitle as "An English grammar blog tracking abuse of the word 'literally.'" An unlikely mission as well.

Ceely's Modern Usage approves (in fact, it's blogrolled here). We're just afraid to discover a blog tracking misuse of "hopefully..."
Author : noreply@blogger.com (Craig)
Publ.Date : Fri, 01 Jun 2007 03:51:00 +0000

"All Your Lives Are Belong To Us"
A post by Andrew Stuttaford the other day brought this John Edwards quote to my attention:

One of the things we ought to be thinking about is some level of mandatory service to our country, so that everybody in America _ not just the poor kids who get sent to war _ are serving this country...

So this John Edwards, a lawyer, believes "everybody in America are serving this country" to be acceptable grammar. Hmm. Ceely's Modern Usage does not agree.

Furthermore, we find such statism particularly offensive on this observation of Memorial Day, and hereby declare our anti-endorsement of John Edwards.

Finally, a Ceely's Modern Usage Fearless Political Prediction: John Edwards will never be the President of the United States of America. Everybody here are quite sure of that.
Author : noreply@blogger.com (Craig)
Publ.Date : Sun, 27 May 2007 18:15:00 +0000

The Economist Style Guide
Jonah Goldberg at The Corner posted "Useful stuff we should all know, but most don't, " in which he linked to "Some common solecisms". Some interesting stuff from the list:

Blooded means pedigreed or initiated. Bloodied means wounded.
Cartel. A cartel is a group that restricts supply in order to drive up prices. Do not use it to describe any old syndicate or association of producers?especially of drugs.
Cassandra's predictions were correct but not believed.

And if you read the whole list, you'll encounter one I thought was quite well put:

Like governs nouns and pronouns, not verbs and clauses. So as in America not like in America. But authorities like Fowler and Gowers is a perfectly acceptable alternative to authorities such as Fowler and Gowers.

And -- why,yes, authorities do like Fowler and Gowers. I do.

More here. The links to the Johnson essays require a subscription, but the link to Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" takes you to a great read.

One of these days I'll sit down with a cup of tea and do an item-by-item comparison: the Style Guide from The Economist and this one.
Author : noreply@blogger.com (Craig)
Publ.Date : Fri, 04 May 2007 02:22:00 +0000

Just a Quick Note
I realize it's been quiet around here. My apologies. We will, perhaps, have something to write about in the near future. Until then, you might click over to Home Educator magazine where I have an article on How to Teach Using 19th Century Readers. (Please note that the various typos are not necessarily mine. I know I sent them a clean copy.)
Author : noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra)
Publ.Date : Sun, 31 Dec 2006 15:21:00 +0000

Its a Sin, Its a Crime -- It\'s an Error!
Some errors, increasingly annoying today, are in fact old enough to have been recognized by Fowler.

Yes, that Fowler.

In his (Fowler's; pay attention!) Dictionary of Modern English Usage, first published in 1926, he devotes two pages to it, and well he should; our concern here is on page 303, with item number 4 of that topic:
4. The possessive of it, like that of who, & the absolute forms in -s of her, their, our, and your, has no apostrophe : its, hers, theirs, ours, yours, not it's &c.

Pretty succinct, I think -- and, to reward our loyal readers, particularly fellow admirers of H. W. Fowler, I offer A Guilty Pleasure at the end of this post.

(The 1965 second edition (ably revised and edited by Sir Ernest Gowers), contains a slightly briefer version on page 312 of Fowler's original entry.)

In both cases the brevity of the treatment leads one to believe that confusion between its and it's was occasional, not rampant. That situation no longer obtains, as witness R. W. Burchfield's treatment on page 422 in the Third (1996) edition of Fowler:
its, it's. Just a reminder that its is the possessive form of it (the cat licked its paws) and that it's is a shortened form of it is (It's raining again) or it has (It's come).

Note that the confusion itself now rates its own entry!

Now, how difficult can it be to avoid this error? The distinction is taught to very young children, yet otherwise literate adults fumble it every day -- and as we can see, all three editions of Fowler discuss it. What to do, what to do? How does one avoid this error?

Once again, we turn to the sources held at the Ceely's Modern Usage Library.

In Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English, Patricia T. O'Conner explains it the way I generally do: "If you can substitute it is, use it's."

She also says, on page 39, "It, like he and she, is a pronoun -- a stand-in for a noun -- and pronouns don't have apostrophes when they're possessives: His coat is too loud because of its color, but hers is too mousy." We'll return to this business of possessive pronouns with apostrophes, because there is one. Do you know what it is?

(I didn't guess it, either, but I enjoyed the discovery anyway.)

Richard Lederer and Richard Dowris, in their delightful Sleeping Dogs Don't Lay: Practical Advice for the Grammatically Challenged, say the same thing:
Of course, possessive pronouns (his, hers, mine, ours, its, et al.) exist on their own and are not "formed" by apostrophes.
Lederer has nice words (on the back cover) for Nitty-Gritty Grammar: A Not-So-Serious Guide to Clear Communication by Edith H. Fine and Judith P. Josephson. They devote page 20 "Pronouns As Possessives (they list my, mine, our, ours, your, yours, his, her, hers, its, their, theirs, and whose; they're missing one). They also have a great little mnemonic at the bottom of the page:
TIP: Possessive its never splits.
Constance Hale gets serious in Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose, in which she speaks of "the one truly unforgivable sin that haunts the use of pronouns:"
Possessive pronouns are all apostrophe-less: my, your, his, hers, its. Who's and it's are contractions of Who is and it is.

Learn this or die.
That's all there is, before we get to our little treat at the end (in a seasonally appropriate vein, it's also a bit of a trick). Keep two things in mind, one tip and one test:

1. The tip: Possessive its never splits, from Nitty-Gritty Grammar.

2. The test: Are you saying "It is?" If so, go ahead and use your apostrophe (Patricia T. O'Conner recommends this test, too, remember).

And now, Our Guilty Pleasure...disagreeing with the distinguished writers I've cited here. They all say that possessive pronouns aren't formed by apostrophes -- but that's not quite so (and I gave you a clue, above; did you spot it?).

Kingsley Amis, in The King's English: A Guide to Modern Usage, has no entry for distinguishing it's from its. He does, though, have an entry for "Apostrophe," and on page 15 of the book we're directed to common errors, one of which is
(a) Putting in an apostrophe where none is needed, as with possessive pronouns such as its, ours, yours, theirs; though an apostrophe is required in one's.
I told you it was tricky, and if you knew that one already, then my compliments to you! And as I said above, I didn't guess this one, either. Well, British English does differ from the American, but not that much. I've used "one" and "one's" before, so I should have gotten it: but Richard Lederer and Constance Hale should have gotten it, too!
Author : noreply@blogger.com (Unknown)
Publ.Date : Mon, 16 Oct 2006 16:26:00 +0000

Bad Writing: On the Efficaciousness of Not Obfuscating the Obvious
I have to rant on a subject that has been making me crazy for many years now. Why do some authors of "scholarly" works feel the need to use jargon and incomprehensible pseudo-scientific sentence constructions to make themselves sound important? This language, which I will call "PhDese," is found in every discipline. It's like a coded language that only scholars who have been through grad school can understand: it's a way to sort the riff from the raff. I remember encountering it in grad school when reading articles and books by prominent scholars in the field of modern art theory, and thinking what a crock it really was. Now I am encountering it in Library Science papers, which may be some of the most useless pieces of "scholarship" on the planet. I suppose when a librarian gets a PhD, he feels the need to sound like he deserves it. PhDese is a way to take fairly simple and often lame ideas and conflate them to make them sound new, innovative and important.

Now a lot of people can tease the meaning out of this type of writing. Well, so can I. My point is, I shouldn't have to. Why should I read the sentence 3 times to get its meaning? How is this "good writing?" I am a graduate of, and was a teacher for, The Little Red Schoolhouse, a reasonably well-known and highly respected writing program at the University of Chicago. Their emphasis was on being clear and concise. And that's how we should all write, clearly and concisely.

So I was reading this article, "A Service Framework for Libraries" (D-Lib Magazine, vol 12, no 7/8, 2006), and found myself wondering what the hell they were actually trying to say. This was for a class for which we were supposed to find 3 points in the article and comment on them. My main point was that they had only one point, and the rest was gobbledy-gook. It took them 10 pages to say that libraries needed a standard for library services and that this particular group was going to work on that. That's all. Everything else was filler, examples, and incomprehensible prose. Let me elaborate.

First of all, any paper that spends an inordinate amount of time and space defining the terms they are using has a problem. The problem is that they already know that few people will have a clue what they are trying to say. For instance, here is their definition of "service framework."
A service framework is a set of reference models, along with a set of concepts and vocabulary for expressing and relating them. The service framework ? i.e., vocabulary and reference models ? covers the range of entities relevant to the articulation of library business goals at varying levels of granularity, as well as the services that support these goals.

Then they had to define "reference model:"
A reference model is defined as a formal description of a library activity, expressed using consistent, well-defined terminology and relationships.
Then they defined "service:"
A service is a discrete piece of functionality, manifested in the form of a technical implementation, and deployed for use, usually on a network (e.g., as a Web service).
And "abstract service:"
Abstract Service: conceptualization of a business function as a discrete piece of functionality (possibly networked), consisting of a description of its functional scope and an abstract model of its behavior and data.
With each definition their language gets progressively more pseudo-technical to the point where it makes no sense at all. What does it really mean to "conceptualize ... a business function?" What is a "discrete piece of functionality?" These authors are making their readers work far to hard to understand their meaning.

A second problem is the use of everyday English words in unorthodox ways.
Decomposing library activities into granular, self-contained functions helps us better understand libraries, and in doing so, helps in the development of flexible, consistent library services.
I'm sorry, but in American English - and probably in British English as well - something that is decomposing is an organic thing, and it's dead. And granular applies to sand and salt and the like.

I have heard the argument that it just takes practice to be able to read this stuff, that the more you read, the easier it gets to understand. I might concede that point if I didn't feel that the only reason people do it is to sound like they know more than they actually do. Or perhaps they just feel that they will sound stupid or ignorant if they don't write this way. I don't know the real reasons behind it. All I know is that I prefer my prose to be straightforward, clear, concise and non-obfuscated.
Author : noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra)
Publ.Date : Fri, 11 Aug 2006 16:24:00 +0000

What Not To Use
I find it interesting to see what early textbooks tell us not to do. It gives us a fair idea of what was once "common" usage, otherwise why mention it? Lesson XXXIV in Illustrated Lessons in Our Language (Quackenbos, 1882, p. 47) presents us with these possessive pronouns.
Do not use hisn for HIS; hern for HERS;
ourn for OURS; yourn for YOURS;
theirn for THEIRS; who's for WHOSE.
These possessive forms do not take the apostrophe.

I think that most of us would consider such usage particular to parts of the deep south. It may even sound ignorant to certain (northern) ears. But it must, at one time, have been more widespread before our hard-working school-marms stamped it out.
Author : noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra)
Publ.Date : Sat, 08 Jul 2006 00:24:00 +0000

My thanks the the editoress for pointing out the unfortunate spelling of "apsotrophe" in my blogroll. It has been corrected.

I or my partner will post in the next day or so. I've been away on vacation, but will be back in the swing of things soon.
Author : noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra)
Publ.Date : Thu, 06 Jul 2006 19:15:00 +0000

Foreign Words
An interesting lesson from Illustrated Lessons in Our Language by G.P Quackenbos, 1882, discusses how to create plurals from foreign words:
Some English words of foreign origin retain their foreign plurals, changing us to i, is to es, and um or on to a: as,
Alumnus, alumni.
Crisis, crises.
Animalculum, animalcula.
Phenomenon, phnomena.
Some words of foreign origin take both the foreign and a regular English plural; as,
Beau, beaux or beaus.
Cherub, cherubim or cherubs.
English is full of foreign words. So many, in fact, that a great deal of them shouldn't really be considered "foreign" any longer. Quackenbos lists many Latin words which may be considered so thoroughly incorporated into the English language as to be English. After all, many English words have Latin or Greek roots. The exercises following the above lesson present several challenges. Decide if the following words are plural or singular, then see if you know what its opposite is:


(Let me know if you want me to post the answers in the comments :)
Author : noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra)
Publ.Date : Tue, 13 Jun 2006 21:23:00 +0000

While I will normally just add blogs to my blogroll quietly and without fanfare, I came across a new one that made me want to point it out to my readers. Separated By A Common Language is a blog by an American living in the UK. I particularly liked the problem of "how long... it takes for a person to lose the intuition for what's in your own dialect and what you've acquired in a second dialect." Since I have lived in the US all my life, this shouldn't be a problem I have ever had to deal with. However, having also spent much of that time watching Monty Python, Masterpiece Theater, Dr.Who and all those wonderful Brit Coms (Vicar of Dibley, Keeping Up Appearances, Yes, Minister, Absolutely Fabulous, etc.) I have found that I am rather more comfortable with British English than I might otherwise have been. I also find the difference between the two dialects fascinating.

Keeping with the theme of liking all things British, I introduce you to The Perorations of Lady Bracknell. You may have noticed from my previous posts that I enjoy the "higher" English of the 19th century. I recently tried to introduce an acquaintance to H.H.Munro (aka Saki). She sat down to read a story, but could not concentrate enough to "translate" the language (I sent it to her via email so she could read it in quiet). It hadn't occurred to me that my tastes might be so esoteric. I have always enjoyed reading this type of literature. Well, Lady Bracknell may well be Saki reincarnated. She is witty, funny, and her use of the English language is nothing if not masterful. Well worth the read.
Author : noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra)
Publ.Date : Tue, 06 Jun 2006 03:14:00 +0000

Ye Olde Curiosity
I am not a big fan of RenFaire Speak. The few times I encountered someone at a fair attempting to speak to me using "the" and "thou" I wanted to strangle them, or at least tell them to stop. Having been in the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) I can say that people who are serious about the "modern middle ages" usually dispense with "the" and "thou," knowing how painful it is to discerning ears when not done with absolute perfection and confidence.

While trying to find actual proper usage of "the" and "thou" I came across this interesting tidbit in A Dictionary of Modern English Usage by H.W.Fowler (1937):
ye. The pronunciation of this is the, not ye, the y being not our letter, but a representation of the obsolete single letter (called thorn) now replaced by th. [italics mine-AC]
Well, I never knew that. It often seemed to be used as a replacement for "the" but I never really knew why. I think many of us assumed it also meant "you." There you go.
Author : noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra)
Publ.Date : Fri, 02 Jun 2006 13:58:00 +0000

More Spurious Words
Here are two sets of words from 1000 Mistakes Corrected and Peculiarities of Language Noted, by Prof. W.H.Larrabee and Prof. H. A. Buttz, New York: N. Tibbals & Sons, 1873. The first set are words that may surprise many of us.
107. Interview -- as a verb is spurious. "Our reporter interviewed President Grant yesterday." "A correspondent of the Herald has interviewed Count Bismark." Instead of interview say converse with, "have an interview with," or employ some of the many other expressions which are at command.

110. Lengthy -- is a barbarous combination of letters for which there is very little use. Webster suggests that its application be limited to writings, discourse, etc. There is certainly no need of it anywhere else. Say long.

115. Reliable -- is much condemned by critics. Trustworthy is its proper substitute, and is undubtedly a better word. Authentic also may often take its place....Many writers pronounce emphatically and very dogmatically against reliable. It has, however, obtained general currency with writers and speakers as well instructed in language as they, and will probably carry the day against them.
This second set of words is more familiar to us as poor word usage.
105. Experimentalize -- is improper and unnecessary. Say, "experiment, or make an experiment.

113. Preventative. -- Say preventive.

117. Rotatory. -- Say rotary.
To this list I would like to add pressurize when used to mean to pressure someone into doing something they would rather not do. I have heard and seen this a little too often for comfort. Wood and air are pressurized. People are pressured.

NOTE: I just looked up both words in the dictionary (The Random House Dictionary of the English Language. New York: Random House, 1966.) While my explanation is correct, the word pressurize appears under pressure as a synonym with no explanation as to its usage. Look up pressurize and it's there.
Author : noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra)
Publ.Date : Thu, 25 May 2006 14:10:00 +0000

Pronominal Adjectives
I had never even heard the term "Pronominal Adjectives" until recently. Either we were never taught it in school, or I was absent that day. When I did finally come across it, I had to ask Craig what it was. He knew, of course :)

Here is the explanation from my most recent acquisition,The Elements of Grammar by Samuel S. Greene, A.M. Philadelphia: H. Cowperthwaite & Co., 1855.

Those limiting adjectives which may, without the use of the article, represent a noun when understood, are called pronominal adjective; as, "That (book) is his; this is yours."

The principal pronominal adjectives are, this, that, these, those, former, latter, which, what, each, every, either, neither, some, one, none, any, all, such, much, both, few, fewer, fewest, first last, little, less, least, many, more, most, own, some, several, sundry, enough.

The book goes on to give declensions of the words one and other. I didn't even know you could decline nouns or pronouns. You learn something every day.
Author : noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra)
Publ.Date : Tue, 23 May 2006 15:12:00 +0000

The Province of the Grammarian
I received a very old book in the mail today: The Elements of Grammar; So Arranged as to Combine the Analytical and Synthetical Methods: With an Introduction for Beginners, and Various Exercises, Oral and Written, for the Formation, Analysis, Transformation, Classification, and Correction of Sentences. by Samuel S. Greene, A.M. Philadelphia: H. Cowperthwaite & Co., 1855. The Preface points out that the introductory lessons are "intended to be wholly oral," and are aimed at younger learners. The beginning of the second part - "English Grammar" - has this to say:
Grammar is not a code of laws made for the language, but rather derived from the language in its present state. It is the province of the grammarian to interpret and classify the analogies and usage of the language so as to present them in a condensed and systematic view. Over the laws of the language he has no control, or rather, he has the same kind of control that the naturalist has over the laws of the physical world, and no other. He does not make the rules of grammar; he only exhibits what already exists. That the "verb agrees with its nominitive in number and person," is not an authoritative edict from the grammarian. It existed as a law of language long before he discovered and published it....

What I find most interesting is the phrase "the language in its present state." If a grammarian is merely an interpreter of rules as they exist, what happens when there is a change in the language? Who gets to say that the change has become a rule? How long does something in common usage have to be "wrong" before it is considered "right?" When does something stop sounding (or looking) ignorant before it's considered okay because everyone does it? I don't know the answers to these questions, although I suspect it has something to do with the people who care dying off before educating the younger generations.
Author : noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra)
Publ.Date : Sun, 21 May 2006 03:28:00 +0000

A Ren Faire Speak How-To
I love archaic stuff like this:
Will and shall change to wilt and shalt when thou is the subject, but remain unchanged for other subjects.

The remaining auxiliaries, also, change only when thou is the subject. But thou is not used in ordinary discourse. Except in solemn or poetical style, we use you, whether addressing one person or more; these auxiliaries, therefore are seldom changed.

The forms of the remaining auxiliaries required with thou, in solemn or poetical style, end in st: --
MUST - thou must (no change).
HAD - thou hadst.
CAN - thou canst.
MAY - thou mayst (mayest).
MIGHT - thou mightst (mightest).
COULD - thou couldst (couldest).
WOULD - thou wouldst (wouldest).
SHOULD - thou shouldst (shouldest).

...Will and shall may not be used at pleasure, the one for the other. To express simply what is about to take place, shall is used with I and we; will is used with all other subjects.

...Will used with I or we, and shall with other subjects imply determination as well as futurity.
(Lesson L(50) from Illustrated Lessons in Our Language by G.P Quackenbos, 1882. Available on CD at Lady's Maid Books).

On the topic of will and shall, The Common School Question Book (by Asa Craig, 1878) has this to say about them:
116. When is it proper to use shall and should?

Answer: When required to express a duty, command, determination, resolve; and in future propositions when the subject is of the first person and no reference is made to the will of the subject.

117. When is it proper to use will and would?

Answer: When the expression is of willingness, inclination, or in future, propositions when the subject is of the second or third person, and no compulsion required.
So, there is a difference between shall and will. It's just that very few of us know it anymore.
Author : noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra)
Publ.Date : Thu, 18 May 2006 15:45:00 +0000

Not your everyday update
I slipped. I overlooked this wonderful entry on the "every day/everyday" error from 1999's Sleeping Dogs Don't Lay: Practical Advice for the Grammatically Challenged, by Richard Lederer and Richard Dowis:

"I will always speak my mind. Every day," says a man in a Toyota TV commercial. The screen turns black, and the slogan materializes: TOYOTA/EVERYDAY.

The Toyota people goofed. Every day styled as two words, is an adverb that means just what it says, as in "Every day in every way we get better and better." Everyday, squished together as one word, is an adjective meaning "commonplace, ordinary," as in, "an everyday occurrence." Did the Toyota hucksters really want to say that their products are commonplace and ordinary? We don't think so.

When you mean "all days," write every day, not everyday.

(Cross-posted to The Anger of Compassion)
Author : noreply@blogger.com (Unknown)
Publ.Date : Mon, 15 May 2006 17:22:00 +0000

Dean Alford\'s Blunders
It seems there is no consensus and has never been any consensus on English usage. We may consider something "correct" because that was what we were taught, but there is always someone somewhere who will argue that current usage supercedes that which is traditionally considered correct because English is an evolving language.

Hmph. That makes it very difficult for anyone who wants to know how to say something without sounding ignorant. What bothers me is this idea of "consensus." Who is deciding this? And does this mean that the use of the Green Grocer's apostrophe should be conisdered correct because it has been around so long? (see my post Arguments on the Apostrophe "s".)

Mistake #389 in 1000 Mistakes Corrected and Peculiarities of Language Noted, by Prof. W.H.Larrabee and Prof. H. A. Buttz (New York: N. Tibbals & Sons, 1873) is titled "Dean Alford's Blunders." Dean Henry Alford wrote A Plea for the Queen's English in 1864. He was roundly criticized for what people considered errors found within, particularly by George Washington Moon, an American, who wrote The Dean's English in response. It seems this is a point where American English and British English came head-to-head for a time, though the other combatants in the war attacked whomever they thought wrong, regardless of what side of the Atlantic they were on (this site has a very brief synopsis of this controversy). Here is what Prof. Larrabee has to say:
389. Dean Alford's blunders. -- The late Dean Alford of Canterbury, wrote a number of essays which he made into a book and called "A Plea for the Queen's English," for the purpose of correcting errors in speech and writing. According to some of those who criticized his work, he committed almost as many errors as he corrected. He several times employed the adjective where he should have used the adverb. In one place he said "that is a decided weak point in his character," instead of speaking of a "decidedly weak point." In another place he expressed an excellent rule for the selection of words in conversation, in the following awkward phraseology: "If with your inferiors, speak no coarser than usual; if with your superiors, no finer." He should have said: "if with your inferiors, speak no more coarsely than usual; if with your superiors, no more finely." The rule is commended to all, but the Dean's language is not commended. Carelessness is no better excuse for such blunders than ignorance.

475. Treat. -- Moon, in "the Dean's English," objects to such phrases as "An exception I cannot well treat," saying it should be treat of. The distinction in the use of treat with the preposition and without it is well illustrated in the sentence, "A matter treated of in my former paper was treated by you with indifference." This view seems to be just.
This argument about "treat" seems a bit awkward since we don't see it used much anymore. I cannot be sure if Moon was responding to a specific rule discussed by Dean Alford or not, but it seems likely. Whatever the case, it shows that such arguments will always be around.
Author : noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra)
Publ.Date : Mon, 15 May 2006 14:15:00 +0000

Don\'t Make This Everyday Mistake Every Day
Two headlines from the same editor/writer:
Tuesday, June 7, 2005: "You Learn Something New Everyday." No, you don't. In fact, if it's new it cannot be "everyday."

Monday, April 24, 2006: "Here's a Combo You Don't See Everyday." Quite so, and with good reason.
Two more examples:
Thursday, February 23, 2006: "Here's a Byline Team You Don't See Everyday."

Friday, April 28, 2006: "It's Not Everyday."

So all of these headlines contain the word "everyday," and its use is wrong in every single case. Every one.

The offender is Kathryn Jean Lopez, an educated and intelligent woman who has, we are informed, "been praised for her 'editorial daring,'" and who "stands athwart history," in William F. Buckley, Jr.'s immortal words, at National Review and at National Review Online.

How can she be so wrong, then? Isn't "everyday" a word?

Why yes, it is.

There are two good -- and short -- treatments of this error. First, we can turn to The New Fowler's Modern English Usage, edited by R. W. Burchfield. His entry on "everyday" (found on page 270 of the 1996 paperback edition) is admirably succinct:
When used as an adj. (an everyday event, everyday clothes, etc. meaning 'commonplace, usual: suitable for or used on ordinary days', everyday is written as one word. In contexts where it means 'each day' (she went shopping almost every day) two words (every day are needed.
Patricia T. O'Connor turns her attention to "everyday" as well, in her delightful Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English. In chapter 5, "Verbal Use," she includes a section, "One Word or Two?" which includes this entry:
everyday / every day. We mix them up daily (or every day). The single word, everyday, is an adjective. It describes a thing, so it can usually be found right in front of a noun: "I just love my everyday diamonds," said Magda. The time expression every day is two words: "That's why you wear them every day," said Zsa Zsa.
How to Avoid This Error:

Time for mnemonics:

If you mean "commonplace," or "usual," notice that each is one word, and the term you need is also one word: "everyday." Okay, but how do you remember the tip? Notice that "commonplace" is one word, but made up of two words -- and so is "everyday."

If your meaning is "daily," then remember either Burchfield's "each day" or O'Connor's "time expression," and there you are: two words.

(This error is not mentioned in the first edition of Fowler, and in the Second (edited by Sir Ernest Gowers), the word "everyday" is treated as "(adj.). One word." That's it. This would appear, then, to be an error of recent vintage. Ah, for those halcyon days before rap "music," the designated hitter, and "This isn't something you see everyday...")

(Cross-posted to The Anger of Compassion.)
Author : noreply@blogger.com (Unknown)
Publ.Date : Sun, 14 May 2006 01:59:00 +0000

To Gift
A question on "gift" as a verb was posed in one of the comments below. The Ceely establishment owns many, many books on the English language, and should be able to answer anything to at least some degree. Here is what The New Fowler's Modern English Usage (3rd edition, R.W.Burchfiled, ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996) says on the subject:
gift (verb). Despite its antiquity (first recorded in the 16th c.) and its frequent use, esp. Scottish writers, since then, it has fallen out of favour among standard speakers in England, and is best avoided. On the other hand, gifted [as in] 'talented' (a gifted violinist) is standard. (p. 330)

This doesn't exactly answer the question as to where is comes from, but we have not yet acquired the big OED (in several volumes) that specifically discusses origins. My answer does tell us that you probably won't see the use of "gift" as a verb much in America, but may see it in England, mostly in older publications.
Author : noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra)
Publ.Date : Fri, 12 May 2006 15:14:00 +0000

A Historical Lesson
I have seen the words "historic" and "historical" used with both "an" and "a," as in "an historic ocassion." Here is lesson XXI from Illustrated Lessons in Our Language by G.P Quackenbos, 1882.
...Whether an or a is to be used, depends on the sound with which the following word commences....
An is used before words commencing with a and i, and most words commencing with e, o, u, and h not sounded. A is used before all other words.
A must be used when the following word commences with the sound of u in unit; as, a unit, a ewe, a eulogy, a humour.
A must be used before one; as, a one-horse wagon.
A must be used before words commencing with h sounded; as, a hat, a hen.

That would also include a historic ocassion and a hysterical person.
The confusion stems from usage seen in the King James Bible, when all words having a French origin that began with h were pronounced with the h silent, such as "an hotel." This is no longer correct, even in England. So drop the n before historical.
(Source: Harper Dictionary of Contemporary Usage, 2nd ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1985: p. 1.)

(Illustrated Lessons in Our Language by G.P Quackenbos, is Available on CD at Lady's Maid Books.)
Author : noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra)
Publ.Date : Wed, 10 May 2006 17:51:00 +0000

Arguments on the Apostrophe "s"
I recently acquired a book entitled, The Question Book. A General Review of Common School Studies. "To be used in schools, in connection with text books," by Asa Craig (10th edition, Caldwell Prairie, Wis: Published by the Author, 1878). Looking through it, I could not imagine who would do well with such questions. Even our most studious and scholarly-minded university students would have trouble with these questions. There is no indication in the book which grade or age group is targeted here, but I would have to say high school. The book covers US history, geography, grammar, reading, Orthography (phonics), Civil Government, Physiology, and Physical Geography (geology).

The grammar section was of most interest to us. I present you with question #50:
How are letters and figures made plural?

The answer is: "By annexing 's.

Since this was something I have been doing for years, it made sense. However, after a brief discussion with Craig, I realized that this use of the 's is considered incorrect and always has been in many circles. I refer you to The Green Grocer's Apostrophe, which has been abused for so long that many people don't realize it is incorrect. It's seen more in the UK than here, though not exclusively.

So, we know we don't use the 's in reference to a plural, but its use has been sanctioned in the case of numbers for many years. Or it used to be. Looked at objectively, it really is just plain wrong.
Author : noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra)
Publ.Date : Mon, 08 May 2006 18:02:00 +0000