When James Tolbert (Dir. of Adm.) interviewed me he said only one thing at the end before I left: “At St. John’s we are grammarians so you must get a copy of House and Harmann’s Descriptive English Grammar.” I immediately ordered a copy and spent the entire summer DIAGRAMMING each and every single example sentence in all 400 pages. I learned a lot of grammar. It helped me to learn ancient Greek. Oh the other thing Mr. Tolbert did was scold me for misspelling laundry as “laundary.” Those were the days of the electric typewriter BEFORE spell checkers. Every time I see the word laundry I think of Mr. Tolbert. Other than those two occasions no one ever really advised me on grammar or style. Three of my four essays are on-line. The only one I did not save was my Freshman essay but I remember vividly the essential points. I suppose I could post the links to those essays and see what needs polishing. Actually, I don’t remember anyone correcting our grammar or pronunciation in classes or seminar.
Archive for the ‘Grammar’ Category
I often feel very self-conscious about my grammar and punctuation. I purchased a used copy of “The Chicago Manual of Style” but have never found the time and discipline to go through it methodically. I am very dependent upon built-in spell checkers to show me my frequent errors. I Google on words just to be certain of their spelling. At age 61 I doubt that I will gain significant writing skills. And yet I must continue try to express myself each day to keep what skills I have alive through practice. I have had access to Internet since 1998 which has allowed me to read new things that I might never encounter on the printed page and express myself each day in writing. Without Internet access I would have written far less.
I was a spoiled only child who went through the public school system prior to St. Johns. The most important thing that I learned from public school was to conform and get along in a large group where I am no one special and must suffer the knocks and bumps, grin and bear it. I don’t know how someone would learn such social skills with home schooling.
My G-Mail status reads “Grammar Nazi but he who lives by the sword dies by the sword so go ahead and correct me.” I have only average skills but I do care deeply about what I write and how I write. My prose may not be the magisterial prose of Gibbon but it is adequate to express my thoughts and it is the best I can muster. I hope I shall always value constructive criticism which helps me improve my skills and stop making the same errors over and over. I used to write “loose” when I mean “lose” until one day a learned Scottish gentleman pointed out this frequent error.
Young students SHOULD learn the basics of various of the world’s religions but I think that PBS style documentaries and books by people like Huston Smith are far more effective and less invasive that taking field trips.
@Adrian, I agree that things like Godwin’s law and critiques of grammar are sometimes a way of avoiding some inconvenient question that is not on everyone’s agenda. Another evasive tactic which irritates me is when someone says that a particular post is off-topic for the thread. The seminars that I remember from the 1960s rambled all over the place and yet remained pertinent to the assigned reading. One might try to claim that Plato’s “Republic” rambles off topic but what would such an argument achieve?
Besides, Facebook should or at least could be a less formal and relaxed way of interacting and exercising our minds without resorting to ad hominem. I see grammar and style as well as forbearance and equanimity as faculties which require constant practice and exercise and I am convinced that my years of Internet activity have improved me in these areas or at least prevented me from backsliding.
One recent FB thread was about an interview with Obama where in the second paragraph he was asked “do you believe Rev. Wright loves America as much as you do?” I raised what I felt were some excellent points about what it means to “love America,” hinting that it is an ill-defined piece of empty rhetoric. Some else agreed with me giving as an example “do you love dogs” to which she replied “I like some dogs for certain reasons, dislike other dogs and have certainly not met every dog.” We were told that we are “off topic.”
Sometimes it IS pertinent to mention Hitler (I could not understand why there was a red underline until I looked carefully and saw that I had written HILTER.) Certainly William Shirer is not forever refuted for writing “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.”
Languages and cultures change when we are not looking. I imagine there was a time in the past when people seldom found fault with spelling errors in English for the simple reason that spelling was less standardized and there were no dictionaries.
Someone pointed out to me that in our times the humor of Jackie Gleason’s “to the moon, Alice” would be seen as violence against women. In the 1950s television shows such as “The Lone Ranger” and “Sky King” were NEVER allowed to show anyone being killed. As a child, watching these shows, I was not conscious of the censorship of violence. Hitchcock wanted to film a movie script in which the protagonist commits suicide but the movie code forbid the portrayal of suicide and so the script was rewritten to make the suicide a dream-sequence.
George Burns’s portrayal of Gracie as a simpleton would not go over well with today’s stress on equal rights and feminist interests.
Someone pointed out that “Winston taste good LIKE a cigarette should” is a grammatical error and should read “AS a cigarette should.”
I was taught to strictly use the impersonal “one” rather than “you” but now younger people tell me that I sound stilted and artificial.
There was once a distinct difference between “shall” and “will.”
If I normally leave work at 6 p.m. then I would say “I shall leave at 6 p.m.” BUT if someone asks me to stay late then I would say “I WILL stay until 7 p.m.”
@Martin: The monks in the Greek monastery where I stayed for 13 months would speak about “theologoumena” as questions or issues which could be discussed endlessly with no resolution (such as the details of the Dormition / Assumption) but the resolution of such questions are not “salvific” (not essential to salvation) in the way that the issues of the Ecumenical Counsels on matters of the Trinity required resolution.
I imagine there are “theologoumena” in language as well. We live with the fact that there are British and American spellings and usages. I wish I could “speak with the tongues of angels” but I cannot and yet neither can I remain mute.
I am sure we can examine Dickens and Hardy and find sentences which were perfectly correct then and are not now incorrect and yet now sound awkward or affected.
When I was a child we would gloat and say “Ain’t ain’t in the dictionary” but now of course it is.
One hesitates now to say in a narrative that “someone ejaculated (exclaimed)” and “gay” and “queer” have an entirely different connotations from “the gay nineties.”
A month ago I was in the street and heard some high school students actually speaking in text-speak (spelling out L-O-L.) I remember in the 1970s the first time someone on the telephone said to me “I want that ASAP” and I had to ask them what “ASAP” means.
Strunk & White distinguishes between “shall” and “will” in this way: If a person slips off a boat by accident, he laments “I shall drown! No-one will save me!”, whereas someone committing suicide defiantly yells, “I will drown! No-one shall save me!”- (thanks to Weldon Goree)
@Luis, Great post! You inspired me to Google on – relative pronoun case clause preposition
because I know there are a lot of helpful links around on grammar
These sites looks very interesting:
Excerpt: I found this error in a Time Magazine article on the Gores:
“She had just begun to realize whom it was she had married.”
The corrected version would read, “She had just begun to realize who it was she had married,” because “who” is the subject complement of the clause “it was who,” and therefore must take the same case as the subject (the subjective case).
Someone in Facebook wrote:
Day at high mountain lake. Trout eschewed Kroeger’s Extra Fancy Sharp Cheddar Cheese.
I became curious about the word “eschew” and googled to find
1300–50; ME eschewen < OF eschiver, eschever < Gmc; cf.
OHG sciuhen, G scheuchen, shy
to keep clear of or abstain from (something disliked, injurious, etc); shun; avoid
[C14: from Old French eschiver, of Germanic origin; compare Old High German skiuhan to frighten away; see shy 1 , skew ]
So, perhaps it is more accurate that the fish were not attracted by the cheese than to say they had the cognitive means to renounce it or even recognize it and fear it….
"Commencement oratory … must eschew anything that smac…"
Commencement oratory must eschew anything that smacks of partisan politics, political preference, sex, religion or unduly firm opinion. Nonetheless, there must be a speech: Speeches in our culture are the vacuum that fills a vacuum. ~John Kenneth Galbraith
"Eschew the monumental. Shun the Epic. All the guys who …"
* Eschew the monumental. Shun the Epic. All the guys who can paint great big pictures can paint great small ones.
Letter (5-6 January 1932); published in Ernest Hemingway : Selected Letters 1917-1961 (1981) edited by Carlos Baker
Legend means your are famous or infamous. Legion means you are demonic.
Now allegiance is quite different.
c.1400, from Anglo-Fr. legaunce “loyalty of a liege-man to his lord,” from O.Fr. legeance, from liege (see liege); erroneously associated with L. ligare “to bind;” corrupted in spelling by confusion with the now-obsolete legal term allegeance “alleviation.” General figurative sense of “recognition of claims to respect or duty” is attested from 1732.
The word sacrilegious is often conflated with religious.
c.1300, “crime of stealing what is consecrated to God,” from O.Fr. sacrilege (12c.), from L. sacrilegium “temple robbery,” from sacrilegus “stealer of sacred things,” from phrase sacrum legere “to steal sacred things,” from sacrum “sacred object (from neuter sing. of sacer “sacred”) + legere “take, pick up” (see lecture). Second element is related to lecture but is not from religion. Transferred sense of “profanation of anything held sacred” is attested from late 14c.
Here is a very fine article which offers wise counsel and it is written by a skilled attorney who is unusually caring and compassionate.
What bothers me about the article is the use of the word “anachronism.”
When I hear the word “anachronism” I immediately think of something like Shakespeare’s play about Julius Caesar mentioning that a clock sounded. Obviously there were no clocks in Caesar’s day. The mention of a clock during a period prior to the clock’s invention is an ANACHRONISM. Mind you, a clock in and of itself is not an anachronism but rather the MENTION of a clock in an inaccurate context.
If we refer to this article on ANACHRONISM we will see that there is also a secondary meaning:
IF you were to walk into an office and see someone writing with a goose quill pen, periodically dipping it in an ink well, then that too is an anachronism. It may be that this person is eccentric or affectacious.
The quill pen and the ink well are not in and of themselves anachronisms but rather the active use or employment of them at a time when one would expect to see a pencil or ballpoint pen.
If one strolls through a museum, one is not gazing at anachronisms but rather at artifacts from a bygone era. When you visit Egypt and tour the pyramids you are not seeing anachronisms. IF you should learn that a governor or a president or prime minister or a dictator were having a pyramid constructed for their entombment then that indeed would be an anachronism.
Now if we examine the article in question, it commences with a colorful array of items which catch the reader’s attention as oddities, then the author mentions that all such items are anachronisms and finally, now that he has the reader’s attention and curiosity aroused to a high pitch, he proceeds to make his REAL point by likening such old fashioned artifacts to the feelings and emotional baggage which people bring with them to divorce cases.
Our author is perfectly correct in pointing out that the love and affection we once felt or our anger and resentment at some sleight or infidelity are no longer appropriate to nurture in our heart but should be placed aside, released, and replaced with reason, compromise, practicality. We need to make peace with the past and move on.
But, herein lies another problem. The reader is left with the suggestion or intimation that our feelings and emotions are anachronisms. I disagree. Homer’s Iliad opens with the Greek word for RAGE “Mainen aide Thea” (Sing, O Goddess, of the RAGE [of Achilles].)
It is my feeling that FEELINGS and EMOTIONS can never properly be called anachronisms since for one thing they never go out of style and secondly if YOU feel anger or resentment or jealousy or attraction then YOU ACTUALLY FEEL those emotions and they are exactly the same kind of emotions felt in the time of Homer. Our technology had advanced but our psycho-dynamics remains perennial and unchanged throughout the eons.
I think the author could have achieved his goal and avoided the problem by listing the items and calling them antiques which would suggest that they no longer fit in and are “out of place.”
Ruth: I think the problem with “quieten” is that it’s not necessary and it’s a misuse of the ending “en.” This suffix is not really active any more, the way “ize” still is. He did it wrong.
Hey! I just realized! “Cannon” is “ordnance” but “Canon” is “ordinance.” That’s SO cool.
Ruth, I feel EXACTLY the same way that you do about the proper and improper use of words and the importance of accuracy and precision in what we say. Several years ago the president of one Florida university gave a public statement in which he said “regretful incident” when he should have said “regrettable incident” since (as I understand it) only people can be regretful or feel regret. The Internet is loaded with pages like this whenever we are in doubt and we should always read what we write several times, and look up what seems uncertain BEFORE we post. I know I still have errors after I post, but at least I make an earnest effort.
It is sad to see some people respond that it doesn’t really matter since everyone knows what is meant by the author.
In the street I overheard some teens actually VERBALLY speaking in text-speak (saying LOL, and IMHO, spelling the letters out).
Socrates used to say “xalapa ta kala” which means something like “worthwhile things are difficult (not easy.)” There is nothing admirable about laziness. William Butler Yeats met Oscar Wilde for the first time at some dinner party and exclaimed afterwards that he had never met someone whose every extemporaneous utterance was perfect prose. One review of Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” describes his prose as “magisterial.” When I converse I sometimes slip into a certain patois and even use the invariant be but when I write I try to do my best (which often falls short but at least I try.) I see things the way Ruth sees them.
In high school I fell in love with Lawrence Durrell’s “The Alexandrian Quartet” which often mentioned scenes of Muslim life. I became so curious about Islam that I read Pickthall’s “The Meaning of the Glorious Koran” (Penguin Paperback $0.75) from cover to cover and looked up every word I wasn’t sure of in the dictionary. I remember the word “enormity” occurring in the Koran (Qur’an) with great frequency. Pickthall’s entire translation is available on-line in public domain and one can easily do a word count.
Ruth, in the 1960s one saw many copies of The Quartet for sale often in bookstores. Nowadays it seems to have fallen into disfavor (and I lived next door to Strands Used Book Annex which closed a year or two ago.)
I was wrong about the frequency of “enormity” in Pickthall’s Koran. Here is the entire Qur’an with three translators side by side, verse by verse, and “enormity” only appears in two verses:
Yusuf: We gave strength to their hearts: Behold, they stood up and said: “Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and of the earth: never shall we call upon any god other than Him: if we did, we should indeed have uttered an enormity!”
Pickthall: And We made firm their hearts when they stood forth and said: Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth. We cry unto no God beside Him, for then should we utter an enormity.
Shakir: And We strengthened their hearts with patience, when they stood up and said: Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth; we will by no means call upon any god besides Him, for then indeed we should have said an extravagant thing.
Yusuf: O ye who believe! Enter not the Prophet’s houses,- until leave is given you,- for a meal, (and then) not (so early as) to wait for its preparation: but when ye are invited, enter; and when ye have taken your meal, disperse, without seeking familiar talk. Such (behaviour) annoys the Prophet: he is ashamed to dismiss you, but Allah is not ashamed (to tell you) the truth. And when ye ask (his ladies) for anything ye want, ask them from before a screen: that makes for greater
purity for your hearts and for theirs. Nor is it right for you that ye should annoy Allah’s Messenger, or that ye should marry his widows after him at any time. Truly such a thing is in Allah’s sight an enormity.
Pickthall: O Ye who believe! Enter not the dwellings of the Prophet for a meal without waiting for the proper time, unless permission be granted you. But if ye are invited, enter, and, when your meal is ended, then disperse. Linger not for conversation. Lo! that would cause annoyance
to the Prophet, and he would be shy of (asking) you (to go); but Allah is not shy of the truth. And when ye ask of them (the wives of the Prophet) anything, ask it of them from behind a curtain. That is purer for your hearts and for their hearts. And it is not for you to cause annoyance to the messenger of Allah, nor that ye should ever marry his
wives after him. Lo! that in Allah’s sight would be an enormity.
Shakir: O you who believe! do not enter the houses of the Prophet unless permission is given to you for a meal, not waiting for its cooking being finished– but when you are invited, enter, and when you have taken the food, then disperse– not seeking to listen to talk; surely this gives the Prophet trouble, but he forbears from you, and Allah does not forbear from the truth. And when you ask of them any goods, ask of them from behind a curtain; this is purer for your hearts and (for) their hearts; and it does not behove you that you should give trouble to the Messenger of Allah, nor that you should marry his wives after him ever; surely this is grievous in the sight of Allah.
The Philokalia (and people who read the Philokalia) speak of “Quitism” which also has a non-Christian meaning in philosophy.
also see Hesychasm
Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance shows that “quiet” appears 27 times in the Old Testament, ZERO TIMES IN THE GOSPELS, and then, starting with Acts and the Epistles, FOUR TIMES.
How curious (but most likely coincidental) that the total of occurrences is almost equal to the age of Jesus when he began his ministry, after which things became less quiet in the sense that Matthew 10:26 “26 “So don’t be afraid of your enemies. Everything that is secret will be brought out into the open. Everything that is hidden will be uncovered. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight. What is whispered in your ear, shout from the rooftops.”
Someone could certainly do something very clever with all this in a sermon.
What boggles my easily boggled mind is that ONLY the Bushpeople (notice the gender inclusive) use clicking sounds as part of their speech (they make 7 different clicking sounds and one linguist confesses that he can only master 4 of them)… YET geneticist Spencer Wells went around the world sampling the genetic material of every far flung tribe from the Chuksi Reindeer herders of Siberia to Australian Aboriginals to remote rain forest tribes and finds that human life traces back to these clicking bush people 60,000 years ago
Spencer Wells’ 2003 book The Journey of Man — in connection with National Geographic’s Genographic Project — discusses a genetic analysis of the San [Bushmen] and asserts their blood contains the oldest genetic markers found on Earth, describing the Bushmen as a type of “genetic Adam”.