Re: Display or appear (Was: Can "either" be used ... )

Subject: Re: Display or appear (Was: Can "either" be used ... )
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 05 Oct 2001 11:20:50 -0700

Mark L. Levinson wrote:

"Note that it is permissible to end a sentence with a
preposition, despite a durable superstition that it is an error," as Johnson's _Handbook of Good English_ says.

Under heavy pressure from everyday usage, people are starting to relax the rule against ending a sentence with a preposition. However, that doesn't mean that the preposition rule isn't widespread and regularly. Only a few months ago, I had a long and fairly aimiable discussion about it with the copy editor for a magazine. Not long before that, the issue was raised by the reviewers of a manual. It's a real rule, believe me.

I find it hard to imagine any case in which a real rule,
rather than a superstition, interferes with clear writing.

Well, you can rename any example I give a "superstition" rather than a "real rule," but, off the top of my head:

What about the insistence on using a word in a way that is technically correct, but out of touch with contemporary usage, so that your meaning is lost or you're unintentionally humorous? Using a technically correct but obsolete verb form, such as "t" instead of "ed" for the past tense? The use of a masculine singular pronoun to refer to an unspecified group? The old habit of using "the former" and "the latter" to refer to long clauses in the previous sentence? The undivisiveness of the infinitive? The mixing of the possessive with contractions?

The examples are endless, because proper grammar doesnot guarantee any clarity or even any sense.

In talking about this subject, I'm reminded of Samuel Johnson's (or was it Pope's?)comment on the insistence of metrical regularity:

I put my hat upon my head
And walked along the Strand,
And there I met another man
With his hat in his hand.

The point is that the lines are perfect iambic, but dully regular and say almost nothing. As with metrics, so with grammar.

On the contrary, it is because readers and writers agree
on the rules that clarity is possible.

But they don't agree. There are several standards on comma usage, the indefinite pronoun, and dozens of other points. People may give lip service to prescriptive grammar, but, once their guards are down, they use the language very differently. Often, they change the way they use the language according to circumstances and audience, too.

If two people with different styles of English meet, they can often be barely comprehensible to each other. Shaw got some fun out of the fact by confronting educated English upper class twits with Cockneys, but you could do much the same by mixing, say, someone from West Oakland and someone from upcountry Nigeria.

In claiming to be the standard, prescriptive grammar usually ignores these inconvenient facts.

Bruce Byfield 604.421.7177 bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com

"I work for the pleasure of stopping,
I stop for the pleasure of beer."
-The Mollys, "The Lang Town"

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Re: Display or appear (Was: Can "either" be used ... ): From: Mark L. Levinson
Re: Display or appear (Was: Can "either" be used ... ): From: Bruce Byfield
Re: Display or appear (Was: Can "either" be used ... ): From: Mark L. Levinson

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