Re: Display or appear (read the dictionary!)

Subject: Re: Display or appear (read the dictionary!)
From: Elna Tymes <Etymes -at- LTS -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 05 Oct 2001 13:20:56 -0700

> Steven Brown wrote:
> >That fact, however, does not relieve us of
> > our responsibility to protect the English language.
> >
> > When faced with a choice like this, and assuming
> > readers will understand either choice, we are
> > obligated to use the grammatically correct choice.

And Bruce Byfield responded:

> These comments beg a lot of questions:
> -why are we responsible? English is spoken and used by more people than
> writers. The handful of writers who are famous may be able to influence
> the course of the language, but I seriously doubt that a manual that I
> write will have much more influence than a conversation on a bus.

I question whether you really mean that. When I or someone from my company
does something for another company, I am putting my professional reputation on
the line, as well as the client company's reputation once the product reaches
publication. While there may be some readers who don't flinch at misuse of
"display" or "appear," there are probably more who learned proper grammar one
way or another and perhaps unconsciously think less of the company for allowing
consistent grammatical errors in their material. I'm not willing to deliver
such a product to a client.

> -what are we protecting the English language from? So far as I can see,
> from natural change that tends to work itself out without our help. Nor
> is this the only approach writers can have. Thomas Hardy, for example,
> complained in his old age that when he looked up word usages, many of
> the examples cited were from his early works. Obviously, he didn't feel
> any need to regard English as a finished product.

There is no question that English is NOT a static language. For an
enlightening account of how people who make dictionaries decide what's proper
and what's not, check out "The Professor and the Madman" by Simon Winchester, a
delightful quick read that was given me by one of the more erudite members of
this list, Martyn Perry. Dictionary makes use hundreds, if not thousands, of
reporters with specific usages of words and then pass the judgments past a
panel of usage experts. One of the dictionaries I use is the 1992 American
Heritage Dictionary of the English language, picked solely because it happened
to be at the top of the pile. Its Usage Panel is comprised of some173 authors
and language experts, and I recognized about 2/3 of the names: editor emeritus
Edwin Newman, Elie Abel, Shana Alexander, Cleveland Amory, Roger Angell, Isaac
Asimov, James Atlas, Margaret Atwood, Louis Auchincloss, John Bainbridge,
Letitia Baldridge, Jacques Barzun, Alton Blakeslee, Roy Blount Jr., Julian
Bond, Daniel Boorstin, Barbara Taylor Bradford, former Senator Bill Bradley,
Heywood Hale Brown, William F. Buckley Jr., etc., etc. You may want to quibble
with the qualifications of these folks to rule on what's proper usage and
what's not, but I won't.

> -why are we obliged? I am obligated to my employer or publisher to write
> something that they find acceptable, and I am obligated to my
> self-respect to write as well as I can under the constraints I work
> under. I don't recognize any other obligation. I certainly don't feel
> any obligation to a set of imposed standards that are often arbitrary
> and unsuitable, and that reflect a set of principles that are now over
> two centuries out of date.

Just so you know, new editions of dictionaries come out regularly, and are
updated whenever they do. The process of deciding what gets in and what
doesn't is usually spelled out in the front of the dictionary and actually
makes for an interesting read. I suspect you'd change your mind about English
standards being "out of date" if you read one of those introductions.

To give you an example, the word "alright" sometimes makes it into print. That
doesn't make it acceptable. Here's what my American Heritage dictionary says
about that: "'All right', usually pronounced as if it were a single word,
probably should have followed the same orthographic development as 'already'
and 'altogether.' But despite its use by a number of reputable authors, the
spelling 'alright' has never been accepted as a standard variant, and the
writer who choose to risk that spelling had best be confident that readers will
acknowledge it as a token of willful unconventionality rather than as a mark of

Elna Tymes
Los Trancos Systems

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RE: Display or appear (Was: Can "either" be used ... ): From: Steven Brown
Re: Display or appear (Was: Can "either" be used ... ): From: Bruce Byfield

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