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 15:07:46 -0700

onnie Granat wrote:


"Beg the question" does *not* mean "causes questions" or "brings up
questions". This is not the first time I've seen it misused on this list,
but it is the first time I am commenting. I hope you will all forgive me.


No, "begs the question" means (in a loose sense) "evades the issues." It's a type of rhetorical device, generally considered unfair or inadequate. That's the sense in which I used it.

My point was that the original post views these obligations as explanatory principles: he or she evokes them, but doesn't look into their origins or whether they should exist in the first place. I'm afraid that's not enough for me.

-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.


For me, language that is distracting is invariably the kind that you are
defending.


Sorry. I'm not sure what you are trying to say.

However, from my own style, to say nothing of my comments that elegant language isn't enough to make a writer, and that writing well is the goal, it should be fairly obvious that I am not defending any kind of distracting language whatsoever.

We should be protecting it from unwarranted change in meaning, such as the
use of "beg the question"


Leaving aside the fact that I used the phrase correctly, how do you propose to protect the language? Who will decide if a change is "unwarranted"? How are those decisions going to be enforced? The idea sounds very noble, but it doesn't really mean much. People will continue to use the language as they see fit, even if you take to the street with picket signs.

You have then "taught" them to be incorrect. What possible
good can come from that?


I have my share of conceit, but not so much that I imagine that I have that much influence. You or I may be hyper aware of grammar, but the average person isn't.

If I use a phrase wrongly or make a grammatical error, it's either a singular occurence - in which case nothing much happens - or part of a growing trend - in which case the change in meaning is already well-advanced.

I don't suppose much good comes from most changes, but, contrariwise, what harm comes from them? If the majority of people understand the changed meaning, then communication isn't impaired. This is hardly the end of the language.


One usually has to be a master of one's trade before one can render the
judgment that traditional values in that trade are "unsuitable". Precision
and accuracy is never outmoded. Nor is adherence to grammatical rules that
have been constructed by one's betters.


Well, let's see. I don't think that the language of the educated elite around London should be the standard for English, or share the gender bias that males stand in for the human race, or that I should dictate how others talk or write. Nor do I think that Latin should be the model for English grammar or suage. Regardless of my skill or lack of it, I think that those are enough unsuitable values for me to want to question the conclusions that are drawn from them, don't you?

As for precision and accuracy, you have said nothing to show that they are the exclusive property of grammar. You have simply assumed that they are.

I deny absolutely that the grammatical rules that were constructed - as opposed to observed - were drawn up by my betters. If you actually look at the framers of many of the grammatical follies that burden us, the majority were mediocrities. A good number were school teachers cribbing from other sources, who leave me with no feeling of inferiority whatsoever (been there, done that). The only exceptions I can think of are John Dryden and Samuel Johnson, and even they were often arbitrary or simply looked to Latin for their models. All in all, the early prescriptivists are not an example of first-rate thinking. At any rate, a thinking person always has the right to refuse to accept cant unquestioningly.

Finally, while I understand that the questioning of explanatory principles can be upsetting, may I point out that ad hominem attacks are unworthy, and add nothing to the discussion? Let's keep to the discussion, please.


--
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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Follow-Ups:

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

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