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 16:46:18 -0700

Bonnie Granat wrote:

> I didn't think so, but I was trying to stress that the kind of usage you
> are advocating is what many readers *do* find distracting.

I'm suggesting that the goals of writing should be completeness, clarity, conciseness, and precision. How can writing of this sort be distracting?

> Usually "begging the question" is referring to a specific question that's
> currently being debated or argued. I would say to my opponent, "You are
> begging the question." I don't find it easy to comprehend "begging a lot of
> questions", when "begging the question" refers to assuming the truth of the
> issue being debated. "Begging a lot of questions" implies something else to
> me, which is why, I suppose, I didn't receive your intended meaning.


Strangely, I'm the one using the prescriptive meaning here. In rhetoric, "begging the question" does not necessarily involve an actual question. If I say, "That book is worthless because it's a piece of junk," I'm also begging the question. I'm
assuming that my position is true without examining it (in this example, I'm also doing a particular type of circular reasoning called dormitive explanation, but that's another issue).

> I wonder how software manuals -- or indeed manuals of any kind -- got their
> rather laughable reputation. I think it is because they are poorly written.
> You are no doubt correct that the average person isn't an expert on
> grammar, but he or she *can* be confused when language is used
> innovatively. Lord knows, *I* can be confused.

I agree that manuals have a poor reputation because they are badly written, but I don't think that grammar is usually the issue. More often, it's poor structuring or incompleteness that is the trouble.

But I should stress that I'm not talking about innovations. I'm talking about usages that are widespread, but not considered proper English. An example would be using sentence fragments. Often, I won't hesitate to use a fragment in a definition
following a term, because that's the most concise way of putting the information.

> I don't disagree with you, but the subject of the current debate as I
> understand it is whether innovative use of language is distracting to
> readers. I say it is and you seem to be saying it isn't.

Again, I'm not talkng about innovations.

> I may have been suggesting that your
> comment that "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." ignored the basic idea of communication, on which Mark Levinson has commented. The basic idea that I have in mind is that communication can take place only when the speaker and the hearer agree on the meaning of words.

Note the "imposed standards." I'm not talking about meanings that evolve out of everyday use, but ones handed down by someone who claims to be an authority or expert. Many of these are contrary to the way that the average person speaks.

> I suppose a goodly lot of us will have to die out before there will be less
> argument with the innovations that many of us find positively repugnant!

That's often the way. Kuhn says that new scientific paradigms don't triumph over old ones so much as the proponents of the old paradigms die off. I suspect it's true in English, too. Prescriptive grammar is largely a rear-guard action, a slow
withdrawing from positions that are slowly being overrun. I sometimes wonder what prescriptivists of a century ago would think of today's. Probably, they'd be shocked at the laxness.

> "Explanatory principles"? To what are you referring? I don't recall any ad
> hominems on my part. I was arguing against ideas, not anyone personally.

As used by prescriptivists, grammar is an explanatory principle. You write a certain way because that's the rules, and you look no further for a reason. I could be wrong, but your argument sometimes seems to make this assumption: for example, when it
suggests that the rules shouldn't be questioned because they've been developed by my "betters" over time.

By contrast, I prefer to look past these rules, and examine why they emerged and whether they're worth following. The more I do so, the less relevant I find many of them to the task of writing. As I started by saying, the primary goal of grammar is
correctness. However, a writer's primary goal should be to write well. These aims can be mutually conflicting - not always, but often enough.

As for the ad hominem attacks - well, you yourself described the reference to my betters as "petulant." Also, remember that you started your first post by taking me to task about my alleged mis-use of "begging the question." When you start a rebuttal
with a grammatical rebuke instead of discussing the issues, you appear to be accusing the person you are addressing of ignorance - in other words, to be making an ad hominem attack. When you question someone's grammar when the discussion is grammar,
the appearance is even greater.

However, I don't want to make a big deal of the point. I'm perfectly willing to believe that this not was your intention if you say so.

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

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