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David B. Hart Gripes About Grammar Etc.

Janet mentioned this several days ago, but I didn't have time to read it then, and then forgot about it until this morning.

I'm very sympathetic, but, as Hart seems to suspect, that way madness lies. Or at least a grave social difficulty: you'll become a person everyone hates if you insist on correcting these usages, and you won't make yourself happy, either. I am learning to ignore most of these things most of the time and of course I have many occasions to practice my patience. I used to work with someone who was in general very particular and accurate about spelling and grammar, and would mercilessly rip apart a memo or email message that included mistakes. And yet she would say "They invited he and I to attend the meeting." It was very hard to keep my mouth shut.

If I'm not mistaken, that one goes back further (farther?) than one might think. Not too long ago I ran across a reference to it that went back decades, but now I can't remember where it was. It may occur in a letter written by a character in Ross Macdonald's The Galton Case, published in 1959, though I could be wrong about that.

Another thing I notice a good deal now is the way our predominantly oral culture takes turns of phrase from print to voice and back to print again and gets very confused about them in the process. One that I encounter frequently is "tow the line," which should be "toe the line." Its origins seem to have had something to do with standing in a prescribed position, i.e. with your toes on a line, came to mean, metaphorically, to conform, whence it got mixed up (I assume) with the phrase "party line," and now is thought to mean the servile or thoughtless repetition of standard rhetoric. Which is not totally off from the original meaning, but isn't exactly the same. There are others, none of which I can think of at the moment.

I was a bit surprised by the complaint about "is comprised of." I thought that was legitimate: if these letters comprise the alphabet, isn't the alphabet comprised of the letters?

This piece shamed me into looking up, finally, after many years of assuming a very vague definition from context, the word "solecism." And some of the comments are amusing too.

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Now I'm going to go crazy trying to think up more examples of that print to voice to print phenomenon. There's one I hear around here on a regular basis, but I can't remember it now.

AMDG

The article inspired me to look up "catechresis".

Is "tenterhooks" a good example of the voice-to-print phenomenon? I often hear people saying "tenderhooks". I'm not sure why either is used to mean what it means.

Sometimes those transitions make at least some sort of sense. Sometimes they don't, at all. I don't think "tenderhooks" does, although since no one knows what "tenterhooks" (or is it tinterhooks?) are, I suppose it doesn't matter much.

Every time I encounter one of these I think I'm going to start makin a list, then I think "why bother?"

I thought everybody knew what tenterhooks are (or were). They're the hooks you stretch fabric on to dry after its been dyed (so that it's tense - literally). The word "tent" must be somehow related.

"one of the hooks or bent nails that hold cloth stretched on a...you'll never guess..

tenter.

One that I encounter frequently is "tow the line," which should be "toe the line." Its origins seem to have had something to do with standing in a prescribed position, i.e. with your toes on a line, came to mean, metaphorically, to conform, whence it got mixed up (I assume) with the phrase "party line," and now is thought to mean the servile or thoughtless repetition of standard rhetoric.

This one really irritates me.

If I'm not mistaken, the original context may have been in the English Navy during the Napoleonic wars and the sailors were told to "toe the line" for inspections.

I really hate the than/then confusion, which I'm fairly sure has only come about because of typos on the 'net much like "pwn" and "teh."

Apologies if I've posted this here before:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=om7O0MFkmpw

"than/then confusion" Hmm, don't recall encountering that. Can you give me an example?

Wikipedia gives that as the most likely origin of "toe the line".

You have linked to that before, Louise, but it's still funny.

AMDG

Louise I had not watched the one before. It's very good.

I hover, especially when I'm not holding down the fort. As can be seen from my furious comments about 'transpire' in the com boxes, I tend to the insane end of the spectrum in one way. But in another, I love the creativity of the language, especially the American use of it.

I thought that was you, and then when I saw the Brideshead comment, I knew it was you.

Last week, I led a book club discussion about BR. The opinion of Lady Marchmain pro and con was split along a pretty obvious line between those who had had whacko teenagers and those who had not.

AMDG

We will never agree on this! My line is that Waugh has a very strong 'Augustinian' streak (against what he sees as the phoney 'reasonableness' of Anglicanism), and so he wants RC to look awful to the unbelieving eye. Or at best 'fascinating and horrible'. He does have some saints, eg Crouchback. But Lady M is not one of them!

Oh, I don't think that she is a saint. I just think that if you've been in that situation, you have a bit more sympathy for her. I just made that other comment because I thought it was funny the way people reacted.

AMDG

I know you did! Just holding up my line in the argument. When Waugh wrote the book, he had as yet not wacko teenagers, and when he did eventually have them, he remained the laissez-faire parent (see Auberon Waugh's 'Will this Do', autobio). I think Lady M is as she is for aesthetic reasons.

Which of course doesn't mean she isn't altogether believable as a portrait of a mother with whacko children.

I am hesitant about reading anything to do with Waugh himself. It can be pretty dismal. Auberon's banana story (can't remember where I read it) was enough to make me want to skip his autobiography.

I remembered another of those voice-to-print confusions that's become very widespread: "It peaked my interest..."

Re: than/then confusion. I'm a little surprised you haven't encountered it, except that it might be easy enough to see "than" but read it correctly as "then" b/c of the context. I think I've seen it more on American sites which has sometimes made me wonder whether it reflects also pronunciation variations? But it just refers to a sentence where someone has typed than instead of then or vice versa.

My son recently wrote a sentence with the expression "more then" instead of "more than." I really hope it's not b/c he doesn't understand the difference between then and than.


So you're talking about a spelling mistake? I haven't noticed that but I'm not surprised. I thought you meant a confusion about the meanings of the two.

There is an American pronunciation thing that I've been noticing that gets on my nerves for some reason. You hear it among young women: pronouncing "didn't" and "wouldn't" as "did-in" and "would-in". A very definite separate, almost accented, "in". I suppose it's no further off the mark than our usual "didn" and "wouldn".

Yes, a spelling mistake, but so consistent with some bloggers/writers that I was really beginning to wonder if there was an actual confusion of meaning.

I think it's a spelling mistakes. I hate to write about bad spelling because it almost guarantees that I will misspell something. The misspelling that absolutely makes me crazy is "alter" for "altar." This is ubiquitous. When I see a comments about "alter boys," it makes me wonder what kind of a horrible thing that might be.

AMDG

Yeah, I see that all the time, too. Annoying.

Just ran across this: "While all of the records Welch has released bare her name..."

That is a pretty frequent misspelling and, of course, it is always funny.

AMDG

It surprises me how many of my students use such phrases as "costumer relations" - obviously not one a spelling-checker would spot.

I am much more likely to perpetrate than to be annoyed by mispronunciations.

There were a couple of things in Hart's piece that annoyed me a little because they criticized things I do. I think that's going a bit overboard.

"costumer relations"--I read that once and missed it completely, thinking "what's wrong with 'customer relations'?"

Anybody that learned a great deal of their vocabulary from reading, and I assume that means most of us, is going to mispronounce some things.

AMDG

Indeed.

There were a couple of things in Hart's piece that annoyed me a little because they criticized things I do. I think that's going a bit overboard.

LOL!

I mean really....

Here's another one that I see a lot--"diffuse" for "defuse": "How Connecticut Diffused the Parent Trigger."

This one is more notable because it's the work of a lobbyist for a teacher's union. But nobody familiar with the American educational system will be surprised by that, or would be if it had been written by an actual teacher. Not that most aren't competent, but there seems to be a significant number who aren't.

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