COMPRISED OF: A HISTORICAL/LEXICOGRAPHICAL NOTE.

Last month, Mark Liberman had a good post demolishing the alleged badness of “comprised of” (for the allegedly correct “composed of”), with copious quotes from Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage (which I recommend as heartily as he does); a more recent post consists of some additional information about the early history of the construction in English translations of Euclid, provided by David Russinoff; it turns out it goes back to 1661, well before the OED’s earliest cites from 1794.

Comments

  1. Wishydig wrote a very good post about this a few years ago: “when the currents of language create the occasional polysemy and the occasional complete shift it is not a deterioration.”

  2. dearieme says:

    The real problems with ” is comprised of” are that (i) it makes an ugly noise that “consists of” doesn’t, and (ii) it is part of Estate Agent English, and is therefore objectionable on “guilt by association” grounds.
    Translation sevice: “estate agent” = realtor.

  3. The other verb in The British Estate Agent’s Thesaurus is “benefit”, “the property benefits from a delightful outhouse” is typical.

  4. In my estimation the worst part of realtors’ psychobabble is using ‘home’ for ‘house’, even when the house is empty, or even brand-new. Is that simply in N. America, or has the contagion spread to other continents?
    As for ‘comprised of’, being an older Canadian I agree with dearieme that it makes an ugly noise, but I have no doubt that younger Canadians, raised on American TV, use it and probably don’t even know ‘consists of’ since they have a vocabulary that is astonishingly smaller than my generation’s at that age, which of course is a direct measure of the astonishing smallness of their minds.

  5. Gosh, it looks like I can’t distinguish myself anymore with the old-curmudgeon number about die Jugend heutzutage: everyone is doing it now. Time to move on, I guess, and be nice for a change.
    … Having thought for awhile, I can’t think of anything nice to say. How hard life would be without the ablative absolute !
    I’m not sure that “is comprised of” makes an “ugly noise”, whatever that means exactly. I do use “comprise” instead of “consists of” whenever I can get away with it.

  6. “estate agent” = realtor.
    Maybe one should say real estate agent instead of realtor. Realtor (which, as long as we are being peevish and curmudgeonly, is an ugly word) is some kind of proprietary term.
    Crown, is that an outhouse in the US sense of shithouse, or is it like Arthur Jackson’s shed, or what?

  7. Arthur Jackson’s shed. Although “delightful” or “charming” is the sort of thing they might write about a shithouse, I must admit I haven’t found them trying to flog one yet. Mostly houses in London are said to “benefit” from an asphalted garden that can be used as a parking space, which is one reason I find the term very irritating.

  8. An ‘ugly noise’ is probably one that didn’t occur in the language one learned before the four parts of the skull fused together (early thirties in my generation), before which one is ‘adolescent’ (growing) and after which one is ‘adult’ (grown), and after which it is more difficult (but not impossible) to learn new things. And even more difficult when one is prejudiced — prejudice being a prophylactic against learning.
    I do vary ‘consists of’ with the finite forms of ‘comprise’.
    Sorry I can’t continue this discussion — I’m off to the farm again to my ‘summer job’, hoeing.

  9. Bathrobe says:

    I think that people’s objections to ‘is comprised of’ come from the following reasong:
    * Having ‘comprises’, ‘be comprised of’, and ‘be composed of’ offends people’s sense of tidiness. ‘Comprise’ should be used one way or another; it is confusing to have it belonging to two different camps.
    * ‘Comprises’ is a neater and more concise usage. Elegant, even. It is shorter than ‘consists of’, and it ensures that the usage of ‘comprise’ is distinguished from that of ‘compose’.
    In the spirit of tidiness, therefore, the three usages should be:
    1) Be composed of
    2) Comprise
    3) Consist of
    The fact that ‘be comprised of’ goes back a long way will not stop people from trying to tidy up confusing and messy usages.

  10. dearieme says:

    translation service
    “butt crack” = “bum cleavage”

  11. Robe: The fact that ‘be comprised of’ goes back a long way will not stop people from trying to tidy up confusing and messy usages.
    Well said. It’s awful, Language.

  12. The fact that “be comprised of” goes back a long way will not stop people from trying to invent reasons to dislike it.

  13. Bathrobe says:

    @ Jonathan
    My point was to try and show why people might dislike it. For people who care about that sort of thing, it is, I think, uncomfortable to see ‘comprise’ used in two different ways, one of which overlaps with ‘be composed of’. I don’t believe people are “inventing” reasons to dislike it. I also didn’t say that I supported the prescriptivist position; I merely stated the reasoning.

  14. Stoirin says:

    GROAN! you didn’t REALLY write “with copious QUOTES” did you?! “Quotation” is the noun; “quote” is a VERB. I am so sick and tired of hearing that it was a good “quote” and that people are going to send an “invite” — no, you quote the quotation, and you invite someone by sending an invitation!

  15. We are sorry to have disappointed you. Your money will be cheerfully refunded.

  16. He might not want a refund. It might have to be a, what, refundation?

  17. Stoirin, you didn’t really write “I am so sick and tired” did you? It’s not very good stylation.

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