INTRICATE: THE VERB.

Eve Léonard, of the lovely city of Montréal, wrote me to ask about a verb she had just encountered, “to intricate.” As she says, the Urban Dictionary defines it as follows: “to bring people on board or to get them onside with an idea or a proposal or an initiative of some type by getting them intricated into the process bit by bit, almost without their noticing that they are making a commitment.” They quote this example of usage: “First we’ll get the League’s Board of Governors intricated then we’ll get the franchise!” She suggests that it might be a backformation from “extricate,” and this seems like it must be correct. (The OED has an obsolete verb of the same form, having the senses “render intricate” and “entangle or ensnare”: 1579 Geoffrey Fenton, The historie of Guicciardini 227 “The Frenchmen beginning to intricate and intangle themselues, fell to flying.” The latter sense is similar, but the new usage is obviously a separate development.) Like “prepone,” it’s logical and self-explanatory, and I have no problem with it (not that the English language would give a fig if I did). So I ask the assembled multitudes: are you familiar with it, and do you use it yourself?

Comments

  1. Never heard it, but it’s an interesting word. “Insinuate” without the negative connotation.

  2. I have never used or heard this verb but am making plans to do so. It has a lovely sound to it.

  3. I approve of this verb. It is fine and seems to fulfill a nice need. I do think it’s funny that Urban Dictionary cannot find its way around using the verb ‘intricate’ in order to define the verb ‘intricate’—wholly intelligible as it is, in context.

  4. I wonder if it started out as a malapropism for “implicate”. It sounds like being intricated in something is much like being implicated in it.

  5. I don’t think so. To be implicated is merely to have some connection; to be intricated is to be fully drawn in.

  6. I’ve never heard it either, but I kind of like it.

  7. I’m familiar with… the city of Montreal. But, unless you really meant to say «Montréal» in a French accent – dropped like that in the middle of English prose – then it’s spelled ‘Montreal’. Ya know.

  8. The two names are equally valid, and I used the French form to honor the accent aigu in Eve’s name.

  9. mollymooly says:

    Never heard of it.
    Google suggests “intrication” is a term in psychoanalysis and/or postmodernism. Other possible conflations: “integrate”, “interconnect”. I’m not sure the Urban Dictionary sense has yet made itself heard against this noise.

  10. J. W. Brewer says:

    But how is the verb pronounced? Like the adjective, or to rhyme with “extricate” or, perhaps more to the point, with the verb “designate” as opposed to the sort-of-adjectival “designate” meaning “the one that has been designated” and which rhymes with the adjective “intricate”?

  11. Isn’t “to involve” the same? Maybe that’s a Britishism.

  12. marie-lucie says:

    I think that it may be a confusion with “implicate”, crossed with “extricate”, both transitive verbs, not with “insinuate” which is intransitive: you can “implicate” someone, not “insinuate” them.
    But it seems to me (as to Tom Recht, I think) that “implicate” has negative connotations: we hear reports of people implicated in unsavoury or even criminal actions (even from a distance), not in scientific discoveries or artistic triumphs unless there is some scandal attached to such events. As for “extricate”, it implies a difficult rescue from a dangerous situation, for instance the recent rescue of the Chilean miners, or in less concrete terms, rescue from what could be an embarrassing or incriminating situation, so “intricating” someone in some plan might involve them into distasteful activities or with people that they would not have anything to do with if they knew all the details.

  13. (I would have put this at the prepone posting — what a great word! — but postings are closed there.)
    Prepone makes me think of prepend a neologism for ‘place at the beginning of something’. Prepend is to append as prepone is to postpone.

  14. Jongseong Park says:

    J. W. Brewer, I would definitely pronounce the verb ‘intricate’ with an unreduced diphthong at the end: /ˈɪntɹɪkeɪt/. It wouldn’t sound right otherwise.

  15. It seems like one of those words whose meaning is apparent, even though I never use it myself.
    In either of its obsolete senses of “entangle” in (some editions of) Robinson Crusoe, or “make intricate” (so that intricated is a synonym of intricate) when Burton refers to Swahili nouns.

  16. michael farris says:

    Meh…. Unlike most others here I’m not so impressed (and wasn’t entranced with prepone either).
    I think part of what I dislike is the idea, which seems to be a euphemism for ‘coopt s.o. without their conscious consent’. I’m not sure if I approve of vocabulary to hide the basic idea.
    I do like the sound of the participle/adjective form ‘intricated’ but that’s about it.

  17. Eve Léonard says:

    I for one am honored by the accent aigu on both my name and “Montréal”. Thanks, LH :)
    As for the term itself, in my mind it doesn’t imply anything distasteful or negative. It simply conveys the idea of doing something delicately, subtly, with care. This is just an impression of course, there’s no logic behind it.
    Eve

  18. One can indeed insinuate in the transitive, or at least medio-passive—One often hears of people insinuating themselves into organizations. Indeed, it would seem that intricate is quite similar indeed to insinuate (tr.), with the distinction that in a case of insinuation, it is often the organization which cannot perceive the process, whereas in intrication, it is the person being drawn in.

  19. I’m not sure if I approve of vocabulary to hide the basic idea.
    I think your beef is with language in general, not this word in particular.

  20. 4g5p1f tuflghhandeo, [url=http://]ngefrurgrkoj[/url], [link=http://]rpntlsmjnroo[/link]

  21. vdosrc; I think many of us are quite forbearing with neologism, but that’s a bit too far.

  22. ‘Tuflghhandeo’ sounds a little like Tom Bombadil emerging from a burlap sack.

  23. marie-lucie says:

    One can indeed insinuate in the transitive, or at least medio-passive—One often hears of people insinuating themselves into organizations.
    I agree, but I don’t think I run into “insinuating someone” into whatever. Perhaps others have?

  24. Well, intricate (adjective and verb) is from the same source as intrigue (noun and verb). OED shows the connexion between these and other options, in its etymology for “intrigue, v.“:

    [a. F. intrigue-r, ad. It. intrigare:—L. intrīcāre: see intricate a. OF. had entriquer, intriquer, whence entrike, intrike.]

    The chopping French still have intriquer, but Petit Robert suggests that its meaning is narrowed to “render intricate” (unless entremeler can be stretched to encompass our “new” sense of intricate):

    • 1450, repris XXe; lat. intricare « embrouiller »; cf. intriguer
    Didact. Rendre complexe; entremêler (-> intrication).

    Also from OED “intrigue, v.” (and here we note the use of implicate in the definition):

    2. To entangle, involve; to cause to be entangled or involved, to implicate. Now rare.
    a1677 Barrow Wks. (1686) II. Serm. xxiii. 338 It doth not seem worth the while..with more subtilty to intrigue the Point. 1681 J. Scott Chr. Life i. iv. (R.), How doth it perplex and intrigue the whole course of your lives, and intangle ye in a labyrinth of knavish tricks and collusions. 1690 Child Disc. Trade Pref. (1694) 43 The way..is not..hidden from us in the dark, or intrigued with difficulties. 1899 Speaker 4 Feb. 152/2 This intrigues us against his Holiness.

    Wherefore I usher intricate (verb) into my personal repertoire, reserving the option to deploy entrike if it ever fits the occasion more slipperlikely.

  25. [I meant "unless entremêler ..." with a circumflex, of course.]
    Marie-Lucie:
    … I don’t think I run into “insinuating someone” into whatever. Perhaps others have?
    I think I might have. But anyway, OED has this at “insinuate, v.” (and I have highlighted the only citation of a non-reflexive use):

    2. a. trans. To introduce (a person) by sinuous, stealthy, or artful ways into some position or relation; esp. refl. to worm oneself in, or make one’s way sinuously or stealthily into the company, society, favour, affection, etc. of another.
    1579 Lyly Euphues (Arb.) 134 When their sonnes shall insinuate themselues in the company of flatterers. 1600 Hakluyt Voy. (1810) III. 407, I sent him two sutes of apparell..the better to insinuate myself into his friendship. 1665 Surv. Aff. Netherl. 136 Then they petition against strangers..and insinuated their chief Demagogues to the places of greatest Honour and Trust in the Countrey. 1755 Man No. 21 36 She knows extremely well how to insinuate herself. 1792 Anecd. W. Pitt I. xix. 299 The Duke of Bourbon insinuated himself so adroitly with the young..King as to establish himself Prime Minister. 1807 Robinson Archæol. Græca v. xx. 503 Those who, by flattery and other mean arts, were accustomed to insinuate themselves to the tables of other men. 1832 tr. Sismondi’s Ital. Rep. ix. 198 They insinuated themselves into families to betray them.

    Cf. OED’s 1.b, which seems very close to its 2.a:

    refl. To introduce oneself, make one’s way, or penetrate, by sinuous or subtle ways.

    It seems that insinuate is used only benefactively, which does distinguish it from intricate (verb).

  26. marie-lucie says:

    Thank you, Noetica.
    I notice that all those words have connotations which are the opposite of straightforward, above board, honest, etc, and the new (to most of us at least) intricate cannot escape this negativity. Both the Urban definition and the associated quotation imply stealthiness and manipulation, not just involvement.
    There is a colloquial French verb embobiner (from une bobine ‘a spool (of thread)’ (rather than entremêler which has a more concrete meaning nowadays): the person who is the object of this manipulation is drawn into a plot just as tightly and inescapably as thread is wound onto a spool.

  27. Marie-Lucie:
    I notice that all those words have connotations which are the opposite of straightforward, above board, honest, …
    Yes.
    insinuate
    Latin insinuare, “to bend, to wind” (cf. sinus)
    implicate
    Latin implicare, from plicare “to fold, to twist” (cf. plictum, “something folded”, whence our plait, etc.)
    intricate
    Latin intricare, “to entangle, to perplex [itself associated with plicare]” (cf. trick (!), from tricae, “toys, tricks, etc.”)
    Each of these has a host of diverse linkages involving turning, twisting, plaiting, and all manner of cunning polytropy.

  28. intricate is related also to treachery (but not to treason).
    insinuate is related distantly to sinew.

  29. According to SOED, extricate and intricate are from the same Latin root (at “intricate”):
    intricare entangle, perplex f. … tricae trifles, tricks, perplexities f. tricari make difficulties
    SOED also says “intricate” is a verb:
    intricate v.t. Now rare. M16. 1 Make a thing involved or obscure; complicate. M16 2 Entangle or ensnare (an animal or person); involve, embarrass, perplex M16
    “extricate” is not neutral either:
    extricate v.t. E17 1 Unravel; clear of tangles or (fig.) perplexities. Now rare. E17. 2 Get (a person) out of a difficulty, entanglement, etc.; remove usu. with difficulty or dexterity, from what physically holds or contains someone or something. (Foll. by from, out of) M17
    Lots of raveling, weaving, and manipulating meanings rather than going in the front door by the straight path…
    Marie-Lucie: … I don’t think I run into “insinuating someone” into whatever. Perhaps others have?
    Me neither, but SOED, besides the examples that mean “express indirectly” or “hint”, gives “Into the lobe of her left ear, he insinuated the hook of the black pearl.” The rest of the examples are reflexive.
    I suspect that the reemergence of “intricate” will be short-lived, at least when used to describe one’s own actions, because of the sneakiness implied. If Watergate did not teach a lesson about ethics, it must have at least taught a lesson about deniability.

  30. michael farris says:

    “I think your beef is with language in general, not this word in particular.”
    No. Apparently I’m not the only one who perceives the word negatively so I think it’s the process I don’t like.
    I’m not fool enough to think that not using a new euphemism will stop the kind of manipulation it seems to describe but I can’t help but think of the word as a euphemism for manipulating someone into cooperating (when that might not be their choice if asked openly). In that case if I did use it would be to express disapproval of the process.

  31. David Derbes says:

    From its historical use, “intricate” seems to me a bit loaded, and similar to “inveigle”. There is at least a hint of subterfuge and deception in the descriptions of the verb. “Intrigue” as a verb seems to me much more positive; though that hints at a sexual link, at least we’re talking about attraction, or at worst seduction. I’m with the other writers who, burned by Nixon, would prefer their deal-making to be much more transparent.
    The verb “obligate” has largely replaced “oblige”, to the detriment of the language, in my opinion. (I still remember being corrected forty years ago by a native Spanish speaker when I used, in a mathematical setting, the fake verb “permutate”. No, no, said Orlando; it’s “permute”.) I think “intricate” > “intrigue” will happen for the same reasons, and I’m agin’ it. Call me an oaf, but given a choice between fewer syllables and more, I usually prefer fewer. (Maybe this is from being beaten with Strunk and White too many times as a child.)

  32. Is it a fancy way of saying “drag in”?

  33. michael farris says:

    “Is it a fancy way of saying “drag in”?”
    More like “drag in by stealth”.

  34. From its historical use, “intricate” seems to me a bit loaded
    Its historical use is irrelevant; I mentioned it only as a point of interest. This is essentially a new verb, and its use will be determined by its users. You can help make this verb a positive one!

  35. “entrike” is lovely but it conjures up images (for me) of helping my 3-year-old daughter mount her tricycle, back in the day.

  36. michael farris says:

    “You can help make this verb a positive one!””
    You’re trying to intricate us!

  37. Looking at my two “duplicate” comments (above) again, they are not exact duplicates. The first is the correct edited comment–in particular, the Latin root in the first paragraph is “intricare”, not “intricate”. The second posted version was the unedited version in preview when I lost wifi connection. The second post should be deleted, thanks.

  38. LH: The majority seem to think the word is loaded negatively. Why try to make it positive just because someone has started to use it again ? There are perfectly good words for bringing people into a process openly.

  39. Intricate sounds similar enough to integrate and has a similar enough meaning that I pick up the positive meaning from integrate, rather than any sense of sneakiness.

  40. marie-lucie says:

    insinuate, implicate, intricate
    Noetica: Each of these has a host of diverse linkages involving turning, twisting, plaiting, and all manner of cunning polytropy.
    The literal meanings are all variations of manipulate, as Nijma points out too: Lots of raveling, weaving, and manipulating meanings rather than going in the front door by the straight path…
    Paul: The majority seem to think the word is loaded negatively.
    Yes, and I am surprised that the first commenter wrote
    “Insinuate” without the negative connotation.
    The examples given in the article are indeed negative:
    “to bring people on board or to get them onside with an idea or a proposal or an initiative of some type by getting them intricated into the process bit by bit, almost without their noticing that they are making a commitment.” They quote this example of usage: “First we’ll get the League’s Board of Governors intricated then we’ll get the franchise!”
    This is not the morally neutral “involved”, but a sneaky process: the Board of Governors won’t know what hit them unless it is all over.

  41. There are perfectly good words for bringing people into a process openly.
    What if a person or group is not brought into a process for illegitimate reasons–maybe they belong to an ethnic group that for some reason does not have access to power/money/survival or maybe they simply aren’t one of the privileged few. It seems there is no word without negative connotations for entering a process by the rear balcony when the front door has been closed unfairly or thoughtlessly.

  42. Nijma: Perhaps no one word will do for that rather specalised situation. I see no reason for creating one word if it can be explained clearly as, for example, you have done, when the new word will not be obvious to many people for some time.

  43. Paul, I suppose “infiltrate” would work, but would carry some negative connotations about the organization to be pried open.
    Then there are some gray areas, like marketing.

  44. Bringing someone into a process can involve some stealth and manipulation even when your motives are the best: you want X to join your committee and help with some good cause; you know that X is busy with other things; you follow a strategy of getting X informally involved before asking for a formal commitment. You don’t mention your purpose ahead of time because that would defeat the strategy.

  45. Noetica mentioned deploying the word “entrike”. For me, “deploy” is such a military word* that under its influence “entrike” began to evoke “first strike”.
    *Though, according to one dictionary, a glacier deploys when it spreads out

  46. marie-lucie says:

    Deploy comes from the French verb déployer which literally means to spread out a folded or rolled up object, such as the wings of bird (the bird does this)*, a flag, a sail, a bolt of cloth, etc, and by extension a large group, like soldiers spreading out in an area instead of staying in close formation. By extension it can be used to mean “to show, to display”. I am not sure if I would say offhand “le glacier se déploie”, but I would not find it surprising or out of place for what usually happens to the bottom end of a glacier. If you discover a beautiful, extensive view from the top of a mountain, or from an airplane, you could say (or rather write) “toute la baie se déploie à nos yeux” (the entire bay reveals itself to our eyes).
    *As in a song set to music by Mozart, Dans un bois solitaire et sombre: a rejected lover has succeeded in getting over his passion, when he comes across the winged child Eros sleeping in a wood: Eros wakes up, and aussitôt déployant ses ailes, he wounds the lover with an arrow, reawakening his passion.
    Perhaps the use of to deploy is spreading, and the meaning is concurrently shifting: I recently read a text in which the author used “deploy” in ways that I found quite odd – I don’t remember the details, but it wasn’t even “deploy arguments”, which I had read and understood before, but something more bizarre. Sorry I can’t be more precise.

  47. Paul, if you don’t like the word, you certainly don’t have to use it. Nobody’s trying to intricate you.

  48. Don’t forget “imbricated.” It was trendy in academic circles a while ago. The first time I heard it I thought it was just a mispronunciation of “implicated,” especially because the meaning is so close. Bound up by implication or overlapping like roof tiles.

  49. “Deploy” started to be used gratuitously right after the invasion of Iraq, after we were treated to the sight of an embedded Ted Koppel waxing eloquent over the huge array of tanks poised on the Kuwaiti border. Who knows, maybe it was a more glorious sight than Hannibal leading his army of war elephants across the Alps, but all I could think of was my students’ families still in Iraq.
    I first heard “deploy” used in a sermon — ironically I think, but now it is everywhere, and not ironic either, more of a wave the flag and beat the drums thing, which always irritates me. “Embedded” is another buzz word that became popular right about that time, and another one that I think of as having a positive military meaning for the political right.

  50. Deploy, like employ which* it sometimes replaces as an erudtoid emendation, is also of the -plicare fold. Deploy primarily meant “to unfold” (hence “to roll out”, as it were); employ means “to implicate” in a way, yes? It is evidently very close etymologically to implicate.
    Use of deploy with abstracta such as words, concepts, and arguments is well established in philosophy, and I’m pretty sure it is elsewhere. Why not? We sometimes speak of “wheeling out an argument” to meet some discursive contingency, so why not “deploy an argument” in a similar sense of “rolling it out”? (Yes, I know that there could be an equivocation on roll out here; but I don’t think it tells against the loose analogies I proffer.)
    Ploy (in the sense of a trick or a ruse) is of uncertain origin, according to OED which** nevertheless mentions a possible connexion with employ:

    “ploy, n.3″ … [Of uncertain origin. Some uses suggest an aphetic form of employ n. 3, ‘that on which one employs oneself, or finds occupation’; but evidence is wanting.]

    OED has another ploy that appears to overlap semantically (at least at the margins) but not etymologically with that “ploy, n.3″:

    “ploy, n.2″ … [ad. F. ploit (Burguy) = plait, plai, plea.]
    ‘An action at Law’ (Jam.).

    The obsolete “ploy, n.1″ is conjecturally connected with ply, and therefore with Latin plica and plicare:

    Also 6 ploye. [a. OF. ploi m. or ploie f.:—late L. *plica a fold. Cf. MDu. plôie, Du. plooi, MLG. ploy a fold, also from Fr.]
    ? A ply or fold.

    Wordploy. Meh.
    * and **: Note two perfectly defensible uses (or even standard uses) of non-restrictive relative which without a preceding comma. These are two contexts of many in which a comma might reasonably be omitted. Cryptoprescriptivists who claim that a preceding comma is the mark of a non-restrictive relative should take note, and learn from a “non-linguist”. :)

  51. I really like “intricate” as a verb, but not with the meaning “make intricate” , only “entangle, insinuate into”. In the short time since first reading this post the word has gone from sounding very strange to thoroughly familiar and natural. The pronunciation is of course analogous with “extricate” and I take the meaning to be an exact antonym of that word. If you find yourself “intricated” into a situation the only way out is to extricate yourself.
    Personally, I don’t see the word as necessarily having negative connotations. The process of intricating yourself into an organisation may well be completely transparent and above board, just involving lots of complicated personal and organisational links and connections. Only if the process involves subterfuge and/or a nefarious purpose could the word be seen to have a dark side.
    The idea of a word possibly having moral overtones I find bizarre. It reminds me of the opinion that a friend of mine recently conveyed to me. She objects to some modern slang which in her opinion downplays the seriousness and immorality of some behaviours. The example she gave was “road rage”. However, the idea that the available pool of vocabulary and other linguistic features can somehow expand or contract possible behaviour options is a Sapir-Whorf bridge too far for me. Apologies if I have just constructed and demolished a straw man.
    It’s fascinating that “intricate” (as a verb) is in the OED dating from the 16th c. I would be happy to see it make a comeback.

  52. marie-lucie says:

    Cryptoprescriptivists who claim that a preceding comma is the mark of a non-restrictive relative should take note, and learn from a “non-linguist”.
    Noetica, who are those cryptoprescriptivists? I think you are quoting from prescriptivists(,) who insist that a non-restrictive clause should be preceded by a comma, not from linguists, who are not overly concerned with punctuation.

  53. marie-lucie says:

    iching: The idea of a word possibly having moral overtones I find bizarre.
    Bizarre? words dealing with social behaviours and their motivations take on the “overtones” of the values placed on such behaviours. You said it yourself: Only if the process involves subterfuge and/or a nefarious purpose could the word be seen to have a dark side, and conversely for words referring to a process involving clarity, honesty and/or admirable purposes. In the well-known sentence “one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter”, would you say that “terrorist” and “freedon fighter” are neutral, without moral overtones?

  54. In the short time since first reading this post the word has gone from sounding very strange to thoroughly familiar and natural. The pronunciation is of course analogous with “extricate” and I take the meaning to be an exact antonym of that word. If you find yourself “intricated” into a situation the only way out is to extricate yourself.
    Well said, and this is my take on it as well.

  55. All this has me wondering what ‘extricate’ would mean if it were to be pronounced like ‘intricate’ and used as an adjective…

  56. “pronounced like [the adjective form of] ‘intricate’” that is.

  57. Then there’s logical implication. Nothing underhanded here: If P implies Q, then Q is sort of wrapped or folded up inside P, hidden until you think the matter through.
    In the light of which, the fact that “what are you implying?” and “what are you insinuating?” can be synonymous looks reasonable, or not. I can’t decide.

  58. You can imply without being sneaky.

  59. You can imply without being implicated; comply without being complicated; reply …

  60. used as an adjective
    So used in entomology, apparently.
    pronounced like … intricate
    If the dictionary is to be believed, it’s pronounced the same as the verb.
    Extricatus was a cognomen in Roman Africa. Maybe due to difficult childbirth?

  61. Plywood without being woody.

  62. Supply without being supplicated?

  63. I don’t suppose “applicate” is a word, except in the sense that the odd person back-forms it from “application” from time to time.
    Now that I look into the matter, I see that “apply” and “reply” are related to “imply”, with (1) ply=fold, whereas in “supply” and “comply” (2) ply=full.
    And “complicate”, unlike “comply”, is in the (1) family.
    And “supplicate” is in neither family.
    “Explicate” is in family (1). Do we want a word “exply”?

  64. My gut sense is that “explicate” = “explain”. So “complicate” = “complain”?

  65. You’re like the birthing coach who once told me that her gut sense is that “obstetrician” = “obstruction”.

  66. :0)

  67. @marie-lucie: I always enjoy your thoughtful and informative comments. In my defence, may I quote a great man who once said: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”

  68. marie-lucie says:

    Well, iching, if you put it that way …

  69. Marie-Lucie:

    Cryptoprescriptivists who claim that a preceding comma is the mark of a non-restrictive relative should take note, and learn from a “non-linguist”.

    Noetica, who are those cryptoprescriptivists? I think you are quoting from prescriptivists(,) who insist that a non-restrictive clause should be preceded by a comma, not from linguists, who are not overly concerned with punctuation.
    A cryptoprescriptivist (CPst) is a prescriptivist (Pst) who purports not to be one, either explicitly or simply by railing against prescriptivism.
    Some CPsts stand against advice to use that by default in restrictive relative constructions (RRCs), except where this would be “ungrammatical” (by which I will provisionally mean “usually rejected as ill-formed or non-standard”; I do not accept that the term is otherwise well defined, in most linguists’ usage). So the Pst advice that some CPsts fulminate against (discussed chez LH I think, and passim on the web) would be to prefer this:

    RRC1. The manuscripts that we included were unsigned.

    to this:

    RRC2. The manuscripts which we included were unsigned.

    I am setting aside a version lacking both that and which, which would be widely accepted:

    RRC3. The manuscripts we included were unsigned.

    A case in which use of that would be “ungrammatical”:

    RRC4. *The manuscripts of that we spoke were unsigned.

    Of which is the only relevant accepted usage here:

    RRC5. The manuscripts of which we spoke were unsigned.

    To demand equal status for forms like RRC1 and RRC2 is a kind of unavowed prescriptivism. It is cryptoprescriptivism, and quite as prescriptivist as demanding that RRC1 be preferred to RRC2. Moderate, informed prescriptivism (sought out by many who want to write effective, widely acceptable prose) is not concerned only with what is “grammatical”. It makes a further distinction among “grammatical” constructions: advisable (because more definite, more “natural”-seeming, or less distracting from sense), and inadvisable (because less definite, less “natural”-seeming, or more distracting from sense).
    Some CPsts observe that unrestrictive relative constructions (URCs) overwhelmingly have a comma before the relative (and sometimes a coordinate comma that comes later). Indeed, some insist on such a comma; and it can come to seem that they prescribe it (by burdening it with signalling, all by itself, unrestrictiveness):

    URC1. The manuscripts, which we included, were unsigned.

    The commas, we can agree, distinguish URC1 from RRC2. And all would agree that commas are advisable in this, to distinguish it from RRC5:

    URC2. The manuscripts, of which we spoke, were unsigned.

    But another way – many say a better way – to mark the distinction is to prefer that by default for restrictive constructions, as in RRC1. And there are unrestrictive cases using plain which (see those I flagged in my preceding comment in this thread) where commas would be an unnecessary and fiddly accretion.
    I think you are quoting … not from linguists, who are not overly concerned with punctuation.
    Note that I did not claim to be “quoting from linguists”; but they are the interesting ones, since they sometimes present themselves as the only sources of sound advice in matters of usage – as if there were not also thoughtful editors and reflective writers, or other specialists with something useful to contribute. As for whether linguists are much concerned with punctuation, I agree that most writing on punctuation is by “non-linguists”. (I use scare quotes because I do not accept a binary classification into linguists and non-linguists. Was Partridge a “non-linguist”? He wrote a huge and learned dictionary of slang, a magnificent and painstaking etymological dictionary, and a classic work on punctuation that is at least as careful and analytical as Trask’s: and Trask was a “certified” linguist.) Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist by anyone’s definition, wrote a fine work on punctuation (The Linguistics of Punctuation, 1990, with nevertheless has flaws that I could mention). Pullum and Huddleston’s Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL; 2002) includes a chapter on punctuation by Huddleston, Nunberg, and Briscoe. It is cryptoprescriptivist. Consider this section (with highlighting added):

    Parentheses set the enclosed material apart from the main text in such a way that the latter cannot depend on it for its well-formedness or interpretation. This is why such examples as the following are inadmissible:
    [4]
    i. *Kim (and Pat) have still not been informed.
    ii. *She brought in a loaf of bread (and a jug of wine) and set them on the table.
    iii. *Ed won at Indianapolis (and Sue came in second at Daytona) in the same car.
    iv. *Languages like these (which linguists call “agglutinating”) are of great interest. Agglutinating languages are found in many parts of the world.

    … In [iv] it [the parenthetical element] provides an explanation of the term “agglutinating”, which is used in the following sentence. In all these cases dropping the parenthesised element naturally maintains the anomaly, but dropping the parentheses (with commas substituted in [iv]) removes it.

    Why do the authors use the term inadmissible? It may be from a reluctance to use ungrammatical for “incorrect” use of parentheses and the like. But on a very natural reading inadmissible means “impermissible”, and may therefore be taken as a prescription against certain usages. The examples presented are of very common sorts, in informal and formal contexts. See this from Ralph Penny’s fabulous A History of the Spanish Language (since I know you have that, Marie-Lucie):

    From the mid-nineteenth century onwards, however, and despite their suppression during the Franco era, Catalan (and to a lesser extent Galician) have regained the status of languages of literature and culture. (p. 22; cf. CGEL’s [i] and [ii], above)

    Another from Penny:

    All new vocabulary (except that originating in word-formation) is due to borrowing from a variety of other sources … (p. 29

    This sentence violates CGEL’s principle that the main text not depend on the enclosed material for interpretation, since anyone skimming over the parenthetical would seriously misinterpret the scope of all new vocabulary. In fact this is “worse” than CGEL’s [iv], in which the reader could at least check elsewhere for the meaning of the term agglutinating in the sentence “Agglutinating languages are found in many parts of the world.”
    Next consider CGEL’s own sentence with a parenthetical, highlighted above:

    In all these cases dropping the parenthesised element naturally maintains the anomaly, but dropping the parentheses (with commas substituted in [iv]) removes it.

    If we drop that parenthesised element, this sentence results:

    In all these cases dropping the parenthesised element naturally maintains the anomaly, but dropping the parentheses removes it.

    Well, there is still an “anomaly” in [iv], since this is what we get when we drop the parentheses from it and do nothing else (an interpretation CGEL must allow us):

    iv(mod). ??Languages like these which linguists call “agglutinating” are of great interest. Agglutinating languages are found in many parts of the world.

    Commas would be de rigueur in this (by the lights of GCEL itself) if the sense is to be retained, since which linguists call “agglutinating” is intended to be unrestrictive; but the addition of commas is called for in parentheses, so it cannot be essential to our interpretation of [iv]! (A quibble is possible: A different anomaly remains, not the one we started with. But we can also take anomaly as meaning something less specified, and the authors do not say whether they intend anomaly this way or that. It is they, remember, who are making exquisite distinctions and ruling on what is “admissible”; so it is fair to hold them to their word and to their standards.)
    A relevant quote from Huddleston and Pullum’s shorter work A Student’s Introduction to English Grammar (2005), where I take it that rules for punctuation are included among “grammar rules”:

    Grammar rules must ultimately be based on facts about how people speak and write. If they don’t have that basis, they have no basis at all. The rules are supposed to reflect the language the way it is, and the people who know it and use it are the final authority on that. (p. 5)

    Whether or not we agree with this in all of its implications, it is clear that Huddleston (as editor and author) and Pullum (as editor) go beyond their own principle when it comes to parentheticals, and fall victim to “errors” that they themselves warn against. (Pullum also demands a revisionist and decidedly unpopulist set of terms for the analysis of English grammar – a kind of metacryptoprescriptivism. These terms are not even in accord with most linguists’ usage. But that’s another story.)
    I read and think a great deal about punctuation, broadly construed. I have taught about it, and written instructional material about it. I am generally not impressed by linguists’ deliverances in this area, and I also find fault with all of the prescriptive guides – of which I have a vast collection.
    Consider, by the way, this parenthetical from Penny, whose prose is strewn with fascinating examples:

    … what follows is an (admittedly provisional) attempt … (p. 302)

    Fine: but what if he had wanted to substitute necessarily for admittedly, or summary for attempt (but not both)? Neither an nor a would then work, before the parenthetical. Nunberg in his own book does a good job of surveying this sort of thing, but I think he omits examples where the written form is responsive to the sounds. Consider these concoctions also (perhaps covered well enough by Nunberg):

    *Stu or Bathrobe (or I) is likely to think so.

    *Stu or Bathrobe (or perhaps both) is likely to think so.

    These are interesting, because without parentheses we do have norms for dealing with the difficulty of matching verbs and subjects. The following, with their different punctuation and detailing, are more acceptable than any re-workings retaining parentheses (short of recourse to some common form like might or would):

    Stu, Bathrobe, or perhaps I am likely to think so.

    Stu, Bathrobe, or perhaps both are likely to think so.

    Finally, the chapter of CGEL devoted to punctuation is inadequate in its ontological distinctions (so, I think, is Nunberg’s book). In analysis of punctuation we need not only characters (for which others use the term glyph, these days) and indicators (for which others use the term characters). We need also at least one further level: what I would call “recipes” or “frameworks” for the determinate graphical forms (glyphs), which fit in the hierarchy between the functional abstractions and those final, “concrete” graphical forms that we see on the page or screen. Some of this complexity is suggested by Yannis Haralambous, a splendidly analytical “non-linguist”, in Fonts and Encodings (2007; see especially pp. 54–62, “Philosophical issues: characters and glyphs”).
     

  70. Was Partridge a “non-linguist”? He wrote a huge and learned dictionary of slang, a magnificent and painstaking etymological dictionary, and a classic work on punctuation
    Partridge was not a linguist, he was a teacher and writer with an interest in language. The ability to write fat, even learned, books on language does not make one a linguist. Only completing a professional course of study in the field makes one a linguist. Similarly, reading up on physics and being able to talk sensibly about the field does not make one a physicist. I know this sort of professionalism offends many people, but waving a populist wand does not change the situation. It should go without saying that it would be absurd to assert that only linguists have sensible things to say about language and only they should be allowed to discuss it in public; I myself am a non-linguist who has many sensible things to say about language. But I am not a linguist, and neither was Partridge. Furthermore, his dictionary of slang and etymological dictionary are not trustworthy, though they are full of interesting information; I’m not familiar with his classic work on punctuation.
    As for punctuation, I don’t think it falls within the professional purview of linguists, and I’m very surprised GCEL has a chapter on it; I agree with you that the material you cite is unsatisfactory. You should write a book on it yourself.

  71. marie-lucie says:

    Noetica:
    I don’t know Partridge (except by name), so I am not qualified to comment on his work, but otherwise I second LH’s observations, including his encouragement to you to write on the subject!
    My earlier statement about linguists not being very concerned with punctuation obviously applies to the grammar you refer to – it sounds like the authors felt obliged to include that chapter but did not devote too much time and attention to it.
    So what differentiates a linguist from a non-linguist (apart from an interest in languages)? “Linguist” is not a defined, regulated professional designation such as “dentist” – anyone can call themselves a linguist – but generally a linguist should have at least an MA in linguistics. Linguistic training focuses on general principles and techniques; it includes phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics (the “core” areas), with sample data not just from one or two languages (including one’s own) but from a wide variety of languages; in addition, a linguist should at least be familiar with pragmatics, sociolinguistics, historical linguistics (currently an unfortunately neglected area), neurolinguistics, child language development and second language learning (I am probably forgetting a few others). Most introductory textbooks touch on all of these topics, but someone specializing in linguistics also takes dedicated courses in all of the core areas (sometimes more than one course), in some of the secondary areas, and usually in other languages or families, not to acquire a speaking knowledge – although that could be a personal goal – but to become familiar with linguistic structures quite different from those of their own language. The goal of linguistic training is to equip a person to analyze and describe the complete structure of a language (including their own). This has many practical applications in language teaching (including the first language), language planning (especially important in places with many local languages and little literacy), speech therapy, translation, and many others.
    Right now many linguistics programs are heavily weighted towards theoretical syntax, because of the continuing influence of Chomsky’s theories, and sometimes syntax tends to crowd out other areas. The goal of theoretical syntax is not to describe languages but to try to discover the “universal grammar” presumably underlying all existing languages and supposed to be “hardwired” in the brain. “UG” is not based on a comprehensive survey of the languages of the world, but basically on English, and it has almost nothing to contribute to the historical study of language. Many linguists are unhappy with this orientation, which downplays and downgrades the importance of an all-around approach to language and languages, as well as the insights to be gained from the practical applications of linguistics.

  72. Someone should mention that Noetica has written extensively on Wikipedia about punctuation. I remember reading and absorbing his serial comma piece and others — all very readable but still technically complex — long before I knew who he was from this forum. And I have yet to finish ploughing through Strunk & White or Fowler’s.

  73. Thanks for mentioning that; what name does he go by on Wikipedia? I looked over the revision history for the serial comma article and didn’t see him.

  74. Here’s a user page. Maybe it was WP’s manual of style, but probably not. There was a highly entertaining war over em dashes at one point–some Australians or someone banned, one of those Hitler bunker YouTube takeoffs, etc.–but I’ll never find it again. Someone should write a screenplay.

  75. Now I’m wondering if I should have posted that link.

  76. aqilluqqaaq says:

    Many linguists are unhappy with this orientation, which downplays and downgrades the importance of an all-around approach to language and languages, as well as the insights to be gained from the practical applications of linguistics.
    I’m one of the unhappy ones, but for a different reason. Chomsky’s influence, as one of the two dominant (and most damaging) strains of scientism to have blighted the study of language in the last fifty years (the other is Quine), extends beyond syntax into semantics too, played a major role in developing so-called ‘cognitive science’, and in general led to the rise of what Malcolm called “a new tribe of philosophic savages”.
    It’s not just the reductionism (reductivism), and speculative a priorism that prompted the judgement, but the revisionary and vulgarizing treatment of the preceding tradition, which, had they engaged with it in good faith, might have forestalled its worst excesses.

  77. Hear, hear!

  78. marie-lucie says:

    aqilluqqaaq: I am not very philosophically inclined, but I agree with your comment too.

  79. LH:
    Partridge was not a linguist, he was a teacher and writer with an interest in language. The ability to write fat, even learned, books on language does not make one a linguist.
    Fair enough. I only ask the question, but I propose no definite answer. We agree that valuable contributions to the study of language come from varied sources. I don’t agree with you or Marie-Lucie that there is a single good definition of linguist. Both of you take a standard “professionalist” line, founded in current Western linguistics as a regimented science (understanding that term cautiously). According to a strict application of such a line, Rameau might not be judged a musicologist, Galileo a physicist, Hippocrates a physician, or Empedocles or Hume philosophers. A less time-bound definition would rule otherwise. The explicit defining is all.
    But I am not a linguist, and neither was Partridge. Furthermore, his dictionary of slang and etymological dictionary are not trustworthy, though they are full of interesting information; I’m not familiar with his classic work on punctuation.
    But you and Partridge are fine counterexamples to any simple binary classification (or more generally, discrete classification). Of course you have great and enviable competence in current “establishment” linguistics; and Partridge did not write without backing from prevalent theory of his time. As for his works not being trustworthy, I agree: but I am a doubter when it comes to most dictionaries, including those with “official” linguists among their consultants. The terminology of current linguistics is itself neither well explicated nor uniform. Even major terms (morphology; phonology versus phonetics) are disputed, when they are examined with detachment at all.
    Nunberg et al. (in CGEL, p. 1771) list “non-linguists” prominently in their sources, including Partridge. They are not au courant with much recent controversy over details in punctuation, though they cover the major well-tried issues quite well. They mention chapter 5 of Chicago (14th edition) as a source, calling it “one of the most comprehensive guides to English punctuation”; but they ignore its follies and foibles, and the extended travesty of reason to be found in that edition’s chapter 10, where the conformation and deployment of ellipsis points are discussed (10.48–10.63). They are silent, for example, on capitalisation after ellipses, and about their comportment with terminal and other punctuation. They use the very term punctuation mark equivocally (like practically everyone else):

    We suggested above that the primary function of the question and exclamation marks is to indicate status rather than boundaries, and this is reflected in the fact that they differ from the terminal full stop in being able to occur medially, internally within a sentence, and to be followed by other punctuation marks: … (p. 1731)

    A full stop can of course be followed a closing parenthesis, square bracket, or quotation mark (defined in the chapter’s very first sentence, p. 1724, as “punctuation marks”).
    Though they justify giving “greater weight to the prescriptions of major style manuals” (p. 1727) than elsewhere in CGEL, they mention no British prescriptive source later than Partridge (1953), even though the punctuation of CGEL cleaves to British more than to American norms. And the misspelling of “Summey (1949)” as “Sumney (1949)” is repeated from Nunberg’s work of twelve years before. They appear to make up at least one term without signalling it as their own invention (long hyphen), or alternatively pointing to a source. Their treatment of linebreaks and spaces between words and the like (along with text-marking such as italics) as quasi-punctuation is decidedly more impressionistic than that of Grevisse and Goosse (Le Bon Usage, 14th edition, 2008). It shows no evidence of familiarity with the rich typographical subtleties in spacing of elements in a line of text, seeming to be rooted in an Edwardian or MLA- world of typewriters and rosewood pipes (as if there were fixed “positions” on a line, that could be either occupied or unoccupied). A fortiori, the authors are silent about text other than on the printed page: even in 2002 significantly divergent in its demands and protocols. Finally, their application in the graphic domain of the distinction between segmental and suprasegmental elements is arguably inconsistent, unjustified, or unhelpful. Rigorous linguistic scholarship? Trustworthy?
    You should write a book on it yourself.
    [Shhh ...]

  80. A full stop can of course be followed a closing parenthesis, square bracket, or quotation mark (defined in the chapter’s very first sentence, p. 1724, as “punctuation marks”).
    I reckon a full stop can also be followed by an em dash. –No?

  81. Or, if you prefer, a couple of hyphens.

  82. Modesto and Hat:
    Relying on those as “admissible” obscures the point against the implication in Nunberg et al.
    First, I wanted to show cases of a “terminal full stop” followed by another punctuation mark without even a space intervening, in common usage. They effectively claim that this does not happen, distinguishing the terminal full stop from the question mark and the exclamation mark. The dash (as used at the level of sentence punctuation, such as in Modesto’s example) may or may not have some sort of a space before it, depending on personal or house style, or typographic implementation. Second, LH’s addition of “a couple of hyphens” as a separate case becomes problematic when we consider the authors’ distinction between “indicator” and “character”, since those hyphens would simply be an alternative realisation of the same dash indicator. Third, if we allow an intervening space we do not respect what the authors more reasonably assumed as understood. After all, at the end of most sentences a full stop is often followed even by an opening quotation mark, parenthesis, or square bracket – with a space intervening. (Don’t get me started on ellipsis points, in all of this.)
    The point against the authors concerned inaccuracy. They could have escaped censure by amending their wording to this:

    … this is reflected in the fact that they differ from the terminal full stop in being able to occur medially, internally within a sentence, sometimes immediately followed by a comma, a semicolon, a colon, or perhaps even an exclamation mark, a question mark, or a terminal full stop: …

    They, like any critics of their formulation, have no need to introduce any problem cases such as the dash.
    There is more to analyse in the uses to which Nunberg at al. put their “indicator–character” distinction, but not right now. And perhaps not here.

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