THE BOOKSHELF: FOWLER CLASSIC.

I have loved H. W. Fowler’s A Dictionary of Modern English Usage ever since I snagged a beat-up copy of the 1926 first edition at a library sale almost forty years ago. I was never interested in the successive revisions, first by Ernest Gowers and then (actually a rewriting) by Robert Burchfield; they diluted Fowler’s dry wit and vigorously stated opinions without producing a guide I considered truly modern and usable. Now Oxford has come out with A Dictionary of Modern English Usage: The Classic First Edition, of which they were kind enough to send me a copy, and I am happy to report it includes the best of both worlds, keeping Fowler’s original text unchanged while adding a superb introduction and a concluding section of notes updating some 300 entries, both by David Crystal. He begins his introduction with a brief description of the origin of the work, then plunges into an analysis of “the climate of the time”:

The growth of comparative philology in the early nineteenth century had led to an explosion of interest in the history of language and languages, and one of the consequences was the increased study of English and its regional varieties… It was also a great age of individualists. In 1873 Isaac Pitman founded his Phonetic Institute in Bath, advocating the importance of shorthand and spelling reform… The focus on everyday speech in all its bewildering diversity was in sharp contrast to the educational ethos of the period, with its concentration on written texts… Fowler was thus writing at a time when the prescriptive approach to language was beginning to lose its pedagogical dominance and yet was attracting fresh levels of support from the literary elite. Revising his Dictionary for final publication in the early 1920s, he plainly felt the tension between the traditional focus on a small set of words, pronunciations, and grammatical usages, as indicators of ‘correct’ linguistic behaviour, and the diverse and changing realities of the way educated people actually used language in their everyday lives. Many of his entries comment upon it, and, as we shall see, he was not entirely sure how to deal with it.

Crystal says that Fowler is often taken as “the apotheosis of the prescriptive approach,” but points out that “this is a considerable oversimplification. He turns out to be far more sophisticated in his analysis of language than most people realize. Several of his entries display a concern for descriptive accuracy which would do any modern linguist proud.” In the section on pronunciation, for instance, he says “we deserve not praise but censure if we decline to accept the popular pronunciation of popular words.” And, as Crystal writes, “he defends the spelling of halyard ‘not on etymological grounds, but as established by usage’, adding the wry comment, ’tilting against established perversions . . . is vanity in more than one sense’.” But:

The problem in reading Fowler is that one never knows which way he is going to vote. Is he going to allow a usage because it is widespread, or is he going to condemn it for the same reason? … The impression the entries give is that Fowler considers to be idiomatic what he himself uses. Usages he does not like are given such labels as ‘ugly’ (e.g. at historicity) or even ‘evil’ (e.g. at respectively).

He continues with a good deal of acute analysis of Fowler’s choices, prejudices, and insights, presenting some striking examples of contradictions: Fowler sensibly rejects letting etymology define meaning, then turns around and expresses “strong support for the maintenance of earlier meanings of a word, such as at aggravate, transpire, and meticulous (a ‘wicked word’).” The introduction ends with a brief summing up of “the status of Fowler.” Crystal has written the best discussion of Fowler that I have seen or, really, can imagine.
His end notes are very useful, providing pointers to how things have changed since Fowler’s day and, in some cases, when he went astray:

rapport ‘will not be missed in English’
    This is an example where Fowler’s sense of usefulness let him down. Far from the word being allowed to disappear, it increased in usefulness. Most of the OED citations are from the twentieth century.

In short, this is not the book to get if you simply want a reliable style guide for current use—that would be Merriam-Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage—but if you want to explore the ideas of one of the most interesting thinkers about English style in the early twentieth century, guided by a reliable modern linguist, this would be an excellent acquisition.
I have to point out that Crystal himself gets one thing wrong in his introduction: when he says Fowler indulges in the emphatic use of literally that he elsewhere condemns in the negotiate entry, where he writes that a usage “stamps a writer as literarily [sic] a barbarian,” his sic is needless and his point nugatory, because Fowler is not using literally at all. Fowler would never have said that the use of negotiate in the disfavored sense “stamps a writer as literally a barbarian”; he wrote “literarily” and he meant “literarily”: such usage stamps a writer as a barbarian with regard to literary style.

Comments

  1. marie-lucie says:

    where he writes that a usage “stamps a writer as literarily [sic] a barbarian,” his sic is needless and his point nugatory, because Fowler is not using literally at all.
    Perhaps Crystal thought that most people would interpret Fowler’s use of literarily as a mistake for literally, so he used sic not in order to point out a mistake but to prevent one. (For instance, an editor or preview reader may have made that mistake of interpretation).

  2. Jan Freeman says:

    No, LH is right — Crystal is accusing Fowler of using (and misspelling!) “literally.” I noticed the same error last night, reading Crystal’s intro, and thought, how odd that he can consciously mark “literarily” with that [sic] and not stop to think that it’s a perfectly good word itself, not a mistake for another word. But even Homer nods; it is indeed a wonderful essay otherwise.

  3. rootlesscosmo says:

    Fowler’s opinions, style, and punctuation are very distinctive. Here’s a fairly representative example:
    “To say a French word in the middle of an English sentence exactly as it would be said by a Frenchman in a French sentence is a feat demanding an acrobatic mouth; the muscles have to be suddenly adjusted to a performance of a different nature, & after it as suddenly recalled to the normal state; it is a feat that should not be attempted; the greater its success as a tour de force, the greater its failure as a step in the conversational progress; for your collocutor, aware that he could not have done it himself, has his attention distracted whether he admires or is humiliated.” As Mark Twain said about a passage in Cooper, ain’t it a daisy?

  4. marie-lucie says:

    I agree with rootlesscosmo’s quote. If I say an English word (for instance a name) in the middle of a French sentence, my pronunciation of the English word ends up quite different from my pronunciation of the same word in the middle of an English sentence (even though I would not be taken for a native English speaker).

  5. rootlesscosmo says:

    @marie-lucie: I agree, Fowler makes sense (to me) on this point. What I particularly like, though, is the tone (to which I think the semicolons contribute a vital element.) Heaven may be the place where you can hear bits of Fowler being read by the late Dame Edith Evans, in her character of Lady Bracknell.

  6. marie-lucie says:

    rootlesscosmo, I know that you meant the style and tone rather than the content, but I found the content interesting too.
    I haven’t seen Lady Bracknell played by anyone, but I can appreciate the choice of Dame Edith Evans as a reader.

  7. rootlesscosmo says:

    We’re getting farther and farther from Hat’s post, but I do want to put in a word for that 1952 film version, directed by Anthony Asquith, with Michael Redgrave, Margaret Rutherford, Dorothy Tutin, and Joan Greenwood as Gwendolen Fairfax. They’e all so good it’s kind of pointless to remake it; Reese Witherspoon was badly miscast, but even the 1980′s BBC version with Joan Plowright as Lady B. was disappointing–she seemed to be doing the same performance as Dame Edith, but about 20 percent faster, when the pace, as of a dreadnaught changing course, was part of the fun.

  8. There also was a cheap Wordsworth edition of the book (1st ed.) published some time ago. You won’t, however, get Crystal’s introduction or notes with it.

  9. I got my Fowler in the 60s. One of his strictures, that against elegant variation, considerably influenced my own style. Here is one of Fowler’s examples, quoted from The Times, in another of his books The King’s English:

    “The Emperor received yesterday and to-day General Baron von Beck… It may therefore be assumed with some confidence that the terms of a feasible solution are maturing themselves in His Majesty’s mind and may form the basis of further negotiations with Hungarian party leaders when the Monarch goes again to Budapest.”
    Fowler objected to this passage because The Emperor, His Majesty, and the Monarch all refer to the same person: “the effect”, he pointed out in Modern English Usage, “is to set readers wondering what the significance of the change is, only to conclude that there is none.”

    I once made a fool of myself by slavishly applying a sort of corollary to the principle that had gotten lodged in my unconscious mind. The corollary is: there are still cases in which very similar words really do mean different things, namely when they point out subtle distinctions. Examples in mathematics of the empty kind: homomorphism, homeomorphism.
    Back in the early 80s, in an article on economics in (I think) The International Herald Tribune, there was a paragraph saying that three different indexes were changing: one “at a clip of x”, another “at the rate of y”, another “at the unusual pace of z”. I wrote to the editors, asking in a serious tone what distinctions they were drawing between clip, rate and pace – possibly one was the first derivative (rate of change), another was the second derivative (rate at which the first rate changes)? I never got a reply. It gradually dawned on me that the words were just elegant variations on each other.
    In one sense, this merely exemplifies what Fowler writes about the effect of elegant variation: it sets readers wondering what the significance of the change is, only to conclude that there is none. But it also shows just how pernicious elegant variation can be in a mathematical or scientific context where one is actually expecting precise distinctions.
    In the case of Emperor / Monarch / His Majesty, it’s fairly obvious that the distinctions are irrelevant. Or is it? In the recent T/V thread, it was shown how apparent synonyms can point up distinctions significant in the wider context: first it’s “Gwendolen” and “Cecily”, later it’s “Miss Cardew” and “Miss Fairfax”. This can of course become an arbitrarily complex issue, say in translation – what is “without let or hindrance” in German?
    Crystal characterizes Fowler as a kind of sophisticated “linguist” with a surprisingly “modern” concern for descriptive accuracy. But forget the “modern” bit. Descriptive accuracy is not all that can be gained from his books. We can go further, and regard them as pleasant, instructive examples of being urbane about urbanity.
    The WiPe on elegant variation contains an unfortunate example of schoolmarmy, suburbane improvement on the past:

    In the 1920s, when Fowler coined the term “elegant variation”, the word elegant had a since-lost pejorative connotation of “precious over-refinement”. In The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style, Bryan Garner unambiguously renamed the term inelegant variation.

  10. David Crystal’s assessment of what Fowler considered to be idiomatic reminds me of Evelyn Waugh’s celebrated line: “Everyone has always regarded any usage but his own as either barbarous or pedantic.”
    Luckily Fowler was an astute judge of style, and even when his opinions seem ill-founded, their expression is entertaining. I like all three editions of ADMEU — or two editions and a revision — but Fowler’s original has an idiosyncratic wit and distinctive appeal all to itself. I look forward to reading Mr Crystal’s contribution.

  11. Here’s a version, played on the wireless, by Edith Evans & John Gielgud.
    I like the idea that there was an unfashionable side of Belgrave Square.

  12. Bryan Garner unambiguously renamed the term inelegant variation.
    To me this is a poorly formulated English sentence. But it reminds me of the way “adverbs” are often used in German as seemingly free-floating meaning-indicators. That is, they say something about some part of what the sentence is about, but have no evident syntactical link to that part. This must have something to do with the fact that adjectival and adverbial forms of German words are indistinguishable apart from inflection: klar is “clear” or “clearly”, depending on syntactic context. Sometimes “adjectives” – i.e. words describing some property of a thing – appear in the guise of adverbs. Syntactically they appear to be (uninflected) “adverbs”, although they do not describe “the manner in which something is done, the time at which something happened” etc.
    You could say that German permits a great deal of impressionistic, paratactic daubing. And to think that I used to regard German syntax as the pineapple of explicit syntactical well-formedness! Back then, I hadn’t noticed the “adverb”/”adjective” business.
    What is wrong with the above quoted sentence? Well, it’s the expression “elegant variation” that is supposed to be ambiguous. The renaming is neither ambiguous not unambiguous, it’s just a renaming. And it is not the term “elegant variation” that was renamed, but the phenomenon that Fowler described as elegant variation.
    Better:
    Renaming the phenomenon [for clarity], Bryan Garner calls it “inelegant variation”.
    Bryan Garner renamed the phenomenon to “inelegant variation”, which is unambiguous.
    Bryan Garner replaced the term by the unambiguous “inelegant variation”.
    What reminded me of German is that “unambiguously” is here being used in the sense of “renamed for clarity”, i.e. it indeed refers to the (purpose of the) renaming, not to the term “elegant variation”. There’s nothing wrong in principle with using “unambiguously” in that way. I just think “unambiguously renamed the term” is infelicitous, particularly because it’s not the term that is being renamed.

  13. Grumbly, I see what you mean, but I’m sure you still agree that Fowler was right about the Times’ piece.
    It is obvious that it’s about the Kaiser, and that made me wonder: after Disraeli made Queen Victoria Empress of India why were British monarchs never commonly known as “the Emperor” or “the Empress”?

  14. played on the wireless
    The “wireless” ??!!

  15. Crown, of course I agree with Fowler. I was merely giving an example of just how pernicious elegant variation can be, not just annoyingly superfluous.

  16. At Amazon UK (where it was slightly cheaper), I saw a little video of David Crystal talking about the book. You can hear his slight Liverpool accent that he discusses in “The Fight for English”.

  17. … Forgot the link.

  18. My mother still always says “the wireless”; it only creeps back into my speech when I’ve been listening to Lady Bracknell.

  19. I’ve always had a secret longing to be like Lady Bracknell, so that I could speak like her – pull off that super-octave intonation-slide on words like “found?” and “a handbag?”. What do you suppose that means? Lack of self-esteem? Or too much of it, but lacking the accoutrements?

  20. This must have something to do with the fact that adjectival and adverbial forms of German words are indistinguishable apart from inflection: klar is “clear” or “clearly”, depending on syntactic context.

    Exactly; like “clear” and “clearly” are indistinguishable apart from the “ly” on the end of the latter. Inflection is not really an afterthought in German, even if it’s avoided with predicative adjectives.

  21. The 2002 Earnest has Judy Dench’s definitive Lady Bracknell and also makes clear how great a debt Wilde owed PG Wodehouse. Better still, the direction is not especially for the stage first and screen a distant second.
    Progress!

  22. But “-ly” is not an inflectional form in English, if only because English contains no case inflection. Maybe I’m not using “inflection” properly here. What I meant in German are things like klaren, klarem, which are forms that “adjectives” take.
    Here is an example of the kind of “parataxis” I mean. The sense is clear, but I myself avoid speaking like this:
    Wissenssoziologisch und epistemologisch muß man diese Aussagen in je anderem Licht bewerten

  23. Inflection is not really an afterthought in German, even if it’s avoided with predicative adjectives.
    An excellent point! At first I didn’t understand what you meant. This is something various people in Hat threads, including myself, have stressed again and again: speaking and understanding a language can only in a very restricted sense be described as application of rules to convert semantics into syntax.

  24. I think all of us have a secret desire to be Lady Bracknell, Grumbly.

  25. Heaven may be the place where you can hear bits of Fowler being read by the late Dame Edith Evans, in her character of Lady Bracknell.
    Good call! I tried reading it aloud using my best Bracknell imitation, and enjoyed the result no end. I urge everyone who hasn’t seen the 1952 film that rootlesscosmo mentions to remedy the lack as soon as possible. Dame Edith Evans is the apotheosis of, well, whatever you would call Lady Bracknell. (She won’t care what you call her, since you are too far beneath her to notice.)

  26. how great a debt Wilde owed PG Wodehouse
    What kind of a debt? According to Wikipedia, Wilde died in 1900 when Wodehouse was 19 and unknown as a writer.

  27. My wife was subjected to elegant variation in the long ago, when a secretary typed her manuscript. “Statistically significant” duly became “statistically interesting”, and then became “numerically important”, and so on. All at the 95% level, of course.

  28. Well, except for AJP, of course; she respects a crown. Which reminds me:
    In the case of Emperor / Monarch / His Majesty, it’s fairly obvious that the distinctions are irrelevant.
    Not necessarily. Well, “fairly” obvious, I suppose, assuming you are analyzing as you read, but the fact is that slight differences in nomenclature can indicate very different people. Somewhere in Tolstoy he mentions “His Imperial Highness” and “His Imperial Majesty” (or something like that) in close succession, and if you were a nineteenth-century Russian reader you would know that one was the Emperor’s brother and the other the Emperor himself, but the modern reader requires a helpful pointer.

  29. Fowler’s phrase “sturdy indefensibles” has been rattling around in my brain giving me pleasure for many years.

  30. in (I think) The International Herald Tribune, there was a paragraph saying that three different indexes were changing: one “at a clip of x”, another “at the rate of y”, another “at the unusual pace of z”.
    Grumbly: No mystery why they used three different words for rate, it’s standard journalistic practice to try to avoid repeating the same word in a sentence. Your letter to the editor would have gone straight into File 13 as pedantic.
    The Kaiser, Emperor, Monarch thing is the same.

  31. it’s standard journalistic practice to try to avoid repeating the same word in a sentence
    Which is precisely what Fowler is complaining about.

  32. No mystery why they used three different words for rate, it’s standard journalistic practice to try to avoid repeating the same word in a sentence.
    Paul: they were not in the same sentence, but in the same paragraph. In the wider context of the article, as far as I remember, certain first and second derivative rates of change* had been cited. I mean like, hey, I’m not stupid, right? There was something about the concrete phrasing of the sentences with “clip”, “pace” and “rate” in that paragraph that made me uncertain as to what they meant exactly. Of course I know that “clip”, “pace” and “rate” are generally synonymous. That was my Fowler point.
    There are other evil possibilities in elegant variation that are much exploited by journalists to make statements whose meaning is not clear. Often, in newspapers or on the news, you will hear expressions such as 1) “inflation growth is now down by 0.2%”. I think many people take this to mean (if they think about it at all) 2) “inflation is now down by 0.2%”. But of course 1) means the rate at which the inflation rate is changing.
    Assume annual inflation is at 2% and is currently increasing by 0.5% annually. Then even after a decrease of 0.2% in the annual growth rate (making it now 0.3%), inflation will still be above 2% and will increase year after year.
    Clarity could be achieved by saying, instead of 1), something like 3) “although the rate at which the inflation rate is increasing has slowed down a bit, the inflation rate is still increasing”. Or 4) “the inflation acceleration rate is slightly less, but inflation itself is still increasing”. But nobody wants to hear that, because too many words are repeated, or there are too many of them to take in between television commercials. Also, your bowl of popcorn needs refilling.
    *Example: velocity is the first derivative of a position vector with respect to time. It tells you at what rate the position of something is changing over time. Acceleration is the derivative of velocity, i.e. the second derivative of the position vector. It tells you at what rate the velocity is changing over time.

  33. I just had a Lady Bracknell thought. In order to be able to concentrate on inelegantly repeated words in tv newscasts, one needs servants to replenish the popcorn bowl, and replace the empty beer bottle by a full one.

  34. marie-lucie says:

    Grumbly, clarity would be achieved if the journalists knew what they were talking about, in this case elementary statistics, which is not taught in school. (My own knowledge does not go beyond the very elementary level). It is easier to repeat a statement you don’t understand than to clarify it (and also safer, if you are not sure what it really means – at least those in the know will be able to interpret it).

  35. It is easier to repeat a statement you don’t understand than to clarify it
    Sometimes translators try to apply a similar principle, but it seldom works. “Repeat what you don’t understand”, along with a belief in parts of speech, gave us many an unintelligible passage in the King James Bible.
    My mother has always been heavily involved various kinds of Christianity, and her father was a Baptist preacher. I remember once wondering, when I was a kid, why different groups of people keep issuing new translations of the bible.
    Only much later, confronted with quotes from the KJV that I didn’t understand, did I discover that some of the newer translations are concerned to put sense into passages that were simply not understood at the beginning of the 17th century.

  36. So journalists measure acceleration in feet-per-second-per-moment, and then call moment ‘leverage’?

  37. I think it’s generally accepted that beverages-per-second provide a certain leverage in understanding matters of moment, such as football games.

  38. newer translations are concerned to put sense into passages that were simply not understood at the beginning of the 17th century
    It’s not so much that the language of those translations wasn’t understood at that time, but that the language has changed and, like the language of Shakespeare, is not understood now. Many words of that period of history are no longer used, and others have changed their meanings. The RSV identified some 300 of these words. For someone who belongs to a denomination with a literalist view of the Bible, that is, the view that the Bible was written word for word by the exact hand of God and not by earthly editors, knowing what that Word means is doubly important.

  39. Nijma, not for nothing did I write “some of the newer translations”. No unilinear ranking of purposes is appropriate here, along the lines of your “not so much that … but that”. Various translations have been made for various, multiple purposes.

  40. It’s not so much that the language of those translations wasn’t understood at that time
    That’s not what he said. He said, in the very bit that you quoted, “passages that were simply not understood at the beginning of the 17th century.” Passages, that is to say, in Greek and Hebrew. Obviously “the language of those translations” was understood when they were made.

  41. The WiPe article on the Revised Standard Version of the bible has an amusing picture of a bible standing in the corner of an otherwise empty bookshelf. It might well be a picture of the complimentary bible in a standard hotel room.

  42. I was reminded of our debate about the Western media’s obsession with identifying sexual proclivities when I read that some folks apply an “Isaiah 7:14 litmus test” for a quick estimation of the probity of an English bible edition. All depends on whether you find “young woman” or “virgin” there. Nowadays, one is not so much concerned with state as with process.

  43. David Marjanović says:

    This must have something to do with the fact that adjectival and adverbial forms of German words are indistinguishable apart from inflection: klar is “clear” or “clearly”, depending on syntactic context.

    No, you simply need to think in completely different (but no less strict) categories, because these categories are something where German differs from Standard Average European (or Indo-European for that matter).
    First, let me take you on a long journey, to a construction Marie-Lucie is familiar with, and LH knows from Georgian, but most of us don’t know about. I mean the most common alternative to the distinction between “I” and “me”. Compare D and E here.
    Now that you’ve mastered the agent/experiencer/patient distinction, behold the likewise threefold distinction of:
    – words modifying a noun;
    – words being equated to a noun (with a copula hanging around somewhere, if the language in question has such a thing) – the predicative function;
    – words modifying a verb or adjective.
    Standard Average European merges the first and the second (“adjective”) and keeps the third separate (“adverb”).
    German, with the exception of the Highest Alemannic dialects in central Switzerland, merges the second and the third instead (marked by absence of declension, so that such words look like English adjectives) and keeps the first separate (and declines it). The dictionary form is the undeclined form (like klar).
    This difference makes learning anything but Chinese a major pain in the ass for native speakers of German. (Chinese merges all three.)
    Traditionally, the undeclined form is called “adverb” in German grammar and the other is called “adjective”, and that’s where your confusion comes from. However, the term “adverb” was not used at all for German when I went to school.
    Now, I’ve read a paper on the history of this phenomenon. For instance, in the 16th and/or 17th century, somewhere in central Germany people dropped the ending from neuter adjectives (still seen in the many church songs with come from that period and region) and apparently, on occasion, from the other genders, too; and an overlapping set of people marked adverbs with -lich, which was even prescribed by some prescriptivists – had the standardization of German taken a slightly different turn, it would by now look like English in this respect.

    My wife was subjected to elegant variation in the long ago, when a secretary typed her manuscript. “Statistically significant” duly became “statistically interesting”, and then became “numerically important”, and so on. All at the 95% level, of course.

    Wow. I’d have resorted to violence.

    Grumbly, clarity would be achieved if the journalists knew what they were talking about

    <applause>

  44. that’s where your confusion comes from
    David: what confusion? I wan’t aware of being confused about anything. Is that part of my confusion? Should I see a psycholinguist?
    As far as I can tell, “adjectival and adverbial forms of German words are indistinguishable apart from inflection” is just a grumblayman’s version of the davidian “German … merges the second and the third [distinction]“, namely
    – words being equated to a noun (with a copula hanging around somewhere, if the language in question has such a thing) – the predicative function;
    – words modifying a verb or adjective.

    Looking at your link, I failed to reach the plateau where one has “mastered the agent/experiencer/patient distinction”. Maybe that’s not so important, since the distinction is apparently intended to help dispel the confusion in which I am said to be, but do not myself see.
    What is all that stuff about “ergative case” and “intransitive case”? The only motivation for these concepts that I find at your link is: “a good linguist on the other hand learns that there are many different ways of doing things”. Well, I knew that already, without being a linguist good or bad.
    Grmmph.

  45. David Marjanović says:

    Grmmph.

    Whatever.

  46. It just occurs to me: was your point perhaps simply to explain how one can profitably regard a phenomenon such as “adjectival and adverbial forms of German words are indistinguishable apart from inflection”, in a wider context?
    I know that someday I’ll have to understand this ergative and intransitive case business. But the presentation at your link is not the first attempt to explain it that I’ve seen, and failed to understand. Perhaps it would make more sense if I knew something about a non-Standard-Average-European langauge, but I don’t.

  47. I’ve been taking a look at Hungarian; there seem to be literally three times as many cases as Latin has. Is there some part of Hungarian where you can say, for instance “but on the other hand there are only three verbs and one tense, so you save some time there”?

  48. Passages, that is to say, in Greek and Hebrew.
    How could Greek and Hebrew not be understood in 17th century? Didn’t they have Latin translations since at least Erasmus? Sure, there is always new scholarship when manuscripts are discovered, and translations would presumably get more accurate all the time, but they’ll probably never completely reveal the thinking of antiquity.
    All depends on whether you find “young woman” or “virgin” there.
    “Young woman” is the same as “virgin”. Otherwise they are, as AJP would say, an ex young woman. That’s the idea behind “honor” killings. If an Arab wants to ask someone if they are a virgin, and they do it all the time, they use the word bint بنت “girl” or “daughter”. AFAIK, American men do not prefer virgins, but Arab men most definitely do. If you look again at the biblical story, Joseph decides to “marry her quietly”. As her fiancé, Joseph could have had Mary put to death.

  49. Crown, I thought the notion of Hungarian having “three times as many cases as Latin” had been sufficiently trashed in the recent Hungarians everywhere you look thread. Even I, without a word of Hungarian, can see that it can’t be helpful to talk about the “superessive, delative, sublative, inessive, elative, illative, adessive etc. cases in Hungarian”. That’s because there wouldn’t be any Hungarians if they had to learn their language in those terms.
    According to the WiPe on Hungarian, it can be regarded as a programming language. The stuff that “comes after” a noun stem is just a bunch of positionally well-defined parameters, each of which means a certain thing: “superessive” = on top of (I guess), etc. The article says something like there is a strict order in which these things can occur, when more than one occurs.
    I can vaguely imagine that, because I have a sort of semantico-spatial sense of German cases, a pinball machine model. Things roll into and out of the dative, they knock up against the accusative, you get points subtracted or added in the genitive, and the main things get shot out in the nominative.

  50. Oh, thanks. Sorry, I must have skipped that.

  51. There are various reasons for choosing a particular biblical translation to read. I suspect the most important one is the sense of poetry one gets from the words. I will choose a different translation depending on whether I want to read for enjoyment or for meaning.
    the complimentary bible in a standard hotel room
    Gideon International uses mostly KJV.

  52. a pinball machine model
    That’s great, Stu. It would work well by, with or from the ablative in Latin too.

  53. “Young woman” is the same as “virgin”
    Nijma, I think you’re missing the point, which is not about English or Arabic, and only indirectly about intact hymens. It is directly about the implications of certain Hebrew and Greek words which, at various places in previous English versions of the OT and NT, have been variously translated as “young woman” and “virgin”. You might care to read the section headed “The Isaiah 7:14 dispute” in the Revised Standard Version article.
    How could Greek and Hebrew not be understood in 17th century?
    Why do you balk at that statement as it stands? Do you have evidence to the contrary? Are you perhaps working from “first principles”, i.e. from a model of what the world should have been and is like, with any need to know more about it in detail?

  54. It would work well by, with or from the ablative in Latin too
    Akkurat!! I mentioned once that I found Latin syntax much easier to confront, once I had learned German. It was particularly the ablative that I had in mind.

  55. i don’t mean to imply that I can now get high scores playing Latin. I merely meant to say that now I know to approach Latin as the pinball machine that it is, just a different model from the German one.

  56. We have made progress, the underlying derivative of rate, it is a house that one cannot pay the increased payment due the pace that the bankers need to collect as they have been clipped by the other bankers.

  57. [above]: … *without* any need to know about it in more detail

  58. Sorry, I must have skipped that.
    There will be a test, you know.

  59. “pinball machine”, “only Chinese and German”:
    Conclusive evidence for us to suggest that ultimately the languages of the world can be broken down into two families: the atavistic and the ataristic.

  60. I’m sad to report that I didn’t get to see Patricia Routledge in Earnest when she was in Bath.
    Damn my unculturedness.

  61. Joerg - hoping to comment from within the 95%-interval says:

    Seriously, though, I don’ get why dearieme’s example of “inelegant variation” and the Kaiser-related quote are supposed to be the same thing. The first is not inelegant but dumb, whereas the second is basically neutral. Prescribing against it has a very Strunkish feel to me. Yes, variation is a form of Whitening in that you shall not paint your walls any specific color and so are best advised to stick with the default – which you arrive at when you touch all the lexical bases at least once -, but forcing people into picking a style who’d better not option away their linguistic memory comes across as bad advice in my book (and I sure belong among these people).
    I definitely like to think of repetition as a stylistic means rather than an obligation. Referential integrity is another matter entirely – one of lexical rights and semantic wrongs (There, I did it! And this time for no other reason than to annoy you – just like the people who isolate phrases, sentence fragments and even single words in their own little linguistic containers as if to demonstrate that they have not only a point to make but an infinity of dots at their disposal to reinforce it.)
    So please don’t discriminate against a psycholinguistic strategy I occasionally enjoy employing. Variation often qualifies as the journalistic equivalent of whitespace. Computer programmers will have an idea of what can happen when you eliminate it.

  62. I share Fowler’s peevish opposition to what he calls elegant variation, but I would never say never. I also recognize repetition as a rhetorical device that can be effective and appealing, but I wouldn’t want anyone to feel obliged to use it, or to overuse it, and I don’t think Fowler is pushing in that direction. Instead of Emperor/Emperor/Emperor or Emperor/Majesty/monarch one could always try a pronoun or two.
    -
    Also, I don’t understand about “whitespace”. Can somebody explain this metaphor or simile or whatever?

  63. Now I will admit that I haven’t read Fowler. Maybe he has a lot of good illustrations to offer. The reasoning given, however, still doesn’t convince me. Would pronominal substitution count as another instance of elegant/inelegant variation? I would hope you are not going to go there. And yet I am sure that I construct sentences in such a way that pronominal substitution serves as a filter of first resort to make such repetitions as I have grown to harbour a dislike for go away.
    I don’t know. In my world the growth behaviour of inflation isn’t the same as that of kids. Growing is what kids do – so it might go unnoticed. Inflation, though, is different from prices. It would be hard for me not to pronominalize it away in any attempt to differentiate the first derivative of price from the second.

  64. mollymooly says:

    Bad elegant variation is what US sports news summarizers do: “New York beat Chicago, Houston downed Cleveland, it was Boston’s night in Seattle, the A’s over the Padres, and Miami saw off Indiana.”

  65. “I don’t understand about “whitespace”
    That’s got to do with topicalization. Grumbly Stu says that variation interferes with explanation. It certainly does in the statistics example given. That one would, in fact, not even have been possible if not for the ignorance of the person responsible for its production.
    Note, though, that I just wrote “that one” in referring to the previous sentence’s occurrence of “example”. I both pronominalized and topicalized it in choosing my words for starting off the new sentence. I am pretty sure that my default way of articulating that sentence would have been something like this: Only the ignorance of the person producing that utterance can explain etc… So my effort at explanation gets expressed by a tendency towards employing topicalization as a strategy for creating persistent focus (or maybe I am just naturally inclined to begin a new sentence with the object of the preceding one). And then there is a second processing pass where I try to avoid turning topicalization into overemphasis and attempt to economize on words. That leads to both variation and pronominalization.
    The point I am making here is that I think that there is a phenomenon involved that I might like to call de-emphasis of topicalization – a phenomenon that can take the two forms of variation and pronominalization. This is highly speculative, of course. But if it is true, it means that some people pay more attention to planning their sentences – i.e.,syntax – while others spend more time picking the words they use.
    And I think it’s pretty commonsensical to assume that such trade-offs do, in fact, exist. Attention and planning time are limited resources and just might not get evenly distributed across the problem domains involved in constructing text. So we might try not to be too aggressive in privileging one approach over the other.
    (Which is where the programming thing comes in, because what I described in the last sentence of the previous paragraph is exactly the behaviour programmers indulge in when comparing constructs in one language with those in another. And it’s all part of an incredible war for whitespace. Whitespace can be like water.)

  66. While it may have started out as “elegant variation”, journalism has developed the practice into a handy device for cramming background information into articles.
    For example, an article will start out by talking about “Mongolia“.
    Later it might be referred to as the landlocked Asian nation, the former Soviet satellite or the cash-strapped economy.
    The intent is clearly to bring people who only have a foggy notion about Mongolia rapidly up to speed without inserting long or distracting background explanations.
    I suspect the English stylistic device owes quite a debt to syntax. Without the definite article, one wonders whether English would ever have developed this to the extent that it has. It tends to read very badly when translated into, say, Chinese, where it gives the impression that a new topic of conversation has suddenly been been introduced when in fact it’s the same topic expressed a little differently.

  67. I definitely like to think of repetition as a stylistic means rather than an obligation.
    Sure, and Fowler wouldn’t disagree. He’s not against all variation, just pointless variation, variation created solely out of fear of repetition.

  68. mollymooly says:

    In French class I was taught that elegant variation was good style. It wasn’t called “elegant variation” of course. And “good style” was in the context of FFL students writing a one-page discussion of a newspaper article; I don’t know how it transfers to literary criticism.

  69. I urge everyone who hasn’t seen the 1952 film that rootlesscosmo mentions to remedy the lack as soon as possible.
    It’s on TCM right now, though almost finished, I’m afraid.

  70. Incidentally, I regard my point above about how journalism has expanded “elegant variation” into something more as being in support of Grumbly’s statement that speaking and understanding a language can only in a very restricted sense be described as application of rules to convert semantics into syntax. It is actually a very low-level example of the way that syntax interfaces with what one might call “expression”. The fact that the definite article is (possibly) what makes this kind of expression possible does not at all predict that it will be used this way in actual language.
    In one sense, syntax might be compared to lego blocks. You have to know how to use them properly to build anything, but the properties of the lego blocks don’t actually tell you what they will be used to build.

  71. Grumbly Stu said that Fowler (in “The King’s English”) quoted from The Times…
    “The Emperor received yesterday and to-day General Baron von Beck… It may therefore be assumed with some confidence that the terms of a feasible solution are maturing themselves in His Majesty’s mind and may form the basis of further negotiations with Hungarian party leaders when the Monarch goes again to Budapest.”
    …as an example, to illustrate that because The Emperor, His Majesty, and the Monarch all refer to the same person, the “elegant” (or “inelegant”) variation is pointless and to be avoided.
    I don’t think this is a very good example at all to promote the avoidance of “variation” if, as I suspect, the quote refers to Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary (the “Dual Monarchy”).
    Between the years 1867 (the beginning of the Ausgleich/Kiegyezés or “compromise”) and 1918 (with the dissolution of Austria-Hungary after World War I), the distinctions Emperor/Majesty/Monarch were of supreme political importance. The Hungarians were at pains to stress the separate sovereignty of Hungary, hence Franz Joseph was King of Hungary (…the Monarch goes again to Budapest…) while simultaneously enjoying the title of Emperor of Austria, which included territory as far north as the present day Czech Republic and the province of Galicia and Lodomeria, now divided between Poland (Krakow = Krakau) and the Ukraine (Lviv = Lemberg) and as far south as Slovenia (Ljubljana = Laibach). Hungary was three times as big as it is now, and extended far east into Transylvania (now Romanian territory), and south into Croatia and Serbia (stopping at the Danube just short of Belgrade). Some territory was jointly administered between Austria and Hungary including, I think Bosnia and Herzegovina after annexation in 1908 (with eventually fatal consequences to the Empire after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, Franz Joseph’s heir in Sarajevo, Bosnia in 1914). Even the question of when the regime was to be referred to as “kaiserlich und königlich” (k.u.k.), Imperial and Royal, and when as kaiserlich-königlich (k.k.), Imperial-Royal, was incredibly sensitive and nuanced. Robert Musil’s novel “Man Without Qualities” gives an amusing account of the schizophrenic (apologies for my non-PC use of this word) nature of the Empire (renamed Kakania to pun on the k.k.). e.g. “”By its constitution it was liberal, but the system of government was clerical. The system of government was clerical, but the general attitude to life was liberal. Before the law all citizens were equal, but not everyone, of course, was a citizen.” and comparisons to a red, white and green jacket (Hungary) matched with a pair of black and yellow trousers (Austria).
    In short, it seems to me that the variation from Emperor to Monarch in the original quote was deliberate and useful, alluding to these political implications of the terms, even though they apply to the same person.
    Can someone confirm that my supposition that the quote refers to Franz Joseph I is correct, or will I have to wipe egg off my face?

  72. marie-lucie says:

    DM: a construction Marie-Lucie is familiar with, and LH knows from Georgian, but most of us don’t know about. I mean the most common alternative to the distinction between “I” and “me”.
    I am not sure why DM mentioned that construction as a way of introducing the distinction vs equation of adjective and adverb, but I am indeed familiar with the “ergative” construction (because I have learned, more or less, a language which has it), so here is some information for those who might want it.
    Basically, simple sentences are of two types depending on whether the verb has only one noun (or pronoun) attached to it (and the verb is called “intransitive”), or two which are respectively called the Agent (the one actually doing something) and the Patient (and the verb is “transitive”). In order to distinguish which of the two (pro)nouns has which role, many languages give a special marking to one or the other of the (pro)nouns. An example is I saw him or He saw me, with different forms of the pronouns depending on their role, while the word order would be enough to understand either me saw him or he saw I, without needing to use different pronominal forms. When there is only one noun or pronoun attached to the verb, its role is called the Experiencer, regardless of whether it actually does something or just passively undergoes the experience. For instance, compare the following sentences:
    The teacher taught the children (teacher = Agent, children = Patient)
    The teacher taught (teacher = Experiencer, acting)
    The children were taught (children = Experiencer, undergoing)
    In English and most European languages, one could replace the teacher by a Subject pronoun he/she, regardless of whether the children was mentioned in the sentence or not. On the other hand, the children would be replaced by the Object pronoun them if the word was the “Patient” as opposed to a specific Agent (the teacher taught them) but by the Subject pronoun they if the word was the “Experiencer” in the absence of an Agent (they were taught). This means that languages of the English type collapse the Agent of a transitive verb and the Experiencer of an intransitive verb into one category “Subject”, while only the Patient of a transitive verb gets its own type of “Object” pronoun. In Latin, Greek, Russian, and to a lesser extant in German (among other languages), nouns and the words associated with them (such as adjectives or demonstratives) also work that way. The endings of those words vary according to the function of the noun or pronoun in the sentence, and the endings are the same for Agent and Experiencer, both being considered as the Subject, while a different ending is used for the Object. Traditionally the Subject endings (which cover both Agent and Experiencer) are called “nominative” and the Object endings (which indicate the Patient) are “accusative”.
    This way of treating the Agent and the Experiencer as a single “Subject” category seems obvious to speakers of most European languages, but it is not the only way to proceed. Consider these other sentences:
    The cook cooked the chicken (cook = Agent, chicken = Patient)
    The cook cooked (cook = Experiencer, acting)
    The chicken (was) cooked (chicken = Experiencer, undergoing)
    Instead of considering the situation from the point of view of the cook, and collapsing the two roles of Agent and Experiencer (since the cook acts in both cases), one can consider it from the point of view of the chicken, which is the Patient in the first sentence and the Experiencer in the last one (in both cases passively undergoing the experience). If a language collapses Patient with Experiencer, and uses the same pronoun form or ending for both, it needs a special form just for the Agent. In such cases, the form which is specific to the Agent (only in a sentence which also mentions a Patient) is called “ergative”, while the form which is common to the Experiencer and the Patient is called “absolutive”. In Europe the only languages to use this alternative are Basque and some languages of the Caucasus such as Georgian, but there are many other languages of this type around the world.
    Markings on the noun or pronoun are not the only things associated with the “accusative” and “ergative” type respectively, as there are often morphological and syntactic consequences associated with each type, but the crucial criterion between the two types is the collapsing of the Experiencer (the only noun occurring with an intransitive verb) with either the Agent or the Patient of a transitive verb. (These mirror-image structures are not the only two choices either: some languages mark all three functions separately, others do not mark any of them formally, some separate the acting and undergoing roles of the Experiencer, etc, hence the wider variety of structures described in the site David linked to).

  73. You might care to read
    I am familiar with wikipedia. Also, the same link is posted twice.
    Do you have evidence to the contrary?
    Did you look at the wiki for Erasmus? His Greek to Latin NT translation was the basis for Luther’s historic German Bible. If you still think understanding Greek and Hebrew texts was a matter for the twentieth century, try the wiki for Bible translations. If you think all translation problems have now been resolved and Greek and Hebrew are now completely understandable, check out John Shelby Spong, Marcus J. Borg, or if you prefer the Baptist end of the literalism spectrum, Manfred T. Brauch; the scholarship of his exegesis does not disappoint.
    Are you perhaps working from “first principles”
    I have no idea what “first principles” has to do with translation, if anything; this appears to be a non sequitor. The “Isaiah 7:14 argument” makes no sense at all to me. I have never heard of it before. Since this appears to be something that took place within the Baptist denomination, a Baptist might be the one to explain why it would even matter, besides the possibility of providing some titillation (but for those in this forum probably not so much) because it contains the word “virgin”. If the “citation needed” note on the double-linked-to wiki is unsatisfying, there is twice as much verbiage at the Isaiah 7:14 wiki. The whole Isaiah 7:14 thing is uninteresting to me because 1) no one agrees on how many people wrote Isaiah and when they did it 2) Isaiah’s “suffering servant” passages contain even more Messiah predictions–the OT is not going to run out of them 3) there is not any denomination I have ever heard of that does not officially subscribe to the virgin birth as an article of faith 4) this brief review of Brauch’s Abusing Scripture more or less expresses my other objections to what is described in the wiki.

  74. More about understanding biblical translations…
    From the preface to the RSV:

    A major reason for revision of the King James Version, which is valid for both the Old Testament and the New Testament, is the change since 1611 in English usage. Many forms of expression have become archaic, while still generally intelligible—the use of thou, thee, thy, thine and the verb endings -est and -edst, the verb endings -eth and -th, it came to pass that, whosoever, whatsoever, insomuch that, because that, for that, unto, howbeit, peradventure, holden, aforetime, must needs, would fain, behooved, to you-ward, etc. Other words are obsolete and no longer understood by the common reader. The greatest problem, however, is presented by the English words which are still in constant use but now convey a different meaning from that which they had in 1611 and in the King James Version. These words were once accurate translations of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures; but now, having changed in meaning, they have become misleading. They no longer say what the King James translators meant them to say.

    Thus, the King James Version uses the word “let” in the sense of “hinder,” “prevent” to mean “precede,” “allow” in the sense of “approve,” “communicate” for “share,” “conversation” for “conduct,” “comprehend” for “overcome,” “ghost” for “spirit,” “wealth” for “well-being,” “allege” for “prove,” “demand” for “ask,” “take no thought” for “be not anxious,” “purchase a good degree” for “gain a good standing”, etc. The Greek word for “immediately” is translated in the King James Version not only by “immediately” and “straightway” but also by the terms “anon,” “by and by,” and “presently.” There are more than three hundred such English words which are used in the king James Version in a sense substantially different from that which they now convey. It not only does the King James translators no honor, but it is quite unfair to them and to the truth which they understood and expressed, to retain these words which now convey meanings they did not intend.

  75. Thanks for the ‘ergativity’ discussion, marie-lucie; it made the “agent/experiencer/patient distinction” that David introduced clear. When a ‘Patient’ is the subject of a finite verb, it’s an ‘Experiencer, undergoing’- that is, the subject of a verb in the passive voice, the third of the three sentence types you table.
    -
    But I wonder about your examples of the second type, the ‘Experiencer, acting’ category.
    First, when we use ‘to cook’ literally, there is always a direct object, whether explicit or tacit. “John cooks for a living” means “John cooks something for a living”- lunches, Italian food, burgers, and so on. “Mary’s cooking, so we’ll eat well tonight.” Same argument; there’s an implicit object of the stative verb + active participle ‘is cooking’.
    We can use ‘cook’ intransitively: “The drummer was really cooking last night.”- ‘to cook’ meaning ‘to do or play well’. (“Is the computer plugged in? Now we’re cooking with fire!” said the sarcastic human-supporter.) Is that metaphoric use what you meant by “The cook cooked (cook = Experiencer, active)”? If so, a perhaps more convenient ‘middle voice’ verb would be to go. Otherwise, how is ‘the cook’ an experiencer- simply by virtue of the lack of expression in that sentence (but not in reality) of the object cooked?
    In other words, in either active or middle voices, I don’t understand how ‘the cook’ in “The cook cooked (Experiencer, active)” is really more of an experiencer than ‘the cook’ in “The cook cooked chicken“, with its expressed ‘Patient’.
    ??
    -
    Another potential confusion on the part of students might occur with your first example of the middle voice (‘Experiencer, active’), namely, “to teach”.
    ‘The teacher taught’- taught what to whom? Again, there’s always a direct object implied, and with ‘teaching’, also always an indirect object- either of which could be formed into the subject of a passive verb:
    “Mary taught chemistry; Mary taught John.” So– “Chemistry was taught by Mary; John was taught by Mary.”
    In the latter two finite clauses, are both ‘chemistry’ and ‘John’ “Experiencers, acting”?

  76. how great a debt Wilde owed PG Wodehouse
    “The fact is that each writer creates his own precursors.”
    –Borges, ‘Kafka and his Precursors’

  77. NC: Can someone confirm that my supposition that the quote refers to Franz Joseph I is correct, or will I have to wipe egg off my face?
    No egg; but if there had been I’m pretty sure it would have come from a soufflé. The quote is from Fowler’s “The King’s English”, published in 1908. An Austro-Hungarian constitutional crisis in 1906-7 was resolved by reforms, including universal male suffrage, that were put in place by the Prime Minister, one Max Wladimir Freiherr von Beck. The voting reform was opposed by Franz Joseph. I can’t see why The Times called him “General Baron”. Freiherr is just “Baron”. There is a German Ludwig von Beck, who was a General and a footnote to a later plot against that nice Mr Hilter, but he was only 28 in 1908.

  78. For ₤4.95 you can investigate further in The Times’s archives. For religious regions I’m unable to give small fees to Rupert Murdoch.

  79. “unambiguously” is here being used in the sense of “renamed for clarity”, i.e. it indeed refers to the (purpose of the) renaming
    Grumbly Stu, I think Garner actually does significantly (both ‘a lot’ and ‘importantly’) disambiguate the phrase- he reduces its ambiguity not synchronically, but rather, for us, well, those of us who didn’t know that “elegance” used to have such a “pejorative connotation”.
    I didn’t know “elegance” tended to mean, in the 1920s, precious over-refinement, ‘obstructively decorative’ – I would have been one of those ignoramuses axing, “What’s wrong with ‘elegant variation’?! What’s that “Fowler”‘s problem??”
    By changing the phrase in accordance with the change in the quality of ‘elegance’ (I’m taking his word for it), Garner has made it less (no, not completely “un-”) ambiguous, as I read the phrase.
    -
    I think you’re right about Garner not having “renamed”, but rather reworded the term.

  80. For ₤4.95 you can investigate further in The Times‘s archives.
    Or get yourself a UK library card and log in via your library’s website (a privilege not available to many [?most?] LH readers, I’ll concede, but one of the things that makes my huge council tax bill almost worth paying.)

  81. I have to say that we in Norway laugh at your minuscule council bills.

  82. Deadgod, recalling vaguely from memory, linguists usually keep things simple by using verbs like ‘open’.
    He opened the door. Ergative (he) + Absolute (door)
    The door opened. Absolute (door).
    As you will notice, in English, ‘door’ switches between being the subject and the object of the sentence. In an ergative language, the door stays in the same case (as patient), but when an agent appears it becomes ergative.
    I still find this kind of thing confusing, because, of course, it isn’t just a matter of cases, it’s all tied up with the verb, too. In this case, the verb ‘open’ can be used as both a transitive and intransitive verb. When you get verb pairs like ‘teach’ and ‘learn’, then the verb itself is forcing judgements on what is the patient and what is the agent.
    I’m sure Marie-Lucie will be along soon to clarify things :)

  83. When there is only one noun or pronoun attached to the verb, its role is called the Experiencer, regardless of whether it actually does something or just passively undergoes the experience.
    … some languages mark all three functions separately
    marie-lucie: what is the cash value of this Agent/Experiencer/Patient distinction? I have provisionally concluded – skipping all the intermediate, vague argumentative steps that I have dreamed up but will spare you – that it is to provide linguists (in a certain field) with words to calm their astonishment when they find, in certain languages, that (what I would call) the “subject” word is sometimes inflected, depending on what the sentence is saying. I guess that would be the case in your example:
    The chicken (was) cooked (chicken = Experiencer, undergoing)
    Has anyone looked into the matter of whether the Agent/Experiencer/Patient distinction is something that native speakers of certain, for us unusual, languages actually find helpful as an explanation of how they think-and-speak? Is it possible that the Agent/Experiencer/Patient distinction is just a new “part-of-speech” artefact that linguists find helpful, but that actual speakers can remain in safe ignorance of? H
    By the way, does this Agent/Experiencer/Patient schematic have a short name?
    I find it odd that these Agent/Experiencer/Patient terms seem designed to classify noun functions in categories traditionally used in the West for verbs: active/middle/passive, transitive/intransitive. Has anyone noticed that this schematic is a frontal attack on the terminology of traditional Latin-based grammar, and on the tradition itself?
    From your explanation, I see the potential usefulness of the distinction, but I balk at the word “Experiencer”, which I find very ill-considered. (Please pass my indignation along to the inventor of the terminology.) It leads quite naturally to questions such as deadgod put (congrats, deadgod, at having found a formulation! For once, words had failed me …):
    In other words, in either active or middle voices, I don’t understand how ‘the cook’ in “The cook cooked (Experiencer, active)” is really more of an experiencer than ‘the cook’ in “The cook cooked chicken”, with its expressed ‘Patient’.
    ??

    A final question: when one asks “why did the chicken cross the road?”, is the chicken being thought of as acting, experiencing, or just impatient to get to the other side?

  84. Has anyone noticed that this schematic is a frontal attack on the terminology of traditional Latin-based grammar, and on the tradition itself?
    Actually, I don’t think it is. It is what happens when you come across a language that doesn’t fit the Latin mould.
    As for classifying noun functions in categories traditionally used in the West for verbs: active/middle/passive, transitive/intransitive, that is one of the problems, because it tends to get tied up with verb forms, as well. In pairs like:
    The teacher taught the children.
    The children learnt from the teacher.
    He lent me a dollar.
    I borrowed a dollar from him.
    He sold me the cow.
    I bought a cow off him.
    the verb itself is configuring the sentence. I would be curious how ergative languages treat constructions like these. Do they simply use the same verbs as in English and reconfigure the case assignments? Or are there differences in the actual verbs used?

  85. marie-lucie says:

    deadgod, I did not invent any of the technical terms, and “Experiencer” is not a really appropriate term (since it can be both ‘acting’ and ‘undergoing’, depending on the verb) but there was a need for a term different from Agent and Patient, and also from Subject and Object.
    The interaction of the semantic roles (such as Agent, Patient, “Experiencer”) and the grammatical roles (such as Subject and Object) of nouns, and the type of verbs, is tricky. It is true that ‘cook’ and ‘teach’ imply a semantic “Patient”, but the point is not the semantics of the verb but the actual presence or absence of a Patient noun in the sentence, making the verb either transitive or intransitive (“middle voice” is not a grammatical category in English since it does not have any morphological or syntactic features of its own). In English whether the Agent or the Patient ends up as the Subject is irrelevant to the fact that it occurs before the verb and “agrees” with it in number, as in
    The cook was
    cooking a chicken or chickens/the cooks were cooking a chicken or chickens /the chicken was cooked, the chickens were cooked
    .

    “Mary taught chemistry; Mary taught John.” So– “Chemistry was taught by Mary; John was taught by Mary.”
    In the latter two finite clauses, are both ‘chemistry’ and ‘John’ “Experiencers, acting”?

    If by “the latter two finite clauses” you mean the passive ones (“passive voice” being formally characterized by the use of the verb “to be” and a past participle), both chemistry and John are still “Patients”, because they are so in the “active voice” counterparts, as opposed to the “Agent” Mary. Grammatically, however, the “Patients” are treated as Objects when there is an Agent (treated as Subject) which cannot be omitted from the sentence, but as Subjects when there is no obligatory Agent (as in the passive sentences, where by Mary can be omitted).
    Semantic roles for nouns, and the “direction” of verbs with respect to their potential complements, are many and varied, and semantic classification tends to end up in minute distinctions, but each language tends to group such features into much broader categories for the purpose of grammatical structuration, such as Agent and Patient, or more narrowly, Subject and Object.
    For instance, in Mary taught chemistry to John, John is semantically the “Beneficiary”, and grammatically the Indirect Object. There are two possible passive voice counterparts: Chemistry was taught to John (by Mary) / … (by Mary) to John, in which the (Direct) Object chemistry becomes the Subject of the passive verb, or John was taught chemistry (by Mary), where the “Beneficiary” or Indirect Object John becomes the Subject of the same verb. In all those cases, the Subject of the verb has different semantic roles, but it “agrees” with the verb regardless of those roles. In Latin or German it would have the same “nominative” endings, and in English, the pronoun representing the Subject is distinct from that representing the non-Subjects: She taught chemistry to him, but He was taught chemistry by her.

  86. marie-lucie says:

    Grumbly: when one asks “why did the chicken cross the road”, is the chicken being thought of as acting, experiencing, or just impatient to get to the other side?
    In grammatical terms, “the chicken crossed the road” has exactly the same pattern as “the cook cooked the chicken” or “the chicken attacked the cook” or “the road crosses the railway tracks” or any number of other sentences including a transitive verb flanked by a Subject and an Object. “The road” and “the railway tracks” are not really Agent and Patient in semantic terms, but they are treated that way for grammatical purposes by the structure of the English language.
    Bathrobe: He sold me the cow. /I bought a cow off him.
    Anyone who studies another language has to deal with the fact that whether a verbal meaning is presented as transitive or intransitive varies according to the language, and for intransitives, the choice of complement also varies, so there is not necessarily a literal correspondence between two verbs or two sentence structures expressing similar meaning. Bathrobe’s examples also show the non-equivalence of the structures associated with verbs which have reciprocal meaning.
    A sentence like “I bought a cow off him” (or “from him”) could be expressed differently in another language, for instance literally “I off-bought his cow”, where “I” and “cow” still have the same Agent-Patient relationship as in English, while the semantic role of the third sentence participant “he” is considered differently and expressed by different grammatical means in the two sentences.

  87. I see I should have stated my question differently, for linguists: when one asks “why did the chicken cross the road”, is “the chicken” being thought of as acting, experiencing, or just impatient to get to the other side?
    The quotes in “the chicken” make all the difference. The answer to the question is then easy: “the chicken” is Agent. That tells us the grammatical standpoint of the chicken, but nothing about its motives. So the joke should still work, even for linguists.

  88. The Hungarians were at pains to stress the separate sovereignty of Hungary, hence Franz Joseph was King of Hungary (…the Monarch goes again to Budapest…)
    A factor in The Good Soldier Svejk is the Emperor’s refusal to be crowned King of Bohemia, which he was, because it was thought better for him to rule Bohemia as Emperor for fear that the Bohemians would claim some advantage once they had a King. IIRC, for this reason the Emeroro never came to Bohemia for that reason, for fear that attempts would be made to crown him.
    Of course, Hasek had no intention of being a reliable source, and in all honesty, neither do I. But if that wasn’t in Hasek’s book exactly, it should have been.

  89. marie-lucie says:

    Grumbly, alas, to my knowledge “Impatient” is not yet on the official list of semantic roles.

  90. marie-lucie: I suddenly feel the need for a language which provides an “impatient mood”, extending the other ones (indicative, imperative, subjunctive, and infinitive). It is one in which I often find myself.
    Do you know of any language in which there is some provision in verb conjugations to express the current emotional disposition (Befindlichkeit) of the Agent and/or Patient? Or any means at all to express really truly mood, instead the boring old artificial “moods” above – which it might be more accurate to call intentional states.

  91. Correction: the answer to the chicken question for a linguist would be: “to get to the other side as Agent. If the chicken were patient, or in its headlong course experienced the wheel of a car, it would not arrive.”

  92. Crown, were those good examples of donnish humor? Should I perhaps be at High Table, instead of languishing before a plate of herrings in mustard cream sauce?

  93. A donnish humour is a smug humour, dons being very smug. You’re much better off wearing mustard cream sauce.

  94. deadgod: I disagree with your assertion that whenever the verb “cook” is intransitive it is being used figuratively.
    I agree that one can’t cook without cooking something, but I don’t think I would express that by saying that
    when we use ‘to cook’ literally, there is always a direct object, whether explicit or tacit.
    Take m-l’s other verb, ‘to teach’. The teacher taught the children grammar. The teacher taught grammar. The teacher taught the children. The teacher taught. By your logic, I might say that this one always has both a direct and an indirect object: one can’t teach without teaching something to somebody. But that’s a statement about teaching more than about ‘to teach’, isn’t it? It takes two to tango, but for me that doesn’t contradict the statement that ‘tango’ is an intransitive verb.
    Turning to the usages in which ‘to cook’ is in the active mood but its subject is not a cook: I believe that I can ask “What’s cooking?” in a literal sense, and I can say “Turnips cook faster than potatoes”. It doesn’t have to be figurative.

  95. Thanks, marie-lucie; I don’t think anyone would have understood your explanation to have implied that you were responsible for the terms in it.
    Also, that the “middle voice” is not morphologically or syntactically evident in English doesn’t prevent the idea of a voice ‘between’ the “active” and “passive” voices from helping to unpack the transitivity of verbs in English.
    For example, in the sentence “The cook cooks.”, “The cook” is an Experiencer, active, because the “cook” actually does ‘experience’ the cooking, as well as doing it. Right?? (That’s what I was indicating analogically by (mis)calling it a “middle” sentence.)
    -
    Your clarifying of the distinction between semantic and grammatical roles of words in English does much to clear up the misunderstanding that I was laboring under. If I understand you correctly now, a sentence in the passive voice has a Patient subject, which is also the Beneficiary, with an Agent either unexpressed or expressed as the object of a preposition.
    So: “John was taught chemistry by Mary.” -”John” is the Patient subject and the Beneficiary of the sentence, of which “Mary” is the Agent (which, as in all passive sentences, need not be expressed). “John” is also the sentence’s Experiencer, but not its Experiencer, acting, as “The cook” is in the sentence “The cook cooks.”
    (Does one refer to an Experiencer, passive? When the Agent of a passive sentence is expressed, is that object of a preposition also considered to be an Experiencer, active of the action of the sentence?)
    Now: “Chemistry was taught to John.” -”Chemistry” is the Subject of the verb, and also the Patient (as you say) and the Experiencer (again, not active) of the sentence. “John” is the indirect object and the Beneficiary of the sentence. “Mary” (let’s say)is the unexpressed Agent.
    -
    (I’m writing out what are probably obvious things in order to keep both my line of thought and of expression straight, as I assume you do generally in your non-jocular posts.)

  96. øgative, I’d say that the verb “to teach” always does have direct and indirect objects, if the verb is understood literally. That is, ‘teaching’ never happens without something being taught to someone (or, ok, some learner). If you say, “Mary teaches.”, you’re implying facts, relations, topics, and so on that she teaches and students who (at least notionally) learn from her.
    -
    “‘What’s cooking in the pot?’ ‘Vegetables, which we hope finish cooking right when the roast finishes.’”
    That’s a good challenge, because the form of both ‘to cook’ and ‘to finish’ are active and the uses are intransitive. But is this kind of usage not considered figurative? I mean, aren’t saying that ‘the game finished at 5′ or ‘burgers cook in 10 minutes’ employments of figures of speech?

  97. because the form of both ‘to cook’ and ‘to finish’ are active and the uses are intransitive. But is this kind of usage not considered figurative?
    deadgod: what is “active” supposed to mean exactly, when applied to empty’s sentence “Turnips cook faster than potatoes”? In your comments above, you’ve used “active” often in the grammatical, technical sense to characterize verb forms – active/passive.
    But in your italicized sentence above, it seems that you are sliding into a sort of anthropomorphic use of “active”, as if the turnips were doing their cooking “actively”, like a person actively engaged in a task. Since this is not literally the case, it can only be figurative – that is your line of thinking, as I understand it.
    If we stand firm with the technical sense, resisting the temptation to anthropomorphize “Turnips cook faster than potatoes”, then we will not have to choose between literal and figurative senses. I think that literal/figurative is not a categorical distinction that it makes sense to apply to “Turnips cook faster than potatoes”, no more than red/not-red is.
    Not every sentence has to be exclusively either literal or figurative. There are things which are neither (the turnip sentence above), and things which are both. The force of a metaphor, for instance, begins in its literality – that which makes it intelligible – and continues with its also being “taken in a wider sense”, i.e. figuratively.

  98. I think deadgod’s example is simply a case of a verb that can be used transitively or intransitively.
    I cooked the carrots slowly.
    The carrots cooked slowly.
    I sold the house in one day.
    The house sold in one day.
    I boiled the water.
    The water boiled.
    In the case of ‘cook’ and ‘sell’, unlike that of ‘boil’, the transitive verb is probably the more basic or fundamental usage. But the fact remains that we have a verb that is transitive in one use and intransitive in another.
    This is why I mentioned above that the verb itself can sometimes confuse things. It’s rather important to distinguish between transitive and intransitive verbs, otherwise the purely grammatical point easily gets lost.

  99. Incidentally, I checked the Wikipedia articles relating to Ergative–absolutive language, Nominative–accusative language, Morphosyntactic alignment, Austronesian alignment, Active–stative language, and a few others, and came away totally and completely confused.

  100. and came away totally and completely confused
    Bathrobe, you have more than once said, in connection with particular subjects X and Y discussed in Hat threads, that you find it difficult to “understand abstractions without concrete examples”, or words to that effect. These subjects X and Y were mostly things that had presented no particular difficulty to me (which is not to claim that what I said made much sense when I added my two-cents worth).
    Usually I have thought “oh, Bathrobe is having us on”. Well, this “Ergative–absolutive language … Morphosyntactic alignment, Austronesian alignment, Active–stative language …” business also leaves me totally and completely confused, despite the best efforts of the revered marie-lucie.
    I can’t make out why it should be so confusing, since it comes garbed in normal-sounding words. Except that – between you and me – possibly it is in fact confused, and demonstrably so if one wanted to take the trouble. At my most charitable, I am willing to suspect that there are different people using apparently the same terminology in subtly (or crassly) different senses, but hardly anyone notices or bothers about it. If this stuff is not intended for consumption by the unwashed masses, then the experts should have had the decency to use jargon impenetrable even on the face of it.
    It reminds me a bit of Reformation times, which I am now reading about in the fascinating, sometimes blood-chilling Die Reformation in Augenzeugenberichten (The Reformation in Eye-witness Accounts). This is a volume in an old dtv paperback series “… in Eye-witness Accounts” that I found on a Ramschtisch. Once people like Zwingli, Melanchthon and Luther started looking closer at bible texts, and protesting against the self-serving interpretations and mummery of the Catholic power-hierachy tradition, then all hell broke loose.
    It was intricated with politics, of course. But also with moving personal experiences, priests hounded out of their homes and stoned by the aroused rabble, crazies (at the time) like the Zürich anti-pedobaptists, destruction of churches, daily meetings (die Prophezei) at which the bible was read out in Hebrew, Greek and Deutsch and discussed by students …
    Some day a linguistic Luther may peer closer at ergative-absolutive discourse, and then the fur will fly. And you and I will be immortalized in stoned monuments.
    By the way, Erasmus appears to have been something of a pussy. When push came to shove – on the topic of understanding the bible by reading and discussing it, without necessarily being a ponderous scholar – he just sat on his fence in Amsterdam and could not be dislodged.

  101. Not exactly the same thing, but you have:
    The mother is minding her child.
    and
    The child is minding his mother.
    Which is pretty neutral. A lot of classical Chinese verbs work like that, without being marked. Certain sentence forms clarify the situation somewhat, but usually you have to look at context.

  102. I think the Wikipedia articles are at fault.

  103. For instance, the Basque sentences in the Wikipedia article, Gizonak mutila ikusi du ‘The man saw the boy’ and Gizona etorri da ‘The man has arrived’. Rather than thinking in terms of Absolutes or Ergatives, mentally I would probably process it as follows:
    “Q: When does a Basque noun take the nominative case? A: Only when it is the subject of a transitive verb. In front of an intransitive verb it reverts to a neutral form. The object of a transitive verb is also a neutral form.”
    On the fact of it, that looks to be the only real difference between an ergative-absolutive language and a nominative-accusative language.

  104. I think the Wikipedia articles are at fault
    Then we need a counter-Reformation. Some pope to take charge of things again and knock heads together. We have now seen the light: assigning didactic responsibility to the authors of Wikipedia articles cannot save us from ignorance.

  105. Silly me. I had a look at the article on Basque grammar and found that the auxiliary verbs are even more complicated than the ergative-absolutive thing. Learning Basque is obviously a whole new ball game.

  106. A mother minds (pays attention to) her child.
    The child minds (pays attention to) its mother and its manners.
    If you don’t mind, here is some Pride and Prejudice. Mrs. and Mr. Bennet are conversing.
    ‘I cannot bear to think that they should have all this estate. If it was not for the entail, I should not mind it.’
    ‘What should not you mind?’
    ‘I should not mind anything at all.’
    ‘Let us be thankful that you are preserved from a state of such insensibility.’

  107. marie-lucie says:

    Bathrobe: “Q: When does a Basque noun take the nominative case? A: Only when it is the subject of a transitive verb. In front of an intransitive verb it reverts to a neutral form. The object of a transitive verb is also a neutral form.”
    - On the fact of it, that looks to be the only real difference between an ergative-absolutive language and a nominative-accusative language.
    Very well put, but one could also say that in English or French the subject takes the “neutral” case and the “accusative” is the marked case used for Objects. But in every instance you have to talk not just about the nouns but about the verbs, and in languages which mark every grammatical “case” with separate endings (as in Latin or Russian) no case is truly “neutral”. It is simpler to use the four designations for the basic cases involved in the two patterns than to have to repeat the definitions of noun roles relative to the verb type every time one needs to refer to them.
    It took a while for linguists (most of them speaking nominative-accusative languages) to unravel the complexities of the ergative-absolutive systems (because at first they seem so different), and the question is a little more complicated because the two ways of representing the roles of nouns in grammatical terms usually also entail syntactic consequences, such as which (pro)noun you can omit when coordinating sentences: for instance, in English, Mary saw John and smiled means that Mary smiled, but in an ergative-type syntax it would mean that John smiled.
    Also, many languages have a mix of the two types. English is an extreme type of nominative-accusative language both morphologically and syntactically, but French, for instance, has a few ergative-type constructions, and some languages are the opposite (even though linguists tend to view the English type as primary and the ergative-absolutive type as derived or always somewhat mixed, something which I don’t think is right). Even English has at least one “split-ergative” feature:
    If John employs Mary, he is an employer (Agent).
    And if John runs, he is a runner (Experiencer, acting).
    But if Mary employs John, he is an employee (Patient).
    And if John stands on the bus, he is a standee (Experiencer, undergoing).
    Thus, when forming nouns from verbs for persons involved in some activities, although English normally conflates the Agent of a transitive verb with the Experiencer of a semantically “active” intransitive verb (following its general nominative-accusative pattern), it sometimes conflates the Patient of a transitive verb with the Experiencer of a semantically “stative” intransitive verb (using the ergative-absolutive pattern).
    The -ee suffix seems to correspond to a semantically more passive than active role, and in some languages it seems that the ergative-absolutive model may have developed historically from a passive construction, but this is not true for all languages of this grammatical type.

  108. marie-lucie:
    -ee is the standard example for an ergative construction in English, but I’ve never been entirely happy with it since the intransitive -ee words seem pretty marginal to me – “attendee” is the only one I can think of in my active vocabulary, & “standee” just sounds weird. (Of course, the fact that I don’t use them doesn’t invalidate the example as long as some speakers do, but an example that was productive in my own speech would be more convincing.)
    What occurred to me as possibly a better example is a phrase like “the V-ing of the N”, where N can be the subject of an intransitive V or the object of a transitive V.

  109. marie-lucie says:

    Grumbly, you are absolutely right about “the V-ing of the N”. If linguistics had started with linguists whose own languages were ergative-absolutive, they might have used those examples to show that English was not fully nominative-accusative and that it had elements of “split accusativity”.
    intransitive -ee words seem pretty marginal to me – “attendee” is the only one I can think of in my active vocabulary, & “standee” just sounds weird.
    It is true that these words are marginal, but there are a few. If you lived in Canada or the US and travelled much by bus, you would see the word “standee” written prominently at the front of the bus, on a sign saying “NO STANDEES BEYOND THE YELLOW LINE”, or words to that effect (I have never actually heard the word). Another such word (quoted in one of the relevant Wikipedia articles) is escapee, for a prisoner who has escaped from jail.

  110. marie-lucie says:

    Tim May, sorry, I didn’t notice that there were two posts. “The V-ing of the N” is yours, and so is the remark on -ee.

  111. Marie-Lucie,
    I can honestly say I have never in my life seen a sign saying “No Standees beyond the yellow line” on a bus or elsewhere in the US. It could well be one of those things I’ve just never noticed, I’ll be on the look out. Maybe that’s a Canadian usage only?
    I think most Americans would spontaneously produce “stander” not “standee”, I know I would. The tendency I think is towards ever less ergativity. I bet many Americans would even produce “attender” if you asked them “The person who attends is an…”

  112. marie-lucie says:

    vanya, “NO STANDEES…” would not be so much on a city bus as on one that travels on highways, at much higher speeds. I don’t think it is limited to Canada, as I have travelled on Greyhound and Trailways between Canada and the US. Perhaps the “-ee” suffix is seen more than heard – “escapee” and “attendee” are certainly seen in the press. For instance, the currently infamous Salahi couple could be described in an article as “would-be attendees at the first state dinner”. I have also seen “the giftee” (recipient of a gift, from the new verb “to gift”), and “the mentee” (the counterpart of “the mentor”, both being taken as deriving from the back-formed but unused verb “to ment”).

  113. No Standees..
    Yes, this used to be in American schoolbuses.
    many Americans would even produce “attender”
    No way. That’s ambiguous, maybe someone who frequently attends things or attends to something. Attendee. Or audience, or participants, or members.
    The -ee ending has a bit of a stiff or legal sound to it “the landlord hereafter referred to as the lessor and the person renting the apartment, hereafter referred to as the lessee….”
    Also, licensee, absentee ballot, addressee unknown.

  114. marie-lucie says:

    Nijma: The -ee ending has a bit of a stiff or legal sound to it
    Yes, that’s the type of context I mean, more written and read than spoken and heard, and read in things that are not usually read for pleasure, or read aloud. Thank you for your other examples.
    “Attendee” versus “attender”: an “attendee” is someone who attends, meaning is present, at some event which is largely beyond their control. But an “attender” could be for instance a member of an ambulance crew who can actually do something for people who need being attended to.

  115. Peripherally related, my niece transcribes medical dictation for a living, and recently she reported that her present bosses were the worst dictaters in the world. “Idi Amin and Pol Pot?” I asked. “Worse”, she said.

  116. There are different kinds of standee.
    a movie standee (or life-size standup )
    Here someone claims: “Standees are the yellow signs that look like an upside down v, usually marking wet floors”. That seems implausible, because at a business site I find them called “caution wet floor stands“.
    I found another definition, with an exquisite detail:

    standee – someone who stands in a place where one might otherwise sit (as a spectator who uses standing room in a theater or a passenger on a crowded bus or train); “the allowed number of standees is posted”

    A standee is not merely a person who is standing. He must be standing because he did not succeed in finding a seat, or does not care to use an available one. His standing must be in some way exceptional in the context.
    The -ee ending here seems to have a similar function as in “escapee” and “attendee”, but I can’t pin it down in words. It’s as if the person were being regarded as being in a sort of transitional, temporary state. In contrast, a “stander” would stand all the time. An “escaper” would be be one who is always escaping. An “attender” would be one who attends regularly, more like an attendant than a one-off participant at a reception.

  117. Just did a google search for “No standees” signs on buses. Indeed they exist, and apparently many Americans assume “no standees” is a mistake.
    See the comments at
    No Standees
    and
    No Standees?

  118. David Marjanović says:

    So that’s what seems so weird about escapee and attendee!!! I knew what an absentee ballot was, but not how absentee was supposed to be constructed. Never seen standee, and it looks just absurd.

    It just occurs to me: was your point perhaps simply to explain how one can profitably regard a phenomenon such as “adjectival and adverbial forms of German words are indistinguishable apart from inflection”, in a wider context?

    Sort of. I was trying to say that the terms “adjective” and “adverb” don’t actually make much sense when applied to German and that the German language uses different categories, just like how the terms “nominative” and “accusative” don’t make sense when applied to Basque or Tibetan, which use different categories called “ergative” and “absolutive”.

    Some territory was jointly administered between Austria and Hungary including, I think Bosnia and Herzegovina after annexation in 1908

    That was the only area that was jointly administered.

    Even the question of when the regime was to be referred to as “kaiserlich und königlich” (k.u.k.), Imperial and Royal, and when as kaiserlich-königlich (k.k.), Imperial-Royal, was incredibly sensitive and nuanced.

    I thought k.u.k. was used after 1867 and k.k. before?

    In Europe the only languages to use this alternative are Basque and some languages of the Caucasus such as Georgian

    The entire North Caucasian family is ergative-absolutive, AFAIK. Georgian, however, is split-ergative: it’s nominative-accusative in the present tense, and ergative-absolutive in the past tense, as far as I remember…

    “Q: When does a Basque noun take the nominative case? A: Only when it is the subject of a transitive verb. In front of an intransitive verb it reverts to a neutral form. The object of a transitive verb is also a neutral form.”

    Works with Basque, but there are languages where the absolutive is marked by an ending…

    Learning Basque is obviously a whole new ball game.

    Indeed.

    It’s as if the person were being regarded as being in a sort of transitional, temporary state. In contrast, a “stander” would stand all the time. An “escaper” would be be one who is always escaping. An “attender” would be one who attends regularly, more like an attendant than a one-off participant at a reception.

    You mark an aspect distinction in nouns!?!
    Nominative-accusative in the imperfective aspect, ergative-absolutive in the perfective aspect…
    Ils sont fous, les Bretons.
    I’ll go to bed.

  119. David Marjanović says:

    Madness!

  120. David Marjanović says:

    I had seen licensee, but interpreted it as some sort of weird dative construction, with the dative instead of the accusative somehow triggering the sort-of-passive-participle ending -ee

  121. SnowLeopard says:

    Nominative-accusative in the imperfective aspect, ergative-absolutive in the perfective aspect…
    That’s how the Sumerians did it, too. My understanding, largely informed by Hayes’s Manual of Sumerian Grammar, was that most ergative languages (with the exception of Nez Perce, I think, which Hayes doesn’t mention) were so-called split ergatives. I have seen elsewhere that Tibetan seems to contrast ergative and accusative forms to draw subtle distinctions about whether the action was intentional or not. And I believe Jacobson’s grammar of Yup’ik Eskimo says that the choice of ergative or accusative patterns helps the speaker highlight whether the direct object is definite or indefinite. And so on.

  122. David’s and SnowLeopard’s comments are intriguing. Is there any likely relationship between these phenomena and the hierarchy of usage of the Mongolian accusative ending -г? That is, in Mongolian the accusative may be marked or unmarked, depending on a hiearchy of criteria, including animacy and definiteness, if my vague memories are serving me correctly. My reasoning may sound tenuous, but given that the nominative is not marked in Mongolian, the optionality of marking the accusative seems not totally unrelated to what David and SnowLeopard mentioned….

  123. I used to get peeved about standee, which I saw on buses in connection with yellow lines. I asked my teenage son tonight whether he sees that word on the buses that he rides. No, he had never seen the word and was flabbergasted to hear what it means. “That would mean someone who’s been stood on! No, on second thought it would mean someone who is being stood!”

  124. Idle tangential query: how did spondee and trochee end up with that ending?

  125. ~It’s as if the person were being regarded as being in a sort of transitional, temporary state.
    ~You mark an aspect distinction in nouns!?!

    No, no, I don’t think so at all, not if I’m googling all these terms and understanding them correctly. It’s more of a way to turn a noun into a person by describing the relationship between them. A license is a piece of paper. The “licensor” would be the person or agency that issues the paper (although a different word would probably more commonly be used). The licensee is the person whose name is on the paper. (Dative, maybe, or in English grammar terms, maybe more like indirect object)
    An address is a number on a building. The addressee is the person whose address has been written on a paper, probably an undeliverable letter. An “addressor” (again, not in common usage) would be the person writing the address.
    The verbs (stand, attend, lease) sound a little weirder to me, but they’re still describing a relationship between the action and the person doing it. They are not people who stand, attend or lease in general, but only do so in relationship to a specific place, event, or building.
    And standees (ewww) in a bus or train might not be “temporary”. They might be panhandling or be getting ready to get off or have a lot of packages or a baby carriage they want to stay next to in case of thieves or maybe they just like to stand. In Jordan a lot of women always picked the spot right behind the bus driver to stand for safety reasons (I did), even if there were seats open (there’s no separate public transportation for women as in some other Arab countries).

  126. marie-lucie says:

    the suffix “-ee”: dative, indirect object
    NO. The nouns licensor and licensee are not derived from the noun license, but from the transitive verb to license (somebody). The licensor is the licensing authority which delivers the authorization, the license is the document confirming the authorization. The licensee is the person licensed (= given permission) by the authority to carry out the authorized actions.

  127. marie-lucie says:

    SnowLeopard: My understanding, … , was that most ergative languages (with the exception of Nez Perce, I think, … ) were so-called split ergatives.
    Nez Perce does not strike me (and a few other linguists) as an “ergative” language (even “split ergative”), because it indicates the Agent, Patient and Experiencer by three different sets of forms, without conflating two of them together as do both the ergative-absolutive and the nominative-accusative patterns. I haven’t try to really get serious about that language, so there may be some other features that led the main specialist of the language to call it “ergative”, but the basic facts do not seem to justify the designation.
    On “split ergative” I will quote myself (above, 2:19)
    If linguistics had started with linguists whose own languages were ergative-absolutive, they might have used those examples [the V-ing of the N, and also the -er/-ee contrast] to show that English was not fully nominative-accusative and that it had elements of “split accusativity”.

  128. m-l, in non-US English the noun is spelt “licence”, which distinguishes it from the verb “to license”. Most people haven’t noticed and only use the noun spelling.
    I never liked “standee” either, for the same reason as the Ø Set.

  129. marie-lucie says:

    AJP, I know about licence and (to) license, but I was responding to a US person. (I just checked that I have a driver’s licence from the province of Nova Scotia, Canada).

  130. Oh, that’s interesting. That kind of thing would be standard all across the country, wouldn’t it?

  131. in Mongolian the accusative may be marked or unmarked, depending on a hiearchy of criteria, including animacy and definiteness, if my vague memories are serving me correctly
    i’m not a linquist so don’t know much the terms of what you are talking about
    so accusative case is ögökh orshikhiin tiin yalgal – datel’nui padej, right?
    what about marked and unmarked i/m also not sure, but if it’s ö/o t/ya than the noun should have -g, -ug, -iig suffixes or it could be omitted, bi nom avsan – i bought a book, bi ter nomiig avsan – i bought that book (so if you have any descriptive adjective before the noun in ö/o t/ya then it takes its suffixes -g, -ug, -iig, is my feeling, is it that animacy and definiteness?
    for example, to say i waited him – bi tuuniig khuleesen, there -iig should be used
    basically, if you say subject-object-verb w/o suffixes if you are not sure, it’d sound correct, but not if the object is animated and kinda self-sufficient or how it is called
    if, for example, instead of him i’ll use cow – bi ukher avsan – i bought a cow, the suffix can be omitted then too
    i could be wrong or maybe there are exceptions and don’t have any grammar book at hand)

  132. i’m

  133. linguist, wah

  134. scarabaeus says:

    I dothe luv these modern Greek [ ergative , not in 'me' dictionary of Microsoft (do I mean purgative)] words. I guess it belongs to a list of the Million words that I should know but dothe not.

  135. By the way, Erasmus appears to have been something of a pussy. When push came to shove – on the topic of understanding the bible by reading and discussing it, without necessarily being a ponderous scholar – he just sat on his fence in Amsterdam and could not be dislodged.

    Not an unreasonable approach, given how many people the Thirty Years war eventually killed.
    I remember once coming across contempt for Northern Ireland and Ireland in general, second hand, in Germany, because the attitude was that the conflict was about religion, and hadn’t everyone realised long ago what a stupid idea it was to fight wars over that. Something I agree with, but there’s a long list of equally stupid things to have contempt for people for if you’re going to admit that as a ground, and I would hate to lose my Apple-obsessive friends, for example.

  136. dictaters: a posse of glandular tubers

    (overheard on the irrr Skid Row local): “Couldst thee standee a grandee to a drink?”

  137. David Marjanović says:

    No idea about Mongolian, but my Russian dictionary explains the Russian names of the cases: дательный падеж = dative, винительный падеж = accusative.

    with the exception of Nez Perce, I think, which Hayes doesn’t mention

    I once read something, perhaps the reference of this Wikipedia article, which says that in Nez Percé you can choose between marking both ergative and accusative or marking neither, but doesn’t tell what, if any, criteria there are for choosing which. The article on the language itself mentions, however, that “the word order can be quite free” because of all the case marking, before going on to explain that the word order marks focus vs topic instead.

  138. datel’nui, right, komu chemu, to whom
    vinitel’nui, kogo chego, whom
    right, Mongolian ögökh orshikhiin tiin yalgal is accusative – vinitel’nui allright, datel’nui i forgot how it is called but it answers to khend? yund? (komu? chemu? to whom?)
    thanks for your correction

  139. or maybe not, don’t know my own language :(
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mongolian_language
    i’ve read this and now i’m confused
    whatever it is called, the Mongolian accusative ending -г? , if it’s -g, -ug, -iig suffixes usage, then it goes as i wrote in my comment above

  140. SnowLeopard says:

    in Nez Percé you can choose between marking both ergative and accusative or marking neither, but doesn’t tell what, if any, criteria there are for choosing which.
    Unfortunately, Aoki’s grammar (1970) is less than completely clear on this point. If I’m reading pp. 105-07 and 136 correctly — not a sure thing — and borrowing the terminology from your linked Wiki pages, then it appears you use the ergative nim and absolutive ne when “the object is neither closely related to the speaker nor possessed by the speaker”, or when “the subject and object are non-identical third person”, but intransitive markings (i.e., no marking at all) otherwise. Be aware, however, that Aoki nowhere uses the terms ergative or absolutive. I don’t know when those terms came into vogue.

  141. marie-lucie says:

    The terms ergative and absolutive have been around for quite some time, and were coined in order to deal with some features of Basque and North Caucasian languages, but their application to Nez Perce is relatively new and, in my opinion, not quite appropriate, since, as I wrote earlier, the language does not conflate the subject of an intransitive verb with the object of a transitive verb, as in the usual definition of ergativity, but it is not nominative-absolutive either. Also, when usage criteria are defined in purely negative terms, this is often a hint that those terms are not the appropriate ones. But I can’t be more specific, as I have not actually studied the language, I have only superficially consulted Aoki’s grammar and dictionary (the latter, published much later than the grammar, is enormous). What I can say is that there are a number of Amerindian languages which display more classically “ergative” features, while NP is not at all typical.
    For an overview of a “sister language” to Nez Perce (meaning a very similar language, especially in structure), there is a short “Sketch of Sahaptin, a Sahaptian language” by Bruce Rigsby and Noel Rude (the latter an NP specialist), pp. 666-692 of Languages, vol. 17 of Handbook of North American Indians, Smithsonian Institution, 1996.

  142. marie-lucie says:

    Another -ee word: this from the article “Guarding Obama”, Dec. 1 in Slate (italics added):

    The one thing we do know about them [= the Secret Service agents]—the fact that they are (in theory, at least) willing to sacrifice their lives for their protectees’—does little to dispel the mystery.

    If there are “protectors”, there must be “protectees” to protect.

  143. Read, that is exactly what I was talking about.
    I think my point was that not marking accusative amounts to obliterating the formal distinction between nominative and accusative. This seemed curiously similar to switching in and out of ergativity in other languages based on similar considerations of definiteness and animacy. Just something off the top of my head :)

  144. SnowLeopard says:

    Thanks, as always, marie-lucie, for your additional comments and patience in explaining things to novices. That goes without saying more often than it probably should. This non-linguist non-specialist is persuaded by your reservations about classifying NP as an ergative language for the reasons you cogently explained earlier. It hasn’t escaped my attention, after all, that my second post completely undermined the only reason for mentioning NP at all in the first one. I was just trying to see if anything in my sorry little bookpile could answer David’s follow-up question.

  145. god, you live in NY. Who would have thought.

  146. marie-lucie says:

    I think my point was that not marking accusative amounts to obliterating the formal distinction between nominative and accusative. This seemed curiously similar to switching in and out of ergativity in other languages based on similar considerations of definiteness and animacy.
    Bathrobe, you are right on both points. The nominative-accusative and the ergative-absolutive patterns are mirror images of each other, but many languages have features of both. “Split ergative” is used much more than “split accusative”, in my opinion because most linguists speak N/Acc languages and are quick to discover patterns familiar to them in the more foreign E/Abs languages, while they don’t always recognize E/Abs patterns in their own languages, or if they do, they do not rush to redefine these languages.
    Animacy and definiteness do play a role in languages in general, but different languages classify or mark these features differently. For instance, in read’s Mongolian examples the word for ‘book’ and the word for ‘cow’ are both unmarked (without the suffix) if indefinite, even though ‘cow’ is animate, but the word may not “count” as animate under the circumstances (buying, where the cow does not have a choice), while (I suppose, not knowing the language) it might be treated as “animate” if used with other verbs, in sentences indicating that the cow shows evidence of a mind of her own.

  147. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks, SnowLeopard. I have a lot of experience in trying to explain linguistic concepts to novices (students), and the novices here are pretty quick to understand (and to explain too!).

  148. yes, in the cow example if to say i watered the cow – bi ukher(ukheriig) usalsan, both is correct
    but in i fed him (her, a boy etc) – bi tuuniig (khuug) khoolloson is the only option, it would be incorrect to say bi ter(khuu) khoolloson
    but if to feed a kid – bi khuukhed kholloson, there again the suffix can be omitted or can be used
    so, yes, as m-l says, depends on the level of consciousness of the object maybe

  149. not consciousness, but independency, self-sufficiency, agency or how it is called

  150. Something looks odd about that Times article, namely the word order of The Emperor received yesterday and to-day General Baron von Beck. It’s much more idiomatic English to put the time reference at either end of the sentence rather than after the verb; I wonder if that wasn’t expanded from cable copy written by someone whose first language was German. If so, that makes the variation more likely to be functional, but Fowler’s complaint less to the point.
    m-l: I think it’s reasonable to treat Nom/Acc as the basic pattern and Erg/Abs as a variant of it, given the rarity of pure Erg/Abs languages and the non-rarity of (almost completely) pure Nom/Acc languages. It’s more like a scale: languages with no, few, many, or all (?) ergative features.
    I wrote a Cthulhu-based tutorial on ergativity some years back, which also includes the OED’s (pre-ergative) take on -ee.

  151. John C., thanks for that link to your strangely lucid discussion of accusative and ergative languages. (“Strange” not because of the discussor, but rather because of the usual opacity of the topic.)

  152. bargee sounds like it ought to be a word the English picked up in India, though I don’t suppose it is.
    devotee seems participial in intent: someone who is devoted.

  153. marie-lucie says:

    JC, if you had mentioned your “tutorial” earlier, you would have saved me the trouble of trying to explain! We were covering basically the same ground. and two similar explanations are better than one.
    I think it’s reasonable to treat Nom/Acc as the basic pattern and Erg/Abs as a variant of it,
    If so, the problem is to explain how to derive the one from the other: in some cases an Erg/Abs pattern can plausibly be derived from a Passive construction (I think that is supposed to be the case in Hindi), but in other cases that is simply not defensible. I think it is more logical to treat the two patterns as different responses to the problem of the economy of means made possible by conflating two separate syntactic roles. Depending on the languages, other factors, such as animacy, may or may not enter into the picture.
    given the rarity of pure Erg/Abs languages and the non-rarity of (almost completely) pure Nom/Acc languages.
    Surely one of the reason for that rarity is that many languages have disappeared without a trace, supplanted by others in the course of history. In Eurasia it does not seem to be a coincidence that Erg/Abs patterning is found only in “residual” or “refuge” linguistic zones (the Basque Country, the Caucasus) where populations have been able to survive and keep their ancestral languages in geographically less accessible areas, while their congeners in more exposed environments have switched to the languages of invaders. (I don’t mean that the languages in question are necessarily related). Basque is known to be the remnant of a language family that extended over a much wider area in France and Spain, and in the Caucasus the mix of languages of various origins suggests that they were brought by waves of refugees taking to the mountains under pressure but coming from larger territories with more hospitable environments which fell prey to invaders. It is quite likely that the Erg/Abs pattern was much more widespread in Europe prior to the Indo-European expansion (and traces of this pattern are postulated for PIE as well, although not enough to support calling it an “ergative language”).
    It’s more like a scale: languages with no, few, many, or all (?) ergative features.
    Yes, but you could reverse that scale by listing the accusative features in various languages.

  154. marie-lucie says:

    bargee: I am not familiar with that word. What or who is it?

  155. marie-lucie, for bargee, go back to that post on John C.’s blog that he links us to a short way above, and scroll down to the last parentheses in John’s blogicle, and then to his “comment” (the fourth in the thread), where he quotes the OED to the effect of the ‘app[arently] arbitrary’ formation of the words bargee and devotee, which arbitrariness I non-angelically challenge . . .

  156. someone who is devoted
    Yes, ø. The problem is that the devotee seems, in reality, to be actively, willingly and willfully, ‘devoted’.
    The -ee words came into English from the French past participle. The -or words are the do-ers of some action where the -ee words denote the indirect object of that action (not the passive undergoer itself of the action). So, an example in the OED: a vendor ‘sells’ a thing to a vendee- the ‘vendee’ being the Beneficiary and not the sold/bought product.
    Well, in the case of a devotee, how is the person not actually doing the ‘devotion’?
    -
    Let me take a second crack at rationalizing devotee: the devotee, if all goes as that Agent tries to make happen, does end up being the Beneficiary of the ‘devotional’ relationship, by virtue of being the latter receiver in an exchange of devotion for favor.

    I don’t think the formation of devotee or bargee is “arbitrarily” formed. It’s not such a stretch of logic to understand that each of these persons are Beneficiaries of the devoted-to and the barge, respectively- in spite of the fact that the devotee and the poler are also Actors in the devotional and poling relationships, respectively.
    John C., or anyone ??

  157. David Marjanović says:

    Just for the record, I never said Nez Percé is an ergative-absolutive language. It doesn’t conflate any two of the three categories, it’s a “tripartite language” with an ergative, an intransitive, and an accusative.
    In various North Caucasian languages the current ergative ending is derived from what once was an instrumental ending. All of them, as far as I know, are pure ergative-absolutive languages, like Basque.

  158. marie-lucie says:

    I understand that Basque has ergative/absolutive morphology but accusative syntax. The latter would not be surprising after centuries of being next to a nominative/accusative language (Latin, evolving into Spanish) and being influenced by it (syntax changes much more readily than morphology and is easily influenced by language contact).

  159. deadgod: I wouldn’t touch that logic with a barge pole. Your attempt to rationalize “devotee” and “bargee” depends on blurring the distinction between the roles of words in a sentence and the roles of the words’ referents in the world. Being a grammatical subject is not the same as being a Doer, and being a grammatical indirect object is not the same as being a Beneficiary.
    Without a relevant verb “to barge” that makes the poler an indirect object, where are you? And likewise without a usage of “devote” that makes the performer of devotions an indirect object.
    Of course, as far as I’m concerned we could also relax a little about “indirect”. Think “employee”.
    In which connection I want to point out that you can “devote yourself” to a cause or a practice or whatever it is and thus be both subject and (reflexively) direct object. When we say, in English, “he is devoted to the study of the empty set” it seems to me that we are using the participle in a passive construction, as we might say “his waking hours are devoted to …”. The one who is devoted is the “himself” rather than the “he” in “he devotes himself …” Same guy, which gets confusing, but the reason -ee works is because he is the grammatical object, not because he is receiving benefit from the devotional object.

  160. Being a grammatical subject is not the same as being a Doer, and being a grammatical indirect object is not the same as being a Beneficiary.
    True; also not the “logic” left ‘untouched’.
    ø, take another look at the link above (in John C.’s post) to John C.’s discussion of “ergativity”. There, he quotes the OED in its definition of “-ee” to this effect (I’m quoting from the OED):
    “The derivatives in -ee [...] have not usually a grammatically passive sense, but denote the ‘indirect object’ of the vbs. from which they are derived. Thus vendee is the person to whom a sale is made, indorsee the person in whose favour a draft, etc. is indorsed, the lessee the person to whom the property is let.”
    In other words, there’s no identity of “the roles of words in a sentence” and “the roles of the words’ referents in the world”, but surely there’s what the dictionary indicates is a denotative relationship!
    In fact, the “grammatical subject” of a verb in the active voice is (for verbs like, say, ‘to give’) certainly the “Doer” of that verb, as is the “grammatical indirect object” the “Beneficiary” of that verb!
    We don’t commonly use a verb “to barge” to mean ‘to ferry on a barge’, but is it so hard to see a Beneficiary-’shaped’ barge-poler coming from the noun “barge”? (Of course, a quick check at the verb barge in the OED reveals: ’1. phr. To barge it: to journey by barge. 2. trans. To carry by barge.’ These usages obviate the “-shaped” contortions in this paragraph!)
    Finally, any active verb with a direct object and (potentially) a Beneficiary can have a reflexive pronoun serve as that Beneficiary (in the sentence), meaning that the subject of that verb (its Agent, or “Doer”) is also its indirect object: “The boss gave himself a raise.”
    In the case of “John devotes himself to Mary.”, yes, of course Mary is the Beneficiary of ‘John’s devotion’. In puzzling out how devotee could be part of the -ee pattern that I’ve just quoted from the OED, I’m simply understanding that “John devotes himself [is devoted] to Mary.” COULD HAVE led, in the evolution of the (after all, actual) word “devotee”, to a lexical mirroring of the reciprocity between the receiving of devotion (by the devoted-to) and the receiving of favor (by the devoted)– which later “receiving” would be the rational ground for a ‘Beneficiary word’: devotee.

  161. dg:
    I am sorry for my slightly snarky tone before. I was tempted by the word “bargepole”.
    I get it now that we’re not talking about indirect objects in a grammatical sense, dative. But in the pattern suggested by the OED there is at least a prepositional phrase involved:
    X sells goods Y to the vendee Z
    X indorses check Y in favor of indorsee Z
    X lets house Y to lessee Z
    X entrusts Y to trustee Z
    In most of these instances Z is receiving benefit. In all of them one could imagine the verb functioning with Z as indirect object (let me a house, entrust me a fortune, endorse me the check, sell me a sandwich), even if in some cases that’s not how it normally functions:
    entrust me your child’s inheritance
    let me that house
    endorse me the check
    sell me your soul
    But in all these cases there is also a direct object, too; that’s part of my trouble with the barge.
    First, to conform at all to the pattern, I think we need a verb “barge”, not some “-shaped” contortions based on the noun “barge”. We have a verb, but I want a verb that can do this:
    Vessel X barges journey Y [preposition] poler Z
    and that can sort of do this:
    It barged me a journey.
    Maybe I shouldn’t want so much.

  162. Oh, sorry for the redundancy — a little human editing error.
    At this point I’ve already had lunch, so I don’t need the sandwich, but I’ve also got a perfectly good soul, so forget it.

  163. ø, no problem with the snark; “bargepole” is irresistible; I wish I’d pre-empted the pun.
    I’m not sure why a contortion wouldn’t explain an actual step in the evolution of a word, considering that, in both everyday and specialized speech, we naturally, even gleefully, twist words as far as they’ll ‘go’. This explanation wouldn’t be scientific, in the sense of methodological rigor, but linguistic analysis isn’t purely a science; comparative linguistics entails some interpretive artistry (though not plainly irrational ‘art’) in the course of figuring out the most likely path of historical development of some particular word.
    -
    As far as (the obsolete meaning of) “to barge”:
    It barged me a journey. No, that’s not how ‘to ferry; to carry by boat’ works. Let’s try:
    “The good ship Lollygag barged its load.” Agent + active verb + direct object [Patient].
    “Hook poled the good ship Lollygag.” Agent + active verb + direct object.
    “The good ship Lollygag barged its load for Hook.” Agent + active verb + direct object + prepositional phrase indicating indirect object [Beneficiary of active verb].
    Hook, the poler, is the human bargee. Why isn’t every passenger a “bargee”? Because there’s only one “passenger” on the (old-fashioned) barge who must be, who’s always, on the barge.
    The fact that a rational sentence can be formed in which the poler is an indirect object who’s activity is causing his/her own Benefit- a Beneficiary who’s also an Agent, if the relationship of action is looked at from a different angle- sounds like the sticking point.
    In his post, John C. suggests that bargee and devotee are unlikely to be rationalized as -ees formed under the paradigm of of indirect object (Beneficiary) -ees. Is this stickiness really so difficult logically or linguistically ??

  164. scarabaeus says:

    I hate to barge in but a infamous diarist did once say
    Bargee
    A bargeman.
    1666 PEPYS Diary (1879) VI. 89 Spent the evening on the water, making sport with the Westerne bargees.

  165. dg: I’m not pretending to be scientific in this; I’m just trying to make reasonable guesses.
    The fact that a rational sentence can be formed in which the poler is an indirect object who’s activity is causing his/her own Benefit- a Beneficiary who’s also an Agent, if the relationship of action is looked at from a different angle- sounds like the sticking point.
    I’m all for recognizing the reality of multiple points of view, but for me this “different angle” is the one obvious angle. Hook seems so obviously the Agent; and for that matter when I think Beneficiary I think first of whoever hired him and his barge to move the load. Of course, Hook benefits, too, charging his fee, but still. Even if the boat is to be the Agent and the load is to be the Patient then I have trouble with Hook as the indirect object. I can see the vessel barging the load, but it’s a stretch to have it barging the load for the skipper rather than the shipper.
    Contortions can be fun and also good exercise, but I would say that in general the more stretched and twisted an explanation feels the less likely it is to be correct.
    We could just agree to disagree.
    -
    What about squeegee?
    -
    Then there’s bargeman, which in addition to being another word for bargee was also nautical slang for some kind of insect that infested ship’s biscuits.

  166. Well, ø, what you call a stretch I’m calling a reasonable guess marshaled in accordance with a well-attested paradigm.
    Meta-agreed.

  167. Jim Holt, writing in the Times Book Review, a meticulous prescriptivist:

    If you are like me, you might be pleased rather than annoyed when others commit such glaring solecisms, since they afford a momentary feeling of superiority. A perusal of Fowler will show you how dangerous that is. I never misuse “aggravate,” “transpire,” “eke out,” “ilk” or “discomfit” (all of which should be looked up in Fowler just for his witty strictures). Yet I now humiliatingly discover that I’ve been a lifelong abuser of “meticulous.” Fowler calls it a “wicked word,” a pretentious and ignorant borrowing from French; properly, it means not “careful,” but “frightened” — indeed, teeth-chatteringly so — coming, as it does, from the Latin metus (fear). My slipshod use of “meticulous” has no doubt been silently deplored all these years by those who have read their Fowler more meticulously — er, punctiliously — than me (or I).

  168. And the article ends:
    “But if you do become yet another obsessive Fowlerian epicure, remember: the pleasures of usage snobbery are best enjoyed in private.”

  169. Damn. For me “meticulous” was so wedded to its familiar sense as to be almost onomatopoetic. Hats off and good-bye to a fine word.

  170. Stuff! And furthermore, nonsense! “To speak English correctly, you do not need to know any other language.” –Nick Nicholas, defending the hoi polloi on his blog to Hat’s query

  171. For me, the definitive Earnest is not any film, but a performance I saw in a tiny theatre underneath the supermarket on Eighth Avenue in the 20s. The performers did not use RP accents, but the actor who played Lady B. (unfortunately, I have no memory of his name) didn’t sound a bit like the rest: he moved up the scale nearly an octave between “hand-” and “-bag”, and delivered the line “Was he [Bunbury] the victim of a revolutionary outrage?” (one of my favorites) with nearly every syllable on a different pitch. In short, he was a screaming queen, and the audience, very much including Gale and me, roared with delighted laughter throughout.

  172. For me, the definitive Earnest is not any film, but a performance I saw in a tiny theatre underneath the supermarket on Eighth Avenue in the 20s.

    I had no idea you were that old! Was Eugene O’Neill there, by any chance?

  173. I knew someone would think that, but I couldn’t see a way to gracefully block the move. One to you.

  174. *advances pawn*

  175. David Marjanović says:

    For me “meticulous” was so wedded to its familiar sense as to be almost onomatopoetic.

    You are not alone.

  176. David, I was going to chime in in agreement with you, but then I remembered that I’m the one *you’re* agreeing with.

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