Friday, February 22, 2008

Parvum Opus 266 ~ Giving Grammar Its Due


Number 266



First of all, it's RICH Lederer. So sorry. I should remember that, as Rich is so much more a Rich than the other nickname. Also, Rich sent his disquisition on the -gry riddle. He suggests counting the angels on the head of a pin instead of wasting your time on the -gry perplex, but I suggest reading his article.


Dave DaBee wrote: "My goodness, look what's at the top of the Times Most Emailed list: "Celebrating the Semicolon in a Most Unlikely Location." Leave it to Noam Chomsky to use the semicolon story to take a wholly unrelated political jab.

Dave's blog also linked to an interesting article about misleading statistics by Stephen Jay Gould. You remember Mark Twain's remark that there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.


Just a reminder that it's incorrect -- though I wouldn't say ungrammatical -- to put yourself first as the subject of a sentence when there's another subject, as in: "I and my wife went to New York" instead of "My wife and I went to New York." Maybe it's just impolite. And never, never think that the objective case should be the nominative just because the first person comes second, that is, "The folks visited my wife and I." Neither do you substitute the reflexive: "The folks visited my wife and myself." But, I've never run across a rule for who goes first in the objective case. It seems OK to say, "The folks visited me and my wife." But maybe it's not OK or even impolite. Is there a rule?


  • "They accorded themselves as we would wish them to." (Referring to the US Naval ships meeting Iranian threats.) Should have been "conducted themselves", or possibly the speaker had a vague memory of "acquitted themselves".
  • "It's very simplistic in design." "Simplistic" does not mean "simple", it means unrealistically simple or oversimplified. This is another case of straining for extra refinement in language by using the longer word, which in this case is the wrong word.
  • "Chimerism is a very unresearched phenomenon." Compare "very little researched" or possibly "under-researched". Do researchers themselves ever use this clunky construction?
  • "Heart-rendering" (from the president of the Illinois university where a shooter killed several people). Should be "heart-rending" (tearing), unless you're talking about meat processing.
  • "Congraduations". And it was not for a graduation. Could be a cute greeting card, though.
  • The clue for "propaganda" in a crossword puzzle book was "misinformation". Propaganda is not necessarily misinformation. Related to "propagate", it more or less means public relations.
  • "Took home well more than minimum wage." We can say "well over minimum wage" or "considerably more than".


Michelle Obama said that today is the first time in her adult life she's been really proud of her country. I'd say her vision has been blinkered. Of course she's younger than I am so she doesn't remember the huge and fairly rapid changes in civil rights for black people and women's rights that happened in the '50s, '60s, and '70s. But even today I can think of a lot of things to be proud of, not just the fact that a black man has a good shot at being president. Apparently Michelle Obama is not proud of Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, etc. And what about Oprah? She immediately said that she didn't mean what everyone thought she meant after she said it at least twice. Even if, as she quickly backtracked, she meant only American political life, there's already been a lot of "change". But also within her adult life, here are just a few things to appreciate:

  • The other night one of my Chinese students asked me if making jokes about the president is allowed here. It's not only allowed, it's practically a requirement for some people.
  • This is the country that millions of people risk their lives to get into illegally.
  • What's considered poverty here is wealth in many parts of the world. How many "poor" people have food, shelter, clothing, a car, bottled water along with clean, safe tap water, too much entertainment, and all kinds of electronic gadgets? These would have meant comfort and even luxury in my grandparents' era.
  • The best army in the world is now all volunteer.
  • We have possibly the best free library system in the world.
  • It may not have been Al Gore, but someone or many someones in this country created the Internet.
  • We can be proud that it's possible to take our freedoms for granted. But we shouldn't be proud of taking them for granted.


Regarding Down vs. Down's Syndrome: Mike Sykes noted other examples of this kind of variant: Alzheimer's disease, Alzheimer disease, Alzheimer's; Parkinson's disease. And:

Outside the realm of medical matters, I notice the Wikipedia entry on Planck's constant is consistently inconsistent, or perhaps, to be more charitable, one might say even-handed. It refers also to Dirac's constant. In contrast, while the article on Maxwell's equations is consistently apostrophised, that on the Maxwell relations is almost wholly unapostrophised.
I thought perhaps Newton's laws might have survived this (to me) strange practice, but googling for "the newton laws" produced nearly 1000 hits (though Google doesn't search only for the exact quoted string*) against 260,000 for "newton's laws".

There are also physical phenomena that I have never known to be apostrophised, such as the Heaviside and Appleton layers, the Humboldt current. But it's surprising what google turns up.
I wonder how the differences originated.

I browsed around in Wikipedia under apostrophe, genitive, and possessive (including the Saxon possessive!) but didn't find anything specifically applicable, though I remember reading somewhere, sometime about a variant possessive formation such as "the Smith children" (rather than "the Smiths' children"), but I don't remember what it's called.

(*Doesn't Google look for the exact search string if it's between quotation marks?)


A couple of people sent me advice about correcting the technical problems in formatting PO in e-mail. I've started out with something simpler this time, composing PO within Gmail instead of cutting and pasting from Word, which is what I did for a long time (and in Yahoo mail before that), but something changed and it wasn't me. I think this might work.

No comments: