Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Today's Good Grammar and Good Taste Award goes to ...

... smartalec on Glenn's blog for the following:
It's very disappointing to me -- who have had to watch both my favorite local bookstore and one of the best NY landmarks both ...

Good taste, of course, for supporting the small, independent merchant over the megacorporate giant.

But good grammar for both knowing that a relative pronoun agrees with its antecedent in person and number and for acting on that knowledge in the face of the knowledge that 99.9% of English speakers would have said and would have expected *"who has" instead of the grammatically correct "who have".

It's time to remember that castigating those who use poor grammar is not enough. It's not even enough to point out that many pedagogical grammatical "rules" are nonsense from a language-historical point of view. It is also necessary to reward those with the courage to practice good grammar in public.

So kudos to smartalec for winning the first (and possibly last) ever "Good Grammar and Good Taste Award". The prize includes (consists entirely of, in fact) a year's free subscription to The Chocolate Interrobang.

25 comments:

Karen M said...

An excellent idea, Frankly, my dear... !

And I'm willing to offer a bit more than the free one-year subscription to The Chocolate Interrobang.

If smartalec is willing to send me his snailmail address via the email link in my profile... I think a bar of G&B would be in order.

[F,md feel free to correct my grammar any time.]

certifiedprepwn3d said...

Hear hear! Well done on the relative pronoun, smartalec; and, Karen M, I really like the idea of "courage to practice good grammar in public" -

Karen M said...

Same here, Certified'. That was the money phrase for me, too.

We could give out the occasional award... props here and a bar of chocolate in the mail. What do you think?

William Timberman said...

Easier to see in a construction like I, who have eaten there many times.... In such a case, the correct verb form would be idiomatic.

The problem in the award-winning sentence is the objective case of the antecedent. That's where the connection is lost, and where idiom and rule have chosen to do battle. You folks do understand, do you not, that in this case, as in almost every other of note, the rule is going to lose?

Karen M said...

You folks do understand, do you not, that in this case, as in almost every other of note, the rule is going to lose?

WT: I do. [In fact, that's why I asked F,md... to feel free to correct my grammar any time. I feel I mostly practice good grammar, but I could have made the error, and used "has."]

Still, why not reward those with the "courage to practice good grammar in public?"

It isn't an Emmy or a Grammy or an Oscar, but it does come with a certain cachet that none of those does. (?) Well, except maybe the Emmy; the stage actors always seem more literate and articulate. [My bias.]

I do think we need a "nickname" for the award, though, like the ones I mentioned above.

Thoughts, anyone?

Frankly, my dear, ... said...

I do think we need a "nickname" for the award, though, like the ones I mentioned above.

Well Grammy® is already taken and Tasty seems to be in somewhat dubious taste (I just love double entendres). I suppose it could be called the Winston since "Good Grammar and Good Taste" is a parody of an old Winston cigarette ad that was itself a parody of another ad that proclaimed "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should." They got so much flak over using "like" as a conjunction that they decided to capitalize on it with another ad that asked "What do you want? — Good grammar or good taste?" For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why one couldn't have both.

But I'd hate to give free advertising to a cigarette, so maybe we could call the award a Winston and claim it is named after Churchill.

William Timberman said...

How 'bout a Charlie, as in they don't want tunas with good taste, they want tunas that taste good?

Karen M said...

F,md...: I just love your brainstorming process... I still remember that Winston ad being used in English class...

Either the "Winston" or the "Churchill" works for me.

Or maybe the "Both" or "Bothie" award for wanting both good grammar AND good taste?

Either way, we would also be fighting back against the administration's false dichotomies in a grammatically subversive way.

Hmmmm.... We could always have more than one award, too.

?!

Karen M said...

WT: I still had my comment box open, and so did not see your suggestion before posting my comment.

Another good one!

William Timberman said...

In honor of my current assignment -- euphemism vs. the caprices of the muse -- how about one for calling-a-spade-a-spade? Or perhaps one for the bon-mot-out-of-nowhere?

Karen M said...

An excellent idea, WT! We have to use up the award names, after all.

Now, if this were a Quaker blog (but it's not), we'd probably have to have some kind of committee to sort it all out.

I'm hoping we can just muddle through it. Unfortunately, IntrovertGirl is still on vacation. I wouldn't want her to feel excluded on something this momentous. So, I think I'll paste this post and its comments into an email for her... and see if she responds.

In the meantime, we still have some other parties from whom we have not heard. ;~)

Gordon said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Karen M said...

Gordon:

Please accept my apologies for not posting the open thread soon enough. I ended up getting home a little later than I thought I would.

I have just moved your comment from here to the open thread...

Jeff W said...

The problem in the award-winning sentence is the objective case of the antecedent. That's where the connection is lost, and where idiom and rule have chosen to do battle. You folks do understand, do you not, that in this case, as in almost every other of note, the rule is going to lose?

"Battle"? What "battle"? Such a thing would never have occurred to me, who am in strong disagreement with even the illusory premise of your dire "prediction."

But then again, I try never to stray too far from The Mother Tongue

Oh, I vote for Charlie. by the way.

John Cowan said...

There's a particularly difficult case in the apocryphal Bible book 2 Esdras (known to Catholics as the deutero-canonical book 4 Esdras), verse 3:1. The Latin version (any earlier versions are lost) says "ego Salathiel qui et Esdras". The King James translators rendered this literally as "I, Salathiel, who am also Ezra", with "am" in italics because there is no equivalent of it in the original. (Cf. 1 Kings 13:27: And he spake to his sons, saying, Saddle me the ass. And they saddled him.)

That translation has been controversial ever since. Is the relative clause rightly to be attached to "I", with "Salathiel" a mere interloping appositive, or is it part of the appositive and attached to "Salathiel", in which case "who is also Ezra" would be correct?

Both translations, as well as the smartalec line to which you refer, offend my 21st-century English-language Sprachgefühl, frankly. Sentences like this should not be rewarded but reworded.

Jeff W said...

Sentences like this should not be rewarded but reworded.

I nominate that as a Notable Quote.

The additional issues when considering an appositive had not occurred to me. Thanks for the comment, John!

Frankly, my dear, ... said...

The Latin version (any earlier versions are lost) says "ego Salathiel qui et Esdras". The King James translators rendered this literally as "I, Salathiel, who am also Ezra", with "am" in italics because there is no equivalent of it in the original. (Cf. 1 Kings 13:27: And he spake to his sons, saying, Saddle me the ass. And they saddled him.)

I can't say that I can see the relevance of the 1 Kings comparison since there is no appositive involved and the KJV is not translating the Vulgate, but the Hebrew, which is shown by the presence of "saying" in the translation which doesn't appear in the Vulgate (dixitque ad filios suos sternite mihi asinum qui cum stravissent), but does appear in the Hebrew (ױדבּר על־בּניו לעמר חבשׁוּ־לי עת־החמר ױחבשׁוּ).

So you're using a Latin translation having a relative pronoun of a Hebrew verse that doesn't have a relative pronoun and comparing a translation of Hebrew into English with a translation of Latin into English.

Now the KJV translators have done a pretty good job of rendering the Hebrew into English — "And they saddled him" is precisely what the Hebrew says. Jerome's rendering into Latin I'm not so sure about. Cum + subjunctive is pretty good for a wa-consecutive, but I can't really justify the relative qui, which is nominative. There are three possible antecedents: the speaker, the ass, and the sons. The first option can be dropped because the likelihood that the sons saddled their father is negligible. The ass is also not an option because a relative pronoun in Latin takes its gender and number from its antecedent, but its case from its use in its own clause. Since the ass is what is being saddled, if the relative pronoun refers to the ass then it should be accusative: quem. Therefore qui cum stravissent cannot be translated *"and they saddled him". Thus qui can only be the nominative plural and serves as the subject of the verb stravissent which is also plural.

However, none of this has any bearing on Jerome's rendering of 2 Esdras 3:1. He blows off the person of the relative pronoun by not using a verb because that is the only way one can tell person with Latin relative pronouns (whereas gender, number, and case are determined morphologically). This is likely not his fault as the original language, be it Aramaic or Hebrew, probably did not use a verb either (by and large, Semitic languages do not use a verb 'to be' with any regularity, especially in nominal sentences or clauses. But this illustrates the reason for the rule. By specifying agreement in person with the antecedent, it makes it possible to identify the antecedent in cases like this if a verb is used. If not, not. So Jerome has short-circuited the translation by not using a verb. If Jerome had popped in a sum or an est there wouldn't be any question about the translation. But he was probably just following what he had in front of him, and besides, there are so many first person forms in the verse that he doubtless thought that no one would ever question it.

Both translations, as well as the smartalec line to which you refer, offend my 21st-century English-language Sprachgefühl, frankly. Sentences like this should not be rewarded but reworded.

They don't do my sense of concord any good either. In fact, the rule is usually illustrated in class with something like "You must listen to me, who am your teacher." This, although grammatically correct, really jars my cognitive processes. But after all the Sprachgefühling around, we're left with the fact that there is a reason for the rule (to make it easier to identify the antecedent of a relative pronoun). It's been stated here several times that one has to know a rule before one is allowed to break it. I have a narrower criterion: one has to know the reason for the rule before one can break it. In most cases, this will prevent unintended consequences. And I do agree that I would go a long way out of my way to reword a sentence to avoid the rule. But when someone has the courage to actually use the construction and follow the rule, that, in my opinion, deserves recognition.

But I'm willing to discuss it.

Karen M said...

You conclude with such understatement, F,md... ;~)

I could almost envsion the kernel of a parody of a Tom Stoppard play (only shorter) in all of that. It happened when I read "There are three possible antecedents: the speaker, the ass, and the sons."

John Cowan, we have you to thank for this interesting tanget. I hope you'll continue to visit and comment here. (We're still new & finding our way... figuring out what kind of blog this really is.)

Did I already say to someone (or maybe dream that I did) that short playlets that deal with language might be fun, too. Do we have any aspiring playwrights among us? Or, even among those who are not yet among us?

William Timberman said...

Jeff, John Cowan makes my point for me, and eloquently, as you note.

If it isn't a battle, it's at least a minefield. I hear people blunder into it daily -- those who lack our subtle sense of law and lawlessness, that is :-) -- and stop midway through the sentence as though stunned. They blink and look around desperately before giving up and starting over.

Contrast that with our bold English friends, who, faced with a similar conundrum, simply elevate aren't I to the status of standard usage, and go on about their business.

William Timberman said...

I've been busy for a few days, and haven't had much time to read the comments, but in looking more intently now at F,md's scholarly contribution here, I wonder if (s)he would consider doing a piece on the relative strengths of languages which rely on inflection and those which rely on word order as the basis of their grammar.

We've seen something in this thread of the knicker-twists bad combinations of the two occasionally visit on our mother tongue, and earlier we reflected on those sinuous combinations of verb and preposition which our teutonic ancestors bequeathed to us, but what of that other remote ancestor; what of Latin?

I remember years ago staring without much hope of comprehension at the intricate puzzles of Latin engineering when suddenly the full glory of the ablative absolute opened my eyes.

Ain't nothing like it in English, just as there's nothing like turn on me, turn me on in Latin, not as far as I know, anyway.

So, F,md, how about it? Does such a subject tickle your fancy?

Frankly, my dear, ... said...

William: If it isn't a battle, it's at least a minefield. I hear people blunder into it daily -- those who lack our subtle sense of law and lawlessness, that is :-) -- and stop midway through the sentence as though stunned. They blink and look around desperately before giving up and starting over.

I wasn't aware that there was any real dispute over your point. It is just the way that language works. Language is always a series of engineering trade-offs between fewer rules for ease of speaking and more rules for differentiation of meaning. There are practical limits to how far either of these processes can go, otherwise the language either becomes too ambiguous for communication or it becomes too complex for its speakers to use. But the concept that complex rules will be simplified or eliminated is overall a valid one. I just wouldn't consider it a battle — more like a war of attrition. As older speakers who cherish the rules taught by schoolmarms in their one-room schoolhouses die off, the younger speakers will not defend the rules with the same dedication. Eventually the rule will only exist in outdated grammar books and lengthy tomes detailing the history of the language.

Contrast that with our bold English friends, who, faced with a similar conundrum, simply elevate aren't I to the status of standard usage, and go on about their business.

While the American will just use ain't I and not worry about the lexical inappropriateness of a putative *amn't I.

I've been busy for a few days, and haven't had much time to read the comments, but in looking more intently now at F,md's scholarly contribution here, I wonder if (s)he would consider doing a piece on the relative strengths of languages which rely on inflection and those which rely on word order as the basis of their grammar.

Now, WT, I confirmed my male gender to you way back on the old UT when our paths first crossed (although admittedly I have no evidence that you saw the comment and all the comment threads from those days have been zeroed). But we're all friends here (or at least unindicted co-conspirators), so I'm male and yes, I'm both an academic and an editor by (current) profession.

On the subject of the relative strengths of inflecting versus analytic/isolating languages, I'm not sure that I'm in a position to do that. The only analytic/isolating language that I know is English and any knowledge that I may have of Chinese, the classic analytic/isolating language, is rudimentary at best.

We've seen something in this thread of the knicker-twists bad combinations of the two occasionally visit on our mother tongue, and earlier we reflected on those sinuous combinations of verb and preposition which our teutonic ancestors bequeathed to us, but what of that other remote ancestor; what of Latin?

Latin isn't an ancestor of English, at least not in the technical meaning of the term in historical linguistics. It is a source language, but so are many of the other languages of the world. Latin, because of its prestige, just happens to have had more influence on English than most of the other source languages. If you consider a Latin-French continuum, this combination has had more influence on English than any other non-Germanic language.

I remember years ago staring without much hope of comprehension at the intricate puzzles of Latin engineering when suddenly the full glory of the ablative absolute opened my eyes.

Ah, yes — there's nothing like a good ablative absolute to set the pulses racing:

     Urbe capta, Aeneas fugit
     The city having been captured, Aeneas flees.

Ain't nothing like it in English, just as there's nothing like turn on me, turn me on in Latin, not as far as I know, anyway.

There are plenty of absolutes in English, just no ablatives.

     Hat in hand, he entered the office.
     Having lost the battle, they sued for peace.
     Generally speaking, there is no excuse for ignorance.

An absolute construction is simply one that modifies the entire rest of the sentence or clause rather than any particular word or phrase in it. Absolutes are less natural in English than in Latin, probably because the English absolute is actually transplanted from Latin. Indeed, English absolute constructions are often misidentified as "dangling participles":

     Walking down the street, we saw a magnificent Georgian house.
     Lookin through the window, I saw an enormous bear on the lawn.

On the other hand, I think that you are quite correct that you can't change the entire meaning by rearranging the words in Latin since the relationship of the words in a sentence is determined by the morphology (except possibly for switching the subject with a predicate nominative which reverses the sense but still doesn't change the meaning the way that 'she turned me on/she turned on me' does).

So, F,md, how about it? Does such a subject tickle your fancy?

My fancy is easy to tickle. In fact, before I had even seen this, I had started a draft of a posting on Latin. I was only planning on doing a reprise of some of the most common such as the recently (and often) seen *cassus belli and one of my least favorites *ad nauseum, but I might consider expanding it to take in word order. But if I know me, it won't need expanding, but cutting back.

Karen M said...

Wonderful-- something else to look forward to... or, in case anyone else is still reading... to which I may look forward.

;~)

Jeff W said...

FDM, as I can't begin to express how much I've enjoyed your writing here, I'll just ask you to err on the side of inclusion, please.

William Timberman said...

Thanks, FMD. The use of ancestor was imprecise when speaking of the hatrack, perhaps, but not when speaking of the hats.

Our absolutes seem awfully lackadaisical, and lact the compactness which the ablative case gave their Latin antecedents. I'm also fond of the German passive-voice equivalents:

Es wurde überall getantzt.

John Cowan said...

FMD writes:

I can't say that I can see the relevance of the 1 Kings comparison ...

Well, no, of course not. There isn't any. My reference was a slender jest based on the modern habit of reading words in italics as bearing contrastive stress. "Saddle me the ass", and they saddled him. That's all. No more to it. Really. I'm sorry to have put you to such trouble (although I greatly enjoyed the result). Parturient montes &c.

On rules and reasons: I admit that this is right in the domain of rhetoric, but insofar as we are to be understood as writing in our own language (obviously not true when the trivium flourished), I deny that it applies to the domain of grammar. Even for Latin grammar it is problematic; see this anecdote of John Horne Tooke.

Would-be grammarians of English, in their ignorance, are constantly erecting such rules on what they conceive to be logical grounds (there are other reasons, but the misuse of logic is what's at stake here) without basis in actual usage, and then the rules catch on with other purveyors till it is impossible to get rid of them. The which/that scourge, which outlaws the practice of all the best writers of English (generally including those who peddle it) is simply the best example, but by no means the only one.