Mind your language

The Dog-star rages! nay, ’tis past a doubt,
All Bedlam, or Parnassus, is let out:
Fire in each eye, and papers in each hand,
They rave, recite, and madden round the land.

I see from Language Log (The WaPo opens an abusage forum) that the Telegraph blog (Never in the field of uninformed linguistics has so much nonsense been spouted by so many What is the most annoying phrase in the English language?) has now had just over 2600 comments. For example, Richard Cotton said

The equally commonly used ‘different to’ rather than the more correct ‘different from’.

If the latter is “more correct”, then it appears the former is less correct, but correct nonetheless. Personally, I’ve used both and mind neither, although I can assure readers of a sensitive disposition that I never use “than” which remains, principally but not exclusively in my mind, part of the grammar of American English.

Chris C is kind of onto something, and then falls off the wagon.

Language must change and develop, of course, it cannot stultify, but so much now is not experimentation and growth, but merely a demonstration of ignorance of upsetting proportions.

Kate Brazier says

“Falling pregnant” – Daily Telegraph you are no stranger to this phrase, unfortunately. Past tense use: “When I fell”

I must admit that this is one idiom I’m unaware of. I didn’t know that you could “fall pregnant”. Google gives 105K hits for it. Where, pray tell, does it come from? Is it another Americanism? On the first page of hits, there are four links to Australian sites and – oh sweet irony – a link about this very phrase which sends me back to a Telegraph article by Simon Heffer from July last year (How words fall pregnant with the possibility of being twisted). According to Heffer, the OED gives an instance from 1722. Mr Bamboo might be a little out of touch, but 285 years must be a new record for him.

The phrases “get/got pregnant” garner 2.31 million hits altogether via Google (“get pregnant” 1.24 million; “got pregnant” 1.07 million). That’s a relief. I’m not as out of touch as I thought.

Anyway, Kate’s contention is not that the phrase is odd, but that some hack has had the gall, nay damn’d impertinence to use it in a non-finite clause.

Angela McCullagh remarks on “function” and “functionality”:

A quite hideous word that sets my teeth on edge, is “functionality”. If you ask anybody guilty of uttering it what it actually means, they usually respond with “well… function”

Perhaps in some cases “functionality” is being used as the formal form of “function”, but I don’t feel that these two words have exactly the same meaning. I’m thinking of “function” as the general purpose of a thing, and “functionality” as the range of a thing’s functions.

J.C. Williams is a total red rag to my bull when he says

My other pet hate, used by many, including Lynn Truss in “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”, is to start a sentence with “However”. She quite rightly says that you cannot start a sentence with “But”, so what is “however”, other than a longer form of “but”.

What, the high priestess doth err? Well, looks like I’m going to have to watch porn all afternoon to recover from that. Actually, what bothers me is hearing once again that you shouldn’t start a sentence with “but” (or “however”). Sounds like it’s time for a quick, crude survey of sentence-initial “but” from those times when English was used with greater rectitude than it is in this present, barbarous age.

The Essays by Francis Bacon (early 17th century): 136 times
The Advancement of Learning by Francis Bacon (early 17th century): 191 times
The New Atlantis by Francis Bacon (early 17th century): 32 times
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke (late 17th century): 607 times
The Spectator by Addison, Steele et al. (early 18th century): 1137 times
Essays, Moral, Political, Literary by David Hume (late 18th century): 592 times
Carmilla by Sheridan le Fanu (mid 19th century): 53 times

I think I’ve made my point. Is the injunction against sentence-initial “but” (and “and”) one of Bishop Lowth’s idioticisms?

That’s enough from the Telegraph for the moment. Besides, it’s a nice day here and I thought I might go for a wander.


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