between you and I

Several weeks ago at the gym I heard a song which begins:

There’s a thousand miles between you and I. 

Two years ago (to the day, coincidentally), I posted about the usage of the equivalent of you and I/me as subject, direct object and object of a preposition, so I wasn’t going to post just about that. (I seem to remember that the next song correctly had you and me after a verb or preposition.)

Yesterday I posted about the song Yesterday, and Batchman, who has been my number 1 commenter recently, said, among other things:

In general, using pop songs to illustrate grammar treads on risky ground. Think about all the songs with some variant of “for you and I” in them.

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Romeo loves Juliet?

English has a number of ways to ask questions, with some smaller or bigger differences in effect.

We can ask:

Romeo loves Juliet?

by adding an upwards inflection at the end. This probably indicates that I haven’t heard you properly, or surprise on my part.

We can emphasise one, two or even all of the words:

Romeo loves Juliet? Who did you say? Did you say Romeo? or I thought Tybalt loved Juliet. 
Romeo loves Juliet? What did you say? Did you say he loves her? or I thought he hated her. 
Romeo loves Juliet? Who did you say? Did you say Juliet? or I thought he loved Rosaline.  

Romeo loves Juliet? Let me get this right – we’re talking about Romeo, and you’re saying he loves her.
Romeo loves Juliet? etc
Romeo loves Juliet?

Romeo loves Juliet? probably Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: RomeolovesJuliet? (I can’t even …)  

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clarity and conciseness

As if punctuation, spelling and grammar weren’t enough, Microsoft Word is now flagging ‘clarity and conciseness’. Unfortunately, it gets many ideas wrong. Fortunately, my particular editing task means that I can ignore it all anyway, and I must find out how to turn it off. But then I’d have less to blog about.

Some of its rules are questionable at the best of times, and some take a reasonable rule beyond its useful extreme by not looking at the context. 

It flags ‘all of’, suggesting a change to ‘all’, eg ‘all of the time’ to ‘all the time’. Fair enough, ‘of’ is not essential, but ‘all of the N’ is an established if less-used variation of ‘all the N’, perhaps slightly informal. Crucially, it sometimes occurs in the longer phrase ‘some or all of the time’. Close to no-one says or writes ‘some or all the time’ or even the possible ‘some of or all the time’.

It flags ‘similar to’ and suggests ‘like’, but the context was that ‘N1 is likely to be similar to N2’. ‘N1 is likely to be like N2’ is used, but is awkward.

It doesn’t like the word ‘particular’, suggesting changing ‘a particular school’ to ‘a school’. But the issue was not whether a child should go to ‘a school’, but rather whether s/he should go to that specific school. ‘Particular(s)’ can also be used as a noun. ‘When asked to provide more particulars, he stated …’ cannot be changed to ‘When asked to provide more, he stated …’.

Finally, ‘sufficient’ is not interchangeable with ‘enough’ when used attributively: ‘an acceptable or sufficient record’ cannot be changed to ‘an acceptable or enough record’.

Certainly, some speakers or writers fall into habits of unclarity and/or unconciseness, but these words are not unclear or unconcise in and of themselves (< I would expect it to flag ‘in and of’). 

PS 4 August. Yesterday, I noticed that it suggested changing ‘make a decision’ to ‘decide’. Today, just before I turned it off, I noticed ‘make a decision favourable to the plaintiff’, which cannot be ‘decide favourable to the plaintiff’, but might be ‘decide in favour of the plaintiff’.

intercourse

A document referred to someone engaging in what would colloquially be called a one-night stand. I had to write a formal summary of the legal issues in the document. So do I write ‘one-night stand’ or … what? What is the formal way to say one-night stand? I started with “one-time extra-marital sexual …” then couldn’t think of the next word – encounter, incident, intercourse? My team leader suggested “short-term extra-marital sexual relationship”, but I had problems with both short-term and relationship. Short-term surely implies something longer than one act of sexual intercourse (minutes to hours). A short-term relationship is surely days or weeks or maybe months. Again, a relationship surely implies more than one act. A one-night stand may be sexual relations, but it isn’t a sexual relationship. But then Dictionary.com defines relationship first as “a connection, association, or involvement” (which would include one act of sexual intercourse) and fourth as “a sexual involvement; affair”. An affair, in turn, is “an intense amorous relationship, usually of short duration”. But it would be hard to call a one-night stand an affair. 

Intercourse started as a perfectly ordinary word meaning “communication or dealings between individuals or groups”. I encountered it several times in the writings of members of the First Fleet who arrived in the new colony of New South Wales in January 1788, and actually used it in the title of my term paper and throughout the paper. The British had intercourse with the natives, and also with the sailors on two French ships which arrived in Botany Bay a few days later.

Some time ago I was a party, and we somehow got to using the older sense of intercourse as often as we could, saying how much we enjoyed intercourse with each other and how we should do it more often. We reduced one member of the group to fits of giggles every time we used it.

put on, take off and phrasal verbs in general

An article about safety work boots described their major features in complete sentences and some minor ones in a bullet point list. My editor doesn’t like bullet point lists, so I either rewrite them as complete sentences if they are interesting or delete them if they’re not. One feature in the bullet point list was that the boots, in addition to laces, had a side zip for ‘easy on and off’. 

Standard English uses ‘put on’ and ‘take off’ or remove’. There is no standard synonym for ‘put on’. If there was, I could have written ‘for easy ____ and removal’. Instead, I had to write ‘for easy putting on and taking off’, which is not completely elegant.

‘put on’ and ‘take off’ are both phrasal verbs. Many phrasal verbs have a single-word synonym which is usually longer and usually more formal. One feature of phrasal verbs is that the opposite is not formed simply by changing its second element to its opposite. ‘Put off’ and ‘take on’ both mean something completely different.

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Not sure about these …

I recently encountered three usages which I’m not sure are good or bad. About half of the articles I subedit come directly from companies, and about half from PR agents. If PR agents have an official title, it’s usually something like “account manager”. But one has the title of “chief wordsmith”. It’s a real word, dating from 1895-1900, meaning:

1. A fluent and prolific writer, especially one who writes professionally.
2. An expert on words. (The Free Dictionary)

So a PR agent certainly fits that definition. But there’s something slightly strange about the word. Most smiths either work(ed) with metal (blacksmith (iron), coppersmith, goldsmith, ironsmith, redsmith (copper), silversmith, tinsmith, whitesmith (tin plate and galvanised iron)) or make/made artefacts from it (2). Also, the slightly problematic fingersmith, a midwife or pickpocket. A hammersmith may once have been an occupation, but the only references now are to the suburb of London. And goodness only know what a sexsmith such that it became a surname. One genealogy website suggests ploughshares (French soc) or sickles. That’s not what I was thinking.

Then there are wordsmiths, songsmiths and tunesmiths, all of which sound to me to be slightly less capable than writers, songwriters and composers, respectively. Maybe there’s something too non-physical about words, songs and tunes. 

In the end, it didn’t matter, as a PR agent’s name and title don’t appear in a published article.

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For whom, Who … for?

My wife has said a noticeable number of times:  “What are you looking?”. I think this is interference from Korean, which uses the direct object marker 을/를 instead of a preposition. Maybe I just give a short answer, eg “My glasses”, or say “I am looking for my glasses”, or say “For.  I am looking for my glasses”, depending on how much like an English teacher I feel at the time.

In this morning’s gospel reading, Jesus said to Mary Magdalene “For whom are you looking?”. This is not directly equivalent, because of the switch between what and who/whom. Google Ngrams shows that basically no-one says For what are you looking?

With who/whom, there are four choices: Who are you looking for?, Whom are you looking for?, For whom are you looking? and For who are you looking? Google Ngrams shows usage in that order. Despite the ‘rule’ that we shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition, W/who are you looking for? has always been more common, and must be regarded as normal, standard English. I was surprised to find that Whom are you looking for? is more common than For whom are you looking?. The former sound very awkward to me. If I had to be formal, I would say/write For whom are you looking?

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You and I

The grammar point in the textbook was ‘future forms’ (strictly speaking, English doesn’t have a ‘future tense’), the section was be going to V, and the prompt was David and I ________ a movie. Many students saw I and wrote David and I am going to see/watch a movie. But David and I functions as we, so the sentence must be David and I (=we) are going to see/watch a movie.

One student asked “Should that be David and me are going to see/watch a movie?”. I’m aware of variation within English, but I had to be standard and say “No, David is going to watch a movie and I am going to watch a movie, so David and I are going to watch a movie”. I are sounds wrong even in that context, but so does me are.

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Ms, Miss and Mrs

Yesterday I filled in and submitted a mail redirection form with Australia Post. In the list of names I wrote MR my name, MRS my wife’s name and MS our niece’s name. The clerk checked the form and asked ‘What is that? M-Z?’. I said ‘M-S’. She asked ‘So she’s been married and divorced?’. I said ‘No, never married’. She said ‘I’ll change that to MISS, then’.

I was already mildly annoyed for various reasons, and thought that arguing the point would only result in unpleasantness, so I didn’t.

So 1) an Australia Post clerk doesn’t know what MS represents. 2) an Australia Post clerk thinks it’s appropriate to change MS to MISS. 3) it is quite possible for people to receive mail address to different courtesy titles – MS and MISS, MRS and MS, DR and MR/MRS/MS/MISS or PROF and DR (and MR/MRS/MS/MISS). (It is even possible for people to receive mail addressed to two different names. We knew Dr Susan Green / Mrs Susan Prince (name slightly disguised). Not to mention many mis-spellings of names.*) 4) postal deliveries don’t rely on courtesy titles anyway. Australia Post doesn’t even use them. A few minutes ago I stumbled on their letters to my wife and niece in October notifying them that their mailing address had been changed by someone (me). Both are addressed to GIVENNAME SURNAME and there is no salutation. (*Apropos of not much, one of my sisters once worked as a secretary in a very small town. One day the post office delivered a letter for her boss addressed to “Grandpa, [name of town]”.)

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rabbit holes, dudes, weir-poles and emulosity

Oh the rabbit holes of language-related website and blogs, words and meanings!

I was reading Niall O’Donnell’s latest post and noticed at the side a picture of Jeff Bridges’ character in The big Lebowski (which I have never watched, but recognise most allusions to). Niall’s Instagram post says “Probably from the Scottish word for clothes ‘duddies,’ where we also get the word ‘duds.’”

On the other hand, dictionary.com says “An Americanism dating back to 1880–85; origin uncertain” (but being an Americanism doesn’t stop it being “from Scottish”). The first dudes were “excessively concerned with clothes, grooming, and manners”, which hardly describes Bridges’ character; partly because of this movie, one would now expect a dude to be rather scruffy and laid-back.

The five contemporary examples and three of the historical examples are unexceptional, thought we might have to think for a moment whether the writer means a ‘fastidious dude’, a man from an Eastern US city vacationing on a ranch, a ‘scruffy dude’ or just ‘any dude’’ll do.

The two others caught my eye, not for dude, but for something else in the sentence:

I allow you to—er—ornament my weir-pole, and ’tain’t every dude I’d let do that.
Cape Cod Stories [1907, short stories, scroll down to The mark on the door]
Joseph C. Lincoln

Having a dude puncher on our range kind of stirred up my emulosity.
Out of the Depths [1913, a western novel, scroll down to chapter XXI]
Robert Ames Bennet

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