RIP

In the last week I have learned, via social media, of the deaths of three older men who I met earlier in my life through my involvement in music in two different cities as I moved around – a cathedral organist/choir director/university lecturer, a pipe organ builder and a stalwart of the local music theatre company. I knew them well enough to remember them and to want to express my condolences, but not well enough to keep in contact with them as I moved around (though I did bump into one on one visit to that city). I left messages on the Facebook pages of their closest family member (two of whom I knew as well or better, and one of whom I only saw around and never actually spoke to, so I explained who I was). One replied briefly and the other two “hearted” my comment

The English phrase Rest in peace is often used in this context. This conveniently shares initials with the Latin phrase Requiescat in pace, but there’s a difference. Requiescat is subjunctive, and is better (and sometimes, maybe often or even usually) translated May (s/he) rest in piece. Rest by itself is imperative, so Rest in peace is Requiesce in pace (singular) or Requiescite in pace (plural). The plural of Requiescat in pace is Requiescant in pace. All of these are derived from the noun requies, which is best known in its accusative form requiem (as in Requiem aeternum dona eis, Domine, Grant them eternal rest, Lord. Requies, in turn, means re + quies, or quiet again.

So, Requiescite in pace David, Peter and Peter, though I’m not sure if “quiet” is an appropriate wish for an organist, organ builder and singer. I like to imagine them getting together somewhere and making a joyful noise.

In fact, rechecking those three Facebook pages, I have just learned of the death a few months ago of another musical acquaintance, so Requiesce in pace Mary as well. I may have to stop reading Facebook.

(Most of the Latin from Wikitionary.)

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Wrong or right?

I’ve been sorting through paper documents and computer files, and been finding all sorts of miscellaneous things. One is a photocopy of a page from a textbook, at the bottom of which I wrote two sentences spoken by two students. This is at least two-and-a-half years old (that is, before I went to Korea the second time) and is more likely to be closer to four (I vaguely remember that it dates from when another teacher and I swapped upper- and lower-level classes for two days each week – these sentences came from the lower-level class).

The activity was “Speaking: Real life”. Seven scenarios are given, and I got the students to write their sentences before they spoke them (which is why I was able to copy these two sentences; I probably wouldn’t have had time if they had just spoken them). One scenario is “You are buying a ticket in a railway station. The clerk says the price of the ticket but you don’t understand him. What do you say?”

One student wrote (and later said):

Sorry I not good English so you writing this paper please.

The second sentence isn’t related to the same activity, and I can’t think of the context. Anyway, another student wrote:

I can’t ride motorcycle, because I’m not learn ride bicycle yet. But I have learn drive car before.

These sentences are “wrong”, but in many ways they are very “right” – most of the right words are there, in the right order, and there’s absolutely no doubt what those students meant; most of what is missing is the “grammar”.

Unfortunately, I can’t remember what I said about those sentences, or how I went about correcting them.

as free as a bag

A sign at a supermarket says Single-use plastic bag free from [date]. I know what they mean — [Single-use plastic bag]-free — but it’s awkward. When the unwanted item is one word, it’s easy to write, say gluten-free (uncountable) or car-free (uncountable note that this is ‘free of cars’, not ‘free of car’), but when it is a multi-word phrase, itself with a hyphen, we can’t write Single-use-plastic-bag-free. The best I can suggest is to rephrase the whole thing as No single-use plastic bags from [date].

At least they didn’t write Single-use plastic bags free from [date]. Single-use plastic bags have always been free, which is part of the whole problem.

(Note that there’s “free as in speech” free software, which is “distributed under terms that allow users to run the software for any purpose as well as to study, change, and distribute it and any adapted versions” and “free as in beer” freeware, which “may be used without payment, but is most often proprietary software and usually modification, re-distribution or reverse-engineering without the author’s permission is prohibited”: see here. I have no idea what “free as in gluten” software might be.)

Legal editing bloopers

For some years I worked as a editor at a legal publishing company. Along the way I jotted down some instances of typos, incongruities and bizarrities. I knew I had this document somewhere, but found it accidentally yesterday. I originally italicised the relevant words and made snarky comments about many, but decided to present them “straight” here. I have added a small amount of explanation though.

Some of the usual suspects are here: typos, prepositional phrase attachment, dangling modifiers, and meanings or usage changing over time or between legal and general use (eg intercourse), as well as witnesses, lawyers and judges speaking on-the-spot. Some I edited before publishing; others I had to leave because of the limits of our publishing agreement with the court, or because they were in existing published sources. I hope I haven’t included things which aren’t on public record somewhere. I have edited a few names. Continue reading

Grammarbites part 11 – passive voice

Part 1 – introduction

Part 8 – Building words, prefixes and suffixes

Part 9 – Latin, Greek, French, Norse and English words

Part 6 – sentence types

Part 5 – nouns

Part 10 – determiners

Part 2 – auxiliary and modal verbs

Part 3 – regular and irregular main verbs

Part 7 – pronunciation – the basic sounds of English

Part 4 – pronunciation – consonant clusters

9.1 – Passive voice

(1a) Juliet is a young woman.
(1b) Juliet is in love.
(1c) Juliet is happy.

(2) The Prince banishes Romeo. > (2’) Romeo is banished by the Prince.

(3a) This makes Juliet sad. > (3a’) (?) Juliet is made sad by this.
(3aa) This saddens Juliet. > (3aa’) Juliet is saddened by this.
(3b) This makes Juliet cry. > (3b’) (?) Juliet is made to cry by this.

(4) Friar Lawrence gives Juliet a potion. > (4’) Juliet is given a potion by Friar Lawrence. >> (4’’) (?) A potion is given Juliet by Friar Lawrence.
(4a) Friar Lawrence gives a potion to Juliet. > (4a’) A potion is given to Juliet by Friar Lawrence. >> (4a’’) To Juliet is given a potion by Friar Lawrence.

(5) Juliet dies.

[For more about these sentence types, see here.]

Continue reading

celebrate celebrities, because because

One recent grammar activity in the textbook was building abstract nouns from a given concrete noun, verb or adjective plus one of give set of seven suffixes: –hood, –ship, –dom, –ity, –ness, -(a)tion and –ment. One of the given words was celebrate. The expected answer is celebration, but one student wrote celebrity. In real life, yes, in this activity no. Maybe in these days of manufactured famous-for-being-famous “celebrities”, we lose sight of the fact that we (should) celebrate celebrities and celebrities are, literally, celebrated. A celebrated tv star is very different from a celebrity tv star (though in one or two cases I won’t name, it could be arguable exactly which side of the coin s/he is on).

But in this activity celebrat(e) + ity results in celebratity, which is wrong. But are we limited to root + suffix, or can we make other spelling changes? There’s the drop-the-e rule, obviously, and another example was possible > possibility, which needs the insertion of an i. And is celebrity an abstract noun? No and yes. We most often talk about a celebrity (concrete), but we can also talk about the idea of celebrity (abstract). Continue reading

a done deal

For some  time, the New South Wales state government and the Australian government have been discussing building a second international airport in western Sydney, which was finally announced earlier this year. The proposal has attracted some opposition in the area, for various reasons. Today I went driving and not much bushwalking in the lower Blue Mountains. Several protest posters along the road read (something like) ‘IT’S NOT A DONE DEAL YET. DON’T GIVE UP THE FIGHT.’ Someone, obviously a supporter of the proposal, has crossed out the NOT and DON’T, so the signs now read ‘IT’S A DONE DEAL YET. GIVE UP THE FIGHT.’

The first sentence has been rendered problematic because YET is a negative polarity item – it is only (or usually) used in negative statements and questions. The closest positive polarity item is ALREADY, but ‘IT’S A DONE DEAL ALREADY’ is less standard than‘IT’S ALREADY A DONE DEAL’. These items can often be omitted: the simplest positive statement is ‘IT’S A DONE DEAL’ and the simplest negative statement is ‘IT’S NOT A DONE DEAL’.

Google Ngrams shows that the usage of ‘a done deal’ (an arrangement which is finalised or is seen to be inevitable) has skyrocketed since 1980. I can’t think why. I suspect that it was used in informal spoken English for some time before it was widely written.