Towards the end of each year, each department in the company I work for prepares a presentation of some kind to be distributed electronically rather than presented live. This year’s efforts are being hampered by the fact that almost everyone has been working from home almost all of the time for almost all of the year, but a colleague is very good at parody lyrics, and he’s written a song which we are currently recording separately for another colleague to edit together.
Apparently there’s a verse, which someone is singing, then the chorus is:
We worked from our homes and we worked all alone, We’re the team that does publication For me and my colleagues may never meet again On the bonny, bonny banks of the lockdown.
Linguistically, I spotted me and my colleagues. Some people would call that wrong. Certainly, my colleagues(/true love) and I is standard English, but that doesn’t fit the song, and absolutely no-one is going to sing I and my colleagues(/true love), even if it fits. Me and X is best described as a widely-used, informal, more often spoken variation in English grammar (but it’s not part of my idiolect). (Stan Careyhad another angle on this recently.)
Some months ago I discovered a small lake in Scotland named Loch Doon, and joked that it would be the ideal place to spend a period of quarantine. (Not really – it’s in the middle of nowhere, and the ruined castle won’t give you much shelter.)
The distinguished or eminent Stan Carey of Sentence First, one of the better blogs about language, has posted about the novelist Cormac McCarthy‘s writing tips for scientific writers, many of which also apply to any formal writing (and perhaps even more to fiction writing). (Read McCarthy’s tips in full before you read Stan’s post.) They are generally sound, but I could quibble with a few of them, and Stan does. I would also make the comment that very good writers are not always very good at writing about writing, though note that McCarthy is also an experienced science editor.
That reminded me of an exchange in an episode of the British tv series Yes, Minister, in which Sir Humphrey Appleby (a career civil servant) convinces Jim Hacker (an occasionally well-meaning but usually self-serving politician) that egregious is a compliment. I remembered the exchange as:
Jim (reading a newspaper): “… the egregious Jim Hacker …” What does “egregious” mean? Sir Humphrey: It means “outstanding”, Minister. Jim: Oh, that’s nice of them to say so. Sir Humphrey: I’m glad you think so, Minister.
Searching online just now, it seems that my memory is faulty. Various websites record the exchange as:
Jim: “… the egregious Jim Hacker …” What’s “egregious” mean? Sir Humphrey: I think it means “outstanding”. Jim: Oh…? Sir Humphrey: In one way or another.
This morning for some reason I started wondering whether behave is related to have in the same way that become is related to come. After some research, the answer is yes, no, maybe, no.
Become is literally ‘come to be’: I came to be an ESL teacher in 2006. Behave is not literally ‘have to be’: I have to be good/bad. Rather, it is reflexive: I have myself ?good/?bad; that is, I bear or comport myself *good/*bad/well/badly. There are two clues that behave is now a different word than be + have, if it ever was ‘the same word’. The first is pronunciation. The second is grammar: have is irregular – have had had, while behave is regular – behave behaved: *I behad well yesterday.
The prefix be– used to be more common and productive than it is now. A few months ago the Irish editor/language writer/blogger Stan Carey found himself Bewondered by obsolete be- words.
One of the best language blogs on the interweb is Sentence First, by Stan Carey. Occasionally he posts a list of links to other language-related articles and blog posts. His most recent Link love contains a link to a recent post of mine.