Monday, November 09, 2009

A woman without her man.

I have just finished reading "My Grammar and I (or should that be 'Me'?)" by Caroline Taggart and J.A.Wines. I have always liked grammar because it is full of little jokes.

Take the section on tautology, for example. What could be funnier than 'honest truth'? Dishonest truth? Similarly what nonsense are 'PIN number', 'HIV virus', 'new innovation', 'free gift', 'skin rash', 'unconfirmed rumor', '8 p.m. in the evening', 'climb up' and 'fall down'!

Indeed, the examples scattered through the pages make us want to laugh out loud.

The longest sentence in English literature is spoken by Molly Bloom in James Joyce's Ulysses. It contains 4,391 words, which makes it far too long to be quoted here, even if the subject matter were not a bit dodgy (but it is).

Note the use of the subjunctive!

As far as I am concerned, whom is a word invented to make everyone sound like a butler.

A college professor wrote on a blackboard: A woman without her man is nothing.
He then asked the class to punctuate it. All the men in the class wrote: A woman, without her man, is nothing. All the women wrote: A woman: without her, man is nothing.

A linguistics professor was lecturing to his English class.
"In English," he said, "a double negative forms a positive. In some languages, though, such as Russian, a double negative is still a negative. However, there is no language where a double positive can form a negative."
"Yeah, right," piped a voice from the back of the room.

But my main purpose of this article is a plea in favor of retaining the semi-colon, which is going out of fashion.

It is there to connect two or more independent clauses that don't quite justify being sentences in their own right. For example: 'I have tickets for the match. I bet it rains.' This is correct, but an immature, jerky style makes it unattractive. 'I have tickets for the match, but I bet it rains' is clumsy. Far better is, 'I have tickets for the match; I bet it rains.'

Semi-colons can also be used to break up items in a long and complicated list. An example from Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol illustrates this.
'... there were bunches of grapes, made, in the shopkeeper's benevolence, to dangle from conspicuous hooks, that people's mouths might water gratis as they past; there were piles of filberts, mossy and brown, recalling, in their fragrance, ancient walks among the woods, and pleasant shufflings ankle deep through withered leaves; there were...'; I am sure you get the idea. It is especially useful when a list has too many commas for comfort.

The semi-colon is in danger of being usurped by the dash (an en-dash in British English and an em-dash in American English).

Finally, readers always like to catch out grammarians at their own game. I have found an error in this book. When talking about the apostrophe, they say that it's is only correct when it is short for it is. Not quite right. In the sentence clause 'it's been said' it's is short for it has.


Anonymous said...

Sadly the growth of "texting" seems likely to doom both spelling and grammar.


Burke said...

I began using the internet about 12 years ago and quickly realized that I had forgotten much of what I had learned about how to write. For decades, I had been dictating to secretaries and letting them provide the punctuation. So I went on a grammar study for a while, buying workbooks, grammar books, books on writing: things I had hated as a student.

And I enjoyed it.

My guess is that many people are finding that they need to improve their writing skills in order to play around on the internet.

Debs said...

I love semi-colons. ;) Haha. No, really.