However: retraction of a defense of Strunk

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Back in 2005, Mark Liberman and I (here and here and here) both took a look at certain issues relating to placement of clause adjuncts, and we touched on William Strunk's prejudice against sentence-initial however as an adjunct, as set forth in The Elements of Style. I suggested in "Fossilized prejudices about however" that Strunk had some basis for his prejudices, since novels of the time really did seem to prefer however in second position. This was a modest defense of Strunk, whose horrid little book I regard as almost entirely mistaken in the grammatical advice it purveys. Michael Stillwell has now discovered that my defense evidence was flagrantly mistaken.


I asserted that in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) there were 79 cases of ", however," — indicating a second-position use — but no occurrences at all of the string "However," — which is what you would find in a case of the adverb in the sentence-initial position that Strunk advises against. But it has been pointed out to me by Michael Stillwell that (there is no other way to put it) mistakes were made. He gets 18 occurrences of "However," in Dracula; and on re-checking my own file of the text of that novel I get 17 (we must have slightly differing files of the text). Clearly I mistyped something when I did my count in 2005, and looked for a pattern that never occurred. So my erroneous result must be, and hereby is, retracted. Dracula confirms what I would have expected: that the adverb however was perfectly normal in sentence-initial position in novels published when Strunk was a young man. A sixth of Stoker's uses of adverb however are sentence-initial.

Whatever error I made in the search command on Dracula, I then apparently repeated on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1902), perhaps by re-using a command line. The figure of 3 cases of second-position however was correct, but although I said there were no cases of initial-position However, that was another mistake: the figure is 8. So Conrad's prose, dating from the time when Strunk was in the early stages of his academic career, clearly disconfirms his style prejudice: 73 percent of Conrad's occurrences however in that novel are sentence-initial.

I also messed up the search on Jack London's The Call of the Wild (1903): I said it was 4 second-position and none sentence-initial; the correct figures are 5 second-position and 1 sentence-initial.

The only novel I looked at in 2005 where my count was right was H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds (1898). Re-checking the text of Wells's novel confirms that it has 10 second-position occurrences of however but none that are sentence-initial, so it seems to be written in a way that conforms to (or perhaps forms part of the basis for) Strunk's prejudice.

What are the lessons here? I see three:

  1. Results in linguistics need to be re-checked, and attempts at replication, even of apparently very simple things like counts of word sequences in familiar literary works, will sometimes be very useful. People make mistakes. And I am people too. Many thanks to Michael Stillwell for discovering my error. And apologies to Language Log readers who trusted me to get things right. I goofed.

  2. We need a larger corpus of results on placement of however in prose of the half century between 1869 (when Strunk was born) and 1919 (when he taught English grammar at Cornell to the man who was later to revise The Elements of Style, E. B. White) if we are to figure out the degree of textual support for Strunk: his edict currently looks highly implausible either as grammar rule or as style recommendation.

  3. Contrary to what I said in 2005, the present state of play is that so far there is no support for Strunk's rule except that H. G. Wells did avoid any sentence-initial howevers in at least one of his novels. Research continues.

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48 Comments »

  1. Bill Walderman said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 7:59 am

    Is it possible that the "rule" requiring the placement of "however" as the second element of a sentence (or at least not the first element), like the "rule" against split infinitives, originated as an attempt to impose Latin and Greek syntax or word order on English? In Latin, there are a number of particles such as "autem" that can't be placed at the beginning of a clause and usually appear as the second element. And Ancient Greek is extremely exuberant in particles that must be placed as the second element of a clause and can't stand as the first element.

    I don't have access to the OED–perhaps someone could trace the use of "however" through the history of English to see whether it was used as the first element of a clause early in its history and only later began to be displaced from its position of priority. For some reason it strikes me that this word doesn't go back very far. I don't think I've ever seen "however" in 18th century English but I could very well be wrong about that.

    For what it's worth (and our host will undoubtedly "chew" me for expressing here a thought that should be reserved for my biographer), my personal preference, as a stylistic matter, is not to use "however" as the first element of a clause, but I wouldn't impose that preference on other writers and there are many occasions when placing "however" anywhere but at the beginning of a clause would be awkward and confusing.

  2. Linda said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 8:31 am

    I do have access to the OED (thanks, Local Government Library Service for taking out the subscription on behalf of members) and it goes back to the 14thC. And in the initial position through most of history.

  3. Kenny V said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 8:39 am

    Bill, I definitely see a connection to Greco-Roman style. Following the Greek post-positive particles, Latin puts concessives like autem (more commonly tamen), as well as other semantic connectives like enim, frequently in second position, and never sentence-initially.

    I had never considered this before, but I now suspect that this is why I prefer to avoid sentence-initial however (not to suggest that others should do the same, of course).

  4. Mark F. said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 8:50 am

    I suspect that this is a case of "If they do it too much then they should be told not to do it at all." Writers at a certain stage, perhaps having been told not to start sentences with 'but', start with 'however' a lot. Instructors reading their papers notice that, are bothered by it, and tell them not to do it. Perhaps the instructors fool themselves into thinking that good writers hardly ever do it, because the times that good writers do begin with 'however' flow right past without being noticed.

    One point I got from Joseph M. Williams: The beginning of a sentence is a place of emphasis. 'However' is kind of a heavy word, and becomes especially emphatic there. But it's a connective, which often isn't the thing you want to emphasize. So it may be a good idea to bury the 'however' a lot of the time, going against the default tendency to put a connective between the things it connects. I think this is supported by the statistics.

  5. acilius said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 8:53 am

    @Bill Walderman & Kenny the Fifth: That was my first thought as well. Someone of Strunk's background would certainly have spent a substantial portion of his youth doing Latin and Greek prose composition exercises. I can say from experience that Latin and Greek prose composition are sure ways to introduce Latinisms and Hellenisms into your English.

  6. bianca steele said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 9:36 am

    I suppose perhaps I ought to have checked, and taken my freshman comp teacher's advice to mean "don't use 'however,' because I don't think you know how to use the word."

    The Oxford Guide to Writing (1983), recommends putting "however" close to the beginning of a sentence.

    I can't imagine how a word-order rule from German could have ended up being applied to English (German word order is unusual, I think), but placing "however" after the first element of the sentence is how it would be rendered in German: Hans aber ist nicht zu Hause. Hans ist nicht aber zu Hause.

  7. dr pepper said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 9:56 am

    Hey, you were warned not to look Dracula in the eyes, or he'd cloud your mind!

    I myself was advised in jr. high (mid 60's) to use "however" to begin a sentence as opposed to "but". But that never felt right.

  8. Ellen K. said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 10:19 am

    The rule I learned is similar to Dr Pepper's, but is a punctuation rule. A comma before "but", a semi-colon before "however".

  9. Franz Bebop said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 10:24 am

    How would one test the hypothesis that this second position placement is an import from Latin and Greek? If this really is an import, there must be some way to establish the time the usage started, right?

  10. Nicholas Waller said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 10:36 am

    HG Wells used first place "However, " in The Time Machine at least once, here when the narrator is trying to learn some of the language of the Eloi of futurity:

    "However, I felt like a schoolmaster amidst children, and persisted, and presently I had a score of noun substantives at least at my command; and then I got to demonstrative pronouns, and even the verb "to eat." "

  11. Arnold Zwicky said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 10:36 am

    Strunk's objection was specifically to the clause-initial connective however; see Language Log discussion here, at greater length here. Strunk did not object to other formal clause-initial connectives: nevertheless, nonetheless, moreover, furthermore, in addition, consequently, therefore. Just to however, which is why the objection is such a puzzle (a puzzle that obviously can't be solved by reference to second-position elements in Latin, Greek, or any other language).

    Bryan Garner, the current prime opponent of sentence-initial connective however, recommends the conjunction but in its place. Garner provides a pile of quotations from writing advisers expressing gut judgments that sentence-initial connective however is "weak" etc. These are expressions of personal tastes — tastes that are not shared by everyone.

  12. bianca steele said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 11:43 am

    I think a person receiving a letter with as many bad arguments as the one Mark Liberman quotes, from a person less prominent and less powerful than E.B. White (who had the power to kill the project if he refused to approve the final edit), might reasonably have decided he should not have his way on the matter. I can see three possible arguments in the letter, all mutually contradictory. He implies that things were better in the past and past ways should be preserved as long as possible: arguable, but fine, if that’s his opinion. Then, he says, in effect, that he is going to support what his teacher taught him against all opponents. Finally, he adds that he does not like or respect the people he characterizes as the descriptivists’ disciples. Personally, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the second argument, which sounds a lot like simple relativism. I have more sympathy for the last argument White gives, but it contradicts the second one, if you think it through.

    (I haven’t read Garner and haven’t read all of the post Arnold Zwicky links to. I’m dubious, I think rightly so, about arguments from authority where the authorities may be chosen for reasons that are less than ideal, which is the kind of argument Garner seems to be making. FWIW, The Oxford Guide to Writing does not make any statement, positive or negative, concerning initial coordinators, at least on my most skeptically naive reading.)

  13. Philip Spaelti said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 11:50 am

    bianca steele said…

    I can't imagine how a word-order rule from German could have ended up being applied to English (German word order is unusual, I think), but placing "however" after the first element of the sentence is how it would be rendered in German: Hans aber ist nicht zu Hause. Hans ist nicht aber zu Hause.

    What kind of German is that? The placement of elements like aber is pretty free, and your first example is okay (it is marked, though), but the second example is impossible. For me the preferred variants are: "Aber Hans ist nicht zu Hause." or "Hans ist aber nicht zu Hause."
    Besides, how is this a German word order rule applied to English? It is English that has almost completely free placement of such elements.

  14. bianca steele said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 12:10 pm

    I consider it a German word-order rule because the placement of "aber" is more significant in German than in English, where it most often seems arbitrary. (AFAIR I thought it was non-arbitrary when I was in high school, but I don't think so anymore.)

    Would you translate initial "aber" as "but" or as "however"? I taught myself German so I may be missing something. I think if "aber" was the first word in the sentence, you could emphasize what's different in speech, but you wouldn't be able to in writing.

  15. Irene said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 12:14 pm

    Sentence initial 'however' and 'but' signal that the author is about to change course or offer an alternative view. I dislike burying 'however' within the sentence because it disrupts the flow of thought and it requires the use of 2 commas instead of 1.

  16. Brett said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 12:51 pm

    "What are the lessons here? I see three:"
    I see a fourth:
    Everybody goofs, but real scientists are happy to have their errors pointed out (though likely even more pleased to find them themselves.) Thanks for taking the time to correct this.

  17. peter said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 1:05 pm

    Unlike the other authors you mention, Joseph Conrad was not a native speaker of English. Thus, his English literary style may have been influenced both by his native Polish and by the English-language books he read as a young adult when acquiring English. Does anyone know the relevant practice in Polish?

  18. Don Sample said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 1:26 pm

    A little more data: I happen to have the first 6 of L. Frank Baum's Oz books on line, published between 1900 and 1910, so I checked them out:

    The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) 4 initial, 7 second
    The Marvellous Land of Oz (1904) 3 initial, 8 second
    Ozma of Oz (1907) 2 initial, 9 second
    Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz (1908) 1 initial, 5 second
    The Road to Oz (1909) 0 initial, 3 second
    The Emerald City of Oz (1910) 1 initial, 6 second

    Totals: 11 initial, 38 second

  19. acilius said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 2:37 pm

    @Arnold Zwicky: "Just to however, which is why the objection is such a puzzle (a puzzle that obviously can't be solved by reference to second-position elements in Latin, Greek, or any other language)."

    Can the puzzle be solved by reference to Strunk's time as a Latin or Greek comp student? Perhaps not. Is it obvious that it cannot be solved in this way? I deny it. As I write this, I hold in my hand a copy of Collar and Daniell's 1893 textbook, THE BEGINNER'S GREEK COMPOSITION. Opening the book at random, I came upon page 60, where this sentence is presented for translation into Attic Greek: "However, I think we have wronged him." Plainly, the English word "however" is to be translated by the Greek postpositive particle "de." Just as plainly, the teacher will be prepared to correct students whose Greek word order reproduces the word order of the English. Students who make that error will customarily be corrected openly, in front of the class, whether the year is 1893 or 2009.

    Strunk was already 24 in 1893, so Collar and Daniell would not have been a text he studied, but I can assure you that Collar and Daniell were by no means unusual among composition textbook writers in their fondness for using "however" as the bait in this sort of trap. As a future English professor growing up in America in the late nineteenth century, Strunk would surely have sat through many, many Latin and Greek prose comp classes where he and his fellow students were corrected for putting a particle meant to translate "however" at the beginning of a Latin or Greek sentence. It wouldn't take many of those sessions to induce an aversion to "however" at the beginning of a sentence.

  20. acilius said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 2:42 pm

    @ Franz Bebop: 1. Your screen name is genius itself.
    2. I don't think anyone is saying that the postpositive usage of "however" is an import. The practice that might be an import is the rule that "however" always be postpositive, the insistence that using "however" to start a sentence is wrong.

  21. A.S. said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 4:08 pm

    However in ten H.G. Wells novels (Initial/Second):

    Ann Veronica: 2/3
    The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth: 1/3
    The Invisible King: 0/1
    The Invisible Man: 0/7
    The Island of Doctor Moreau: 2/7
    The Secret Places of the Heart: 0/2
    The War in the Air: 1/13
    The World Set Free: 0/3
    The first men in the moon: 2/9
    When the Sleeper Wakes: 0/5
    Total: 8/53

    A tendency at best.

  22. Morten Jonsson said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 4:26 pm

    peter said,

    "Unlike the other authors you mention, Joseph Conrad was not a native speaker of English. Thus, his English literary style may have been influenced both by his native Polish and by the English-language books he read as a young adult when acquiring English. Does anyone know the relevant practice in Polish?"

    Conrad would have been insulted, I think, at the suggestion that his English prose was influenced by Polish. If the syntax in Heart of Darkness had offended the ear of his friend Ford Madox Ford, as good an authority as there was, then Ford would certainly have let him know about it. Also, as Professor Zwicky points out, Strunk's objection was to one particular word, "however," in the initial position, not to the class of similar words, so Polish syntax wouldn't be much help here. Unless, by some etymological quirk, "however" happens to be a Polish word.

  23. peter said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 4:46 pm

    Morten: Conrad's English prose is certainly unlike that of most other novelists in English. Not being a speaker or reader of Polish, I am not in a position to say whether or to what extent his unusual English prose is influenced by Polish being his mother tongue, neither in general nor in the specific case of the leading "however". I made my comment in the hope that someone reading this blog knows sufficient Polish to respond to the question of influence. It would certainly surprise me greatly to learn that Ford Madox Ford was sufficiently fluent in Polish that his views would be relevant to this question.

  24. Morten Jonsson said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 4:56 pm

    Ford Madox Ford was sufficiently fluent in English that his views on what and was not idiomatic English prose would be completely relevant to this discussion. Polish constructions could, of course, have crept in here and there into Conrad's writing, but I'd actually expect to see more signs of French; that was the language Conrad looked to for his literary models, and he much preferred it to English, which he mastered as a sort of duty.

  25. Simon Cauchi said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 4:56 pm

    Conrad's English is better known for its Gallicisms (e.g. "the lecture of the letters") rather than for any traces of Polish idiom.

  26. Andrew said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 5:01 pm

    I think part of this may be a result of the impulse to differentiate (as revealed in Fowler's attempt to distinguish the uses of 'that' and 'which', and so on). It's agreed that 'but' must come at the beginning of a clause – one cannot say 'Later, but, I realised that Strunk was wrong' – while 'however' can come in second position; so people feel moved to make it a rule that it must come in second position.

    However, the influence of Latin and Greek may add to this tendency. The point is this; Latin and Greek have some connectives implying contrast which always come in first position (sed, alla) and others which always come in second position (autem, de). Clearly, the first group get translated 'but'; so it's natural to translate the second group by 'however'. But in that case, familiarity with Latin and Greek will encourage people to think that 'however' always comes in second position.

  27. Dan S said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 6:30 pm

    Andrew mentions Fowlers remarkable that/which essay. I do hope I correctly recall his opening: "That and which are kittle cattle."

    (Kittle, IIRC, is Scots for difficult, unruly.)

    So true! The rest of that essay, however, which I did study, never made much sense to me.

  28. Karen said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 6:48 pm

    The "however" equivalent in Polish (jednak) generally goes first in the sentence though it can go in other positions, so whyever Conrad didn't use sentence-initial "however" it's not because of any Polish influence.

  29. Adrian said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 7:29 pm

    Thirty years ago I wrote "However" at the beginning of a sentence in an essay in a school English exam. I remember this because the marker underlined it in red ink and I had no idea why. This post goes some way to explaining, but I still don't think this "rule" makes any sense.

  30. Aviatrix said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 9:11 pm

    I distinctly remember my Canadian high school teacher telling me that I should move "however" later in a sentence. I asked why, did not get a satisfactory answer, and continued putting it wherever I wanted to, but now think of the English teacher whenever I do.

    Is it possible that the "don't start a sentence with 'however'" rule came about the same way as "don't start a sentence with a coordinate conjunction"? I protested the latter with a Dickens quote from our own textbook and the teacher confided to me that it was okay for Dickens and me to do that: the rule was for people who couldn't tell that "And a cat" was a sentence fragment.

    Somehow I avoided being a sufficient smartass to then produce examples of sentence fragments as an accepted literary technique.

  31. Robin Turner said,

    March 27, 2009 @ 3:34 am

    I have seen sentence-initial "however" in all kinds of writing; however, placing it before the main verb may mark the discourse as more formal. I have not done any corpus analysis on this, but I get the impression that this difference in positioning and register is minor in the case of "however" but quite strong in the case of "also".

    A possible reason for the discouraging of sentence-initial "however" is that if one omits the comma, the natural tendency is for the reader to group it with the following words, as in "However hard he tried …"

    [No, no, no, this is nonsense. In a sentence like However hard he tried he couldn't get it open, the however can't be understood in its connective adjunct sense at all, so the comma creates ungrammaticality: *However, hard he tried he couldn't get it open. Think before you comment. Don't make me irritable. You wouldn't like me when I'm irritable. —GKP]

  32. jaap said,

    March 27, 2009 @ 3:53 am

    With all this talk of 'however', I was wondering how often it was used in its other sense, meaning "no matter how". I had a look through Dracula, and found only two instances (out of 103):

    "It is my record of today. I too have seen the need of putting down at present everything, however trivial, but there is little in this except what is personal."

    "These not so important as to go in your list of the shipping in the Times, and so we go, by suggestion of Lord Godalming, to your Lloyd's, where are note of all ships that sail, however so small."

    There were none in Mark Twain's "Innocents Abroad" (out of 75), nor in " A Tramp Abroad" (out of 59) and only one in "Roughing It" (out of 55).

    It surprised me how rare this usage was, but it clearly is rare enough not to influence the results either way.

    P.S. There are 103 uses of 'however' in Dracula, a few more than you reported, possibly because sometimes if occurs at the start of a line (with the preceding comma at the end of the previous line), or because it not always has a preceding comma when in the middle of a sentence:

    "They took their hats off and made obeisance and many signs, which however, I could not understand any more than I could their spoken language . . ."

  33. mollymooly said,

    March 27, 2009 @ 4:29 am

    @Ellen K.:

    The rule I learned is similar to Dr Pepper's, but is a punctuation rule. A comma before "but", a semi-colon before "however"

    The semicolon is needed to show the "however" belongs with the second clause, not the first one.
    -"A, but B"
    -"A; however, B"
    I can't say whether this influenced Strunk's conjuring of his phantom rule.

  34. bianca steele said,

    March 27, 2009 @ 11:11 am

    I respect the idea of describing what good writing is. I do think enumerating a set of rules is inadequate.

    Some people might conclude there are a set of rules known by all educated people in a given society that magically makes writing "good," and try to teach or impose it (possibly using time that could have been more profitably spent discussing issues or even revising with readers in mind).

  35. delagar said,

    March 27, 2009 @ 12:08 pm

    EllenK:

    –A comma before "but", a semi-colon before "however"–

    Aargh! This explains it!

    For years in my Freshman comp classes I have been getting sentences like this one:

    "Due to the broken fence the pigs escaped, James ; however, ran after them."

    What nimrod came up that rule? Where can I hunt him down?

  36. William F Dowling said,

    March 27, 2009 @ 5:02 pm

    Re Lesson 1: "Results in linguistics need to be re-checked, and attempts at replication, even of apparently very simple things like counts of word sequences in familiar literary works, will sometimes be very useful."

    I would strengthen the lesson. Rather than call for rechecking, I would say when its practical, show us the source code. Say: "I used grep 'However ' Chapter*.txt" to get such-and-such result." In personal practice I generally do this for two reasons: someone (myself or somebody else) can re-check; and sometimes a command line that seems simple at the time becomes hazy in my memory later on, so it's worth having written it down along with the result.

  37. Noetica said,

    March 27, 2009 @ 6:59 pm

    I think Robin Turner makes a good point, and "has been responded to" unfairly:

    A possible reason for the discouraging of sentence-initial "however" is that if one omits the comma, the natural tendency is for the reader to group it with the following words, as in "However hard he tried …"

    GKP's comment:

    No, no, no, this is nonsense. In a sentence like However hard he tried he couldn't get it open, the however can't be understood in its connective adjunct sense at all, so the comma creates ungrammaticality: *However, hard he tried he couldn't get it open. Think before you comment. Don't make me irritable. You wouldn't like me when I'm irritable.

    This is unfair because we can without strain construe Robin's sentence as illustrating simply the alternative use of however, not also the ambiguity in question.

    Of course, a better example might do both. Here's one in which the reader has to read far into the sentence to disambiguate, to make Robin's point more pellucidly: However we strive to manage the punctuation for clarity, and order the words in their most natural way, the best sentences being those that can be read aloud at sight without knowing how they will end. In this, the omission of a comma after however hides its connective use. Robin is right: no such omission could make ambiguous the sentence with the however shifted away from initial position: We strive however to manage the punctuation… .

    A potential irritant, by the way, does not induce irritability. Not canonically, in any case. It succeeds in irritating because the subject is already irritable.

  38. Jangari said,

    March 27, 2009 @ 7:13 pm

    How timely.

    I just submitted a chapter for a book on language endangerment yesterday, and the proofreader kept insisting that there was to be a comma before and after 'however' and other such words. For instance:

    With traditional printed dictionary materials however, it is only possible to include images.

    I like it as is, but my proofreader was adamant that it should be:

    With traditional printed dictionary materials, however, it is only possible to include images.

    But too many commas is clunky, and prosodically speaking, I regard the 'however' as being in the same intonational phrase as 'with traditional printed dictionaries', and that should, in my opinion, be the most important determining factor for punctuation placement.

    Onto the matter at hand though, I much prefer second position as a purely stylistic choice, but I still use initial position in some instances.

  39. John Cowan said,

    March 27, 2009 @ 7:48 pm

    But in Soviet Union, nimrod hunts you!

  40. Aaron Davies said,

    March 28, 2009 @ 7:53 am

    i am reminded of the "moreover rule" (due to dave barry?): start your essay with "moreover", in the hopes that the grader will assume he's misplaced the first page and raise your grade out of embarrassment.

  41. Stephen Jones said,

    March 28, 2009 @ 10:54 am

    Think before you comment. Don't make me irritable. You wouldn't like me when I'm irritable. —GKP

    You mean being irritable wasn't a trait you acquired at birth?

  42. Stephen Jones said,

    March 28, 2009 @ 10:57 am

    In a sentence like However hard he tried he couldn't get it open, the however can't be understood in its connective adjunct sense at all, so the comma creates ungrammaticality: *However, hard he tried he couldn't get it open.

    But there are cases where you can parse the sentence either way and the grammaticality can't be judged until later.
    However(,) you got to find this out …..

  43. Mark F. said,

    March 28, 2009 @ 11:32 am

    Earlier I wrote "So it may be a good idea to bury the 'however' a lot of the time, going against the default tendency to put a connective between the things it connects. I think this is supported by the statistics." However, that's pretty much refuted by the old post about Mark Twain that's cited in Mark Liberman's recent post.

  44. dr pepper said,

    March 29, 2009 @ 4:39 am

    What nimrod came up that rule? Where can I hunt him down?

    But in Soviet Union, nimrod hunts you!

    How has the name "Nimrod" fallen so low that 1) it has become a demeaning term, and 2) it's funny to think of one as a hunter?

  45. Sili said,

    March 29, 2009 @ 2:20 pm

    Bugs Bunny. Welcome the twentieth century.

    John Cowan,

    Surely you mean "However, in Soviet Union, nimrod hunts you!"

  46. Randy said,

    April 14, 2009 @ 2:56 pm

    Dear Geoffrey,

    I thought I would send you my thought on your dislike of the e. e. cummings poem, since feeling is first. The phrase, the syntax of things will never wholly kiss you, is the meaning of this part of the poem. It is specifically the words, the syntax of things, that he is comparing to feelings as being able to impart feelings or is as important from one human being to another. I do not think he meant to say that anyone who pays attention to the syntax of things is written as an insult to those who do but rather as a link to the secondary importance of the structure of words said versus the feeling that is imparted by those words and the expression of feelings in human contact.

    Kind regards,

    Randy

  47. Randy said,

    April 14, 2009 @ 3:05 pm

    p.s. Of course we can disagree. The richness of the poem is present if this phrase is not interpreted as an insult.

    Randy

  48. Randy said,

    April 14, 2009 @ 3:09 pm

    I believe the phrase, the best gesture of my brain is less than your eyelids' flutter, agrees with my interpretation however. :)

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