Reader KR writes:
It is reported to me that in the book The Road by Cormac McCarthy, the following sentence appears:
"The snow fell nor did it cease to fall."
At the Straight Dope Message Boards some people are discussing whether the sentence is grammatical. To some it seems ungrammatical. To others it seems awkward. And to still others it seems fine, though perhaps archaic sounding.
But I've been googling and I can't find any parallel usages of the word "nor" anywhere else. What I am wondering is whether this really is a unique usage of "nor" or whether there is precedent for it somewhere.
In the OED's entry for nor, we find exactly the desired precedent in subentry 5.a.:
5. And — not; neither. In later use normally with inversion of subject and verb.
a. Following an affirmative clause, or in continuing narration. Obs. (chiefly poet. in later use).
Some of the OED's more recent citations:
1788 Trifler No. 22. 291 The little creature cried and laid down, nor could all our beating raise it. 1821 BYRON Heaven & Earth iii. 673 Away! nor weep! 1871 R. ELLIS tr. Catullus Poems lxi. 205 Come nor tarry to greet her.
McCarthy's nor exhibits both features mentioned by the OED: it follows an affirmative clause, and it triggers subject-auxiliary inversion. The subject-aux inversion is normal, whether the preceding clause is negative or affirmative — here's an example where the previous clause is negative, in one of W.H. Auden's Academic Graffiti:
Never read Dryden
Nor did John Dryden
Ever hear Haydn.
Here's one with an affirmative previous clause, from Shakespeare's Pericles, Prince of Tyre:
A terrible childbed hast thou had, my dear;
No light, no fire: the unfriendly elements
Forgot thee utterly; nor have I time
To give thee hallow'd to thy grave, but straight
Must cast thee, scarely coffin'd, in the ooze;
Where, for a monument upon thy bones,
And aye-remaining lamps, the belching whale
And humming water must o'erwhelm thy corpse,
Lying with simple shells.
And another, from Matthew Arnold's Sohrab and Rustum:
… Rustum listen'd, plunged in thought.
Nor did he yet believe it was his son
Who spoke, although he call'd back names he knew;
And here's a prose passage very much like the McCarthy quotation that started this off, from James Fenimore Cooper's Satanstoe; or, The Littlepage Manuscripts. A Tale of the Colony:
The conversation lasted an hour; nor did it cease, until all present got a general idea of the course intended to be pursued by the different parties present, during the succeeding summer.
Another example from Robert Bridges:
'Now rest you well,' the host he said,
But of his wish the word fell wide;
Nor did he now forget his son
Who fell in fight by Cromwell's side.
One from W.B. Yeats' Mohini Chatterji
I asked if I should pray,
But the Brahmin said,
'Pray for nothing, say
Every night in bed,
"I have been a king,
I have been a slave,
Nor is there anything,
Fool, rascal, knave,
That I have not been,
And yet upon my breast
A myriad heads have lain."'
From Yeats' The Gift of Harun Al-Rashid
Even to-day, after some seven years
When maybe thrice in every moon her mouth
Murmured the wisdom of the desert Djinns,
She keeps that ignorance, nor has she now
That first unnatural interest in my books.
And from his They dance all day that dance in Tir-nan-oge
For there the hound that Oisin saw pursues
The hornless deer that runs in such a fright;
And there the woman clasps an apple tight
For all the clamour of a famished man.
They run in foam, and there in foam they ran,
Nor can they stop to take a breath that still
Hear in the foam the beating of a bell.
Following that late Yeats, I can't resist quoting another one of W.H. Auden's Academic Graffiti, this one in limerick form, even though there are no nors in it:
To get the Last Poems of Yeats,
You need not mug up on dates;
All a reader requires
Is some knowledge of gyres
And the sort of people he hates.
Oh, and another one, again off topic but also fun:
Oxbridge philosophers, to be cursory,
Are products of a middle-class nursery:
Their arguments are anent
What Nanny really meant.
OK, just one more — they're addictive:
When the young Kant
Was told to kiss his aunt,
He obeyed the Categorical Must,
But only just.
One last morsel couldn't hurt:
Abhorred the word Dames ,
And always wrote " Mommas "
With inverted commas.