Dahlia Lithwick, "It's Good for You", Slate 5/10/2011:
The appeal doesn't all come down to judicial politics, either, although everyone is already atwitter about the fact that the random, computer-selected, three-judge panel was comprised of three judges appointed by Democratic presidents: Diana Gribbon Motz, nominated by Bill Clinton in 1994, and Andre M. Davis and Wynn, both nominated by Obama in 2009.
It's not clear to me that a panel comprised of two African-Americans and a woman, sitting in Richmond no less, will be all that receptive to arguments about the wonders of nullification.
In the comments section, "Angela Stockton" takes Ms. Lithwick to task:
Dahlia, the panel was not COMPRISED of three judges–it was COMPOSED of three judges. "Compose" and "comprise" do not mean the same thing. Parts compose a whole, while a whole comprises its parts. "Comprise" comes from the same root as "comprehensive," which means all-inclusive.
Another commenter comes right back with:
Angela, I suggest you spend some time at Language Log. Maybe you'll be cured of your snooty, prescriptivist ways.
Much as we appreciate new readers, I'd respectfully suggest that a better link for authoritative information about standard English usage would be Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (MWDEU). You should buy a copy if you don't already own one — the original and the concise version are equally good, and there's also a version for the Kindle. And you can also conveniently check the whole thing on line, courtesy of Merriam-Webster's open-access permission to Google Books.
In the entry for comprise, you'll learn that Ms. Stockton's negative reaction to comprised of was widely shared by self-appointed usage experts in the 20th century, despite the fact that the OED documents comprise meaning "compose" from the late 18th century onwards. MWDEU doesn't give the details, but checking the OED, we find that the first couple of citations are
1794 W. Paley View Evidences Christianity I. i. ix. 212 The propositions which comprise the several heads of our testimony.
1799 W. Jones Adams's Lect. Nat. & Exper. Philos. (ed. 2) II. xvi. App. 262 The wheels and pinions comprizing the wheel-work.
MWDEU observes that
There are actually two constructions involved in the disputed usage: the passive one ["comprised of"] and an active one that is most easily spotted when a plural noun is the subject of comprise.
MWDEU notes that the OED's first citation for comprised of meaning "to be composed of, to consist of" is from 1874 — but it's now easy to antedate this via Google Books. Thus John Norris's 1704 Essay towards the theory of the ideal or intelligible world observes that
For so tho' a Triangle in the most simple and precise Conception of it be only a figure comprised of three right Lines, yet these three Lines will necessarily make three Angles, and these three Angles will be equal to two right ones, &c.
An edition of Euclid's Elements published in 1714 tells us that
Seeing then the angles comprised of equal right lines are equal, we have found the angle FDE equal to the angle ABC; …
And similar examples can be found throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. The Housekeeper's Instructor, 1804, gives instructions for "Suppers for small companies comprised of five Articles"; The American Farmer, 1845, informs us that "Phosphate of Ammonia is comprised of Phosphoric acid … and ammonia"; The Church of England Quarterly Review for 1840 explains that "The General Assembly is comprised of representatives from each Presbytery".
This usage continues to be widespread in well-edited writing by well-regarded writers. Thus from The New Yorker:
Evgenia Citkowitz’s first book is comprised of seven stories and a novella, and she emerges as a master of both forms.
The first would be an XP team comprised of Mattson associates Peter Dea and Dan Howell.
In between her readings, a trio comprised of a flutist, a violist, and a harpist played selections from Iber, Debussy, and Astor Piazzolla.
From The Atlantic:
Later, Joseph Medill of the Chicago Tribune asked Lincoln why he had chosen a cabinet comprised of enemies and opponents.
China's population consists of a 90 percent Han Chinese majority, and a 10 percent minority comprised of fifty-five officially recognized ethnic groups.
… a forthcoming collection titled Severance is comprised of sixty prose poems, each from the perspective of a head severed from a guillotine.
From The New York Times:
The bid is comprised of 55.65 francs in cash and 103.35 francs worth of Johnson & Johnson common stock.
This left the nascent nation comprised of seven states, populated by five million people, not very rich, not very powerful and not especially unified.
The show — comprised of seven one-hour episodes — will premiere on Sunday, April 3 at 9 p.m. Eastern.
It's easy to find such examples, because the passive "comprised of" has never (?) been used with comprise meaning "include", for the same reason that no one ever expresses the notion that group X includes members Y and Z by saying that "Y and Z are included of X".
As for the active form of comprise, "X comprises Y" continues to be used ambiguously, sometimes to mean that X includes Y, and sometimes to mean that X makes up Y (so that Y includes X). Despite this apparent ambiguity, no one seems to have any trouble processing instances of either sort. Some examples of the former (allegedly incorrect) use from The New Yorker:
We accompanied a field trip of the Torrey Botanical Club to a nearby woodland area in search of poisonous mushrooms and other varieties of fungi and lichens. Twenty ladies and gentlemen comprised the party. Talk of the Town, The New Yorker 12/4/1943 (attributed in the index to Eugene Kinkaid and Harold Ross).
Advancing the politique des auteurs in the nineteen-fifties, the young critics at Cahiers du Cinéma who would comprise the French New Wave conducted long and detailed interviews with the directors they admired.
The MWDEU entry asks a pertinent question:
It is a little hard to understand why these constructions that are so obviously established are still the source of so much discontent. (They have been defined in Merriam-Webster dictionaries since 1934.)
This tradition is maintained by the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary entry, in which sense 3 is glossed as "compose, constitute", with a usage note:
Although it has been in use since the late 18th century, sense 3 is still attacked as wrong. Why it has been singled out is not clear, but until comparatively recent times it was found chiefly in scientific or technical writing rather than belles lettres. Our current evidence shows a slight shift in usage: sense 3 is somewhat more frequent in recent literary use than the earlier senses. You should be aware, however, that if you use sense 3 you may be subject to criticism for doing so, and you may want to choose a safer synonym such as compose or make up.
Indeed, the Angela Stocktons of the world are Out There, waiting to pounce on you. As I wrote with respect to another Zombie Rule ("Also, check the back seat", 11/7/2009):
In dealing with someone who exhibits this level of zombie-like persistence, despite lists of devastating counter-examples from the most authoritative sources of formal writing, in the face of rational counter-arguments from every available grammatical authority, it's clear that the expertise that FW needs is not linguistic. She should turn instead to Columbus's list of rules for surviving in a zombie-infested world…
Though I hasten to add, again, that we do not support or condone anti-prescriptivist violence.