Anti-fascist impact

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Tom Chivers, "Two cheers for Alan Duncan, grammar fascist", The Telegraph 6/25/2012:

Alan Duncan, the Minister of State for International Development, has become perhaps the first Conservative minister in history to describe himself as a fascist, rather than waiting for someone on Twitter to do it for him.

Specifically, "Lofty", as he is known, has awarded himself the title of Grammar Fascist, in a memo to staff at the Department for International Development in which he warned that using “language that the rest of the world doesn’t understand” damages Britain's reputation. [...]

Of course, it's a fine and noble thing that Mr Duncan is trying to do: on the Today Programme this morning, John Humphrys called for him to be given a peerage. But, unusually for a fascist, Mr Duncan has allowed his terrorised subjects the right of reply. The memo ends: “Disclaimer: [Lofty] is always willing to be challenged about his judgement on grammatical standards and will not take offence at a properly reasoned opinion.” I hope that my honourable friend will not mind me challenging him in that spirit. [...]

Access and impact, sad though it is to admit, are now perfectly acceptable verbs. "Nouns being used as verbs" in general is such a common practice that there's even a term for it, "verbing" (it is, pleasingly, also the finest example of its own definition). But the point I really want to address is this: starting sentences with conjunctions such as "but" or "however" is completely fine, and has been used for literally centuries. There are a solid 1,558 examples of sentences beginning with "But" in the King James Bible alone, and a further 12,846 starting with "And". ("Does God want you to use more initial conjunctions?", asks Language Log, cheekily.)

The "however" rule is particularly odd. The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, rules against the form "However, birds can fly", prescribing instead "Birds, however, can fly". There seems to be no reason for this, and even when he was writing in the early 20th century it was a false rule: Language Log points to Bram Stoker's Dracula, The Call of the Wild by Jack London, The War of the Worlds by HG Wells, and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, roughly contemporary works which regularly use the "However…" form. It seems, like the injunction against using "Hopefully" to modify a sentence, or not ending a sentence on a preposition, to be an arbitrary convention created by self-appointed language guardians.

But what Mr Duncan is doing is creating a style guide for DFID, not prescribing correct English for the nation. The department is his fiefdom, and he may impose whatever arbitrary rules he wishes. In fact, to create a unified style for DFID, he has to. I notice he spells "judgement" thus, while we spell it "judgment". Neither is more right than the other, but if you want everyone in your organisation to write in the same way, then you have to pick one, arbitrarily. It's a matter of taste. And if he finds sentence-initial conjunctions ugly, then he is within his rights to ban them from DFID communications.

I have to note that Mr. Chivers is wrong about The War of the Worlds — Geoff Pullum found no sentence-initital howevers in that work. However, I can restore the balance by citing a post ("The Evolution of Disornamentation", 2/21/2005) documenting initial howevers in Henry James and Mark Twain.

And in fairness to William Strunk, I should note that he did give a sort of an argument for avoiding sentence-initial however:

When however comes first, it means in whatever way or to whatever extent.

If we interpret this as a statement of fact about elite usage, it's simply false. It was false in 1918 and it remains false today. But perhaps Prof. Strunk meant to suggest that sentence-initial however should be restricted to those meanings in order to avoid avoid ambiguity. Arguments of the form "Let's redesign English by fiat to make it better" are almost never effective; but this particular instance is also illogical and even silly, since however in the cited senses can occur in sentence-medial positions as well:

Generally a father, however foolish he may be himself, does not command foolish things. [Saint Chrysostom's Homilies on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus and Philemon]
I was to feel awe for the bit of parchment in the mezuza over the door; to dread lest a bit of butter should touch a bit of meat; to think it beautiful that men should bind the tephillin on them, and women not,—to adore the wisdom of such laws, however silly they might seem to me. [George Eliot, Daniel Deronda]

Indisputably Mr Home owned manly self-control, however he might secretly feel on some matters. [Charlotte Brontë, Villette]
We are not formed for enjoyment; and, however we may be attuned to the reception of pleasureable emotion, disappointment is the never-failing pilot of our life's bark, and ruthlessly carries us on to the shoals. [Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, The Last Man]

Thus the ambiguity remains — but in any case, it's almost always quickly resolved by the context.

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54 Comments »

  1. David L said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 10:39 am

    If we are going to bend over backwards to be fair to Strunk — and it pains me to do so — then even if we imagine he wanted to insist that sentence-initial 'however' can only mean 'in whatever way,' that does not logically preclude it from meaning the same thing in a sentence-medial position.

    (But I agree that this kind of nit-picking is Very Silly).

    [(myl) But if we were going to insist on avoiding ambiguity by adopting the artificial convention that initial however can only mean "in whatever way" or "to whatever degree", while not insisting on also avoiding ambiguity by adopting the parallel artificiality that medial however can only mean "on the other hand", I maintain that our recommendation would be illogical -- though admittedly not self-contradictory -- as well as silly.]

  2. Ginger Yellow said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 10:41 am

    that there's even a term for it, "verbing" (it is, pleasingly, also the finest example of its own definition)

    See also: sesquipedalianism.

  3. Arnold Zwicky said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 11:23 am

    On the prejudice against sentence-initial connective however, see my Language Log posting on the matter, and the material by Doug Kenter and me, here.

  4. Coby Lubliner said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 12:20 pm

    (myl) Thus the ambiguity remains — but in any case, it's almost always quickly resolved by the context.

    Not to mention the presence or absence of a comma.

  5. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 1:01 pm

    > […] starting sentences with conjunctions such as "but" or "however" […]

    I think this is an error on Chivers' part: surely Duncan is referring to the adverb "however" (as in "It may be possible. However, it's not a good idea"), not the conjunction (as in "However possible it may be, it's still not a good idea"). Admittedly, Duncan doesn't specify which sense of "however" he has in mind, but the adverb is the primary sense, and (as you note) it's the one that Strunk felt should not start a sentence.

  6. Jeroen Mostert said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 1:11 pm

    "Sesquipedalianism" falls short of the mark, since it promises words a foot and a half long and, unless you cheat with font size, it just doesn't deliver. Yes, of course it means "a style that uses long words", and sesquipedalianism is arguably a long word, but it's still a bit disappointing. People who object to "incorrect" use of "decimate" never get on the case of "sesquipedalianism" — this seems unfair.

    As far as autological words go, I've always been fond of "pentasyllabic", mainly because its counterpart in Dutch is pentasyllabic too, even though it looks and sounds nothing like it. I have no idea how well this property holds up in other languages.

  7. Daniel said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 3:04 pm

    As a copy editor, I've seen initial "however" used considerably more often than initial "and" or "but" among people at companies proscribing their use. But while I've occasionally fought to get initial "and" and "but" recognized as acceptable, I'm a firm supporter of banning initial "however". I don't know what it is, but initial "however" has always felt to me like artificial sentence structure. I simply can't imagine somebody using it to start a sentence orally, and I internally verbalize everything I read when I'm editing – so I take it out.

  8. Joyce Melton said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 3:06 pm

    Quadrisyllabic then is an oxymoron because it isn't; however, oxymoron is!

  9. Jimbino said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 4:07 pm

    I take pains to place the "however" where it best serves the logic.

    Lizards crawl. Birds, however, can fly.
    Birds can't dance. Birds can fly, however.

    Akin to the distinction between:

    Only lizards crawl.
    Lizards only crawl.

    and I usually don't find "All is not lost" to be appropriate.

  10. AntC said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 4:25 pm

    @ Jeroen: sesquipedalian "unless you cheat with font size, it just doesn't deliver"

    No!, not that sort of foot; but this:

    prosody a group of two or more syllables in which one syllable has the major stress, forming the basic unit of poetic rhythm

  11. Rubrick said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 4:29 pm

    I'm baffled by what any of this has to do with "language that the rest of the world doesn’t understand". Duncan doesn't appear to be recommending against petrol or lorry or, for that matter, peerage.

  12. un malpaso said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 5:33 pm

    I find it fascinating that some people apparently feel so strongly about language usage (or their perceived superiority at it) that they are proud to refer to themselves as "fascists" or even "nazis" ("Grammar nazi", by those who are happy to self-identify with Seinfeld's "soup nazi.")

    Can't think of any other interest, view, or hobby where true believers are honestly happy identifying themselves as akin to murderous dictators. I guess it is just the peevish being unusually honest in self-evaluation. Does it mean that we descriptivists can begin calling ourselves "the Resistance" or "Freedom Fighters?"

  13. boynamedsue said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 5:44 pm

    @Rubrick

    Ooooohhh, somebody fell out of the pedantic side of the bed today.

    "I'm baffled by what any of this has to do with "language that the rest of the world doesn’t understand". Duncan doesn't appear to be recommending against petrol or lorry or, for that matter, peerage."

    By "rest of the world" he meant the "rest of the civilised world", which, given he's a tory, includes only people who attended a British public school.*

    *In the British usage of the term, obviously.

  14. Andy Averill said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 6:13 pm

    @Daniel, Sentence-initial "however" seems very natural to me in spoken English, if you want to emphasize that what you are about to say modifies what you've just said. You might tell your child "Yes, you can go the movies tonight. However, you have to finish your homework first." Rhetorical correctness trumps fake rules any day.

  15. Fiona Hanington said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 6:14 pm

    I am more inclined to object to nominalizations (nouned verbs) than verbings (verbed nouns). Though not for reasons of "correctness," but for reasons of clarity. Compare, for instance, "Perform a restart of the system," with "Restart the system." (Carry out a comparison…)

    In "Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace" (best style book ever!) Joseph M. Williams does a wonderful job of explaining why these constructions are rarely the best choice.

  16. Andy Averill said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 6:21 pm

    &PS Somehow I just knew, when I saw that Mr. Duncan was describing himself as a "grammar fascist", that most of the things he was complaining about would turn out to have nothing to do with grammar, and I was right. Tut-tut.

  17. Fiona Hanington said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 6:28 pm

    @Andy Averill: I know what you mean! As soon as someone starts going on about grammar peeves, I prepare myself for complaints about style, punctuation, and even spelling.

  18. Ralph Hickok said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 7:23 pm

    @Antc:
    You're saying that "sesquipedalian" means three syllables of iambic pentameter? As in "To be or"?

  19. Skullturf said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 7:43 pm

    I have seen some clumsy, clunky, amateurish writing, due to young people and students and non-professionals, that tends to overuse sentence-initial "however".

    However, I hasten to add that I am making a purely *aesthetic* claim. Those who jump to the conclusion that sentence-initial "however" is *wrong* are making a big jump.

    Speaking purely aesthetically, I find that students and young people sometimes seem to be overusing sentence-initial "however" when maybe (1) the word "but" would do just as well, but the writer uses "however" out of a mistaken notion that polysyllabic words are more impressive, or (2) the writer is abruptly transitioning between two different topics without regard for flow, and seems to think the word "however" is enough of a transition. ("Colombia is a country in South America. However, one of its main exports is coffee.")

    At any rate, the above is a largely *aesthetic* claim about a certain subset of sentence-initial "however"s.

  20. un malpaso said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 8:18 pm

    @Skullturf: That's obviously a semantic problem as well in the example you provided, because, in this case, "however" should indicate a transition to a fact that is both unexpected and relevant to the preceding statement. If students are using it simply as a transitional word, in the vein of "furthermore", that's more at issue than the sentence-initiality, I think.

  21. Ray Girvan said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 9:34 pm

    Interestingly, the Telegraph piece mentions at its foot an earlier story – Transport department's 'new war on Whitehall poor grammar' (Telegraph, 11 Dec 2011) concerning a similar style memo from the Transport Secretary, Justine Greening, and that contains the directly contrary opinion that

    'However’ should only be used at the start of a sentence

  22. Circe said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 9:45 pm

    Rubrick:

    "Duncan doesn't appear to be recommending against petrol or lorry or, for that matter, peerage."

    Well, there are these roughly one and a half billion people living in the Indian subcontinent who would be rather confused by "gas" ("Why on earth would you call something that clearly a liquid 'gas'?") but would be alright with "petrol". But I guess they don't count as the "rest of the world" to you?

  23. Jerry Friedman said,

    June 25, 2012 @ 10:35 pm

    @Coby Lubliner: I wish, but"however" meaning "on the other hand" with no comma after it seems to be very common in non-edited text. My data-free impression is that it's particularly common in British English.

    @Ran Ari-Gur: There was a long and sometimes painful discussion about "however" in alt.usage.english last month. From what one person said there, it seems that traditionally "however" meaning "on the other hand" was considered a conjunction, not an adverb. He cited Nesfield's English Grammar of 1893, and mentioned that "however" is the usual translation of the Latin conjunction autem. He also noted that "The first part was easy; the second part, however, took hours" means about the same thing as "The first part was easy, but the second part took hours." Duncan may have learned in this same school.

  24. Nathan Myers said,

    June 26, 2012 @ 12:32 am

    People calling themselves "grammar nazis" or (euphemistically) "grammar fascists" are trying to flatter themselves. We are being asked to think of them as implacably defending editorial privilege against the corruptions of ill-disciplined masses. Calling somebody else a grammar nazi invites them to feel superior to you, because they secretly admire the real Nazis' sartorial choices and attitude toward their opponents.

    What they are, though, is grammar nannies (or style nannies, or spelling nannies), demanding that we put on a sweater because they feel a chill.

  25. John Walden said,

    June 26, 2012 @ 2:15 am

    Alan Duncan usually comes across as witty, droll and self-deprecating. He's a regular performer on satirical news programmes. I read the whole memo as playful, light-hearted and very possibly some kind departmental in-joke.

  26. Daniel said,

    June 26, 2012 @ 2:29 am

    @Andy Averill:

    "Rhetorical correctness trumps fake rules any day."

    I wholeheartedly agree. There's just one problem: I simply can't imagine myself or anybody else I know saying the sample sentence you provided. Somehow, in my dialect, "however" just can't be placed there! You either have to replace it with "but" or move it to elsewhere in the sentence: "You have to finish your homework first, however."

    There is, however, an exception (see what I did there?). For some reason, my instinctive feeling is that "However" may be used to prefix a long-winded explanation, of, say, paragraph length, as "but" seems to be insufficient for the task: "However, and this is important, you have to carefully select which movie you want to see and what time you want to see it. The new action film by …." etc.

    I have absolutely no idea why this distinction should be, but that's definitely how my brain seems to classify the difference between "however" and "but".

  27. AntC said,

    June 26, 2012 @ 3:38 am

    @Ralph Hickok You're saying that "sesquipedalian" means …

    [I was hoping a genuine prosodist would help out. Is there one listening?]

    Sorry, Ralph, I'm not qualified to comment. But the word is Latin, so I guess we're talking classical meter rather than iambs.

    In terms of whether the word "delivers" (as @Jeroen put it), we have a short foot (2 syllables) and a long foot (4 syllables).

    Since sesqui means one-and-a-half, I'd say that's close enough.

    (And what does it tell us of the Latin mind to have a word for one-and-a-half? How many words did they have for snow?)

  28. Mark Etherton said,

    June 26, 2012 @ 4:00 am

    @AntC

    What's so strange about a word for 'one and a half'? There's one in Polish, for example: 'półtora', and presumably in numerous other languages.

  29. Jonathan D said,

    June 26, 2012 @ 6:31 am

    I had the idea that 'However' was often seen as an "acceptable" start to a sentence if you had something against starting with "But". I wonder where I got that idea.

  30. Ben Hemmens said,

    June 26, 2012 @ 6:40 am

    Birds, however, can fly
    Reminds me of "princes, moreover, did sit". Hard to shake off the old religion ;-)

  31. Piotr Gąsiorowski said,

    June 26, 2012 @ 6:57 am

    @Mark Etherton

    Even better than that, Older Polish also had single words for 'two and a half', 'three and a half', 'four and a half', etc. HOWEVER, they were actually univerbations of a type also found in some other languages (for example, Lithuanian and Sanskrit). Etymologically, "półtora" = contracted "pół wtora" ('[one and] a half of the second').

  32. Chris Brew said,

    June 26, 2012 @ 7:00 am

    Full disclosure: I went to the same high school as Alan Duncan. In our final year he won the debate competition, and I didn't. I have, I am afraid, ever after been mildly obsessing about various mean tactics that I feel I could have adopted to make his speech look less good. But he was always destined to be a Tory politician, and I am happy that he made it. If he can make his civil servants write English that is clear, jargon-free and tailored to the audience, more power to his elbow. He may be wrong about "however", but he is right about grace, clarity and precision.

  33. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    June 26, 2012 @ 7:19 am

    @Jerry Friedman: Thanks! I now see that the 1913 edition of Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary actually assigns the "adverb" and "conjunction" parts-of-speech almost exactly opposite how modern dictionaries do: it says that Shakespeare's "Howe'er the business goes, you have made fault" is using the adverb, and that Dryden's "In your excuse your love does little say; You might howe'er have took a better way" is using the conjunction. How bizarre!

  34. SeekTruthFromFacts said,

    June 26, 2012 @ 7:40 am

    "Saint Chrysostom" wrote in English?!

    I'm curious as to why a translation (presumably aiming for some degree of fidelity to the Greek) is cited as a first-choice authority on English usage.

  35. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 26, 2012 @ 7:53 am

    @malpaso, it's pretty easy to google up expressions like "I am a self proclaimed Bedtime Nazi and I'm okay with it," where "bedtime Nazi" = parent who is or at least considers himself/herself to be less lenient about letting the kids stay up late than the median parent would. I don't know if this sort of construction is snowcloned from the Seinfeld "soup Nazi" or not.

    I think the key point here, however, is that the Telegraph (or at least, one writer there . . .) is appealing to settled authority on matters linguistic by linking to Language Log posts.

  36. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 26, 2012 @ 9:08 am

    I am not familiar with the Rt Hon Mr Duncan, but wikipedia says he "is known as one of the most liberal and progressive MPs within the Conservative Party" and quotes him as bashing the more conservative wing of his own party by saying: "Censorious judgmentalism from the moralising [sic - bloody foreigners can't spell properly] wing, which treats half our own countrymen as enemies, must be rooted out. We should take JS Mill as our lodestar, and allow people to live as they choose until they actually harm someone." I suppose generalizing that to "write as they choose" might be a bridge too far? Or perhaps sentence-initial "however" might actually harm someone? All of which puts me in mind of this vintage post http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/004365.html noting that the left-right valences of language policy can shift quite a bit depending on time and place and that non-metaphorical Fascist language policy (i.e. that of the Mussolini regime) was a continuation of policies developed by the not-what-you'd-call-right-of-center Jacobins in late 18th century France.

  37. Dan Hemmens said,

    June 26, 2012 @ 9:34 am

    Compare, for instance, "Perform a restart of the system," with "Restart the system." (Carry out a comparison…)

    I'm always rather skeptical about these kinds of comparisons. Just because you can construct an example in which a particular construction is inferior, that does not mean that said construction is inferior *in general*. It's like the passive voice. It's obviously better to say "I got out of bed and ate my breakfast" than "my bed was got out of and my breakfast was eaten by me" but that doesn't mean that the passive voice is bad in general, just that it's bad in situations where it would not normally be used.

    You wouldn't say "perform a restart on the system" when you could just say "restart the system" but a lot of people will say things like "the system hasn't worked properly since the restart" rather than "the system hasn't worked properly since it was restarted".

  38. Fiona Hanington said,

    June 26, 2012 @ 10:25 am

    @Dan Hemmens – I quite agree: sometimes nominalizations are absolutely the better choice. I like your example, and here are others:

    We will respond to what you request.
    We will respond to your request. (better!)

    The fact that our service team acknowledges every call…
    Our service team’s acknowledgement of every call…(better!)

    But, in general, when you turn a verb (or adjective) into a noun, you lose some of the action in the sentence. I am particularly conscious of this in my job as a technical writer/editor: nominalizations abound in my field.

  39. Fiona Hanington said,

    June 26, 2012 @ 10:32 am

    You say:
    You wouldn't say "perform a restart on the system" when you could just say "restart the system"…

    But they do, they do! They do.

  40. Gene Callahan said,

    June 26, 2012 @ 2:03 pm

    @Daniel: "I simply can't imagine somebody using it to start a sentence orally…"

    Limited imagination then. I do so frequently.

  41. Gene Callahan said,

    June 26, 2012 @ 2:06 pm

    @Daniel: "There's just one problem: I simply can't imagine myself or anybody else I know saying the sample sentence you provided. Somehow, in my dialect, "however" just can't be placed there!"

    Well, as I noted, the problem here is entirely one of limited imagination.

  42. Daniel said,

    June 26, 2012 @ 2:56 pm

    @Gene Callahan

    Thank you very much for your input. I'm sure that insult was so important you had to say it twice.

    I will, however, amend my statement for the benefit of other commenters who might actually want to have a substantive conversation on the subject. It's not that I can't imagine anybody saying it, it's that I would consider such a sentence as being questionable usage at best.

  43. Dan Hemmens said,

    June 26, 2012 @ 3:36 pm

    You say:
    You wouldn't say "perform a restart on the system" when you could just say "restart the system"…

    But they do, they do! They do.

    Sorry, my sloppy use of language – I should have said "even if you wouldn't say…"

    I actually *can* imagine situations in which you might want to say "perform a restart" rather than just "restart". In a technical situation you might want to highlight that "a restart" is a specific process, rather than any action which causes something to start again. So for example you might want to distinguish between restarting a computer by the specific method of closing everything down and selecting "restart" from the start menu and some other method.

    You might also be trying to distinguish the act of shutting down a system which is running, and then restarting it, from the more general act of starting any computer that has been started at some point in the past.

  44. Fiona Hanington said,

    June 26, 2012 @ 3:37 pm

    @Daniel:
    What if you're trying to speak over childish squeals of delight?

    "Yes, you can go the movies tonight.

    "Eeeeeeeeeeeeeee…….!

    "However,

    eeeeeeeeeeeeeee…….!

    "Howeeeeever!

    eeeeeeeeeeeeeee…….!

    "HOWEVER – you have to finish your homework first."

    ……

  45. Daniel said,

    June 26, 2012 @ 4:04 pm

    @Fiona:

    *laughs* Yelling over childish interruptions as a source for linguistic data. I like it :)

  46. Arnold Zwicky said,

    June 26, 2012 @ 5:41 pm

    Martin Kaminer on the Variations List asks about Alan Duncan:

    Is it my imagination or does this fellow hold the same ministerial post as the protagonist of "In The Loop"? If so . . . not terribly surprising somehow. Getting harder and harder to satirize real life.

    My reply:

    See here. DFID is the Department for International Development; Duncan is Minister of State for International Development.

    And yes, the Simon Foster character in In the Loop (played by Tom Hollander) is indeed Minister for International Development.

  47. Eugene van der Pijll said,

    June 27, 2012 @ 2:15 am

    @AntC, Mark and Piotr,

    Dutch has a word for "one and a half" too: anderhalf.

    Since Dutch and English are closely related, we can speculate on what the corresponding word in English would have been, and indeed: the OED entry for "other" says "other half" means "one and a half", with citations from 900 to 1430.

    So there's nothing special about Latin having a word for 1.5, but does it tell you anything about English that it has lost that word?

  48. Piotr Gąsiorowski said,

    June 27, 2012 @ 3:17 am

    @Eugene,

    There's also German anderthalb (or eineinhalb) and similarly formed 'halfway to two' in Danish, Finnish, etc. In the modern languages of India there are plenty of reflexes of Old Indo-Aryan *dv(i/a)yardha 'one and a half'. Quite a few languages have fuller sets of 'and-a-half' numerals, and such a system may have once been an areal feature of Northern Europe (including Balto-Slavic, Finnic and at least part of Germanic). Icelandic has something even curiouser: 'thirty-five years old' is expressed as 'halfway to forty' (hálf-fertugur).

  49. Gav said,

    June 27, 2012 @ 4:14 am

    My latin is a bit rusty but isn't sesqui itself is a contraction of semi – que, "and a half"?

    On the subject of sesqui and topical too (cf "the rottenest summer that Bury had had for some time") here's a link for "three-ha'pence"

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f22Aboj9tQo

  50. David J. Littleboy said,

    June 27, 2012 @ 10:01 am

    "For some reason, my instinctive feeling is that "However" may be used to prefix a long-winded explanation, of, say, paragraph length, as "but" seems to be insufficient for the task:"

    Aha! That explains it! I find that in my work (translation of technical Japanese, in which all "sentences" are paragraph length (our CEO's role is proofreader, and she just screamed "don't these idiots ever read what they write?")), sentence-initial "howevers" are common and natural. I can reread the results ten times over and not see a problem. One customer, however, complains, so she gets sentence-medial howevers no matter how natural the sentence-initial ones strike me. Note, though, that in that sentence, sentence-medial however, is clearly better than sentence initial would have been (and came out sentence medial as typed).

  51. Circe said,

    June 27, 2012 @ 11:58 pm

    As Piotr Gąsiorowski pointed put several Indian languages have prefixes denoting and-a-half. In Hindi (and I believe in Urdu and Punjabi too), one-and-a-half and two-and-a-half have their dedicated words: डेढ़ /ɖeːɽʱ/ and ढाई/ɖʱaːiː/ respectively, but the other small integers use a generic prefix साढ़े /saːɖʱeː/. Interestingly, there is also a prefix for and a quarter: सवा /səwaː/, which by itself means "one and a quarter".

    However, as a native Hindi speaker, I feel a bit uncomfortable using the prefixes for anything but very small integers. I would never use them to say "hundred and a half", for example. But this might just be my dialect.

  52. Circe said,

    June 28, 2012 @ 12:02 am

    In fact hundred was a bad example in my last comment. In case of power of ten beyond 10 that have their own names, the prefixes work differently: using them with hundred would denote "hundred and fifty" and "hundred and twenty five" respectively, for example. However, as I said, I wouldn't use the prefixes for saying things like ninety-nine and a half.

  53. windy said,

    July 3, 2012 @ 8:12 am

    "Quite a few languages have fuller sets of 'and-a-half' numerals, and such a system may have once been an areal feature of Northern Europe"

    In Finnish the system was used until relatively recently, but now only the word for one-and-a-half remains in regular use. Larger numbers were also expressed in a similar way, and the numerals for 11-19 are relicts of this old numbering system, so funnily enough 'puolitoista' means 1.5 but 'yksitoista' means 11 ("one of the second [ten]").

  54. KeithB said,

    July 3, 2012 @ 8:56 am

    Since Chrysostam probably didn't write in english, shouldn't you at least mention the translator?

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