Can it be true?

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John McIntyre ("You have not seen it all yet", You Don't Say 1/17/2014) relays a correspondent's claim to have gotten this note from her college professor:

Look up Strunk and White (1918) for good rules on writing.  Also, I recommend you do not use prepositions at the beginning or end of sentences their use does not reflect well on the writers. 

I do not agree with you on your point and from now on I will mark you down if you use prepositions to begin or end ssentences as you have now been advised to do so.  Once you get out of my class use them anywhere you would like.  

Other people like Winston Churchill had the same thought as you when his editors made the same correction.  Churchill said, "Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put."  So you have good company of those who disagree with using proper grammar — or at least this rule in grammar.

Is this an illustration of the sad decline in grammatical knowledge (and basic literacy) among writing instructors? Or is it a clever satire?

Apparently this text hasn't been put on line before. It wouldn't have surprised me to find it featured on Snopes, or reproduced in a book about the decay of Western civilization. But no — it's at least new, and therefore maybe even real.

 

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59 Comments »

  1. D.O. said,

    January 17, 2014 @ 6:55 pm

    "Strunk and White (1918)" looks a bit suspicious… Overall the attitude "this rule is debatable, but in this class we will use it anyways" does not strike me as something implausible.

  2. Chris C. said,

    January 17, 2014 @ 7:24 pm

    Yeah, sounds urban-legend-ish to me. We have the ultra-uptight English "professor" insisting on an outworn pesudo-rule. We have the delicious irony of the message conveyed by a very poorly composed note. We have the lack of attribution not just by McIntyer but by his correspondent. As D. O. points out "Strunk and White (1918)" sounds suspicious not least because there was no "Strunk and White" in 1918; would a "professor" make that kind of mistake? (Or even a lowly part-time instructor, for that matter?)

  3. Morten Jonsson said,

    January 17, 2014 @ 7:55 pm

    There's also the misunderstanding of the remark attributed to Churchill–a little too obtuse to be true. I vote hoax.

  4. Andy Engel said,

    January 17, 2014 @ 8:22 pm

    If it's real, I pity the student. Anyone who would write that first paragraph shouldn't be standing on front of a writing class. I, too, vote hoax. It's just too damned stupid to be true. It's convenient that the 1918 version of Elements of Style does not contain (I think) an author's note that reminds the reader that the Elements aren't rules, but really just suggestions. It goes to say something like, "Really good writers can pretty much ignore the rules "

  5. John McIntyre said,

    January 17, 2014 @ 8:29 pm

    I am informed by a source whom I know and trust, who has it directly from a known and trusted source (more I am not at liberty to say), that it is authentic.

    I wold have thought that Language Log readers would be aware how frequently academics outpace the reach of satire.

  6. Rubrick said,

    January 17, 2014 @ 8:47 pm

    Surely considering it an illustration of any decline among writing instructors is, at best, a form of the Recency Illusion. I'd be mighty surprised if there weren't incompetent, wrongheaded writing teachers in Plato's day.

  7. Chris Waigl said,

    January 17, 2014 @ 8:51 pm

    I'm a little bit surprised at the notion that mis-dating S&W is the most egregious blunder in this missive.

  8. John McIntyre said,

    January 17, 2014 @ 9:00 pm

    It should also be kept in mind that the subject this instructor teaches is not identified. It's not just English departments and writing programs that may harbor peculiar ideas about grammar and usage.

  9. Ø said,

    January 17, 2014 @ 9:15 pm

    I take John McIntyre's word for it. It takes all kinds to make a professoriate. There are mathematicians who force their zombie peeves on the theses of their PhD students.

    Perhaps my favorite phrase in the passage is the slightly power-crazed "Once you get out of my class …"

  10. David Morris said,

    January 17, 2014 @ 9:29 pm

    In case I've missed something, where does the sub-rule about not *starting* a sentence with a preposition come from?

    Something that needs to be pointed out at least occasionally in posts stating that it is perfectly acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition, is that not every sentence can end with. There are only (off-hand) three or four specific structures where this can be done. Instructors and students need to be told more about.

  11. DisgruntledS Student said,

    January 17, 2014 @ 9:34 pm

    I am the student who had the audacity to argue with this professor, and I can assure you that the email is word for word what I received. The university in question is located in the Northeast and has a good reputation. The professor in question is a full-time teacher.

  12. DisgruntledS Student said,

    January 17, 2014 @ 9:39 pm

    I apologize for the typo in my username, I'm in the middle of typing a paper for this professor and honestly, all I want is to complete it and move on with my life.

    The program is most decidedly not an English program. The original question to my professor was actually about using a preposition at the beginning of the sentence. I was willing to acquiesce to his demand that I don't end a sentence with a preposition, but I found it difficult to *never* begin a sentence with a preposition or a prepositional phrase.

    You'll note in the professor's response that he started a sentence with a preposition.

  13. John McIntyre said,

    January 17, 2014 @ 9:40 pm

    I suspect that the instructor conflated two equally bogus rules: the one about not ending a sentence with a preposition and the one about not beginning a sentence with a coordinating conjunction.

  14. Brett said,

    January 17, 2014 @ 10:35 pm

    It looks quite plausible to me. I remember a similar list of zombie rules that I got from a writing instructor (at MIT), written in prose that was nearly as disfluent. The instructor was not a native speaker of English, and she sometimes struggled with English idioms. As a writing instructor, this did not inspire respect.

  15. djw said,

    January 17, 2014 @ 10:38 pm

    My nearly four decades in the classroom (from middle school through PhD courses) make me inclined to believe that the message was (sadly) real. When I taught in a university ESL program briefly, I had more than one student ask my opinion of the "rules" another instructor (more than one, I'm sorry to say) insisted on. Most of the time, I was inclined to agree with the students, whom I typically urged to follow the instructor's "rules" long enough to get out of the class and then to trust themselves and the sources they showed me once they were on their own.

    Consequently, I also developed a habit of pointing out my own pet peeves to my students and telling them I wanted them to try my approach in my class, but to decide for themselves whether my biases really worked in their own writing. But most of what I tried to teach them was in their own professional organization's style guide, so they mostly trusted me.

    Unfortunately, too many people "teaching" writing are working from what they vaguely remember from Ms. Hasselburg's sixth grade grammar lessons, and they tend to reinforce what they learned and/or remembered wrong from her. This looks to me like one of those.

  16. Michael Sullivan said,

    January 18, 2014 @ 1:15 am

    With all due respect, I cannot imagine where this professor came up with his rule against beginning a sentence with a preposition. In many cases, a sentence includes clauses that begin with prepositions, and these clauses may precede or follow the main clause. In a sentence with these clauses, how would one put them at the top of the sentence without using a leading preposition? By, perhaps, rearranging the sentence to relocate the preposition: "Such requirements, up with which I will not put, are ridiculous"? In so structuring a sentence, cruelty has been dealt to English. With such a rule, the professor doesn't even have the weak moral ground of analogy to Latin, which had no rule against beginning with prepositions.

    And please note that every sentence in the preceding paragraph violated the professor's supposed rule.

  17. Carrie said,

    January 18, 2014 @ 1:26 am

    It is absolutely not just writing professors! Most of my law professors consider themselves bar-none experts in excellent writing and every single one enforces multiple false or zombie rules. #theseguysareinchargeofmygrades

  18. Chris Waigl said,

    January 18, 2014 @ 1:59 am

    I'm not convinced the professor in question knows what a preposition is, or can recognize one. I can't imagine them being able to function in normal written communication without using sentence-initial prepositions. This said, I mostly see a pretty ugly comma splice in their second sentence.

  19. Chris Waigl said,

    January 18, 2014 @ 1:59 am

    (OK, a comma-less comma splice.)

  20. Stephan Stiller said,

    January 18, 2014 @ 3:30 am

    @ DisgruntledS Student
    1. Where does the professor start a sentence with a preposition?
    2. In any case, why not make the world a better place and expose the professor?

  21. Suburbanbanshee said,

    January 18, 2014 @ 4:20 am

    Stephan Stiller –

    Anyone who has suffered through this instructor long enough to be writing a paper clearly has more need to pass this particular class than to become a whistleblower before grading time. I just hope it's not one of those classes that's only offered once in four years and must be passed to collect one's degree.

    Also, a student today spends hundreds of dollars on a single class, so urging him to expose an instructor's name between drop time and final grade is urging him to accept a considerable financial hit. Are you going to give him a couple hundred bucks a credit hour?

  22. Stephan Stiller said,

    January 18, 2014 @ 4:49 am

    @Suburbanbanshee
    I sense unnecessary dramatization in your comment. That said – I am sure the student would be smart enough to, depending on his or her circumstances, wait until grades have been submitted. While we're at it, I would in fact have recommended against forwarding the content of the instructor's ridiculous email until after the course. Or even until it would be clear that there is no further dependence on the instructor in the student's degree program.

  23. AntC said,

    January 18, 2014 @ 5:07 am

    Hey, it's be a whole lot closer to home! A professor at GKP's own Edinburgh recommends S&W and Orwell (usual suspect).
    http://wadler.blogspot.co.nz/2013_01_01_archive.html
    Acknowledging '50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice' does not soften the blow.
    And actually, Prof Wadler can write well.

  24. Howard Oakley said,

    January 18, 2014 @ 6:31 am

    Could we perhaps set up a charity to send free copies of Harry Ritchie's "English for the Natives", and perhaps some of Prof Pullum's excellent books, to these people?
    (I have just stumbled across Harry Ritchie's book in my local Waterstones this morning, and have given a copy to my grandson. If you have not seen it, it is an excellent counter to the steady dribble of books prescribing fossilised twaddle.)
    Howard.

  25. Sili said,

    January 18, 2014 @ 6:35 am

    Rubrick,

    I'd be mighty surprised if there weren't incompetent, wrongheaded writing teachers in Plato's day.

    Most likely Plato himself.

  26. GeorgeW said,

    January 18, 2014 @ 7:13 am

    FWIW, S&W (4th edition) do not proscribe beginning a sentence with a preposition. However they say that it (as with "participle phrases," "nouns in apposition," adjectives," and "adjective phrases") "must refer to the grammatical subject."

    They give an unacceptable & acceptable example:

    *On arriving in Chicago, his friends met him at the station.
    On arriving in Chicago, he was met at the station by his friends.

  27. GeorgeW said,

    January 18, 2014 @ 7:32 am

    P.S. I would just add that arbitrarily applying a zombie rule is bad enough, but misapplying it is even worse.

  28. RP said,

    January 18, 2014 @ 8:04 am

    Why do some of you think the professor has misunderstood Churchill? The professor quite clearly states that Churchill is an opponent of good grammar and that Churchill agrees with the student.

  29. Darkwhite said,

    January 18, 2014 @ 8:09 am

    I picked a well-esteemed author at random (Shakespeare), opened the first of his plays I could think of at Project Gutenberg (Hamlet), and had to go all the way down to the ninth line to find a sentence-initial preposition:

    Fran: For this releefe much thankes: 'Tis bitter cold, and I am sicke at heart

    Whether this reflects poorly on the professor or the bard, I will leave to the readership to decide.

  30. Darkwhite said,

    January 18, 2014 @ 8:13 am

    Because Shakespeare's use was, strictly speaking, in dialogue – which we all know follows different grammatical rules than normal prose – I also tried the same exercise with Charles Dickens' 'Oliver Twist'.

    Needless to say, Charles Dickens must have been an utterly terrible writer. The very first sentence in the book start with this: Among other public buildings in a certain town, (…)

  31. Ellen K. said,

    January 18, 2014 @ 9:29 am

    DisgruntledS Student, I do not see a sentence beginning with a preposition. I do seen an independent clause that begins "from now on", but this independent clause is not a full sentence, and "from now on" doesn't start a sentence. And while that distinction shouldn't make a difference in reasonable sentence building rules, we aren't talking about reasonable rules here.

  32. Ben Hemmens said,

    January 18, 2014 @ 10:09 am

    No, in a world where the following piece of rubbish is possible, anything's possible:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rob-reinalda/grammar-mistakes_b_4604776.html

  33. Ben Hemmens said,

    January 18, 2014 @ 10:52 am

    George W,

    The examples have nothing to do with the fact of the first word of the sentence being a preposition. In both cases, the grammatical subject of the main clause is the word after the comma. In neither case does the on "refer" to the subject or the object of the sentence.

    However, I'll give them this: they are cunningly arranged so that a reader will get the impression that Ex. 1 is wrong. But it is not wrong gramatically, and not stylistically poor because of the preposition being at the beginning; it's just a bit odd semantically. The sentence as a whole means that his friends arrived in Chicago. But that collides with the conventional use of transitive "meet … at the station" to mean the subject is the one who was already in town and went to pick up their friend. The problem is the failure to avoid this collocation. It exists in exactly the same way if you take away the "on" from the beginning of both sentences.

    And that brings us the the alternative way of seeing the problem, which is a worse mistake: if the intention of the first sentence was to say that he arrived in Chicago, then it has indeed failed grammatically to achieve that intention, but because the he has been put in the wrong place for the participle —not because of the preposition.

    It's another case of this:
    http://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2014/01/15/moths-to-the-flame-of-meaning/

    Only in this case, the fact that our brains automatically process a sentence to the level of meaning before we've even had a conscious look at them is being used to hoodwink us into swallowing a completely bogus, purportedly grammatical point.

  34. GeorgeW said,

    January 18, 2014 @ 11:11 am

    @Ben Hemmens I was not endorsing S&W, just attempting to point out the professor had overgeneralized their actual proscription.

    The examples are from S&W. I suspect the basis is to be less ambiguous. The "erroneous" example presumably might prompt the question about who arrived at the station, "he" or "the friends."

  35. D.O. said,

    January 18, 2014 @ 11:26 am

    @George W: "he was met" — passive voice, horrors.

  36. DisgruntledS Student said,

    January 18, 2014 @ 12:40 pm

    I absolutely will not reveal the name of this professor until I receive my diploma in June. However, after that, I plan on sending him the link to Mr. McIntyre's post as well as to this post.

    I would also like to note that this program is a graduate program.

    Also, there were a few sentences at the end of the communication that Mr. McIntyre did not publish. One of them begins like this:

    "In all, please do not use prepositions at the beginning or end of a sentence…"

    Either way, thanks for all of your kind words and some support. It's a bit frustrating to spend hours and hours writing papers and then receive them back with comments regarding writing style that are based on antiquated and outdated "rules."

  37. DC said,

    January 18, 2014 @ 2:04 pm

    Saying you can't *begin* sentences with a preposition is a new one for me…

  38. hector said,

    January 18, 2014 @ 2:50 pm

    A professor may be very up on his own subject matter, and yet have misinformed, overly opinionated, even wacky or batshit-crazy ideas about subjects outside his area of expertise. (For instance, any statement made about medieval Europe by anyone who hasn't actually studied the subject should be discounted, since myths abound.)

    This is very human — the farther one gets away from what one knows, the more opinionated one's opinions — but when combined with the regal authority that professors have over their students can result in the kind of situation being discussed here.

    Me, I'm still steamed up about the professor who crossed out "bring forth" on a paper and wrote in "elicit." I considered that an abuse of power then — "You're in university! Must replace perfectly good Anglo-Saxon words with Latinate ones!" — and still do.

  39. Troy S. said,

    January 18, 2014 @ 4:07 pm

    Who says you can't end a *Latin* sentence with a preposition? Pax vobiscum.

  40. LD said,

    January 18, 2014 @ 6:10 pm

    Wait, isn't once a preposition? As in "Once you get out of my class, use them anywhere you would like".

  41. Alex said,

    January 18, 2014 @ 7:41 pm

    I taught writing to undergrads at one point, but not in an English department. I had hard enough time getting them to write coherent sentences that worked to form complete ideas that organized themselves into a well-defined argument. I had no ambition of getting them to do so without making a few spelling or grammar mistakes. And if I started making up silly grammar rules, I doubt I would have made any progress at all.

  42. Darkwhite said,

    January 19, 2014 @ 12:02 am

    LD: As a non-linguist who have only learned faux grammar in school, I have been taught to call words such as once, after and soon -adverbs-. They do somewhat mimic prepositions in function (After school, we had fun – At school, we had fun), so I'm not certain if this distinction is just made up perscriptivism (see G. Pullum's reclassification of -because-, for instance).

  43. Dwayne Bartles said,

    January 19, 2014 @ 12:37 am

    Wait, isn't once a preposition? As in "Once you get out of my class,

    OED calls it a "conjunctive adv."

  44. John O'Toole said,

    January 19, 2014 @ 1:09 pm

    Of DisgruntledS Student's first disobedience and the fruit of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste etc.

    My deepest sympathies, DisgruntledS Student. It is indeed really really annoying to have to bow to a petty grammarian gauleiter, dressed in a little brief of authority (reminds one of the emperor who didn't even have the briefs on), who is most ignorant of what he is most assured. Shame this professor once you have put the class behind you.

  45. Ken Brown said,

    January 19, 2014 @ 1:12 pm

    Do American universities really cut marks for grammatical mistakes? In subjects other than languages or perhaps creative writing? I don't think we do here in England. Even for genuine ones. Not if the meaning is clear.

    But then we don't have writing classes either, not for students who aren't studying writing.

  46. Bloix said,

    January 19, 2014 @ 3:30 pm

    *On arriving in Chicago, his friends met him at the station" literally means that his friends got off the train and met him. This isn't an ambiguity – it's what the sentence means.

    We can figure out from context that what is intended is likely the reverse of the meaning. We usually use the word "meet" when in the context of travel to mean that the person who is not traveling "meets" the traveler. So we understanding that "he" is arriving and "his friends" are already there. Although it wouldn't be wrong to say he got off the train and "met" his friends, there's idiom involved in "meeting" a traveler at a station – it means to arrive there to greet them, help them in traveling onwards, etc. In other contexts, where neither person is traveling toward the other, we don't use it that way:

    "After stopping at the bank, his friend met him at the restaurant."

    There, it's clear that the friend stopped at the bank.

    In the subject sentence, there's enough context associated with the act of meeting a traveler that we can determine who was traveling. But why would you write a sentence that literally means the reverse of what you're trying to say?

  47. Levantine said,

    January 19, 2014 @ 5:57 pm

    Bloix, I disagree. To my mind, you can be the one to arrive at a station and meet those waiting for you there. In fact, if I were making travel arrangements to be picked up by friends at a station or airport, I'm sure I would say something along the lines of "I'll meet you outside the building after my arrival." I certainly wouldn't say anything like "Where will I be met by you?".

    I think what prevents a literal interpretation of the sentence in question is that a lone traveller being welcomed by a group of friends seems likelier than the opposite. Would anyone have an issue with the sentence if it were rephrased as "On arriving in Chicago, he met his friends at the station"?

  48. Ben Hemmens said,

    January 20, 2014 @ 5:30 am

    Levantine, I think your example shows us the point: you added "my arrival" and it is just such a hint that we need to reverse the default understanding of "meet" as being what the person who is already in town does.

    "On their arrival in Chicago, his friends met him" … equally avoids the problem.

    Whatever, it should be clear that what we find wrong about the sentence is that it jars our semantic expectations, not that it is ungrammatical (or that a preposition is anywhere it shouldn't be).

  49. Gunnar H said,

    January 20, 2014 @ 9:01 am

    @Ben Hemmens and Levantine:

    It seems to me that you're missing the point a bit. S&W's example doesn't have anything to do with starting a sentence with a preposition, but it has nothing to do with the meaning of "meet" either.

    What they are apparently arguing (I don't have a copy handy) is that when you open a sentence with a modifying phrase followed by the subject of the sentence, the phrase modifies the subject.

    So for example:

    Lost in thought, he was hit by a truck.

    … makes sense, while:

    Lost in thought, a truck hit him.

    … may not be ungrammatical, but it means that the truck was lost in thought, which makes little sense and is clearly not the intended meaning.

    Whether or not this is a grammatical fact that can never be overruled by semantics, breaking the "rule" usually makes for awkward, confusing sentences. So this strikes me as one of those times S&W were onto something.

  50. Mar Rojo said,

    January 20, 2014 @ 10:39 am

    In my many years on language forums, I've come across many, many prescriptivists and pedants who will invent almost any story in order to support their ideology of language usage, but I have seen descriptivists do the same, even if to a much lesser extent.

  51. Levantine said,

    January 20, 2014 @ 11:53 am

    Gunnar H, I think you're missing the point with regard to my comment, which was responding very specifically to Bloix's arguments concerning the idiomatic use of the verb "meet".

    Ben Hemmens, let me rephrase my invented sentence then: "I will meet you outside the terminal/station" (no "after my arrival" necessary). This is the sort of thing I would say (and have said) when making arrangements to meet a welcoming party after travelling somewhere by plane or train. To reiterate, I wasn't trying to avoid a "problem" with the original sentence, and nor was I saying anything about its grammatical acceptability or otherwise; I was merely responding to Bloix about the idiomatic connotations of "meet". I still believe that my other invented sentence — "On arriving in Chicago, he met his friends at the station" — is instructive in this regard, as I think that most people reading it would interpret the person meeting his friends as having just arrived in the city (though others may not agree).

  52. Gunnar H said,

    January 20, 2014 @ 5:22 pm

    You're right, sorry to lump you together. My brain was a bit fried when I read the comments, and I took Bloix' point you disagreed with to be the same as mine (that "On arriving in Chicago, his friends met him at the station" means that the friends just got off the train because "on arriving in Chicago" refers to them), when you are actually arguing over something different.

    So let's try it again… Ben Hemmens, you said: "if the intention of the first sentence was to say that he arrived in Chicago, then it has indeed failed grammatically to achieve that intention" – to me that's pretty clearly the point S&W were trying to make.

    There's therefore no particular need to go into the semantics of "meet", since the sentence is not "cunningly arranged so that a reader will get the impression that Ex. 1 is wrong". It is wrong (not grammatically incorrect, but misphrased and saying the wrong thing).

  53. Ben Hemmens said,

    January 20, 2014 @ 6:05 pm

    Well, I don't have a copy of S&W and I don't intend to get one. I was responding to the quote supplied by GeorgeW.

    Just sticking to what is there,

    a) "it must refer to the grammatical subject" is nonsense because it does refer to (modify) the grammatical subject (what comes after the comma), wehther you want it to or not – it does that in both sentences.
    b) I don't see any sign, in what GeorgeW quoted, that they were conducting a rounded discussion of dangling modifiers, which of course would be worthwhile and would go beyond the specific issue with "meet".

  54. Gunnar H said,

    January 21, 2014 @ 8:17 am

    OK, I've looked it up (4th edition, illustrated), and this particular example is from the section "Elementary Rules of Usage: 11. A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject."

    Another of their "unacceptable" examples perhaps makes the point more unambiguously: "Being in a dilapidated condition, I was able to buy the house very cheap."

    As they say, "Sentences violating Rule 11 are often ludicrous."

    In other words, they are making the same point as your (a). The reason why it is not nonsense, of course, is that the principle that the participial phrase should (semantically) refer to the grammatical subject is frequently violated in actual writing. Within a few minutes of my last post, I came across an example in The New Republic:

    "Born and raised into the 1970s Australian counterculture, Assange’s biological father abandoned the family before he was born." (The writer intends to express that Julian Assange, not his biological father, was born and raised into the 1970s Australian counterculture.)

    I think it should have been pretty obvious that this was the point they were making, since it is a problem that could be perceived in their "unacceptable" sentence, and which is in fact addressed in the "acceptable" version. (When S&W provide two parallel versions of a sentence, they are always intended as expressions of the same meaning.) Though I suppose realizing this is easier if you clear your mind of the hostile assumption that anything they say is likely to be rubbish.

  55. Ben Hemmens said,

    January 21, 2014 @ 4:41 pm

    Ah, I see, I have misunderstood what "refers to" was supposed to mean. I though they were using it to mean "modifies". What they apparently meant was something like "is intended to refer to".

    But a miss is as good as a mile between intending to refer to something and actually referring to it. The sentence about the house says that "I" was in a dilapidated condition; the sentence about Assange says that Assange's biological father was born and raised into the 1970s Australian counterculture. The "referring to" is something the reader has to fill in by guessing from contextual knowledge.

    Surely the only honest answer, and the only hope of helping people to avoid the mistake, is to show them that the sentence doesn't actually mean what they intended it to mean.

  56. Gunnar H said,

    January 21, 2014 @ 6:27 pm

    If a construction is commonly used to express a certain meaning, and understood by readers/listeners to express that meaning (even if they object to the use), is it not prescriptivism of the most inflexible, anti-empirical sort to assert that it "really" means something else?

    At least, it doesn't strike me as so very different from the stiff-necked insistence that "I could care less" or "I can't get no satisfaction" actually mean the precise opposite of what people use them to mean.

    But this is to argue over the argument. The original point I wanted to address has been settled. Therefore, having fairly exhausted this topic of discussion, some other activity might be a better use of our time, right?

  57. SvenTheBold said,

    January 26, 2014 @ 5:32 am

    Poor English, so oft persecuted by its own practitioners! The fashions of folly truly know no end.

  58. Colin Fine said,

    January 27, 2014 @ 9:36 am

    @Gunnar H: exactly.

    The "meaning" of an utterance lies in the utterer 's intention and the speaker' s understanding, and nowhere else. (If these do not agree, then we have a miscommunication, and can talk about the speaker 's meaning and the hearer' s meaning).
    Which is why I object when people claim that "I didn't do nothing" means "I did something".

  59. Ngamudji said,

    March 31, 2014 @ 1:10 am

    Until 1967, the law in Victoria (Australia) required that, when an oath was being administered to a number of individuals at the same time, each would have to answer in turn "I swear … so to do". It caused immense confusion and delay. Trials were delayed, for example, because jurors kept saying "… to do so" and could not proceed until they were properly sworn in using the words prescribed by law. Eventually common sense won and the law was changed to reflect general usage.

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