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Picture of jheem
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Chinese has a difficult to learn writing system that beats English hands down for crankiness. But if you ask a sinophone why they don't scrap it for an alphabetic system, you'll get all kinds of reasons why their writing system is fantastic. They will tell you how, because Chinese has so many homonyms, the writing systems helps disambiguate signs (words), and all that would be lost, if they went to an alphabet. I always ask them how any two Chinese can possibly talk to one another then? How indeed. How can we possibly understand any of Shakespeare's texts? The print versions (which is all we have) use anything but a standard orthography. Saying that punctuation errors are grammatical ones does not make sense to me. But that's my cross to bear, just as people who get all twisted out of shape when somebody asks "Just what are you inferring?" Punctuation helps to disambiguate sentences where the context does not help (e.g., talking about pandas or hunters). Though I would argue that the following sentences are both grammatical and meaningful:

The panda eats shoots and leaves.

The hunter eats shoots and leaves.
 
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Picture of Richard English
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Indeed. But without the comma it is possible to infer that the hunter is consuming shoots and leaves as is the panda. Unlikely but certainly possible if he were starving in the trackless jungle.

The insertion of the comma makes the sentence quite unambigious if it were describing the hunters activities of dining, killing and then departing.


Richard English
 
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But without the comma it is possible to infer that the hunter is consuming shoots and leaves as is the panda.

Only the perverse, which of course, includes many of us on the board. In my common knowledge of the world, hunters don't eat shoots and leaves, but they tend to shoot things. Contrariwise with pandas. My point was that, because of the wonderful amount of redundancy in language, the primary meaning of an unpunctuated sentence is easily discernible. The classic example sentence I've seen here in the States is:

"To my parents, Ayn Rand and God."

Again, knowing something about reality and how it works, I would take this dedication to be to four people and not two.
 
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I've pointed this out before, but computer scientists researching natural language understanding will tell you that it is practically impossible to write an non-ambiguous sentence that can be interpreted without contextual cues, including something as simple as "I SAW A MAN", which has a least four possible interpretations.
 
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I've pointed this out before

So we have, but it bears repeating.

Apropos this, when I was learning Sanskrit, and we were covering compounding (words), I kept wondering how all the ambiguities were handled in serious (i.e., religious) texts. Years later, when I started to look at the Rigveda, I discovered that the sampada version included extensive (Cliff-like) notes which took apart all the compound words and reinserted all the suffixes that had been dropped to form them, making things less ambiguous and easier to interpret. Of course, it was just one school of commentary that was represented, though one of the other vedas (Ayur? Yajur?) has two rescensions.
 
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Picture of Hic et ubique
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quote:
Originally posted by jheem: Punctuation helps to disambiguate sentences


Indeed. A college professor asked his class to punctuate this text:
. . . . .Woman without her man is a savage

The men punctuated it thus: Woman, without her man, is a savage.

The women punctuated it thus: Woman! Without her, man is a savage.

(Paint over for text.)
 
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I love that quotation! I've seen it as 'woman without her man is nothing' and it does go a long way to show how important punctuation is.

Richard: But without the comma it is possible to infer that the hunter is consuming shoots and leaves as is the panda.

jheem: Only the perverse, which of course, includes many of us on the board. In my common knowledge of the world, hunters don't eat shoots and leaves, but they tend to shoot things.

I know what you mean jheem, but that does rely on there actually being a common knowledge, and that won't always be the case. There may be several interpretations of a concept, or the reader might not know enough about it to be able to draw the desired conclusion (e.g. a non-native speaker or someone who's never come across the word in that context before). Because of these and other situations, I think it's best to punctuate properly every time, even if the meaning can be easily discerned without it. I wouldn't accept sloppiness from any other craftsman - if I buy a table I expect it to be sanded down, even though an unsanded one can still be used as a table - so I won't accept it in language, particularly as our most basic rules are just that - basic. I get annoyed if I'm tripped up by badly-punctuated or grammatically inept writing - some of the things people post on forums are so badly written they're actually unintelligible, and I no longer waste my time trying to decipher them.
 
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Still, I have learned a lot from this punctuation talk with jheem and aput (and where in the world has aput been? I must contact him!).

I used to be one of those punctuation mavens, I fear, who used to put red marks galore on all student papers, and cluck about how the students are much less literate than in years past. I even recall writing, "You'd better buy a Strunk and White!" I imagine somewhere out there some of my past students are now pointing their fingers at others for using "that" when they should have used "which." Roll Eyes
 
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quote:
I think it's best to punctuate properly every time, even if the meaning can be easily discerned without it.

Cat, we seem to agree on just about everything except beer. I'm just going to have to work on that...


Richard English
 
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I used to be one of those punctuation mavens
Maven n. Someone who is dazzlingly skilled in any field.

Is this word actually appropriate in this context? It would appear that a maven is one who has a wide range of skills, not a specialist.

Or is the definition I have wrong and should read "Someone who is dazzlingly skilled in any one given field


Richard English
 
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It would appear that a maven is one who has a wide range of skills, not a specialist.

Or is the definition I have wrong and should read "Someone who is dazzlingly skilled in any one given field

I remember exactly when maven came into common use. I started hearing it around '86, as a substitute for the too-geeky-sounding 'wizard'. When you were pitching your multi-million-dollar missile defense project to a brigadier general, you didn't want to continually remind him that you spent your spare time playing Dungeons and Dragons with Comic Book Guy. I remember reading a column about maven at the time, Safire perhaps.
The definition you have is the earlier definition, but now it's come to mean a specialist.
 
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Let me just re-iterate that I am not against punctuation or puntuating one's papers. I'm just against most of the reasons people give for why things need to be punctuated.

In re mavens, I stand corrected. From now on I shall refer to prescriptivists and their ilk as grammar dilettantes. Wink (Maybe maven is being used ironically in this case or as a shorthand for grammar so-called mavens.

This message has been edited. Last edited by: jheem,
 
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The irony here is that I think we all agree on principle. Surely, I, too, agree with Cat.

However, the difference is that I used to be way too concerned about punctuation of my student papers, cluck-clucking around and acting all holier than thou. Knowledge of correct punctuation can do that to you! Wink What I have learned here is much better; that is, punctuation is a part of our language in general...an important part, yes...but not everything. Richard, Cat, jheem, neveu, you probably all had that attitude before.

As for maven, jheem, I was the one who used it wrong. To be honest, when I had used it, I had wondered if it were the correct word. It clearly isn't. Prescriptivist would have been better.
 
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heh,... I can't resist.

I think the use of "were" in your last paragraph is incorrect. The use of were, as in If I were a rich girl, requires a follow up. My brain has fried and I cannot think of the proper grammarian terms. But I do believe that "was" would be the proper choice here.
 
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If it comes to a vote, my vote goes to "were" as Correct. The "wondered" puts it into the Subjunctive Mood and no follow-up is required.

IMHO
 
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I'm not sure how "wondered" can put it in the subjunctive mood. She wondered about the past state of something, not about its potential to make something happen or to be something given certain circumstances.

Oh well... not worth debating about really.
 
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Picture of jheem
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I wonder who was the king of France in 1782. If one were to argue, it is not the use of wonder, but the use of if.

Now we're voting on grammar! Okay, here's my vote: I agree—horrors!—with Mr Fowler on this one: the subjunctive in English died before I was born. (He put its demise within a generation of his writing about it in 1907.) Except for some fixed phrases like if I were king, so be it, be that as it may, Heaven forbid, come what may, and suffice it to say.
 
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Louis-Phillipe, The "Citizen" King
 
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Louis-Phillipe, The "Citizen" King

Louis XVI reigned from 1774 to 1793. Louis-Philippe from 1830 to 1848. The Citizen King is not to be confused with the burger king, or le roi bourgeois as it were.
 
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Picture of Kalleh
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quote:
I think the use of "were" in your last paragraph is incorrect.

<sigh> Okay, consider it changed to:

"To be honest, when I had used it, I had wondered if it was the correct word."

The funny part is, I had wondered if were was the correct word when I wrote that. Now...don't tell me that it is "I had wondered if were were the correct word!" Wink
 
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A question has come up in one of Richard's OEDILF limericks. This wouldn't be the way I'd punctuate a sentence, but then I am no punctuation maven. Is the comma correct in L4?

Abidjan's on the Ivory Coast.
It's considered by some as the most
Significant town
In this region so brown,
(Though it's possible that's just a boast).

To me, the parentheses already set the phrase apart, and I'd not use the comma. Richard says that it is appropriate. Is it? Is it a Brit/American difference, or am I just wrong?
 
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No, you are correct.

Though I have a more serious problem with line 1. It just doesn't scan for me. Good thing I'm not workshopping anymore.
 
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Line one scans just fine for me with the emphasis on syllable three of the first word.

I really see no benefit in using any comma in L4 nor, for that matter, the parentheses.

~~~ jerry
 
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Normally you wouldn't put a comma directly before a phrase in parentheses. However, I don't think there is much point in putting line 5 in parentheses any way. Better in my mind to delete the parens and keep the comma.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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I have been brainwashed by some of the OEDILF puntuation gurus who seem wo want commas in places I would put places!

This particular limerick of mine is a very early one, written before the OEDILF punctuations norms were established. In its original form it had no comma and, I agree, it is maybe better without it. I think parentheses are appropriate here since the thought is fairly disinct from the initial message.

And, incidentally, Abidjan is pronounced with the final syllable emphasised.


Richard English
 
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Yes, L1 scanned fine for me. Richard, I have also noticed that people want commas all over the place there, whereas my understanding is that now punctuation gurus say to only use the minimum number of commas.
 
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Kalleh,

In general, commas are sprinkled about the page much less liberally nowadays than earlier. Read any piece of writing from the 18th or early 19th centuries to see what I mean!


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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Reviving a thread...I have an OEDILF punctuation question. Should you use double or single quotation marks when it isn't an exact quote but it does echo language? That was how Judah, who also posts here, phrased it. Here is his limerick, and the question is in line two:

In Babel of Biblical fame
They wanted to 'make them a name'
And consolidate power
By building a Tower,
To reach to the heavens, their aim...

I was thinking it should be italicized...or maybe it needs nothing. What do you think?
 
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Looks fine to me as it is. I certainly wouldn't italicise it.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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Thanks, Arnie. He ended up taking everything out, single quotes, double quotes and italics, and just leaving it bare. I think that works fine, too. After all, it isn't a specific quote; it's just "echoes language," according to Judah (whatever that means!).
 
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I have an OEDILF question. Judah has written this limerick:

When speech veers aside from the track it's
Been following, changing its tack, it's
An aside (often shown
By a difference in tone.
[In writing we show it with brackets]).

I nest parentheses inside of brackets, but they are saying this is the correct way. What do you think?
 
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Leaving aside the other errors in the limerick, I think the punctuation's fine.


Richard English
 
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There is no "correct way". The important thing is to be consistent within the document. Most people probably use parentheses first, then brackets, but it makes no odds.

However, some style manuals do lay down the order to be used in such cases, so in certain circumstances it may be necessary to follow a laid-down pattern.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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Bracket is a great word with a fun history. It has some fun senses, too. Possibly from Spanish braguetta or French braguette 'codpiece', but ultimately from Latin bracae from Gaulish braca 'leg covering; breeches'. Today we distinguish between all kinds of bookend punctuation marks: e.g., square brackets ('[', ']'), angle brackets ('<', '>'), parentheses ('(', ')'), guillemets ('«', '»'), curly brackets (or braces; '{', '}'), etc. Brackets went from pants, to an L-shaped piece of metal to hold up shelving, to an artillary term for undershooting and overshooting a target (called bracketing) until on hit it. (This meaning was also extended into photography.) Also, in phenomenology (a kind of philosophy) bracketing is what one does with the world (or the piece of it under consideration).


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Thanks, zmj, for that great background. Yes, phenomenology is often used in nursing research, and "bracketing" adds scientific rigor (validity) to these qualitative studies. Here is an example of how it's used. The researchers bracket their own biases, both to identify them so that they can disregard them in their analysis and also to allow the readers to consider the researchers' biases when interpretating the findings.
 
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Interesting paper. Thanks, Kalleh.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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[QUOTE]Originally posted by jheem:

Punctuation has more to do with orthography and bit to do with rhetoric. The "rules" of punctuation are even more ad hoc [sic] than the "rules" of grammar, with even fewer "experts" agreeing with one another. In a word, chaos. QUOTE]

To put in another oar, I think the purpose of grammar and punctuation are insufficiently emphasised. The object of both is to provide language whose meaning is clear and unambiguous. The selection of vocabulary, using where possible short words and active constructions is another aspect. But, punctuation is an essential component of clear writing, and without linguistic authority, I would suggest it is an intrinsic part of grammar.
 
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The object of both is to provide language whose meaning is clear and unambiguous.

That may be true of punctuation, but that does not make its "rules" any less arbitrary.

punctuation is an essential component of clear writing

No argument there. I think what the poster was trying to say is that the rules of punctuation differ widely and and do not have their origin in grammar, but in an attempt to make written texts easier for the reader to process. Consistancy in punctuation, e.g., as stipulated by an agreed-upon style guide, is more important than trying to find a grammatical origin for some particular rule of punctuation.

and without linguistic authority, I would suggest it is an intrinsic part of grammar.

You are welcome to your definition of grammar, and many will agree with you, but for some of us the definition is wrong.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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quote:
using where possible short words and active constructions is another aspect

I don't disagree with the 'short words' part, but 'active constructions'? Eek


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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Andy Zwicky of Language Log, the group linguistics blog, writes about the extended meaning of "grammar": one and two.

By "active constructions", I think he means constructions that use the active voice. (This seems to come from the Fowlers in their The King's English.) It's interesting to wonder how and why the different voices (active, passive, medio-passive) were developed. Using the passive voice sometimes is more accurate than the active: e.g.,

Mrs X: I was robbed.

Mrs Q: By whom?

Mrs X: Don't know. Would've said whom if I had.

Better, and shorter, than, "I was robbed by persons unknown" or the silly "Persons unknown robbed me."


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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I doubt that it was the first style guide to include the heresy that the active voice is always preferable to the passive, but I feel that Strunk's Elements of Style is to blame for brainwashing a lot of Americans. Microsoft included it with MS Word's grammar checker, so the obloquy spreads.

I was surprised, though, to see pearce, an Englishman, repeating the sentiment.


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I misremembered the opening sentences of the Fowlers' The King's English, 1908:

quote:
Any one who wishes to become a good writer should endeavour, before he allows himself to be tempted by the more showy qualities, to be direct, simple, brief, vigorous, and lucid.

This general principle may be translated into practical rules in the domain of vocabulary as follows :-

Prefer the familiar word to the far-fetched.
Prefer the concrete word to the abstract.
Prefer the single word to the circumlocution.
Prefer the short word to the long.
Prefer the Saxon word to the Romance.

These rules are given roughly in order of merit; the last is also the least


No mention of active vs passive voice. But Lounsbury discusses an 18th and 19th century obsession in denying the grammaticality of the passive verb being followed by an object: e.g.,

a. I found Jesus bound, scourged, given gall to drink.

b. The merchant was paid thirty pounds fine.

c. I was promised venison, against my feast.

quote:
Of all those attempts made in behalf of pedantry to restrict freedom of expression, the most vociferous—it is hard to refrain from calling it the most senseless—is the one directed against the construction in which the passive voice is followed by an object. Certainly there is none which involves completer ignorance of the best usage or more absolute defiance of the authority of the great writers of our speech. In the construction itself there is nothing peculiar to English. It is found in Latin, more frequently in Greek. No student of the former tongue needs to be told that verbs of asking and teaching in the active voice govern two accusatives; and that in the passive these same verbs can be followed also by one of these accusatives. It is in English, however, that this sort of construction has undergone a development so full that it has come to partake almost of the nature of a special idiom. In the case of no small number of verbs, a noun as object follows the tenses of the passive voice or the passive participle. The usage has never been made the subject of exhaustive investigation, especially as regards the earlier periods of the language. But about its later history and its frequency in later times very positive statements can be safely made.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Arnie,
I am sure you don't need active and passive constructions spelled out for you. I prefer to say 'he drove the ball to the boundary' rather than 'the ball was driven to the boundary'. With short sentences like that the meaning is perhaps equally clear. In longer, more technical writing the passive tends to hide the meaning. We all know the feeling of having to re-read a passage, often for this reason.
 
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"Use the active voice. ... This rule does not mean, of course, that the writer should entirely discard the passive voice, which is frequently convenient and sometimes necessary." [Strunk and White Elements of Style, 3rd edition, p. 18. In the 1st edition also.]


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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quote:
Originally posted by zmjezhd:
"Use the active voice. ... This rule does not mean, of course, that the writer should entirely discard the passive voice, which is frequently convenient and sometimes necessary."


I said that the active is to be preferred , not that passive sentences were to excluded. NB. I have written this as a passive construction, to make the point.
Orwell's six rules put it well: "Never use the passive where you can use the active." But he also added: "Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous." With which I think we would all agree.
 
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quote:
Originally posted by pearce:
quote:
Originally posted by zmjezhd:
"Use the active voice. ... This rule does not mean, of course, that the writer should entirely discard the passive voice, which is frequently convenient and sometimes necessary."


I said that the active is to be preferred , not that passive sentences were to excluded. NB. I have written this as a passive construction, to make the point.
Orwell's six rules(1946) put it well:
1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech, which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

With which I think we would all agree.
 
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Orwell's six rules(1946)

It is interesting that Orwell uses passive constructions in this text about 15% of the time. Unfortunately, I have seen preferences turned into absolute rules by some editors I have worked with.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Interesting discussion. I do like Fowlers' list and have learned to despise Strunk and White. BTW, it is alive and well on OEDILF, which drives me nuts! I get so tired of the "tsks tsks" with Strunk and White since there are obviously many acceptable styles of writing.

I do wonder about the "short" words, though. After all, this is a word board. Do we all agree that the shorter the word the better? I think at little variety is nice. That is, instead of "Schadenfreude," I'll use "epicaricacy" every so often...Oh, sorry, I promised not to go there! Big Grin
 
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Well, the "e" word is certainly shorter... That just shows that you can't apply these "rules" inflexibly. Wink


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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quote:
I said that the active is to be preferred , not that passive sentences were to excluded.

I disagree. There are many times when the passive voice is to be preferred (such as in this very sentence)


Richard English
 
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