A MANUAL DEVOTED TO BRIEF DISCUSSIONS OF THE RIGHT AND THE WRONG USE OF WORDS AND TO SOME OTHER MATTERS OF INTEREST TO THOSE WHO WOULD SPEAK AND WRITE WITH PROPRIETY.
BY ALFRED AYRES.
We remain shackled by timidity till we have learned to speak with propriety.—JOHNSON.
As a man is known by his company, so a man's company may be known by his manner of expressing himself.—SWIFT.
NEW YORK: D. APPLETON AND COMPANY, 1, 3, AND 5 BOND STREET. 1887.
COPYRIGHT BY D. APPLETON AND COMPANY, 1881
Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note. Archaic spellings have been retained as printed.
The title-page sufficiently sets forth the end this little book is intended to serve.
For convenience' sake I have arranged in alphabetical order the subjects treated of, and for economy's sake I have kept in mind that "he that uses many words for the explaining of any subject doth, like the cuttle-fish, hide himself in his own ink."
The curious inquirer who sets himself to look for the learning in the book is advised that he will best find it in such works as George P. Marsh's "Lectures on the English Language," Fitzedward Hall's "Recent Exemplifications of False Philology," and "Modern English," Richard Grant White's "Words and Their Uses," Edward S. Gould's "Good English," William Mathews' "Words: their Use and Abuse," Dean Alford's "The Queen's English," George Washington Moon's "Bad English," and "The Dean's English," Blank's "Vulgarisms and Other Errors of Speech," Alexander Bain's "English Composition and Rhetoric," Bain's "Higher English Grammar," Bain's "Composition Grammar," Quackenbos' "Composition and Rhetoric," John Nichol's "English Composition," William Cobbett's "English Grammar," Peter Bullions' "English Grammar," Goold Brown's "Grammar of English Grammars," Graham's "English Synonymes," Crabb's "English Synonymes," Bigelow's "Handbook of Punctuation," and other kindred works.
Suggestions and criticisms are solicited, with the view of profiting by them in future editions.
If "The Verbalist" receive as kindly a welcome as its companion volume, "The OrthoŰpist," has received, I shall be content.
A. A. NEW YORK, October, 1881.
Eschew fine words as you would rouge.—HARE.
Cant is properly a double-distilled lie; the second power of a lie.—CARLYLE.
If a gentleman be to study any language, it ought to be that of his own country.—LOCKE.
In language the unknown is generally taken for the magnificent.—RICHARD GRANT WHITE.
He who has a superlative for everything, wants a measure for the great or small.—LAVATER.
Inaccurate writing is generally the expression of inaccurate thinking.—RICHARD GRANT WHITE.
To acquire a few tongues is the labor of a few years; but to be eloquent in one is the labor of a life.—ANONYMOUS.
Words and thoughts are so inseparably connected that an artist in words is necessarily an artist in thoughts.-WILSON FLAGG.
It is an invariable maxim that words which add nothing to the sense or to the clearness must diminish the force of the expression.—CAMPBELL.
Propriety of thought and propriety of diction are commonly found together. Obscurity of expression generally springs from confusion of ideas.—MACAULAY.
He who writes badly thinks badly. Confusedness in words can proceed from nothing but confusedness in the thoughts which give rise to them.—COBBETT.
A—AN. The second form of the indefinite article is used for the sake of euphony only. Herein everybody agrees, but what everybody does not agree in is, that it is euphonious to use an before a word beginning with an aspirated h, when the accented syllable of the word is the second. For myself, so long as I continue to aspirate the h's in such words as heroic, harangue, and historical, I shall continue to use a before them; and when I adopt the Cockney mode of pronouncing such words, then I shall use an before them. To my ear it is just as euphonious to say, "I will crop off from the top of his young twigs a tender one, and will plant it upon an high mountain and eminent," as it is to say an harangue, an heroic, or an historical. An is well enough before the doubtful British aspiration, but before the distinct American aspiration it is wholly out of place. The reply will perhaps be, "But these h's are silent; the change of accent from the first syllable to the second neutralizes their aspiration." However true this may be in England, it is not at all true in America; hence we Americans should use a and not an before such h's until we decide to ape the Cockney mode of pronouncing them.
Errors are not unfrequently made by omitting to repeat the article in a sentence. It should always be repeated when a noun or an adjective referring to a distinct thing is introduced; take, for example, the sentence, "He has a black and white horse." If two horses are meant, it is clear that it should be, "He has a black and a white horse." See THE.
ABILITY—CAPACITY. The distinctions between these two words are not always observed by those who use them. "Capacity is the power of receiving and retaining knowledge with facility; ability is the power of applying knowledge to practical purposes. Both these faculties are requisite to form a great character: capacity to conceive, and ability to execute designs. Capacity is shown in quickness of apprehension. Ability supposes something done; something by which the mental power is exercised in executing, or performing, what has been perceived by the capacity."—Graham's "English Synonymes."
ABORTIVE. An outlandish use of this word may be occasionally met with, especially in the newspapers. "A lad was yesterday caught in the act of abortively appropriating a pair of shoes." That is abortive that is untimely, that has not been borne its full time, that is immature. We often hear abortion used in the sense of failure, but never by those that study to express themselves in chaste English.
ABOVE. There is little authority for using this word as an adjective. Instead of, "the above statement," say, "the foregoing statement." Above is also used very inelegantly for more than; as, "above a mile," "above a thousand"; also, for beyond; as, "above his strength."
ACCIDENT. See CASUALTY.
ACCORD. "He [the Secretary of the Treasury] was shown through the building, and the information he desired was accorded him."—Reporters' English.
"The heroes prayed, and Pallas from the skies Accords their vow."—Pope.
The goddess of wisdom, when she granted the prayers of her worshipers, may be said to have accorded; not so, however, when the clerks of our Sub-Treasury answer the inquiries of their chief.
ACCUSE. See BLAME IT ON.
ACQUAINTANCE. See FRIEND.
AD. This abbreviation for the word advertisement is very justly considered a gross vulgarism. It is doubtful whether it is permissible under any circumstances.
ADAPT—DRAMATIZE. In speaking and in writing of stage matters, these words are often misused. To adapt a play is to modify its construction with the view of improving its form for representation. Plays translated from one language into another are usually more or less adapted; i. e., altered to suit the taste of the public before which the translation is to be represented. To dramatize is to change the form of a story from the narrative to the dramatic; i. e., to make a drama out of a story. In the first instance, the product of the playwright's labor is called an adaptation; in the second, a dramatization.
ADJECTIVES. "Very often adjectives stand where adverbs might be expected; as, 'drink deep,' 'this looks strange,' 'standing erect.'
"We have also examples of one adjective qualifying another adjective; as, 'wide open,' 'red hot,' 'the pale blue sky.' Sometimes the corresponding adverb is used, but with a different meaning; as, 'I found the way easy—easily'; 'it appears clear—clearly.' Although there is a propriety in the employment of the adjective in certain instances, yet such forms as 'indifferent well,' 'extreme bad,' are grammatical errors. 'He was interrogated relative to that circumstance,' should be relatively, or in relation to. It is not unusual to say, 'I would have done it independent of that circumstance,' but independently is the proper construction.
"The employment of adjectives for adverbs is accounted for by the following considerations:
"(1.) In the classical languages the neuter adjective may be used as an adverb, and the analogy would appear to have been extended to English.
"(2.) In the oldest English the adverb was regularly formed from the adjective by adding 'e,' as 'soft, softe,' and the dropping of the 'e' left the adverb in the adjective form; thus, 'clŠne,' adverb, became 'clean,' and appears in the phrase 'clean gone'; 'fŠste, fast,' 'to stick fast.' By a false analogy, many adjectives that never formed adverbs in -e were freely used as adverbs in the age of Elizabeth: 'Thou didst it excellent,' 'equal (for equally) good,' 'excellent well.' This gives precedent for such errors as those mentioned above.
"(3.) There are cases where the subject is qualified rather than the verb, as with verbs of incomplete predication, 'being,' 'seeming,' 'arriving,' etc. In 'the matter seems clear,' 'clear' is part of the predicate of 'matter.' 'They arrived safe': 'safe' does not qualify 'arrived,' but goes with it to complete the predicate. So, 'he sat silent,' 'he stood firm.' 'It comes beautiful' and 'it comes beautifully' have different meanings. This explanation applies especially to the use of participles as adverbs, as in Southey's lines on Lodore; the participial epithets applied there, although appearing to modify 'came,' are really additional predications about 'the water,' in elegantly shortened form. 'The church stood gleaming through the trees': 'gleaming' is a shortened predicate of 'church'; and the full form would be, 'the church stood and gleamed.' The participle retains its force as such, while acting the part of a co÷rdinating adjective, complement to 'stood'; 'stood gleaming' is little more than 'gleamed.' The feeling of adverbial force in 'gleaming' arises from the subordinate participial form joined with a verb, 'stood,' that seems capable of predicating by itself. 'Passing strange' is elliptical: 'passing (surpassing) what is strange.'"—Bain.
"The comparative adjectives wiser, better, larger, etc., and the contrasting adjectives different, other, etc., are often so placed as to render the construction of the sentence awkward; as, 'That is a much better statement of the case than yours,' instead of, 'That statement of the case is much better than yours'; 'Yours is a larger plot of ground than John's,' instead of, 'Your plot of ground is larger than John's'; 'This is a different course of proceeding from what I expected,' instead of, 'This course of proceeding is different from what I expected'; 'I could take no other method of silencing him than the one I took,' instead of, 'I could take no method of silencing him other than the one I took.'"—Gould's "Good English," p. 69.
ADMINISTER. "Carson died from blows administered by policeman Johnson."—"New York Times." If policeman Johnson was as barbarous as is this use of the verb to administer, it is to be hoped that he was hanged. Governments, oaths, medicine, affairs—such as the affairs of the state—are administered, but not blows: they are dealt.
ADOPT. This word is often used instead of to decide upon, and of to take; thus, "The measures adopted [by Parliament], as the result of this inquiry, will be productive of good." Better, "The measures decided upon," etc. Instead of, "What course shall you adopt to get your pay?" say, "What course shall you take," etc. Adopt is properly used in a sentence like this: "The course (or measures) proposed by Mr. Blank was adopted by the committee." That is, what was Blank's was adopted by the committee—a correct use of the word, as to adopt, means, to assume as one's own.
Adopt is sometimes so misused that its meaning is inverted. "Wanted to adopt," in the heading of advertisements, not unfrequently is intended to mean that the advertiser wishes to be relieved of the care of a child, not that he wishes to assume the care of one.
AGGRAVATE. This word is often used when the speaker means to provoke, irritate, or anger. Thus, "It aggravates [provokes] me to be continually found fault with"; "He is easily aggravated [irritated]." To aggravate means to make worse, to heighten. We therefore very properly speak of aggravating circumstances. To say of a person that he is aggravated is as incorrect as to say that he is palliated.
AGRICULTURIST. This word is to be preferred to agriculturalist. See CONVERSATIONIST.
ALIKE. This word is often most bunglingly coupled with both. Thus, "These bonnets are both alike," or, worse still, if possible, "both just alike." This reminds one of the story of Sam and Jem, who were very like each other, especially Sam.
ALL. See UNIVERSAL.
ALL OVER. "The disease spread all over the country." It is more logical and more emphatic to say, "The disease spread over all the country."
ALLEGORY. An elaborated metaphor is called an allegory; both are figurative representations, the words used signifying something beyond their literal meaning. Thus, in the eightieth Psalm, the Jews are represented under the symbol of a vine:
"Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it. Thou preparedst room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land. The hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars. She sent out her boughs unto the sea, and her branches unto the river. Why hast thou then broken down her hedges, so that all they which pass by the way do pluck her? The boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast of the field doth devour it."
An allegory is sometimes so extended that it makes a volume; as in the case of Swift's "Tale of a Tub," Arbuthnot's "John Bull," Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress," etc. Fables and parables are short allegories.
ALLOW. This word is frequently misused in the West and South, where it is made to do service for assert or to be of opinion. Thus, "He allows that he has the finest horse in the country."
ALLUDE. The treatment this word has received is to be specially regretted, as its misuse has well-nigh robbed it of its true meaning, which is, to intimate delicately, to refer to without mentioning directly. Allude is now very rarely used in any other sense than that of to speak of, to mention, to name, which is a long way from being its legitimate signification. This degradation is doubtless a direct outcome of untutored desire to be fine and to use big words.
ALONE. This word is often improperly used for only. That is alone which is unaccompanied; that is only of which there is no other. "Virtue alone makes us happy," means that virtue unaided suffices to make us happy; "Virtue only makes us happy," means that nothing else can do it—that that, and that only (not alone), can do it. "This means of communication is employed by man alone." Dr. Quackenbos should have written, "By man only". See also ONLY.
AMATEUR—NOVICE. There is much confusion in the use of these two words, although they are entirely distinct from each other in meaning. An amateur is one versed in, or a lover and practicer of, any particular pursuit, art, or science, but not engaged in it professionally. A novice is one who is new or inexperienced in any art or business—a beginner, a tyro. A professional actor, then, who is new and unskilled in his art, is a novice and not an amateur. An amateur may be an artist of great experience and extraordinary skill.
AMELIORATE. "The health of the Empress of Germany is greatly ameliorated." Why not say improved?
AMONG. See BETWEEN.
AMOUNT OF PERFECTION. The observant reader of periodical literature often notes forms of expression which are perhaps best characterized by the word bizarre. Of these queer locutions, amount of perfection is a very good example. Mr. G. F. Watts, in the "Nineteenth Century," says, "An amount of perfection has been reached which I was by no means prepared for." What Mr. Watts meant to say was, doubtless, that a degree of excellence had been reached. There are not a few who, in their prepossession for everything transatlantic, seem to be of opinion that the English language is generally better written in England than it is in America. Those who think so are counseled to examine the diction of some of the most noted English critics and essayists, beginning, if they will, with Matthew Arnold.
AND. Few vulgarisms are more common than the use of and for to. Examples: "Come and see me before you go"; "Try and do what you can for him"; "Go and see your brother, if you can." In such sentences as these, the proper particle to use is clearly to and not and.
And is sometimes improperly used instead of or; thus, "It is obvious that a language like the Greek and Latin" (language?), etc., should be, "a language like the Greek or the Latin" (language), etc. There is no such thing as a Greek and Latin language.
ANSWER—REPLY. These two words should not be used indiscriminately. An answer is given to a question; a reply, to an assertion. When we are addressed, we answer; when we are accused, we reply. We answer letters, and reply to any arguments, statements, or accusations they may contain. Crabb is in error in saying that replies "are used in personal discourse only." Replies, as well as answers, are written. We very properly write, "I have now, I believe, answered all your questions and replied to all your arguments." A rejoinder is made to a reply. "Who goes there?" he cried; and, receiving no answer, he fired. "The advocate replied to the charges made against his client."
ANTICIPATE. Lovers of big words have a fondness for making this verb do duty for expect. Anticipate is derived from two Latin words meaning before and to take, and, when properly used, means, to take beforehand; to go before so as to preclude another; to get the start or ahead of; to enjoy, possess, or suffer, in expectation; to foretaste. It is, therefore, misused in such sentences as, "Her death is hourly anticipated"; "By this means it is anticipated that the time from Europe will be lessened two days."
ANTITHESIS. A phrase that opposes contraries is called an antithesis.
"I see a chief who leads my chosen sons, All armed with points, antitheses, and puns."
The following are examples:
"Though gentle, yet not dull; Strong, without rage; without o'erflowing, full."
"Contrasted faults through all their manners reign; Though poor, luxurious; though submissive, vain; Though grave, yet trifling; zealous, yet untrue; And e'en in penance planning sins anew."
The following is an excellent example of personification and antithesis combined:
"Talent convinces; Genius but excites: That tasks the reason; this the soul delights. Talent from sober judgment takes its birth, And reconciles the pinion to the earth; Genius unsettles with desires the mind, Contented not till earth be left behind."
In the following extract from Johnson's "Life of Pope," individual peculiarities are contrasted by means of antitheses:
"Of genius—that power which constitutes a poet; that quality without which judgment is cold, and knowledge is inert; that energy which collects, combines, amplifies, and animates—the superiority must, with some hesitation, be allowed to Dryden. It is not to be inferred that of this poetical vigor Pope had only a little, because Dryden had more; for every other writer, since Milton, must give place to Pope; and even of Dryden it must be said that, if he has brighter paragraphs, he has not better poems. Dryden's performances were always hasty, either excited by some external occasion or extorted by domestic necessity; he composed without consideration and published without correction. What his mind could supply at call or gather in one excursion was all that he sought and all that he gave. The dilatory caution of Pope enabled him to condense his sentiments, to multiply his images, and to accumulate all that study might produce or chance might supply. If the flights of Dryden, therefore, are higher, Pope continues longer on the wing. If of Dryden's fire the blaze is brighter, of Pope's the heat is more regular and constant. Dryden often surpasses expectation, and Pope never falls below it. Dryden is read with frequent astonishment, and Pope with perpetual delight. Dryden's page is a natural field, rising into inequalities, and diversified by the varied exuberance of abundant vegetation; Pope's is a velvet lawn, shaven by the scythe, and leveled by the roller."
There are forms of antithesis in which the contrast is only of a secondary kind.
ANY. This word is sometimes made to do service for at all. We say properly, "She is not any better"; but we can not properly say, "She does not see any," meaning that she is blind.
ANYBODY ELSE. "Public School Teachers are informed that anybody else's is correct."—"New York Times," Sunday, July 31, 1881. An English writer says: "In such phrases as anybody else, and the like, else is often put in the possessive case; as, 'anybody else's servant'; and some grammarians defend this use of the possessive case, arguing that somebody else is a compound noun." It is better grammar and more euphonious to consider else as being an adjective, and to form the possessive by adding the apostrophe and s to the word that else qualifies; thus, anybody's else, nobody's else, somebody's else.
ANYHOW. "An exceedingly vulgar phrase," says Professor Mathews, in his "Words: Their Use and Abuse." "Its use, in any manner, by one who professes to write and speak the English tongue with purity, is unpardonable." Professor Mathews seems to have a special dislike for this colloquialism. It is recognized by the lexicographers, and I think is generally accounted, even by the careful, permissible in conversation, though incompatible with dignified diction.
ANXIETY OF MIND. See EQUANIMITY OF MIND.
APOSTROPHE. Turning from the person or persons to whom a discourse is addressed and appealing to some person or thing absent, constitutes what, in rhetoric, is called the apostrophe. The following are some examples:
"O gentle sleep, Nature's soft nurse, how have I frighted thee, That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down, And steep my senses in forgetfulness?" "Sail on, thou lone imperial bird Of quenchless eye and tireless wing!"
"Help, angels, make assay! Bow, stubborn knees! and heart with strings of steel, Be soft as sinews of the new-born babe: All may yet be well!"
APPEAR. See SEEM.
APPRECIATE. If any word in the language has cause to complain of ill-treatment, this one has. Appreciate means, to estimate justly—to set the true value on men or things, their worth, beauty, or advantages of any sort whatsoever. Thus, an overestimate is no more appreciation than is an underestimate; hence it follows that such expressions as, "I appreciate it, or her, or him, highly," can not be correct. We value, or prize, things highly, not appreciate them highly. This word is also very improperly made to do service for rise, or increase, in value; thus, "Land appreciates rapidly in the West." Dr. L. T. Townsend blunders in the use of appreciate in his "Art of Speech," vol. i, p. 142, thus: "The laws of harmony ... may allow copiousness ... in parts of a discourse ... in order that the condensation of other parts may be the more highly appreciated."
APPREHEND—COMPREHEND. The English often use the first of these two words where we use the second. Both express an effort of the thinking faculty; but to apprehend is simply to take an idea into the mind—it is the mind's first effort—while to comprehend is fully to understand. We are dull or quick of apprehension. Children apprehend much that they do not comprehend. Trench says: "We apprehend many truths which we do not comprehend." "Apprehend," says Crabb, "expresses the weakest kind of belief, the having [of] the least idea of the presence of a thing."
APT. Often misused for likely, and sometimes for liable. "What is he apt to be doing?" "Where shall I be apt to find him?" "If properly directed, it will be apt to reach me." In such sentences as these, likely is the proper word to use. "If you go there, you will be apt to get into trouble." Here either likely or liable is the proper word, according to the thought the speaker would convey.
ARCTICS. See RUBBERS.
ARTIST. Of late years this word has been appropriated by the members of so many crafts, that it has well-nigh been despoiled of its meaning. Your cook, your barber, your tailor, your boot-maker, and so on to satiety, are all artists. Painters, sculptors, architects, actors, and singers, nowadays, generally prefer being thus called, rather than to be spoken of as artists.
AS. "Not as I know": read, "not that I know." "This is not as good as the last": read, "not so good." "It may be complete so far as the specification is concerned": correctly, "as far as."
As, preceded by such or by same, has the force of a relative applying to persons or to things. "He offered me the same conditions as he offered you." "The same conditions that" would be equally proper. See, also, LIKE.
ASCRIBE. See IMPUTE.
AT. Things are sold by, not at, auction. "The scene is more beautiful at night than by day": say, "by night."
AT ALL. "It is not strange, for my uncle is King of Denmark." Had Shakespeare written, "It is not at all strange," it is clear that his diction would have been much less forcible. "I do not wish for any at all"; "I saw no one at all"; "If he had any desire at all to see me, he would come where I am." The at all in sentences like these is superfluous. Yet there are instances in which the phrase is certainly a very convenient one, and seems to be unobjectionable. It is much used, and by good writers.
AT BEST. Instead of at best and at worst, we should say at the best and at the worst.
AT LAST. See AT LENGTH.
AT LEAST. This adverbial phrase is often misplaced. "'The Romans understood liberty at least as well as we.' This must be interpreted to mean, 'The Romans understood liberty as well as we understand liberty.' The intended meaning is, 'that whatever things the Romans failed to understand, they understood liberty.' To express this meaning we might put it thus: 'The Romans understood at least liberty as well as we do'; 'liberty, at least, the Romans understood as well as we do.' 'A tear, at least, is due to the unhappy'; 'at least a tear is due to the unhappy'; 'a tear is due at least to the unhappy'; 'a tear is due to the unhappy at least'—all express different meanings. 'This can not, often at least, be done'; 'this can not be done often, at least.' (1. 'It often happens that this can not be done.' 2. 'It does not often happen that this can be done.') So, 'man is always capable of laughing'; 'man is capable of laughing always.'"—Bain.
AT LENGTH. This phrase is often used instead of at last. "At length we managed to get away": read, "at last." "At length we heard from him." To hear from any one at length is to hear fully; i. e., in detail.
AUTHORESS. With regard to the use of this and certain other words of like formation, Mr. Gould, in his "Good English," says: "Poet means simply a person who writes poetry; and author, in the sense under consideration, a person who writes poetry or prose—not a man who writes, but a person who writes. Nothing in either word indicates sex; and everybody knows that the functions of both poets and authors are common to both sexes. Hence, authoress and poetess are superfluous. And they are superfluous, also, in another respect—that they are very rarely used, indeed they hardly can be used, independently of the name of the writer, as Mrs., or Miss, or a female Christian name. They are, besides, philological absurdities, because they are fabricated on the false assumption that their primaries indicate men. They are, moreover, liable to the charge of affectation and prettiness, to say nothing of pedantic pretension to accuracy.
"If the ess is to be permitted, there is no reason for excluding it from any noun that indicates a person; and the next editions of our dictionaries may be made complete by the addition of writress, officeress, manageress, superintendentess, secretaryess, treasureress, walkeress, talkeress, and so on to the end of the vocabulary."
AVOCATION. See VOCATION.
BAD COLD. Inasmuch as colds are never good, why say a bad cold? We may talk about slight colds and severe colds, but not about bad colds.
BAGGAGE. See LUGGAGE.
BALANCE. This word is very frequently and very erroneously used in the sense of rest, remainder. It properly means the excess of one thing over another, and in this sense and in no other should it be used. Hence it is improper to talk about the balance of the edition, of the evening, of the money, of the toasts, of the men, etc. In such cases we should say the rest or the remainder.
BARBARISM. Defined as an offense against good usage, by the use of an improper word, i. e., a word that is antiquated or improperly formed. Preventative, enthuse, agriculturalist, donate, etc., are barbarisms. See also SOLECISM.
BEEN TO. We not unfrequently hear a superfluous to tacked to a sentence; thus, "Where have you been to?"
BEG. We often see letters begin with the words, "I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your favor," etc. We should write, "I beg leave to acknowledge," etc. No one would say, "I beg to tell you," instead of, "I beg leave to tell you."
BEGIN—COMMENCE. These words have the same meaning; careful speakers, however, generally prefer to use the former. Indeed, there is rarely any good reason for giving the preference to the latter. See also COMMENCE.
BEING BUILT. See IS BEING BUILT.
BELONGINGS. An old idiomatic expression now coming into use again.
BESIDE—BESIDES. In the later unabridged editions of Webster's dictionary we find the following remarks concerning the use of these two words: "Beside and besides, whether used as prepositions or adverbs, have been considered synonymous from an early period of our literature, and have been freely interchanged by our best writers. There is, however, a tendency in present usage to make the following distinction between them: 1. That beside be used only and always as a preposition, with the original meaning by the side of; as, to sit beside a fountain; or with the closely allied meaning aside from, or out of; as, this is beside our present purpose: 'Paul, thou art beside thyself.' The adverbial sense to be wholly transferred to the cognate word. 2. That besides, as a preposition, take the remaining sense, in addition to; as, besides all this; besides the consideration here offered: 'There was a famine in the land besides the first famine.' And that it also take the adverbial sense of moreover, beyond, etc., which had been divided between the words; as, besides, there are other considerations which belong to this case."
BEST. See AT BEST.
BETWEEN. This word is often misused for among; thus, "The word fellow, however much in use it may be between men, sounds very objectionable from the lips of women."—"London Queen." Should be, "among men." Between is used in reference to two things, parties, or persons; among, in reference to a greater number. "Castor and Pollux with one soul between them." "You have among you many a purchased slave."
BLAME IT ON. Here is a gross vulgarism which we sometimes hear from persons of considerable culture. They use it in the sense of accuse or suspect; thus, "He blames it on his brother," meaning that he accuses or suspects his brother of having done it, or of being at fault for it.
BOGUS. A colloquial term incompatible with dignified diction.
BOTH. We sometimes hear such absurd sentences as, "They both resemble each other very much"; "They are both alike"; "They both met in the street." Both is likewise redundant in the following sentence: "It performs at the same time the offices both of the nominative and objective cases."
BOUND. The use of this word in the sense of determined is not only inelegant but indefensible. "I am bound to have it," should be, "I am determined to have it."
BRAVERY—COURAGE. The careless often use these two words as though they were interchangeable. Bravery is inborn, is instinctive; courage is the product of reason, calculation. There is much merit in being courageous, little merit in being brave. Men who are simply brave are careless, while the courageous man is always cautious. Bravery often degenerates into temerity. Moral courage is that firmness of principle which enables a man to do what he deems to be his duty, although his action may subject him to adverse criticism. True moral courage is one of the rarest and most admirable of virtues.
Alfred the Great, in resisting the attacks of the Danes, displayed bravery; in entering their camp as a spy, he displayed courage.
BRING—FETCH—CARRY. The indiscriminate use of these three words is very common. To bring is to convey to or toward—a simple act; to fetch means to go and bring—a compound act; to carry often implies motion from the speaker, and is followed by away or off, and thus is opposed to bring and fetch. Yet one hears such expressions as, "Go to Mrs. D.'s and bring her this bundle; and here, you may fetch her this book also." We use the words correctly thus: "Fetch, or go bring, me an apple from the cellar"; "When you come home bring some lemons"; "Carry this book home with you."
BRITISH AGAINST AMERICAN ENGLISH. "The most important peculiarity of American English is a laxity, irregularity, and confusion in the use of particles. The same thing is, indeed, observable in England, but not to the same extent, though some gross departures from idiomatic propriety, such as different to for different from, are common in England, which none but very ignorant persons would be guilty of in America.... In the tenses of the verbs, I am inclined to think that well-educated Americans conform more closely to grammatical propriety than the corresponding class in England.... In general, I think we may say that, in point of naked syntactical accuracy, the English of America is not at all inferior to that of England; but we do not discriminate so precisely in the meaning of words, nor do we habitually, in either conversation or in writing, express ourselves so gracefully, or employ so classic a diction, as the English. Our taste in language is less fastidious, and our licenses and inaccuracies are more frequently of a character indicative of want of refinement and elegant culture than those we hear in educated society in England."—George P. Marsh.
BRITISH AGAINST AMERICAN ORTHO╦PY. "The causes of the differences in pronunciation [between the English and the Americans] are partly physical, and therefore difficult, if not impossible, to resist; and partly owing to a difference of circumstances. Of this latter class of influences, the universality of reading in America is the most obvious and important. The most marked difference is, perhaps, in the length or prosodical quantity of the vowels; and both of the causes I have mentioned concur to produce this effect. We are said to drawl our words by protracting the vowels and giving them a more diphthongal sound than the English. Now, an Englishman who reads will habitually utter his vowels more fully and distinctly than his countryman who does not; and, upon the same principle, a nation of readers, like the Americans, will pronounce more deliberately and clearly than a people so large a proportion of whom are unable to read, as in England. From our universal habit of reading, there results not only a greater distinctness of articulation, but a strong tendency to assimilate the spoken to the written language. Thus, Americans incline to give to every syllable of a written word a distinct enunciation; and the popular habit is to say dic-tion-ar-y, mil-it-ar-y, with a secondary accent on the penultimate, instead of sinking the third syllable, as is so common in England. There is, no doubt, something disagreeably stiff in an anxious and affected conformity to the very letter of orthography; and to those accustomed to a more hurried utterance we may seem to drawl, when we are only giving a full expression to letters which, though etymologically important, the English habitually slur over, sputtering out, as a Swedish satirist says, one half of the word, and swallowing the other. The tendency to make the long vowels diphthongal is noticed by foreigners as a peculiarity of the orthoŰpy of our language; and this tendency will, of course, be strengthened by any cause which produces greater slowness and fullness of articulation. Besides the influence of the habit of reading, there is some reason to think that climate is affecting our articulation. In spite of the coldness of our winters, our flora shows that the climate of even our Northern States belongs, upon the whole, to a more southern type than that of England. In southern latitudes, at least within the temperate zone, articulation is generally much more distinct than in the northern regions. Witness the pronunciation of Spanish, Italian, Turkish, as compared with English, Danish, and German. Participating, then, in the physical influences of a southern climate, we have contracted something of the more distinct articulation that belongs to a dry atmosphere and a clear sky. And this view of the case is confirmed by the fact that the inhabitants of the Southern States incline, like the people of southern Europe, to throw the accent toward the end of the word, and thus, like all nations that use that accentuation, bring out all the syllables. This we observe very commonly in the comparative Northern and Southern pronunciation of proper names. I might exemplify by citing familiar instances; but, lest that should seem invidious, it may suffice to say that, not to mention more important changes, many a Northern member of Congress goes to Washington a dactyl or a trochee, and comes home an amphibrach or an iambus. Why or how external physical causes, as climate and modes of life, should affect pronunciation, we can not say; but it is evident that material influences of some sort are producing a change in our bodily constitution, and we are fast acquiring a distinct national Anglo-American type. That the delicate organs of articulation should participate in such tendencies is altogether natural; and the operation of the causes which give rise to them is palpable even in our handwriting, which, if not uniform with itself, is generally, nevertheless, so unlike common English script as to be readily distinguished from it.
"To the joint operation, then, of these two causes—universal reading and climatic influences—we must ascribe our habit of dwelling upon vowel and diphthongal sounds, or of drawling, if that term is insisted upon.... But it is often noticed by foreigners as both making us more readily understood by them when speaking our own tongue, and as connected with a flexibility of organ, which enables us to acquire a better pronunciation of other languages than is usual with Englishmen. In any case, as, in spite of the old adage, speech is given us that we may make ourselves understood, our drawling, however prolonged, is preferable to the nauseous, foggy, mumbling thickness of articulation which characterizes the cockney, and is not unfrequently affected by Englishmen of a better class."—George P. Marsh.
BRYANT'S PROHIBITED WORDS. See INDEX EXPURGATORIUS.
BUT. This word is misused in various ways. "I do not doubt but he will be here": read, doubt that. "I should not wonder but": read, if. "I have no doubt but that he will go": suppress but. "I do not doubt but that it is true": suppress but. "There can be no doubt but that the burglary is the work of professional cracksmen."—"New York Herald." Doubt that, and not but that. "A careful canvass leaves no doubt but that the nomination," etc.: suppress but. "There is no reasonable doubt but that it is all it professes to be": suppress but. "The mind no sooner entertains any proposition but it presently hastens," etc.: read, than. "No other resource but this was allowed him": read, than.
BY. See AT.
CALCULATE. This word means to ascertain by computation, to reckon, to estimate; and, say some of the purists, it never means anything else when properly used. If this is true, we can not say a thing is calculated to do harm, but must, if we are ambitious to have our English irreproachable, choose some other form of expression, or at least some other word, likely or apt, for example. Cobbett, however, says, "That, to Her, whose great example is so well calculated to inspire," etc.; and, "The first two of the three sentences are well enough calculated for ushering," etc. Calculate is sometimes vulgarly used for intend, purpose, expect; as, "He calculates to get off to-morrow."
CALIBER. This word is sometimes used very absurdly; as, "Brown's Essays are of a much higher caliber than Smith's." It is plain that the proper word to use here is order.
CANT. Cant is a kind of affectation; affectation is an effort to sail under false colors; an effort to sail under false colors is a kind of falsehood; and falsehood is a term of Latin origin which we often use instead of the stronger Saxon term LYING!
"Who is not familiar," writes Dr. William Matthews, "with scores of pet phrases and cant terms which are repeated at this day apparently without a thought of their meaning? Who ever attended a missionary meeting without hearing 'the Macedonian cry,' and an account of some 'little interest' and 'fields white for the harvest'? Who is not weary of the ding-dong of 'our Zion,' and the solecism of 'in our midst'; and who does not long for a verbal millennium when Christians shall no longer 'feel to take' and 'grant to give'?"
"How much I regret," says Coleridge, "that so many religious persons of the present day think it necessary to adopt a certain cant of manner and phraseology [and of tone of voice] as a token to each other [one another]! They improve this and that text, and they must do so and so in a prayerful way; and so on."
CAPACITY. See ABILITY.
CAPTION. This word is often used for heading, but, thus used, it is condemned by careful writers. The true meaning of caption is a seizure, an arrest. It does not come from a Latin word meaning a head, but from a Latin word meaning to seize.
CARET. Cobbett writes of the caret to his son: "The last thing I shall mention under this head is the caret [^], which is used to point upward to a part which has been omitted, and which is inserted between the line where the caret is placed and the line above it. Things should be called by their right names, and this should be called the blunder-mark. I would have you, my dear James, scorn the use of the thing. Think before you write; let it be your custom to write correctly and in a plain hand. Be careful that neatness, grammar, and sense prevail when you write to a blacksmith about shoeing a horse as when you write on the most important subjects. Habit is powerful in all cases; but its power in this case is truly wonderful. When you write, bear constantly in mind that some one is to read and to understand what you write. This will make your handwriting and also your meaning plain. Far, I hope, from my dear James will be the ridiculous, the contemptible affectation of writing in a slovenly or illegible hand, or that of signing his name otherwise than in plain letters."
CARRY. See BRING.
CASE. Many persons of considerable culture continually make mistakes in conversation in the use of the cases, and we sometimes meet with gross errors of this kind in the writings of authors of repute. Witness the following: "And everybody is to know him except I."—George Merideth in "The Tragic Comedies," Eng. ed., vol. i, p. 33. "Let's you and I go": say, me. We can not say, Let I go. Properly, Let's go, i. e., let us go, or, let you and me go. "He is as good as me": say, as I. "She is as tall as him": say, as he. "You are older than me": say, than I. "Nobody said so but he": say, but him. "Every one can master a grief but he that hath it": correctly, but him. "John went out with James and I": say, and me. "You are stronger than him": say, than he. "Between you and I": say, and me. "Between you and they": say, and them. "He gave it to John and I": say, and me. "You told John and I": say, and me. "He sat between him and I": say, and me. "He expects to see you and I": say, and me. "You were a dunce to do it. Who? me?" say, I. Supply the ellipsis, and we should have, Who? me a dunce to do it? "Where are you going? Who? me?" say, I. We can't say, me going. "Who do you mean?" say, whom. "Was it them?" say, they. "If I was him, I would do it": say, were he. "If I was her, I would not go": say, were she. "Was it him?" say, he. "Was it her?" say, she. "For the benefit of those whom he thought were his friends": say, who. This error is not easy to detect on account of the parenthetical words that follow it. If we drop them, the mistake is very apparent; thus, "For the benefit of those whom were his friends."
"On the supposition," says Bain, "that the interrogative who has whom for its objective, the following are errors: 'who do you take me to be?' 'who should I meet the other day?' 'who is it by?' 'who did you give it to?' 'who to?' 'who for?' But, considering that these expressions occur with the best writers and speakers, that they are more energetic than the other form, and that they lead to no ambiguity, it may be doubted whether grammarians have not exceeded their province in condemning them."
Cobbett, in writing of the pronouns, says: "When the relatives are placed in the sentence at a distance from their antecedents or verbs or prepositions, the ear gives us no assistance. 'Who, of all the men in the world, do you think I saw to-day?' 'Who, for the sake of numerous services, the office was given to.' In both these cases it should be whom. Bring the verb in the first and the preposition in the second case closer to the relative, as, who I saw, to who the office was given, and you see the error at once. But take care! 'Whom, of all the men in the world, do you think, was chosen to be sent as an ambassador?' 'Whom, for the sake of his numerous services, had an office of honor bestowed upon him.' These are nominative cases, and ought to have who; that is to say, who was chosen, who had an office."
"Most grammarians," says Dr. Bain, in his "Higher English Grammar," "have laid down this rule: 'The verb to be has the same case after as before it.' Macaulay censures the following as a solecism: 'It was him that Horace Walpole called a man who never made a bad figure but as an author.' Thackeray similarly adverts to the same deviation from the rule: '"Is that him?" said the lady in questionable grammar.' But, notwithstanding this," continues Dr. Bain, "we certainly hear in the actual speech of all classes of society such expressions as 'it was me,' 'it was him,' 'it was her,' more frequently than the prescribed form. 'This shy creature, my brother says, is me'; 'were it me, I'd show him the difference.'—Clarissa Harlowe. 'It is not me you are in love with.'—Addison. 'If there is one character more base than another, it is him who,' etc.—Sydney Smith. 'If I were him'; 'if I had been her,' etc. The authority of good writers is strong on the side of objective forms. There is also the analogy of the French language; for while 'I am here' is je suis ici, the answer to 'who is there?' is moi (me); and c'est moi (it is me) is the legitimate phrase—never c'est je (it is I)."
But moi, according to all French grammarians, is very often in the nominative case. Moi is in the nominative case when used in reply to "Who is there?" and also in the phrase "C'est moi," which makes "It is I" the correct translation of the phrase, and not "It is me." The French equivalent of "I! I am here," is "Moi! je suis ici." The Frenchman uses moi in the nominative case when je would be inharmonious. Euphony with him is a matter of more importance than grammatical correctness. Bescherelle gives many examples of moi in the nominative. Here are two of them: "Mon avocat et moi sommes de cet avis. Qui veut aller avec lui? Moi." If we use such phraseology as "It is me," we must do as the French do—consider me as being in the nominative case, and offer euphony as our reason for thus using it.
When shall we put nouns (or pronouns) preceding verbal, or participial, nouns, as they are called by some grammarians—infinitives in ing, as they are called by others—in the possessive case?
"'I am surprised at John's (or his, your, etc.) refusing to go.' 'I am surprised at John (or him, you, etc.) refusing to go.' [In the latter sentence refusing is a participle.] The latter construction is not so common with pronouns as with nouns, especially with such nouns as do not readily take the possessive form. 'They prevented him going forward': better, 'They prevented his going forward.' 'He was dismissed without any reason being assigned.' 'The boy died through his clothes being burned.' 'We hear little of any connection being kept up between the two nations.' 'The men rowed vigorously for fear of the tide turning against us.' But most examples of the construction without the possessive form are OBVIOUSLY DUE TO MERE SLOVENLINESS.... 'In case of your being absent': here being is an infinitive [verbal, or participial, noun] qualified by the possessive your. 'In case of you being present': here being would have to be construed as a participle. The possessive construction is, in this case, the primitive and regular construction; THE OTHER IS A MERE LAPSE. The difficulty of adhering to the possessive form occurs when the subject is not a person: 'It does not seem safe to rely on the rule of demand creating supply': in strictness, 'Demand's creating supply.' 'A petition was presented against the license being granted.' But for the awkwardness of extending the possessive to impersonal subjects, it would be right to say, 'against the license's being granted.' 'He had conducted the ball without any complaint being urged against him.' The possessive would be suitable, but undesirable and unnecessary."—Professor Alexander Bain.
"Though the ordinary syntax of the possessive case is sufficiently plain and easy, there is, perhaps, among all the puzzling and disputable points of grammar, nothing more difficult of decision than are some questions that occur respecting the right management of this case. The observations that have been made show that possessives before participles are seldom to be approved. The following example is manifestly inconsistent with itself; and, in my opinion, the three possessives are all wrong: 'The kitchen, too, now begins to give dreadful note of preparation; not from armorers accomplishing the knights, but from the shopmaid's chopping force-meat, the apprentice's cleaning knives, and the journeyman's receiving a practical lesson in the art of waiting at table.' 'The daily instances of men's dying around us.' Say rather, 'Of men dying around us.' The leading word in sense ought not to be made the adjunct in construction."—Goold Brown.
CASUALTY. This word is often heard with the incorrect addition of a syllable, casuality, which is not recognized by the lexicographers. Some writers object to the word casualty, and always use its synonym accident.
CELEBRITY. "A number of celebrities witnessed the first representation." This word is frequently used, especially in the newspapers, as a concrete term; but it would be better to use it in its abstract sense only, and in sentences like the one above to say distinguished persons.
CHARACTER—REPUTATION. These two words are not synonyms, though often used as such. Character means the sum of distinguishing qualities. "Actions, looks, words, steps, form the alphabet by which you may spell characters."—Lavater. Reputation means the estimation in which one is held. One's reputation, then, is what is thought of one's character; consequently, one may have a good reputation and a bad character, or a good character and a bad reputation. Calumny may injure reputation, but not character. Sir Peter does not leave his character behind him, but his reputation—his good name.
CHEAP. The dictionaries define this adjective as meaning, bearing a low price, or to be had at a low price; but nowadays good usage makes it mean that a thing may be had, or has been sold, at a bargain. Hence, in order to make sure of being understood, it is better to say low-priced, when one means low-priced, than to use the word cheap. What is low-priced, as everybody knows, is often dear, and what is high-priced is often cheap. A diamond necklace might be cheap at ten thousand dollars, and a pinchbeck necklace dear at ten dollars.
CHERUBIM. The Hebrew plural of cherub. "We are authorized," says Dr. Campbell, "both by use and analogy, to say either cherubs and seraphs, according to the English idiom, or cherubim and seraphim, according to the Oriental. The former suits better the familiar, the latter the solemn, style. As the words cherubim and seraphim are plural, the terms cherubims and seraphims, as expressing the plural, are quite improper."—"Philosophy of Rhetoric."
CITIZEN. This word properly means one who has certain political rights; when, therefore, it is used, as it often is, to designate persons who may be aliens, it, to say the least, betrays a want of care in the selection of words. "Several citizens were injured by the explosion." Here some other word—persons, for example—should be used.
CLEVER. In this country the word clever is most improperly used in the sense of good-natured, well-disposed, good-hearted. It is properly used in the sense in which we are wont most inelegantly to use the word smart, though it is a less colloquial term, and is of wider application. In England the phrase "a clever man" is the equivalent of the French phrase, "un homme d'esprit." The word is properly used in the following sentences: "Every work of Archbishop Whately must be an object of interest to the admirers of clever reasoning"; "Cobbett's letter ... very clever, but very mischievous"; "Bonaparte was certainly as clever a man as ever lived."
CLIMAX. A clause, a sentence, a paragraph, or any literary composition whatsoever, is said to end with a climax when, by an artistic arrangement, the more effective is made to follow the less effective in regular gradation. Any great departure from the order of ascending strength is called an anti-climax. Here are some examples of climax:
"Give all diligence; add to your faith, virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, temperance; and to temperance, patience; and to patience, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, charity."
"What is every year of a wise man's life but a criticism on the past! Those whose life is the shortest live long enough to laugh at one half of it; the boy despises the infant, the man the boy, the sage both, and the Christian all."
"What a piece of work is man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action, how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god!"
CO. The prefix co should be used only when the word to which it is joined begins with a vowel, as in co-eval, co-incident, co-operate, etc. Con is used when the word begins with a consonant, as in con-temporary, con-junction, etc. Co-partner is an exception to the rule.
COMMENCE. The Britons use or misuse this word in a manner peculiar to themselves. They say, for example, "commenced merchant," "commenced actor," "commenced politician," and so on. Dr. Hall tells us that commence has been employed in the sense of "begin to be," "become," "set up as," by first-class writers, for more than two centuries. Careful speakers make small use of commence in any sense; they prefer to use its Saxon equivalent, begin. See, also, BEGIN.
COMPARISON. When only two objects are compared, the comparative and not the superlative degree should be used; thus, "Mary is the older of the two"; "John is the stronger of the two"; "Brown is the richer of the two, and the richest man in the city"; "Which is the more desirable, health or wealth?" "Which is the most desirable, health, wealth, or genius?"
"Of two such lessons, why forget The nobler and the manlier one?"
COMPLETED. This word is often incorrectly used for finished. That is complete which lacks nothing; that is finished which has had all done to it that was intended. The builder of a house may finish it and yet leave it very incomplete.
CONDIGN. It is safe to say that most of those who use this word do not know its meaning, which is, suitable, deserved, merited, proper. "His endeavors shall not lack condign praise"; i. e., his endeavors shall not lack proper or their merited praise. "A villain condignly punished" is a villain punished according to his deserts. To use condign in the sense of severe is just as incorrect as it would be to use deserved or merited in the sense of severe.
CONFIRMED INVALID. This phrase is a convenient mode of expressing the idea it conveys, but it is difficult to defend, inasmuch as confirmed means strengthened, established.
CONSEQUENCE. This word is sometimes used instead of importance or moment; as, "They were all persons of more or less consequence": read, "of more or less importance." "It is a matter of no consequence": read, "of no moment."
CONSIDER. "This word," says Mr. Richard Grant White, in his "Words and Their Uses," "is perverted from its true meaning by most of those who use it." Consider means, to meditate, to deliberate, to reflect, to revolve in the mind; and yet it is made to do service for think, suppose, and regard. Thus: "I consider his course very unjustifiable"; "I have always considered it my duty," etc.; "I consider him as being the cleverest man of my acquaintance."
CONTEMPTIBLE. This word is sometimes used for contemptuous. An old story says that a man once said to Dr. Parr, "Sir, I have a contemptible opinion of you." "That does not surprise me," returned the Doctor; "all your opinions are contemptible." What is worthless or weak is contemptible. Despicable is a word that expresses a still more intense degree of the contemptible. A traitor is a despicable character, while a poltroon is only contemptible.
CONTINUALLY. See PERPETUALLY.
CONTINUE ON. The on in this phrase is generally superfluous. "We continued on our way" is idiomatic English, and is more euphonious than the sentence would be without the particle. The meaning is, "We continued to travel on our way." In such sentences, however, as "Continue on," "He continued to read on," "The fever continued on for some hours," and the like, the on generally serves no purpose.
CONVERSATIONIST. This word is to be preferred to conversationalist. Mr. Richard Grant White says that conversationalist and agriculturalist are inadmissible. On the other hand, Dr. Fitzedward Hall says: "As for conversationist and conversationalist, agriculturist and agriculturalist, as all are alike legitimate formations, it is for convention to decide which we are to prefer."
CONVOKE—CONVENE. At one time and another there has been some discussion with regard to the correct use of these two words. According to Crabb, "There is nothing imperative on the part of those that assemble, or convene, and nothing binding on those assembled, or convened: one assembles, or convenes, by invitation or request; one attends to the notice or not, at pleasure. Convoke, on the other hand, is an act of authority; it is the call of one who has the authority to give the call; it is heeded by those who feel themselves bound to attend." Properly, then, President Arthur convokes, not convenes, the Senate.
CORPOREAL—CORPORAL. These adjectives, though regarded as synonyms, are not used indiscriminately. Corporal is used in reference to the body, or animal frame, in its proper sense; corporeal, to the animal substance in an extended sense—opposed to spiritual. Corporal punishment; corporeal or material form or substance.
"That to corporeal substances could add Speed most spiritual."—Milton.
"What seemed corporal Melted as breath into the wind."—Shakespeare.
COUPLE. In its primitive signification, this word does not mean simply two, but two that are united by some bond; such as, for example, the tie that unites the sexes. It has, however, been so long used to mean two of a kind considered together, that in this sense it may be deemed permissible, though the substitution of the word two for it would often materially improve the diction.
COURAGE. See BRAVERY.
CRIME—VICE—SIN. The confusion that exists in the use of these words is due largely to an imperfect understanding of their respective meanings. Crime is the violation of the law of a state; hence, as the laws of states differ, what is crime in one state may not be crime in another. Vice is a course of wrong-doing, and is not modified either by country, religion, or condition. As for sin, it is very difficult to define what it is, as what is sinful in the eyes of one man may not be sinful in the eyes of another; what is sinful in the eyes of a Jew may not be sinful in the eyes of a Christian; and what is sinful in the eyes of a Christian of one country may not be sinful in the eyes of a Christian of another country. In the days of slavery, to harbor a runaway slave was a crime, but it was, in the eyes of most people, neither a vice nor a sin.
CRUSHED OUT. "The rebellion was finally crushed out." Out of what? We may crush the life out of a man, or crush a man to death, and crush, not crush out, a rebellion.
CULTURED. This word is said to be a product of Boston—an excellent place for anybody or anything to come from. Many persons object to its use on the ground that there can be no such participial adjective, because there is no verb in use from which to form it. We have in use the substantive culture, but, though the dictionaries recognize the verb to culture, we do not use it. Be this objection valid or be it not, cultured having but two syllables, while its synonym cultivated has four, it is likely to find favor with those who employ short words when they convey their meaning as well as long ones. Other adjectives of this kind are, moneyed, whiskered, slippered, lettered, talented, cottaged, lilied, anguished, gifted, and so forth.
CURIOUS. This word is often used instead of strange or remarkable. "A curious fact": better, "a remarkable fact." "A curious proceeding": better, "a strange proceeding."
DANGEROUS. "He is pretty sick, but not dangerous." Dangerous people are generally most dangerous when they are most vigorous. Say, rather, "He is sick, but not in danger."
DEAREST. "A gentleman once began a letter to his bride thus: 'My dearest Maria.' The lady replied: 'My dear John, I beg that you will mend either your morals or your grammar. You call me your "dearest Maria"; am I to understand that you have other Marias'?"—Moon's "Bad English."
DECEIVING. "You are deceiving me." Not unfrequently deceiving is used when the speaker means trying to deceive. It is when we do not suspect deception that we are deceived.
DECIMATE. This word, meaning as it properly does to tithe, to take the tenth part, is hardly permissible in the sense in which it is used in such sentences as, "The regiment held its position, though terribly decimated by the enemy's artillery." "Though terribly tithed" would be equally correct.
DEMEAN. This word is sometimes erroneously used in the sense of to debase, to disgrace, to humble. It is a reflexive verb, and its true meaning is to behave, to carry, to conduct; as, "He demeans himself in a gentlemanly manner," i. e., He behaves, or carries, or conducts, himself in a gentlemanly manner.
DENUDE. "The vulture," says Brande, "has some part of the head and sometimes of the neck denuded of feathers." Most birds might be denuded of the feathers on their heads; not so, however, the vulture, for his head is always featherless. A thing can not be denuded of what it does not have. Denuding a vulture's head and neck of the feathers is like denuding an eel of its scales.
DEPRECATE. Strangely enough, this word is often used in the sense of disapprove, censure, condemn; as, "He deprecates the whole proceeding"; "Your course, from first to last, is universally deprecated." But, according to the authorities, the word really means, to endeavor to avert by prayer; to pray exemption or deliverance from; to beg off; to entreat; to urge against.
"Daniel kneeled upon his knees to deprecate the captivity of his people."—Hewyt.
DESPITE. This word is often incorrectly preceded by in and followed by of; thus, "In despite of all our efforts to detain him, he set out"; which should be, "Despite all our efforts," etc., or "In spite of all our efforts," etc.
DETERMINED. See BOUND.
DICTION. This is a general term, and is applicable to a single sentence or to a connected composition. Bad diction may be due to errors in grammar, to a confused disposition of words, or to an improper use of words. Diction, to be good, requires to be only correct and clear. Of excellent examples of bad diction there are very many in a little work by Dr. L. T. Townsend, Professor of Sacred Rhetoric in Boston University, the first volume of which has lately come under my notice. The first ten lines of Dr. Townsend's preface are:
"The leading genius of the People's College at Chautauqua Lake, with a [the?] view of providing for his course a text-book, asked for the publication of the following laws and principles of speech.
"The author, not seeing sufficient reason for withholding what had been of much practical benefit to himself, consented.
"The subject-matter herein contained is an outgrowth from occasional instructions given while occupying the chair of Sacred Rhetoric."
1. The phrase leading genius is badly chosen. Founder, projector, head, organizer, principal, or president—some one of these terms would probably have been appropriate. 2. What course? Race-course, course of ethics, Šsthetics, rhetoric, or what? 3. "The following laws and principles of speech." And how came these laws and principles in existence? Who made them? We are to infer, it would seem, that Professor Townsend made them, and that the world would have had to go without the laws that govern language and the principles on which language is formed had it pleased Professor Townsend to withhold them. 4. "Sufficient reason"! Then there were reasons why Professor Townsend ought to have kept these good things all to himself; only, they were not sufficient. 5. "Practical benefit"! Is there any such thing as impractical benefit? Are not all benefits practical? and, if they are, what purpose does the epithet practical serve? 6. Consented to what? It is easy to see that the Doctor means acceded to the request, but he is a long way from saying so. The object writers usually have in view is to convey thought, not to set their readers to guessing. 7. The outgrowth of would be English. 8. "Occasional instructions"! Very vague, and well calculated to set the reader to guessing again. 9. Given to whom? 10. "The chair." The definite article made it necessary for the writer to specify what particular chair of Sacred Rhetoric he meant.
These ten lines are a fair specimen of the diction of the entire volume.
Page 131. "To render a given ambiguous or unintelligible sentence transparent, the following suggestions are recommended." The words in italics are unnecessary, since what is ambiguous is unintelligible. Then who has ever heard of recommending suggestions?
Dr. Townsend speaks of mastering a subject before publishing it. Publishing a subject?
Page 133. "Violations of simplicity, whatever the type, show either that the mind of the writer is tainted with affectation, or else that an effort is making to conceal conscious poverty of sentiment under loftiness of expression." Here is an example of a kind of sentence that can be mended in only one way—by rewriting, which might be done thus: Violations of simplicity, whatever the type, show either that the writer is tainted with affectation, or that he is making an effort to conceal poverty of thought under loftiness of expression.
Page 143. "This quality is fully stated and recommended," etc. Who has ever heard of stating a quality?
On page 145 Dr. Townsend says: "A person can not read a single book of poor style without having his own style vitiated." A book of poor style is an awkward expression, to say the least. A single badly-written book would have been unobjectionable.
Page 160. "The presented picture produces instantly a definite effect." Why this unusual disposition of words? Why not say, in accordance with the idiom of the language, "The picture presented instantly produces," etc.?
Page 161. "The boy studies ... geography and hates everything connected with the sea and land." Why the boy? As there are few things besides seals and turtles that are connected with the sea and land, the boy in question has few things to hate.
On page 175, Dr. Townsend heads a chapter thus: "Art of acquiring Skill in the use of Poetic Speech." This reminds one of the man who tried to lift himself over a fence by taking hold of the seat of his breeches. "How to acquire skill" is probably what is meant.
On page 232, "Jeremy Taylor is among the best models of long sentences which are both clear and logical." Jeremy Taylor is a clear and logical long sentence?! True, our learned rhetorician says so, but he doesn't mean it. He means, "In Jeremy Taylor we find some of the best examples of long sentences which are at once clear and logical."
Since the foregoing was written, the second volume of Professor Townsend's "Art of Speech" has been published. In the brief preface to this volume we find this characteristic sentence: "The author has felt that clergymen more than those of other professions will study this treatise." The antecedent of the relative those being clergymen, the sentence, it will be perceived, says: "The author has felt that clergymen more than clergymen of other professions will study this treatise." Comment on such "art" as Professor Townsend's is not necessary.
I find several noteworthy examples of bad diction in an article in a recent number of an Australian magazine. The following are some of them: "Large capital always manages to make itself master of the situation; it is the small capitalist and the small landholder that would suffer," etc. Should be, "The large capitalist ... himself," etc. Again: "The small farmer would ... be despoiled ... of the meager profit which strenuous labor had conquered from the reluctant soil." Not only are the epithets in italics superfluous, and consequently weakening in their effect, but idiom does not permit strenuous to be used to qualify labor: hard labor and strenuous effort. Again: "Capital has always the choice of a large field." Should be, "the choice offered by a large field." Again: "Should capital be withdrawn, tenements would soon prove insufficient." Should be, "the number of tenements would," etc. Again: "Men of wealth, therefore, would find their Fifth Avenue mansions and their summer villas a little more burdened with taxes, but with this increase happily balanced by the exemption of their bonds and mortgages, their plate and furniture." The thought here is so simple that we easily divine it; but, if we look at the sentence at all carefully, we find that, though we supply the ellipses in the most charitable manner possible, the sentence really says: "Men would find their mansions more burdened, but would find them with this increased burden happily balanced by the exemption," etc. The sentence should have been framed somewhat in this wise: "Men ... would find their ... mansions ... more burdened with taxes, but this increase in the taxes on their real estate would be happily balanced by the exemption from taxation of their bonds, mortgages, plate, and furniture." Again: "Men generally ... would be inclined to laugh at the idea of intrusting the modern politician with such gigantic opportunities for enriching his favorites." We do not intrust one another with opportunities. To enrich would better the diction. Again: "The value of land that has accrued from labor is not ... a just object for confiscation." Correctly: "The value of land that has resulted from labor is not justly ... an object of confiscation." Accrue is properly used more in the sense of spontaneous growth. Again: "If the state attempts to confiscate this increase by means of taxes, either rentals will increase correspondingly, or such a check will be put upon the growth of each place and all the enterprises connected with it that greater injury would be done than if things had been left untouched." We have here, it will be observed, a confusion of moods; the sentence begins in the indicative and ends in the conditional. The words in italics are worse than superfluous. Rewritten: "If the state should attempt to confiscate this increase by means of taxes, either rentals would increase correspondingly, or such a check would be put upon growth and enterprise that greater injury would," etc. Again: "The theory that land ... is a boon of Nature, to which every person has an inalienable right equal to every other person, is not new." The words theory and boon are here misused. A theory is a system of suppositions. The things man receives from Nature are gifts, not boons: the gift of reason, the gift of speech, etc. The sentence should be: "The declaration (or assertion) that land ... is a gift of Nature, to which every person has an inalienable right equal to that of any other person, is not new." Or, more simply and quite as forcibly: "... to which one person has an inalienable right equal to that of another, is not new." Or, more simply still, and more forcibly: "... to which one man has as good a right as another, is not new." By substituting the word man for person, we have a word of one syllable that expresses, in this connection, all that the longer word expresses. The fewer the syllables, if the thought be fully expressed, the more vigorous the diction. Inalienability being foreign to the discussion, the long word inalienable only encumbers the sentence.
"We have thus passed in review the changes and improvements which the revision contains in the First Epistle to the Corinthians. It has not, indeed, been possible to refer to them all; but so many illustrations have been given in the several classes described that the reader will have a satisfactory survey of the whole subject. Whatever may be said of other portions of the New Testament, we think it will be generally admitted that in this Epistle the changes have improved the old translation. They are such as make the English version conform more completely to the Greek original. If this be true, the revisers have done a good work for the Church. If it be true with regard to all the New Testament books, the work which they have done will remain a blessing to the readers of those books for generations to come. But the blessing will be only in the clearer presentation of the Divine truth, and, therefore, it will be only to the glory of God."
This astonishingly slipshod bit of composition is from the pen of the Rev. Dr. Timothy Dwight. If the learned Professor of Divinity in Yale College deemed it worth while to give a little thought to manner as well as to matter, it is probable that his diction would be very different from what it is; and, if he were to give a few minutes to the making of verbal corrections in the foregoing paragraph, he would, perhaps, do something like this: 1, change thus to now; 2, write some of the changes; 3, strike out and improvements; 4, for contains changes substitute some other form of expression; 5, instead of has been, write was; 6, strike out indeed; 7, instead of refer to, write cite; 8, change illustrations to examples; 9, instead of in, write of; 10, instead of the reader will have, write the reader will be able to get; 11, change satisfactory to tolerable; 12, change portions to parts; 13, not talk of the old translation, as we have no new one; 14, strike out as superfluous the words are such as; 15, change version to text; 16, substitute nearly for completely, which does not admit of comparison; 17, substitute the indicative for the conditional; 18, end sentence with the word work; 19, introduce also after be; 20, instead of remain, in the sense of be, use be; 21, introduce the after for. As for the last sentence, it reminds one of Mendelssohn's "Songs without Words," though here we have, instead of a song and no words, words and no song, or rather no meaning. As is often true of cant, we have here simply a syntactical arrangement of words signifying—nothing.
If Professor Dwight were of those who, in common with the Addisons and Macaulays and Newmans, think it worth while to give some attention to diction, the thought conveyed in the paragraph under consideration would, perhaps, have been expressed somewhat in this wise:
"We have now passed in review some of the changes that, in the revision, have been made in the First Epistle to the Corinthians. It was not possible to cite them all, but a sufficient number of examples of the several classes described have been given to enable the reader to get a tolerable survey of the whole subject. Whatever may be said of the other parts of the New Testament, we think it will be generally admitted that in this Epistle the changes have improved the translation. They make the English text conform more nearly to the Greek. This being true, the revisers have done a good work; and, if it be also true with regard to all the New Testament books, the work which they have done will be a blessing to the readers of these books for the generations to come."
DIE WITH. Man and brute die of, and not with, fevers, consumption, the plague, pneumonia, old age, and so on.
DIFFER. Writers differ from one another in opinion with regard to the particle we should use with this verb. Some say they differ with, others that they differ from, their neighbors in opinion. The weight of authority is on the side of always using from, though A may differ with C from D in opinion with regard, say, to the size of the fixed stars. "I differ, as to this matter, from Bishop Lowth."—Cobbett. Different to is heard sometimes instead of different from.
DIRECTLY. The Britons have a way of using this word in the sense of when, as soon as. This is quite foreign to its true meaning, which is immediately, at once, straightway. They say, for example, "Directly he reached the city, he went to his brother's." "Directly he [the saint] was dead, the Arabs sent his woolen shirt to the sovereign."—"London News." Dr. Hall says of its use in the sense of as soon as: "But, after all, it may simply anticipate on the English of the future."
DIRT. This word means filth or anything that renders foul and unclean, and means nothing else. It is often improperly used for earth or loam, and sometimes even for sand or gravel. We not unfrequently hear of a dirt road when an unpaved road is meant.
DISCOMMODE. This word is rarely used; incommode is accounted the better form.
DISREMEMBER. This is a word vulgarly used in the sense of forget. It is said to be more frequently heard in the South than in the North.
DISTINGUISH. This verb is sometimes improperly used for discriminate. We distinguish by means of the senses as well as of the understanding; we discriminate by means of the understanding only. "It is difficult, in some cases, to distinguish between," etc.: should be, "It is difficult, in some cases, to discriminate between," etc. We distinguish one thing from another, and discriminate between two or more things.
DOCK—WHARF. The first of these words is often improperly used for the second. Of docks there are several kinds: a naval dock is a place for the keeping of naval stores, timber, and materials for ship-building; a dry dock is a place where vessels are drawn out of the water for repairs; a wet dock is a place where vessels are kept afloat at a certain level while they are loaded and unloaded; a sectional dock is a contrivance for raising vessels out of the water on a series of air-tight boxes. A dock, then, is a place into which things are received; hence, a man might fall into a dock, but could no more fall off a dock than he could fall off a hole. A wharf is a sort of quay built by the side of the water. A similar structure built at a right angle with the shore is generally called a pier. Vessels lie at wharves and piers, not at docks.
DONATE. This word, which is defined as meaning to give, to contribute, is looked upon by most champions of good English as being an abomination. Donation is also little used by careful writers. "Donate," says Mr. Gould, "may be dismissed with this remark: so long as its place is occupied by give, bestow, grant, present, etc., it is not needed; and it should be unceremoniously bowed out, or thrust out, of the seat into which it has, temporarily, intruded."
DONE. This past participle is often very inelegantly, if not improperly, used thus: "He did not cry out as some have done against it," which should read, "He did not cry out as some have against it"; i. e., "as some have cried out against it."
"Done is frequently a very great offender against grammar," says Cobbett. "To do is the act of doing. We see people write, 'I did not speak yesterday so well as I wished to have done.' Now, what is meant by the writer? He means to say that he did not speak so well as he then wished, or was wishing, to speak. Therefore, the sentence should be, 'I did not speak yesterday so well as I wished to do.' That is to say, 'so well as I wished to do it'; that is to say, to do or to perform the act of speaking.
"Take great care not to be too free in your use of the verb to do in any of its times or modes. It is a nice little handy word, and, like our oppressed it, it is made use of very often when the writer is at a loss for what to put down. To do is to act, and therefore it never can, in any of its parts, supply the place of a neuter verb. 'How do you do?' Here do refers to the state, and is essentially passive or neuter. Yet, to employ it for this purpose is very common. Dr. Blair, in his 23d Lecture, says: 'It is somewhat unfortunate that this Number of the "Spectator" did not end, as it might have done, with the former beautiful period.' That is to say, done it. And then we ask, Done what? Not the act of ending, because in this case there is no action at all. The verb means to come to an end, to cease, not to go any further. This same verb to end is sometimes an active verb: 'I end my sentence'; then the verb to do may supply its place; as, 'I have not ended my sentence so well as I might have done'; that is, done it; that is, done, or performed, the act of ending. But the Number of the 'Spectator' was no actor; it was expected to perform nothing; it was, by the Doctor, wished to have ceased to proceed. 'Did not end as it very well might have ended....' This would have been correct; but the Doctor wished to avoid the repetition, and thus he fell into bad grammar. 'Mr. Speaker, I do not feel so well satisfied as I should have done if the Right Honorable Gentleman had explained the matter more fully.' To feel satisfied is—when the satisfaction is to arise from conviction produced by fact or reasoning—a senseless expression; and to supply its place, when it is, as in this case, a neuter verb, by to do, is as senseless. Done what? Done the act of feeling! 'I do not feel so well satisfied as I should have done, or executed, or performed the act of feeling'! What incomprehensible words!"
DON'T. Everybody knows that don't is a contraction of do not, and that doesn't is a contraction of does not; and yet nearly everybody is guilty of using don't when he should use doesn't. "So you don't go; John doesn't either, I hear."
DOUBLE GENITIVE. An anecdote of Mr. Lincoln—an anecdote of Mr. Lincoln's. We see at a glance that these two phrases are very different in meaning. So, also, a portrait of Brown—a portrait of Brown's. No precise rule has ever been given to guide us in our choice between these two forms of the possessive case. Sometimes it is not material which form is employed; where, however, it is material—and it generally is—we must consider the thought we wish to express, and rely on our discrimination.
DRAMATIZE. See ADAPT.
DRAWING-ROOM. See PARLOR.
DRESS—GOWN. Within the memory of many persons the outer garment worn by women was properly called a gown by everybody, instead of being improperly called a dress, as it now is by nearly everybody.
DRIVE. See RIDE.
DUE—OWING. These two words, though close synonyms, should not be used indiscriminately. The mistake usually made is in using due instead of owing. That is due which ought to be paid as a debt; that is owing which is to be referred to as a source. "It was owing to his exertions that the scheme succeeded." "It was owing to your negligence that the accident happened." "A certain respect is due to men's prejudices." "This was owing to an indifference to the pleasures of life." "It is due to the public that I should tell all I know of the matter."
EACH OTHER. "Their great authors address themselves, not to their country, but to each other."—Buckle. Each other is properly applied to two only; one another must be used when the number considered exceeds two. Buckle should have written one another and not each other, unless he meant to intimate that the Germans had only two great authors, which is not probable.