relevant indeed

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Jun 26 23:51:08 UTC 2003

At 2:13 PM -0700 6/26/03, Arnold Zwicky wrote:
>my advice to re-read bolinger's Language: The Loaded Weapon
>turns out to be relevant indeed.  in chapter 14 ("School for
>shamans"), bolinger, having dismissed some of the shamans
>(steve pinker's "mavens"), considers jacques barzun, whose
>Simple and Direct bolinger views as mostly good and helpful
>advice about writing.  still, bolinger argues, barzun would have
>benefited from knowing more about language and from taking the
>advice of linguists.  a case in point:
>     A rather common fault among shamans is to let the grammatical
>   tail wag the usage dog.  [this is what i call being Blinded By
>   The Rules.]  A rule - learned too well from a sixth- or seventh-
>   grade grammar lesson - gets stuck in the head and influences
>   judgments of right and wrong.  Take the following, which Barzun
>   identifies as the problem of the possessive case of a proper name
>   serving as antecedent of a pronoun:
>     'Wellington's victory at Waterloo made him the greatest name
>     in Europe' is all askew, because there is in fact no person
>     named for the _him_ to refer to.  _Wellington's_ is not a noun
>     but an adjective; it corresponds to 'the _Wellingtonian_
>     (victory)' and the only subject word is that same _victory_,
>     with which _him_ obviously doesn't go.[fn 8]
>   Assume that Barzun is right, and the example sentence is a bad
>   one.  Is it bad because _Wellington's_ is an 'adjective'?
>[and so on, with Bolinger's usual well-taken points, nicely made]

Of course not, but Barzun could do worse, as seen in this prime
instance of muddle-headed prescriptivism which I've been using for
years as a prompt for student reaction in my Words & Meaning class
(the one for which I use Bolinger's L--TLW as a text):
 From a letter to the editor of the New York Times by Jacques Barzun
published on November 21, 1985:

In an editorial on Nov. 10, you use and will help give currency to
"homophobia" as a term made up apparently to denote fear and hatred
of homosexuals.  The coinage means strictly nothing.  If "homo" is
taken in the Greek sense to match "phobia", the compound works out as
"same fear".  If "homo" is the Latin word, as in homo sapiens, the
compound says "fear of mankind".  Why not say the same thing in

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