Burchfield's Fowler

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Sun Aug 9 16:02:42 UTC 2009

On Aug 7, 2009, at 8:02 AM, E. Ward Gilman wrote (in e-mail):

> I was interested to see your posting the other day showing
> Burchfield's odd prejudice about "by the hundreds".

now there's a follow-up, clarifying some things (i hope).

[the postings are:

   AZ, 8/4/09: Unidiomatic:

   AZ, 8/7/09: Unspecified large number:
  http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1644  ]

>  Quite a few years ago, when I was hoping to be able to write a
> review of Burchfield's Fowler, I ran across another curiosity.   It
> was the pronominal use of "various", as in "I spoke with various of
> them". This use was condemned in the original Fowler, with
> citations, and in Gower's edition, with additional citations, but is
> omitted entirely from Burchfield. I don't know whether it was
> omitted inadvertently or whether Burchfield left it out on purpose.

hard to tell.  maybe Burchfield just decided the usage was now
acceptable.  unfortunately, we can't ask him.

both NOAD2 and AHD4 list pronoun uses of "various", but with a usage
note in each case.  NOAD2 calls the pronoun use "colloquial American",
noting that "some traditionalists" insist that "various" is only an
adjective.  i see this as denying the possibility of language change,
with "various" developing an pronominal use parallel to "several".
(in some postings i've called the operative assumption here
Originalism -- the very silly idea that the original use of a word is
its only acceptable use now.)

[note 1: these sources seem to use "pronoun" as the part-of-speech
classification for  quantifier words used as determiners with "of".
i'm playing along with that here.]

[note 2: OED2 does not in fact label such uses of "several" -- in
"several of" -- as pronominal.  instead, they are treated as
elliptical uses of the *adjective* "several".  OED2 does something
similar for "few" in "few of".  but the June 2009 draft revision for
"many" classifies it as a pronoun in "many of".  slow progress.]

AHD4 reports very substantial hostility to pronominal "various" on its
usage panel, with somewhat less hostility towards it with inanimate
NPs.  the usage note concludes: "It is not clear why this usage should
be regarded as an error, since it is analogous to the use of
quantifiers such as _few_, _many_, and _several_."

well, it is indeed analogous, but "few", "many", and "several"
developed pronominal uses well before "various" did.  the offense of
"various" is that it came late to the party.  then commenters like
Fowler fixed on it as an innovation, and others piled on, as often
happens; it became part of the peevelore, to the extent that you felt
that MWDEU had to warn readers that some people view the usage as a
straightforward error, so that you might want to be cautious about
using it.  (Crazies win, as i said in a Language Log posting a while

   AZ, 5/13/08: Crazies win:
  http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=123  )

the case is interesting, because it's not clear what the fix is
supposed to be.  the usefulness of pronominal "various" is that
"various of" can combine with definite NPs, as in "various of them"
and "various of these commenters".  so if you proscribe pronominal
"various", then some other partitive construction must be used
("several of", "a number of"), or an indefinite construction must be
used ("various people", "various commenters"), or a noun or pronoun
head must be supplied for the adjective "various" ("various ones of
them", "various commenters of these").  each of these work-arounds has
its defects, but the first is probably the best; its defect is that
the association with "variety" is absent in the alternatives.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list