Grammar Check – Fine Distinctions

hero-blue-bookThis is this week’s grammar lesson from GrammarBook.com e-newsletter, which came by email today. It was instructive for me, and I trust it will be for you too.

Such fine distinctions do matter, for both writers and readers. When you read about these examples, no doubt you will say as I did, “I’ve made that mistake.”

Plus, it is a great item for “Word Wednesday,” which I have gotten away from of late.

A Fine Distinction

How valid can a rule be if nobody knows or cares about it anymore?

That all depends on what the definition of “nobody” is. A lot of people I’ve been around seem to feel “nobody” applies to just about everybody 15-plus years younger or older than they are. Generational outcasts—the nerds, wonks, and misfits—also get labeled nobodies, although some of them grow up to be the next Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg.

In many circles, alas, nobody is more of a nobody than a grammar geek—those verbal neat freaks with all their precious little rules. But if those of us who rail against diseased English shut up and went away, we like to believe the world would soon miss us. Amid the rampant demagoguery and disinformation, our guiding principle is sound: clarity and precision are worth the bother.

Here is a short list of increasingly ignored fine distinctions:

Transpire  The errant celebrity issued a statement through his attorney that he was “sorry and saddened over what transpired.” Make it “sorry and saddened over what happened.” Put a big shot together with his lawyer and brace yourself for pompous verbiage. This usage of transpire, though common, is a lethal combination: pretentious and incorrect. The word doesn’t mean occur or happen. Something that transpires is revealed or becomes known over time. It’s not simply what happened so much as what it all means in the bigger picture. The Oxford online dictionary gives this example: “It transpired that millions of dollars of debt had been hidden in a complex web of transactions.”

Condone vs. endorse  “I do not endorse or otherwise condone this,” intoned some anonymous official. Isn’t “condone” redundant in that sentence? Not at all—there’s a substantial difference: When you endorse something, you’re all for it; you’re proud to recommend it. To condone is to pardon, overlook, disregard. When you condone, there’s not much enthusiasm or pride involved. Someone who condones is being tolerant, not enthusiastic.

Persnickety  It’s a colloquial term for “too particular or precise.” (Some would say it describes people who maintain that convince and persuade aren’t synonyms.) How’s this for world-class persnickety: there are nitpickers who reject the word in favor of pernickety, which preceded persnickety by about a century.

Substitute vs. replace  “The chef substituted chocolate with carob in the brownie recipe.” Make that “replaced chocolate with carob” or “substituted carob for chocolate.” Don’t confuse the two or you’ll end up with shaky English to go with those ghastly carob brownies.

—Tom Stern

Published in: on February 8, 2017 at 10:30 PM  Leave a Comment  

Identifying the Classics: (2) Bible Reading as a Model – L. Ryken

GuidetoClassics-LRykenIn chapters 7 and 8 of Leland Ryken’s recent book, A Christian Guide to the Classics (Crossway, 2015), the author begins to identify the great classics of literature by breaking them down into categories (literary “taxonomy”).

And he starts with what he calls “the leading categories of literature that make up the domain of the classics” (p.61), by which he means the category of Christian literature (which is why chapters 7 and eight are titled “Christian Classics, Part 1 and Part 2”).

Last time we began to look at that seventh chapter and took in some of Ryken’s thoughts on what makes a classic work of literature a Christian one (including that its content is distinctively Christian and that its viewpoint is decidedly Christian).

In the second half of “Christian Classics, Part 1” (Chap.7) Ryken looks at the “Bible reading as a model.” Here are his opening thoughts on this – well worth our reminder as we daily read God’s Word:

..There is a big difference between reading the Bible and reading the classics: the Bible is without error and is not on trial. It is our authority and not a book whose truth claims we need to assess. Its role for us as we read other classics is that of a standard by which we weigh their themes and moral vision. But in other ways our reading of the Bible provides good answers to the question of how we should read a Christian classic.

After which he goes on to say:

The first thing we can say about Bible reading is that, as Christians, we begin with the liberating knowledge that we will be nurtured by what we are about to read. These are the words of life, and we can find that exhilarating. Related to that, we know that reading the Bible is more than a purely literary experience. It is not less than that, but it is more. We know with our minds that reading literature of any kind is valuable to us as a potential source of insight into human experience, but often we need to work hard  to make sure that we are gaining and appropriating that insight. When we read the Bible, we are completely aware that this is the source of light for daily living. When we read a Christian classic, we experience something similar [pp.66-67].