6.0622 Illogicalities and Constructions (4/122)

Mon, 29 Mar 1993 14:29:13 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 6, No. 0622. Monday, 29 Mar 1993.

(1) Date: 26 Mar 93 09:03:54 EST (65 lines)
From: "David A. Hoekema" <DHOEKEMA@legacy.Calvin.EDU>
Subject: Grammatical illogicalities

(2) Date: Sun, 28 Mar 1993 23:54 EST (35 lines)
From: MILLARD@zodiac.rutgers.edu
Subject: Re: 6.0612 Rs: Dislocation; Illogical Constructions (4/86)

(3) Date: 29 Mar 93 12:44:49 EST (13 lines)
From: "David A. Hoekema" <DHOEKEMA@legacy.Calvin.EDU>
Subject: Addendum

(4) Date: Thu, 25 Mar 93 22:37:27 CST (9 lines)
From: Norman Hinton <hinton@eagle.sangamon.edu>
Subject: Re: 6.0618 Rs: Constructions;

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: 26 Mar 93 09:03:54 EST
From: "David A. Hoekema" <DHOEKEMA@legacy.Calvin.EDU>
Subject: Grammatical illogicalities

A few comments in response to the intriguing responses (some posted,
others not) to my query on illogicalities, for which my thanks:
(1) The locution "could care less" evidently rankles. (Cf. the American
Heritage Dictionary, Third Ed., on why self-respecting grammarians choke
on "hopefully" while contentedly swallowing parallel usages.) Responses to
that one of my three examples outnumbered all others by a large margin, and
many carried a weary sense of suffering under the calumny that the wicked
inflict upon the linguistically righteous. To which I must respond, though
it may be taken as betraying my (philosophical) guild: the notion that
language must be logical is a delusion foisted upon the rest of us by over-
ambitious grammaticians and logicians. We should be thankful that so much
of natural language follows a coherent order so much of the time, not cavil
at its illogicalities. (I find it impossible to maintain this detached
attitude, however, when student papers contain such well-entrenched
solecisms as "could of been" and "each person has their own perspective".
If language may be inconsistent, so may I.)
(2) Bruce Willis's complaints about "on site" and "in recital" seem to me
unfounded. Both are well-established phrases that serve to
distinguish one mode of performing an action from an alternative: we will
build your cabinets on site, not in our workshop; Heinz Holliger will
perform in recital, not as a soloist with an orchestra. "In concert" does
have a peculiar ring to my ear, perhaps because it fails to sort out
precisely the ambiguity that "in recital" resolves ("concert" covers any
sort of public performance except staged opera), or perhaps because "in
concert" is itself a well established usage in another context: "let us not
work in isolation but in concert." The article with instruments is optional
in most contexts: John Coltrane may equally well be said to have played the
saxophone or simply to have played saxophone. These may well be trans-
Oceanic differences of usage, parallel to the necessity of having an article
in hand when going to (the) hospital, or remain in (the) hospital, in
the U. S. but not among most of the Crown's present or former subjects.
(3) I am grateful to several respondents for enlightening me concerning
French negatives and their erstwhile sense, and would only add to F. W.
Langley's comment about the disappearance of the first part in spoken French
that "je ne sais pas" is a phrase spoken only by students in elementary
French classes, whereas native speakers, achieving far greater efficiency
than the "je sais pas" he reports, say what is best transliterated as
"shpa." (The attendant shrug is, I believe, obligatory, the
subsequent puffing out of the cheeks an optional addendum.)
(4) No one has offered anything enlightening regarding my favorite
illogicality, the nonsensical comparative. So I must explain it myself. On
reflection it seems to mean, "having the qualities of X but in greater
degree." Thus "like Steve Martin, only more so" has an obvious sense, as
does the same phrase with the substitution of, say, Mel Brooks, Carl Sagan,
William F. Buckley, or, to come closer to home, Leonard Jeffries or
Katharine MacKinnon. (Assuming none of these examples stand at the limit
of the possible exemplification of what they stand for.) But "just like
George Bush only more so" makes no sense. (Whether there exist persons who
exemplify it, and whether the world could survive another, are questions on
which I shall not speculate.) In that case the problem is that the evoked
identity is so diffuse, and changes from month to month. Someone of complex
and multivarious qualities would also not support such a phrase. "His
analysis is more Foucaultian than Foucault's" makes some sense. (Whether
the referent does is another question I shall not address.) "More Rawlsian
than Rawls," "more Wittgensteinian than Wittgenstein," or for that matter
"more Kantian than Kant" would need a good deal of explanation.

|| David Hoekema, Academic Dean, Calvin College (Grand Rapids MI 49546) ||
|| tel. 616 957-6442 || fax 616 957-8551 || <dhoekema@calvin.edu> ||

(2) --------------------------------------------------------------46----
Date: Sun, 28 Mar 1993 23:54 EST
From: MILLARD@zodiac.rutgers.edu
Subject: Re: 6.0612 Rs: Dislocation; Illogical Constructions (4/86)

I hate to give an old Nixon hand any more credit than absolutely
necessary, but William Safire has already disposed of the "I could care
less" problem in one of his NY Times Sunday Magazine language columns.
Can't remember the date of his piece on this, but he gives a decent reason
for accepting the illogic of "I could care less" over the more logical of
the two idioms. To state "I couldn't care less" about X, I'd be taking a
literalist position: there is nothing about which I give less of a damn than
X. X in this case lies at the extreme end of my continuum of apathy. To
say "I could care less," on the other hand, I'm employing understatement
rather than literalism: X is pretty far down my continuum of apathy, though
not at the absolute end of it, and the listener (this is of course a common
oral locution, rare in written language) is invited to imagine those
incredibly uninteresting things that lie even further out on the continuum
than X does. "Yeah, I *guess* I could care less about X... for example,
if it were Y, about which I give not even a micro-damn." Safire rarely
takes a descriptive/idiomatic choice over a prescriptive/literalist one,
but he makes a rather refreshing argument for the former here.

One corollary I don't remember him including is that a speaker whose
pronunciation of "I could care less" places the rhythmic and dynamic
emphases in the same places as in "I couldn't care less" is probably unaware
of the difference between them and isn't consciously controlling the implicit
understatement. I hear a speaker of "I couldn't care less" emphasizing
"less," and becoming rather irate about it; the person who "could care less"
probably uses less force toward the end of the sentence, if he/she is using
the phrase to best effect. Less force naturally translates as more rhetorical

Bill Millard, Rutgers

(3) --------------------------------------------------------------27----
Date: 29 Mar 93 12:44:49 EST
From: "David A. Hoekema" <DHOEKEMA@legacy.Calvin.EDU>
Subject: Addendum

A colleague to whom I gave my previous posting on illogical comparisons
pointed out that, contrary to my suggestion that "just like George Bush only
more so" had no readily discernible application, it is in fact an admirably
succinct characterization of Dana Carvey.

|| David Hoekema, Academic Dean, Calvin College (Grand Rapids MI 49546) ||
|| tel. 616 957-6442 || fax 616 957-8551 || <dhoekema@calvin.edu> ||

(4) --------------------------------------------------------------19----
Date: Thu, 25 Mar 93 22:37:27 CST
From: Norman Hinton <hinton@eagle.sangamon.edu>
Subject: Re: 6.0618 Rs: Constructions;

"On site" and "in concert" may be unusual constructions in Australia, but in
the United States they are so common that I cannot even remember having
heard "on _the_ site" or "in _the_ concert".

Norman Hinton hinton@eagle.sangamon.edu