[Smt-talk] One thought on Language Use (was: Two thoughts on Normal Form)

David K Feurzeig mozojo at gmail.com
Sun Sep 9 14:49:55 PDT 2012

art samplaski:
> "Transition" is a NOUN, ladies and gentlemen.

E.B. White:

"Usage seems to us peculiarly a matter of ear. Everyone has his own  
set of rules, his own list of horribles. Dr. Canby speaks of 'contact'  
used as a verb, and points out that careful writers and speakers,  
persons of taste, studiously avoid it. They do--some of them, because  
the word so used, makes their gorge rise, others because they have  
heard that we sensitive lit'ry folk consider it displeasing. The odd  
thing is that what is true of one noun-verb is not necessarily true of  
another. To 'contact a man' makes us wince; but to 'ground a plane  
because of bad weather' sounds all right. Further, although we are  
satisfied to 'ground a plane,' we object to 'garaging an automobile.'"

--"Comment," The New Yorker, January 30, 1937

When I first read this, I was surprised to learn that the verb  
"contact" had ever been controversial.

Here's another long-dead controversy, noted by White when it was  
apparently still live:

"Not only did the author of the instruction book score badly on the  
front cover, but inside the book he used the word 'personalize' in an  
essay on how to improve one’s writing. A man who likes the word  
'personalize' is entitled to his choice, but we wonder whether he  
should be in the business of giving advice to writers. 'Whenever  
possible,' he wrote, 'personalize your writing by directing it to the  
reader.' As for us, we would as lief Simonize our grandmother as  
personalize our writing."

We're all entitled to choose, as White said, but I think Dmitri's  
usage has transitioned to status-quotitude.

David Feurzeig
University of Vermont

"One never knows, do one?" —Fats Waller

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