Monthly Archives: February 2020

What is the difference between downtrodden and downcast?

 

 

In the courtroom, Weinstein, leaning over his walker, looked downtrodden after conferring with his lawyers about the developments. Later, in the hallway, the once-powerful movie producer shrugged and stayed silent as reporters shouted questions about the jury indications.

 

— “Harvey Weinstein jury suggests it’s deadlocked on two counts, unanimous on others in sexual assault case,” by Shayna Jacobs, The Washington Post, February 21, 2020

 

 

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downtrodden

oppressed or treated badly by people in power.

EXAMPLE: Christian churches had a custom of placing metal boxes outside their doors on this day to collect cash and gifts for the downtrodden.

 

downcast

low in spirit, dejected

 

 

The reporter should have used downcast.

 

 
— Roger W. Smith

   February 2020

 

The infinitve is infinite.

 

 

 

In a text I bought for my German course, Basic German: A Grammar and Workbook, 2nd Edition, by Heiner Schenke, Anna Miell, and Karen Seago, pg. 7, it says:

A verb with a personal ending — e.g., Woher kommst du? Ich wohne in Frankfurt, Woher kommst du? — is called a finite verb. This is in contrast to the infinitive form of verbs.

 

I never knew.

 
In other words, a verb when used with a subject and tense — we speak, they spoke, English is spoken — is finite, determinate; there is definite action, occurrence.

But, yes, Shakespeare can write to be or not to be, but to be is timeless, so to speak. But, I was satisfied — this refers to the past and an actual point on time, whether specified or not.

 

 

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I love learning new things. In the category of learning “I never knew that.” Something simple that should have been obvious, but that for me represents a discovery.

When you learn it, some fundamental that increases overall understanding is now part of your mental repertoire.

 

— Roger W. Smith

    February 2020

“a red cord thing”

 

 

Waiting for an elevator with me at 826 Broadway on February 13 last week there were two women who were chatting.

We were all going to a concert of medieval music in the Strand Bookstore’s rare book room. I had entered at the Strand’s main entrance next door, at 826 Broadway. I had bought a book that looked very interesting: Wordsworth’s Classical Undersong: Education, Rhetoric and Poetic Truth by Richard W. Clancey. The subject matter fits right in with the focus of this blog. I often find interesting books at the Strand by serendipity.

One of the women said to the other that (as I had experienced) she could not get to the Strand rare book room by entering at the store’s main entrance and walking up or taking the elevator from there to the third floor, as I had tried to do. (The nonfiction books on literature are in the basement, a usual first stop form  me.) She said to her interlocutor: “They have a red cord thing” blocking passage to the rare book room from the main store and that therefore she had recognized you had to take the elevator (as we were doing at that moment) next door.

That’s a redundancy, I thought to myself. I am always “proofreading” and “editing” people’s speech (including broadcasters’ and newspaper reporters’) whenever I detect what I am sure is a grammar error or infelicity of style.

Or is it redundant? I thought.

She could have said, as an English teacher would probably so correct a student’s sentence to: There was a red cord blocking the door. Or, A red cord was blocking the door.

But “red cord thing” actually conveys her meaning very well. For she wasn’t certain whether it was a cord (a piece of rope), a string, tape, or whatever. But something resembling a cord such as one sees in a rope line or tape blocking access to accident and crime scenes, something red, was blocking access.

Young women whom one constantly hears chatting on their cell phones often get made fun of by grammar snobs such as myself for using like constantly as an intensifier or qualifier. He seemed like about to go crazy; or, I saw a guy who was like riding a bike with no hands.

English is a marvelously fertile and flexible language, rich in nuance. New ways of saying things in non-formal speech are always being come up with. Such as the use (perhaps overuse) of the all-purpose like as an adverb, and many expressions that convey the meaning exactly, but who would of thought of them before they were invented, e.g., couch potato and soccer mom.

 

 

–Roger W. Smith

  February 2020

The mind yearns for completion.

 
A reader of one of my posts wrote to me that the essays of Johnson, Addison, and Steele “are well worth reading, … but their style is clearly dated.”

I wonder.

 

Reading some of Samuel Johnson’s miscellaneous writings today, I was thinking to myself (as I often do) how clearly written they are and how they provide models for good writing.

Yes, there are anachronisms in usage — certainly in spelling (as well as conventions in capitalization and hyphenation) — as well as vocabulary in Johnson’s writings, and in those of Addison and Steele, whose essays provided a model for Johnson’s.
Here is an example from one of Steele’s essays:

 

An Author, when he first appears in the World, is very apt to believe it has nothing to think of but his Performances. With a good Share of this Vanity in my Heart, I made it my Business these three Days to listen after my own Fame; and, as I have sometimes met with Circumstances which did not displease me, I have been encountered by others which gave me much Mortification. It is incredible to think how empty I have in this time observed some Part of the Species to be, what mere Blanks they are when they first come abroad in the Morning, how utterly they are at a Stand, until they are set a going by some Paragraph in a News-Paper: Such Persons are very acceptable to a young Author, for they desire no more (in anything) but to be new, to be agreeable. If I found Consolation among such, I was as much disquieted by the Incapacity of others. These are Mortals who have a certain Curiosity without Power of Reflection, and perused my Papers like Spectators rather than Readers.

But there is so little Pleasure in Enquiries that so nearly concern our selves (it being the worst Way in the World to Fame, to be too anxious about it), that upon the whole I resolv’d for the future to go on in my ordinary Way; and without too much Fear or Hope about the Business of Reputation, to be very careful of the Design of my Actions, but very negligent of the Consequences of them.

— Richard Steele, The Spectator No. 4, Monday, March 5, 1711

 

 

This seems to be a specimen of clear, straightforward, and plain good writing. Does such writing go out of fashion?

 
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In a different vein — but also, to provide a specimen from Johnson — here is a brief passage from a book review by Samuel Johnson from my reading today:

He [Arthur Murphy] mentions, with great regard, [Alexander] Pope’s ode on solitude, written when he was but twelve years old, but omits to mention the poem on silence, composed, I think, as early, with much greater elegance of diction, music of numbers, extent of observation, and force of thought. [italics added]

— Samuel Johnson, review of Arthur Murphy, The Gray’s-Inn Journal, Literary Magazine (1756)

 

The concluding sequence of four phrases is an example of why Johnson’s writings merit study on stylistic grounds. On account — in this example — of excellence of phrasing, parallelism, and how pleasing to the ear, how euphonious, such wording is.

One phrase follows another, forming an integrated whole. A thought or concept clearly and forcefully expressed. The words strike home.

The mind yearns for completion. In Johnson, this is usually achieved.

It is very much like a cluster of notes in music, when notes follow and build on those before, when they not only fit together, cohere, but provide a sense of resolution.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   February 9, 2020