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THE PRINCIPLES OF RHETORIC.
PART 1. COMPOSITION IN GENERAL
BOOK 1.- GRAMMATICAL PURITY.
GOOD USE. The foundations of rhetoric rest upon grammar; for grammatical purity is a requisite of good writing.
Though it may be no merit to know the proper use of our native tongue, not to know it is a positive Importance of demerit, a demerit the greater in those of us the use of lanwho have had the advantages of education. To know is comparatively easy ; but to have our knowledge always ready for use, to apply it in every sentence we frame, whether we have time to be careful or not, is far from easy. Not even eminent speakers or writers, not even those who readily detect in others errors in grammar, are themselves free from similar faults, such faults at least as may be committed, through inadvertence, in the hurry of speech or of composition. “A distinguished British scholar of the last century said he had known but three of his countrymen who spoke their native language with uniform gram
False tests of
matical accuracy, and the observation of most persons widely acquainted with English and American society confirms the general truth implied in this declaration." 1
Grammatical purity is, then, the first requisite of discourse, whether spoken or written. Whatever is ad- . dressed to English-speaking people should be in the Grammatical English tongue: it (1) should contain none purity defined. but English words and phrases, (2) should employ these words and phrases in their English meanings, and (3) should combine them according to the English idiom.
What, now, determines whether a given expression is English ?
Evidently, the answer to this question is not to be sought in inquiries concerning the origin, the history,
or the tendencies of the language. However good English. interesting in themselves, however successfully prosecuted, such investigations are of little practical value in a study which has to do, not with words as they have been or might have been or may be, but with words as they are; not with the English of yesterday or with that of to-morrow, still less with a theorist's ideal English, but with the English of to-day.
In the English of to-day, one word is not preferred to another because it is derived from this or from that source; the present meaning of a word is not fixed by its etymology, nor its inflection by the inflection of other words with which it may, for some purposes, be classed. Athletics (from the Greek), farina (from the Latin). flour (from the Latin through the French), mutton (from the French), gas (a term invented by a chemist 2), are as
i George P. Marsh: Lectures on the English Language, lect. V.
good words as games, meal, sheep, fire. Properly used, manufacture is as good a word as handiwork, purple as red, prairie as meadow, magnificent as great, murmur as buzz, manual as handy, existence as being, convention as meeting, terminus as end. Though a vast majority of nouns form the plural in s, the plural of ox is still oxen, and that of mouse is still mice; though we no longer say, “A bee stang John,” we do say, “ The bird sang ; ” though its has been in use only three centuries, it is as much a part of the language as his or her, and one can only smile at a recent writer's hostility to this “unlucky, new-fangled word.” 1
“ There is,” says Landor, “a fastidiousness in the use of language that indicates an atrophy of mind. We must take words as the world presents them to us, fastidiwithout looking at the root.
If we grubbed ousness. under this and laid it bare, we should leave no room for our thoughts to lie evenly, and every expression would be constrained and crampt. We should scarcely find a metaphor in the purest author that is not false or imperfect, nor could we imagine one ourselves that would not be stiff and frigid. Take now, for instance, a phrase in
You are rather late. Can anything seem plainer ? Yet rather, as you know, meant originally earlier, being the comparative of rathe: the 'rathe primrose' of the poet recalls it. We cannot say, You are sooner late ; but who is so troublesome and silly as to question the propriety of saying, You are rather late? We likewise say, bad orthography and false orthography: how can there be false or bad right-spelling ? " 3
1 T. L. Kington Oliphant: The Sources of Standard English, chap. v
2 Walter Savage Landor: Conversations, Third Series; Johnson and Horne (Tooke).
The fastidiousness that objects to well-established words because their appearance “proclaims their vile and despicable origin,” 1 or to well-understood phrases because they “contain some word that is never used except as a part of the phrase,”
idiomatic expressions because, “when analyzed grammatically, they include a solecism,"1 -- the fastidiousness, in short, that
" would sacrifice to the proprieties of language expressions that give life to our daily speech and vigor to the best writing, indicates “an atrophy of mind” akin to that of which Landor speaks.
Pell-mell, topsy-turvy, helter-skelter, hurly-burly, hocuspocus, hodge-podge, harum-scarum, namby-pamby, willynilly, shilly-shally, higgledy-piggledy, dilly-dally, hurryscurry, carry their meaning instantaneously to every mind. Examples of their effective use may be found in the very best authors:
“Then what a hurly-burly! what a crowding! what a glare of a thousand flambeaux in the square !” 3
“ This shifting of persons could not be done without the hocuspocus of abstraction.” 8
“ And then draw close together and read the motto (that old namby-pamby motto, so stale and so new !) — "4
“ And then there were apple pies, and peach pies, and pumpkin pies; besides slices of ham and smoked beef; and moreover delectable dishes of preserved plums, and peaches, and pears, and quinces; not to mention broiled shad and roasted chickens; together with bowls of milk and cream, all mingled higgiedy-piggledy, pretty much as I have enumerated them, with the motherly tea-pot sending up its clouds of vapor from the midst — Heaven bless the mark !”5
1 George Campbell : The Philosophy of Rhetoric, book ii. chap. ii. 2 Burke: Letters on a Regicide Peace, letter iv. 8 Ibid., letter i. 4 Thackeray: The Virginians, chap. lx.
Irving: : The Sketch Book; The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
“On the sea and at the Hogue, sixteen hundred ninety-two,
Did the English fight the French, woe to France !
Like a crowd of frightened porpoises a shoal of sharks pursne,
With the English fleet in view.” 1
“ Go to Paris; rank on rank
Search the heroes flung pell-mell
You shall look long enough ere you come to Hervé Riel." }
The italicized words in “by dint of,” “as lief,” “to and fro,” “not a whit,” “ kith and kin,” “hue and cry,” “ spick and span new," "tit for tat,” are, by themselves, obsolete in the sense they bear in the phrases quoted; but the phrases are universally understood, and there is no more reason for challenging the words that compose them than there is for challenging a syllable in a word.
A similar remark may be made about idioms, - modes of expression peculiar to the language, or to the group of languages, in which they occur. Idiomatic expressions, though composed of words difficult to “parse,” may be older than parsing and still in good repute. Such expressions give life to style.
On this ground, had rather and had better? are quite as good English as would rather and might better:
“I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness." ;
“I had rather be a dog, and bay the moon,
1 Robert Browning: Hervé Riel.
2 For a discussion of these locutions, see an exhaustive article (by Fitzedward Hall) in “The American Journal of Philology,” vol. ii. no. 7, pp. 281-322.
8 Psalm lxxxiv. 10.