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The collected opinions of an august and aristocratic personage who, despite her body having succumbed to the ravages of time, yet retains the keen intellect, mordant wit and utter want of tact for which she was so universally lauded in her younger days. Being of a generation unequal to the mysterious demands of the computing device, Lady Bracknell relies on the good offices of her Editor for assistance with the technological aspects of her journal.

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Location: Bracknell Towers

Saturday, February 18, 2006

You don't get down from an elephant...

Lady Bracknell, as her regular readers will be aware, is what might be termed "a bit of a stickler" for correct grammar. Education standards may have slipped in the interim but, during Lady Bracknell's school days, pupils were marked down for innaccurate use of language in any subject. For example, Lady Bracknell herself lost a mark in her mock Religious Education 'A' level exam for having had the audacity to split an infinitive.

There is one increasingly common and particularly slovenly use of our fine language which has been causing Lady Bracknell to flinch in horror every time she hears or reads it. So much so, in fact, that she can no longer remain silent on the subject. She will not name names, but the miscreants in question should have no trouble in identifying themselves from the following.

The word "down" may be an adverb, a preposition, or a noun. It may not be an adjective.

Therefore, one may feel downhearted; one may feel downcast; one may even feel down in the dumps.

However, should an individual say that he is "feeling down", he should be aware that what he is actually saying is that he is currently enjoying a somewhat intimate relationship with a duck.

Lady Bracknell would also encourage those who are not already aware of it to learn the difference between "imply" and "infer". This is not difficult: you may imply something by what you are saying; you may infer something from what someone else is saying. Anyone unable to grasp this simple, but crucial, distinction is advised to omit both words from his or her working vocabulary.


Blogger The Goldfish said...

Ah, you see, Shakespeare had a profound influence on the way we understand our language, beyond mere etymology. Then Lennon & McCartney came along and did the same;

Help me if you can, I'm feeling down.
And I do appreciate you being round.

I expect her Ladyship may be also perplexed by this second line, which refers to the very spherical nature of the poet's subject.

I would personally argue that, forty years on, such works have altered the meaning of words, at least in their informal usage.

However, I agree wholeheartedly that mere confusion between words like infer and imply is no argument for a change of meaning.

12:01 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mine own bugbear is the disinterested/uninterested howler, but you and I, your Ladyship, are but as Canute's courtiers here. The tide will come in, deny it though we may. Language will change. The will of the majority (or rather, its apathy) will prevail. Sorry.

12:28 pm  
Blogger pete said...

I am guilty as charged re: occasioning grevious bodily harm to grammar. There just proved it!

But i am the sort of guy you want around for 'physical' activities such as first aid and fixing up things.

Not feeling down at the mo. pete!

2:23 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My dear lady, so is it not possible to 'pull down', 'knock down', 'bring down' without being intimate with water fowl?:)

2:47 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...

Mr Mac is, Lady Bracknell suspects, being deliberately obtuse for comic effect.

Should he knock something down, he would be using the word "down" as an adverb.

Such a usage, conforming as it does to the standard rules of grammar, will imply no intimacy with our feathered friends.

4:16 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...

Although not, on principle, a betting woman, Lady Bracknell would have put money on her good friend the Goldfish presenting a cogent argument to the effect that language is a living thing, and we must learn to live with changes in its usage.

The Goldfish is not the first to attempt to persuade Lady Bracknell of this, and nor is she likely to be the last.

But it goes entirely against the grain for Lady Bracknell to accept changes which subvert the basic rules of grammar.

She will never, for example, accept the hideously vulgar, "could of" and "should of".

4:33 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

I applaud Lady Bracknell's educational efforts. Perhaps she could also offer her readers a discreet word about the words "discreet" and "discrete" being discrete words.

6:40 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...

Very nicely put, Miss P.

Also, perhaps, something to the effect that confusion between "affect" and "effect" affects her ladyship's tranquility levels to no small effect.

6:44 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eh? You what?

7:45 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Surely the "down" in "feeling down" describes the manner of "feeling", and is therefore an adverb.

2:58 am  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...

Although the verb "to feel" appears in the phrase, "I am feeling", it is not the active verb that exists in, for example, the phrase, "I am walking".

It demands an adjective rather than an adverb if it is to be qualified.

Thus, "I am feeling happy", rather than, "I am feeling happily".

(But, "I am walking happily", rather than, "I am walking happy".)

"I am walking" is a present continuous use of the verb "to walk".

"I am feeling" is a present continous use of the verb "to feel" in the sentence, "I am feeling this luxurious velvet with my fingertips".

But in the specific construct "I am feeling happy/sad/ill", I am describing myself, rather than something I am doing. Were this not the case, I would not be able to condense the phrase, "I am feeling happy", to the simple, "I am happy".

If one tries the same trick of condensing with the phrase, "I am walking slowly", one is left with "I am slowly", which clearly demands a further verb in addition to the first person singular of "to be".

9:25 am  

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