Parallelism, pedantry, and prescriptivist purism

It’s been a couple of weeks since my last post – mainly because I’ve been very busy editing and proofreading, and because I just needed a break. But I have two new posts up at Macmillan Dictionary Blog, which I’d like to excerpt here and point you towards.

Parallelism, precision, and pedantry looks at the importance of parallelism: how its observance can bring polish (and correctness) to your style, but also how it’s not as vital as some pedants – and the phrase faulty parallelism – might have you believe. Faulty parallelism:

can appear when we use coordinating conjunctions such as and, or, and but, or pairs of correlative conjunctions such as either… or, neither… nor, both… and, and not only… but also.

How strictly parallelism should be observed depends on whose advice you take. Pedants can be absolute in their expectations. Referring to either… or, Eric Partridge in Usage and Abusage insisted that “the division must be made with logical precision”. Either this is true or not. I mean: This is either true or not; or: Either this is true or it is not.

I say not. Some usage dictionaries cite prescriptivist authorities who are strict on parallelism yet whose own prose doesn’t adhere to the rule.

Read the rest for more analysis of parallelism, and some good discussion in the comments.

*

My next piece, Who’s the boss of English?, takes issue with a recent article (or: list of peeves slash PR stunt) from journalist Simon Heffer, and shows why anyone claiming authority in language usage needs to look at the evidence in order to keep pace with language change:

Heffer’s list of peeves, like most such lists, abounds in misinformation and etymological fallacy: a futile insistence that we use a word this way, not that way; that it can mean only this, never that. Here and there it makes useful points, but by mixing good sense with so much demonstrable wrongness, the whole package becomes untrustworthy, as the wise John E. McIntyre points out. Especially, I think, if the aim of these non-rules is to maintain anachronistic shibboleths that allow an in-group to congratulate itself on knowing them. . . .

Language has no ultimate authority except its users, from whose collective efforts it derives its conventions and power.

I’ll be returning to this topic next week, with particular focus on one peeve. In the meantime, my latest post has brief criticism, relevant links, good comments, and what I’ve called ‘the Lebowski defence’ against a certain usage proscription.

Older articles are available in my Macmillan Dictionary Blog archive. Comments are welcome in either location.

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8 Responses to Parallelism, pedantry, and prescriptivist purism

  1. Is “both … and” disappearing? Seen as not strong enough compared with hyped-up “both … but also”? A general tendency to hype?

  2. Roger says:

    Parallels also prompted Plutarch, another good read.

  3. […] a new post from Stan of Sentence First, a blog I really enjoy.  This one in particular caught my eye because I am kind of a parallel […]

  4. Stan says:

    Ed: Not in my experience: I see the both…and construction quite often. How its frequency compares with both…but also, or whether either is significantly rising or falling in use, I don’t know.

    Roger: So they did. I haven’t yet read Parallel Lives.

  5. cynthiamvoss says:

    I like the Lebowski defense, it really tied the article together :-)

  6. Very interesting, you write some good articles. I especially like “Who’s the boss of English?”

  7. Stan says:

    Thanks, Cynthia. It’s a deserving catchphrase. :-)

    speaktome: Thank you for reading them.

  8. Rose Lee says:

    Good information.

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