For Fear Of A Dangling Preposition

You learned the rule when you were growing up.  You turned in a theme or two in English class, and your paper came back swimming in a sea of red ink.  Almost inevitably, one of the comments from your teacher — maybe even with an exclamation point or two — was that you were not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition.

winston-churchill-quote-ending-a-sentence-with-aIf you did, you had crossed the dreaded “dangling preposition” line.  It was a rule right up there with the “dangling participle” and the “dangling modifier” in the anti-dangling English grammar book.  So instead of writing “What do you want to talk about?,” you were supposed to write something forced and weirdly contrived, namely:  “About what do you want to talk?”  It’s one key way in which what we were taught about the written word varies distinctly from actual spoken language.  If your wife told you that she wanted to talk about something and you responded “About what do you want to talk?,” she’d think you’ve gone off your rocker.

Why were we ever taught about dangling prepositions?  I ran across an article yesterday that attributed the rule to John Dryden, a well-known English writer of the late 1600s, who supposedly made two offhand comments about how ending a sentence with a preposition did not seem “elegant.”  It doesn’t appear that Dryden was a crusader about the issue, but according to the article, Dryden’s stature was such that his comments became embedded in the strict grammarian mind at a time when the English language was evolving and becoming more standardized, and ultimately gave rise to the hard and fast red-ink rule that was taught when we were going to school.  Others argue, however, that the anti-dangling preposition view arose because English grammarians borrowed the rule from Latin — which was the language of the learned for centuries — and in Latin prepositions can’t be separated from their objects.

So who really was responsible for that red ink on your high school theme?  Was it one now-obscure British writer who was obsessed with elegance, or was it the dangling Romans?  We’ll probably never know for sure.  The important thing is that the anti-dangling bias has ended, and grammarians now embrace sentences like “Who did you go with?” as perfectly correct — and certainly more natural sounding than the artificial constructions used to avoid some of that dreaded dangling.

Your high school English teacher, and perhaps John Dryden, too, must be wondering where this unseemly and inelegant development came from.

Summa Cake Laude

Some stories are just too silly and delectable to ignore.

Take the story of the South Carolina family that wanted to celebrate their son’s graduation, summa cum laude, from a Christian-oriented home schooling program.  They ordered a cake from the local outlet of a large national grocery store chain to celebrate the feat, and wanted a sheet cake decorated with a mortarboard and faux diploma and icing to recognize that accomplishment.

publix-cakejpg-8caef864034a07fbAlas!  When the cake was retrieved and viewed at the party, the large national chain had edited out the Latin word variously translated as “with,” “along with,” or “together,” because it also is modern slang for a notorious bodily fluid.  So the cake came out saying “Congrats Jacob!  Summa — Laude Class of 2018” — even though the Mom who ordered the cake explained that the requested phrase was Latin and meant “with highest honors.”  Poor Jacob is quoted as saying, no doubt ruefully:  “The cake experience was kind of frustrating and humiliating because I had to explain to my friends and family like what that meant. And they were giggling uncontrollably. At least my friends were.”

Can it really be that a major grocery story chain that regularly bakes congratulatory cakes doesn’t know what “cum laude” means?  Maybe we all need to get our minds out of the gutter and onto a higher plane of baking.

Parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus

Recently the federal ‘government issued the first “report card” on jobs creation by the $787 billion stimulus package passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in February. The data that was released is limited to contracts, and more comprehensive information that includes grants and loans is supposed to be released at the end of this month. Other facets of the stimulus package include “safety net” spending, tax cuts, and fiscal aid to the states.

What does the data on federal contracts that was provided indicate? According to the Recovery.gov website, 30,383 jobs were “saved or created” by the federal contract actions that have been reported to date. I am pleased to report that, in Ohio, according to the government website, 699.08 jobs have been saved or created. I’m not sure what the fractional numbers indicate, other than that partial jobs — presumably ones in which the stimulus money has produced an increase in hours, or perhaps represents a portion of the work being performed — are being counted somehow. One possible explanation may be found elsewhere on the website, where it reports that, as of October 10, 112,219 stimulus-related reports had been filed with Federalreport.gov. It is a fair guess that at least some of the jobs that are reported as having been created or saved, in whole or in part, are either governmental or private sector jobs related to completing the government paperwork and forms related to receiving contract awards and stimulus payments.

I’m sure that the 699.08 people in Ohio whose jobs have been created or saved in whole or in part by the federal contracts are happy to have those jobs and partial jobs, but I still can’t escape the conclusion that the stimulus package has not delivered much bang for the buck. Indeed, the Recovery.gov website indicates that most of the contract stimulus spending has not even occurred yet. A pie chart in the middle of the home page indicates that, of the more than 5,000 contracts being addressed, less than 20 percent have been completed, and much more than half are less than 50 percent completed or have not even begun. Such statistics just indicate that the stimulus package really failed of its essential purpose, no matter what spin the politicos try to put on it. The stated purpose of the stimulus package was to provide an immediate infusion of cash and jobs to try to moderate the recession. We are now eight months after the enactment of the package, and a significant portion of the purportedly stimulative spending has not even occurred yet.

The Latin heading for this post, by the way, refers to “laboring mightily and delivering a ridiculous mouse.”