Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Getting a Word in Before Going Dark ...

I'm going AWOL until probably Tuesday*. Family wedding this weekend. Meaning lots of people in my customarily not-very-peopled existence. Plus other perks like cake and (hopefully) bad wedding dancing. (Love that. Go, Uncle Al!)

But, first, I leave you with this word: "both."

I'm hypersensitive to this word because I so often see it used the way the following AP story used it:

AP - Executives whose companies get a piece of the $700 billion government
bailout will have their pay packages strictly limited under proposals that are
broadly supported by both Republicans and Democrats.

Now, this isn't wrong, per se. But it has always struck me as imprecise. Obviously, "both" is meant to modify two things -- Republicans and Democrats. But because the first of those two things is plural, there's a potential for momentary confusion that's always troubled me.

In other words,

Fine = "... both the Republican and the Democrat on the committee ..."
Less fine (says I) = "... both Republicans (That's right, there are still two left. Named George and Newt, though Newt seems to have been eyeing the exits for some time now) and Democrats ..."

Here's hoping I chose good wedding shoes and won't be looking up definitions of "blister" on Tuesday ...

* Late addendum: I'll still be checking in and able to read and post any comments. I just don't expect I'll post any new entries of my own until prolly Tuesday.
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Joel said...

Hey, while we're on the subject, I seem to be hearing a lot of "both" modifying collections that even more conspicuously contain more than two items.

This is a bad, made-up example, but I'm hoping to get your wisdom and insight before you're actually offline: "both a Republican, a Democrat and a Libertarian." Maybe usually a little less conspicuous. I'll try to keep my eyes open for a real example.

But what do you think? Is there any legitimacy to this? I don't like it, but I await your verdict.

June Casagrande said...

Hmmm. Working rushed here, I can't find a damn thing to like about that ... or a flimsy excuse for it. According to "Webster's New World," as an adjective, it means "the two" or "the one and the other." I can't see how, logically, that can come before a list of three.

If you'll allow me the option of eating my words when and if someone here corrects me, for now I'll say: I'm with you.

Evan Harrel said...

I agree wholeheartedly with your concern about the way "both" has been used. I recommend "broadly supported by members of both the Republican and the Democratic Parties." If that uses too much ink, just saying "members of both parties" would be clear.

smussyolay said...

i definitely think joel's example would be wrong, but i think the implied meaning is more what evan is getting at (in a more proper way, of course).

both republicans and democrats ... i think "republicans" just refers to a collective group = the republicans (or democrats). the group or party or whatever is just implied here.

i know you guys all get this, but i love talking about words! yay.

June Casagrande said...

Wow. I think I just got brain overload.

The animated TV series "Futurama" has made jokes about how to use paradoxes to make a robot blow up. (That is, of course, until they come across a robot with paradox-absborbing crumple zones or something like that.)

Anyway, I feel like one of the standard-model robots (more often than I care to admit, in fact).

Joel said...


There's an episode of the original Star Trek ("Mudd's Women" I think--and no, I didn't remember that but remembered the guy's name and googled to an episode that matched the name and seems to fit the plot I remember) that plays on that implosion by paradox idea. I'm pretty sure it seemed clever the way they did it then. Now it just seems silly and only attractive in that way that many quaint old things are. But I'm guessing Futurama saves it with all sorts of irony.

I'm pretty sure that my example (which, I admit, wasn't very good in the first place and its irrelevance was only magnified by re-using similar terms) is being judged on different criteria now. I think it might be because my tangent took a sharp left turn from your original issue, which I do (take sharp left turns). It's what I do. I'm not going to say that I do it better, but I do it more than normal people--the abrupt offshoot, I mean.

Rik Leaf, one of my favorite singer/songwriters has this lovely line in a bonus track on one of his albums: "Just a little boy with the parts of a man." I think that describes my brain. Which is to say that I have these relatively adultish intellectual apparati but the attention span of a fruit fly, the self-control of a two-year-old and the emotional maturity of Beavis and Butthead (which, being two, are twice as immature as just one of them would be).

And, oh, that's another shiny thing that keeps grabbing my tiny attention span lately: intensified negative qualifiers. Somehow twice of something less seems wrong. E.g., the "twice as immature." It seems like it might should only be allowed to be "half as mature." I really don't buy that restriction, but one of the voices keeps trying to sell it to me.

So, the question is, if I make another sharp left (a third, I mean), have I then gone right after all?

June Casagrande said...

I can totally relate to the intellectual equipment of a grownup combined with the bad attention span and self control. But in recent years, I've gotten a pretty good handle on the self control part. (Only took about six years of therapy at $60 a pop.)

I'm SO glad blogging hadn't been invented when I was in my 20s and early 30s because there would be a permanent record of all the crazy, ignorant, hysterical stuff I used to believe.

Of course, I still have the attention span of a fruit fly. But that's okay because ... hey ... what's that on TV? ... Jon Stewart is making faces ... ha! ... look at that ... I wonder what I'll have for dinner ... you know who I like, I like that Homer Simpson guy ... sure wish I had some gouda ...

smussyolay said...

i think that 'twice as immature' conjures up a specifically different image than 'half as mature.'

immaturity causes me to have very concrete ideas of ways a person might act and to double it intensifies that. to say half as mature makes me think of maturity, but that's not the point of that phrase, so i don't think it serves the idea as well.

but all in all, i would probably try to come up with a different phrase altogether.

June Casagrande said...

Hmmm. Yeah. Twice as immature means doubly bad. Half as mature means not as good.

There's something mathematical going on there that I'm not caffeinated enough to wrap my head around at the moment.

Joel said...

I definitely agree with you both . . . but still there's that voice.

I'm going to say that it's a desire for a sort of misunderstood, misplaced mathematical rectitude (it might have something to do with the demand in mathematics for simplicity and rendering things down to a least common denominator) and it probably really amounts to nothing (heh--bad pun) and I maybe shouldn't have even mentioned it. It's a category error. Maybe there's a better example that does matter. But I think the point is that it's a shifty place my head gets stuck where probably it shouldn't but still it does. Maybe it's the complement to that class of things that should but don't ever quite lodge in my head.

Certainly experience has taught me that some voices are mostly to be ignored. It might be a sign of what's wrong with my political convictions that I can't stomach the thought of silencing them altogether.

Er, uh, maybe it's a sign of what's wrong with my psyche that I reckon the voices as actual persons, sort of--I mean not strictly literally, but close enough that it causes these problems, that there are significant relational issues to be worked out amongst them and between them and me.

June Casagrande said...

I'm so out of it today. Hence the no posting. So maybe that's why that makes perfect sense to me!

: )


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