Put Upon

Letter to the Times, Oct. 14, 1939:


If ordinary English usage counts for anything, an evacuee is a person who has been evacued, whatever that may be, as a trustee is one who has been trusted; for ‘evacuee’ cannot be thought of as a feminine French form, as ’employee’ is by some.

Where are we going to stop if ‘evacuee’ is accepted as good English? Is a terrible time coming in which a woman, much dominated by her husband, will be called a dominee? Will she often be made a humiliee by his rough behavior and sometimes prostree with grief after an unsought quarrel?

Must sensitive people suffer the mutilation of their language until they die and are ready to become cremees?

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

F.H.J. Newton

Over and Out

If it’s a sin to end a sentence with one preposition, then presumably it’s even worse to end it with two. How far can we take this? For the August 1968 issue of Word Ways: The Journal of Recreational Linguistics, Darryl Francis devised one sentence that ends with nine prepositions. If the Yardbirds’ 1966 single “Over, Under, Sideways, Down” were exported to Australia and then retrieved by a traveler, the question might be asked:

“What did he bring ‘Over, Under, Sideways, Down’ up from Down Under for?”

Inspired, Ralph Beaman pointed out that if this issue of the journal were now brought to a boy who slept on the upper floor of a lighthouse, he might ask:

“What did you bring me the magazine I didn’t want to be read to out of about ‘”Over Under, Sideways, Down” up from Down Under’ up around for?”

“This has a total of fifteen terminal prepositions,” writes Ross Eckler, “but the end is not in sight; for now the little boy can complain in similar vein about the reading material provided in this issue of Word Ways, adding a second ‘to out of about’ at the beginning and ‘up around for’ at the end of the preposition string. The mind boggles at the infinite regress which has now been established.”

Ozymandias Without Es

I know a pilgrim from a distant land
Who said: Two vast and sawn-off limbs of quartz
Stand on an arid plain. Not far, in sand
Half sunk, I found a facial stump, drawn warts
And all; its curling lips of cold command
Show that its sculptor passions could portray
Which still outlast, stamp’d on unliving things,
A mocking hand that no constraint would sway:
And on its plinth this lordly boast is shown:
“Lo, I am Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, O Mighty, and bow down!”
‘Tis all that is intact. Around that crust
Of a colossal ruin, now windblown,
A sandstorm swirls and grinds it into dust.

(By Georges Perec, translated from the French by Gilbert Adair.)

Green Party

Letter to the Times, Aug. 19, 1930:

Sir, In one of the loveliest gardens in the West of Scotland, opened freely on certain days to a vast public from Glasgow and that neighbourhood, courteous notices everywhere intimated that ‘Visitors are requested not to pick the flowers without leave.’ A waggish tourist went round with a paint brush, adding an ‘s’ to the word ‘leave,’ with the deplorable result that not only were flowers plucked, but whole plants — flowers, leaves, and roots — were excavated and carried off.

Yours, &c.

David Hunter-Blair