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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Traces of Grammar

To go off the beaten track for a moment, I want to say something about how education can leaves an imprint on a person's writing style. 

I took four years of Latin in high school. I've always thought that this was very helpful for my vocabulary and was a good decision. One feature of Latin grammar is that sentences often use reflexive pronouns. For example, "she herself" said or "he himself" wrote.

It took me years to realize that my writing style was influenced by this grammar structure. I often like to say "Joe himself" or "Jane herself" by way of emphasis, but it's also just something I must have unconsciously picked up from Latin. I'm sure non-native speakers of English have similar traces of their first language in their writing (and probably more so).

Posted by Gerard Magliocca on June 23, 2020 at 09:48 AM | Permalink


You are right on with Latin or any other language learned while younger leaving an imprint on writing. I'm the same way. I used to never split my infinitives (see what I did there?). That rule only came about because Latin doesn't split the infinitive because their infinitive is only one word. Modern linguistics has caught up and its an archaic rule. I can choose to split my infinitive or to not split if I wish.

Posted by: Ryan Nevin | Jun 26, 2020 10:05:13 PM

I don't doubt it. I've been studying Italian and it is filled with reflexive verbs. Some typically non-reflexive verbs can also be used reflexively as a way to make the action/feeling more emphatic.

Posted by: Kruser | Jun 24, 2020 5:38:37 PM

What, you thought I was talking to you, Steve? For THAT you went to law school? I was talking to Gerry Maglioccaberg, bubbie.

Ya dig?

Posted by: Neal Goldfarb | Jun 24, 2020 12:47:39 AM

There's nothing trans-phobic about saying "Joe himself" or "Jane herself". If someone has a gender-role name (Joe, Jane) and presents themself as that gender (Joe looks like a man, Jane looks like a woman) and they've never told you that they identify as anything different, it is relatively safe to assume that they are male (Joe) or female (Jane) until they tell you differently, reveal their true identity in a phone booth, collapse under the presence of kryptonite, etc.

But once they tell you differently (Joe says he's trans, Jane tells you she's trans), then courtesy suggests that we call them by their self-identification, in the same way that if someone self-identifies as not-a-nazi (Trump, Biden, Francis) we should not call them a nazi, but whatever they identify as.

Posted by: Remains of the dayjob | Jun 23, 2020 5:59:37 PM

Not in my case, Neal.

Posted by: Steven Lubet | Jun 23, 2020 4:50:05 PM

It’s also possible (and perhaps more likely) that you picked it up from exposure to it in texts written in English.

Posted by: Neal Goldfarb | Jun 23, 2020 3:30:45 PM

How's by you, Gerald? (A Yiddishism common in my English expression.)

Posted by: Steven Lubet | Jun 23, 2020 12:01:56 PM

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