Thursday, October 1, 2009

creative writing and formal prose

From: CyberCypher
Newsgroups: alt.usage.english
Subject: Re: more money than her

On Feb 10, 3:25 am, "The Grammer Genious" wrote:
> > "CyberCypher" wrote
> >
>>> > >> "John" wrote in message
> >
>>>> > >> > "At the time, Obama was raising and spending more money than her
>>>> > >> > heading into the round of presidential primaries ...."
>> > > <...>
>> > > Not all of us are willing to approve of poor usage, and not all of us
>> > > find such stuff acceptable in the lines penned by those who claim to
>> > > be both educated and professional writers.<...>
> >
> > Ok, but since "than" has been used as a preposition by Faulkner, Scott,
> > Swift, Johnson, and Shakespeare, whose camp are you placing yourself in when
> > you label it "poor usage"?

I don't think that the creative writing usage standards of 400, 300,
200, 100, or even 50 years ago are relevant for writers of formal
American in 2008. In fact, Shakespeare had no standards other than his
own to work with. Swift and Johnson wrote when there were only
incipient standards, Scott was a Brit and irrelevant to the
discussion, and Faulkner was as much a linguistic innovator as was
James Joyce. I don't consider creative writing "formal prose". In a
novel or a play or a poem or a short story it either works or it
doesn't work. That doesn't mean that certain stylistic choices and
usages don't annoy my eyes and ears from time to time, however. I'm
reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's _Little House_ series to my son every
night, and I find it interesting to see how she used American English
almost 100 years ago. I have no problems with sentences like "they took
the potatoes down cellar" or "I be hungry" (both found in _Farmer
Boy_), but I can't bear her usage of "must" as a past tense, so I
always change it when I read it aloud. Apparently, the linguistic
standards in American English have changed since 1927. Very few
American-speakers use "must" as a past tense these days. And, as
Marchette Chute (_Stories from Shakespeare_) says, "In _Hamlet_, for
instance, the word 'rivals' is used in the sense of 'partners', and
when Hamlet's mother accuses him of 'ecstasy' she means temporary
insanity". Would you suggest that we point to these changed usages and
assert that just because Shakespeare used them thus, we too are
entitled to use them in precisely the same way? I doubt it. But people
such as you are very quick to point to history when it's convenient
for your arguments about what should be acceptable usages today. You
don't seem to appreciate that your opinions are merely your opinions
(just as my opinions are merely my opinions) and not some god-given
judgment of right and wrong. And some of us are more concerned than
others with consistency in formal prose: inconsistencies too often
cause ambiguities and are aesthetically annoying to us.

> > Are your "standards" higher than theirs? Wonderful you!

As I said, they had no standards but their own and didn't use whatever
standards there might have been for formal prose in their creative
writing. This remark of yours is typically red-herringish and straw-
mannish. It's irrelevant. In fact, it's downright stupid and logically
fallacious to say such things.

> > On the other hand, I doubt if Faulkner, Scott, Swift, Johnson, or
> > Shakespeare ever made any overt claim to being educated and professional
> > writers, so maybe you're right.

You don't seem to understand the difference between creative writing
and formal prose. What novelists and playwrights and poets write and
used to write (back in the good old days before dictionaries and
grammar books) in their creative works has nothing to do with the
standards of formal prose. If you would use your brain instead of your
bum to think, you'd not produce so many brain farts when venting from
your gluteal mouth.