Wednesday, November 7, 2007

feet of quine and old aside of pope

As the war between the prescriptivists and the descriptivists wages wroth with no end in sight, this gnome flew in over the transom the other day (from a friend via email):

We cannot stem linguistic change, but we can drag our feet. If each of us were to defy Alexander Pope and be the last to lay the old aside, it might not be a better world, but it would be a lovelier language.

[Willard van Orman Quine Quiddities (1987) p.231.]

I hadn’t read much Pope, so the professor’s allusion was lost on me, but Google is your friend:

Expression is the dress of thought, and still
Appears more decent, as more suitable;
A vile conceit in pompous words express’d,
Is like a clown in regal purple dress’d:
For diff’rent styles with diff’rent subjects sort,
As several garbs with country, town, and court
Some by old words to fame have made pretence,
Ancients in phrase, mere moderns in their sense;
Such labour’d nothings, in so strange a style,
Amaze th’ unlearn’d, and make the learned smile.
Unlucky, as Fungoso in the play,
These sparks with awkward vanity display
What the fine gentleman wore yesterday;
And but so mimic ancient wits at best,
As apes our grandsires, in their doublets drest.
In words, as fashions, the same rule will hold;
Alike fantastic, if too new, or old:
Be not the first by whom the new are try’d,
Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.

[Alexander Pope An Essay on Criticism (1709-11) ll.318-36.]

Alike fantastic, if too new, or old: Be not the first by whom the new are try’d, Nor yet the last to lay the old aside. Words to live by, no doubt about it.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Erling Wold said...

the war is still waging in me my dear friend. i love so much to wield the baseball bat of prescriptive proscription on those others, the non-elites, the misspellers, the confusers of its and it's, but then my anarchist devil climbs upon my shoulder and, penetrating my cheek with his trident and twisting it, just a bit, tells me that beautiful chaos is meet and right and should prevail.

November 12, 2007 at 12:05 PM  

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