Grammar

Science-Fiction_HandbookOne of my favourite books on writing is a tome published back in 1975, L. Sprague and Catherine C. de Camp's Science Fiction Handbook, Revised. (The link will take you to the edition of the book previous to that volume to which I've referred. The image to the right is of the cover of the first edition of this book, published in 1953. You can learn more about it here, at Wikipedia.)

My copy of this book is the second edition (shown below). It is because of this book that I know how copyright law in the U.S. worked prior to 1978.

One sentence in this book has stuck with me in the nearly 30 years since I first read it (yes, I purchased it very soon after the second edition was published). In fact, I highlighted the sentence with a yellow marker. It is this:

If you see nothing wrong with such sentences as "He stared like he had seen a ghost," or "An individual can return to any period of his entire life providing his passage is not blocked by engrams," you do not know enough about writing English to tackle fiction.

Science-Fiction_Handbook_ReNow them's harsh words, don'tcha think? P'rhaps. But they're right powerful, even so. Figurin' out the problem with the first sentence is easy enough, but figurin' out the problem with the second is a mighty difficult task for any man, or for women-folk, like as not. That first 'un uses "like" for "as," a common misstep for folk in these parts. Whatcha think the nigglin' little problem is with the second?

I'll give you a day to mull it over, and then I'll return tomorrow and reveal the answer. In the meantime, share your guess in a comment.

Good luck, pardner.


To share a little more from the same passage, because it's relevant to yesterday's post, saith de Camp & de Camp:

It does not follow that a writer always obeys the rules. In theory, an infinitive is never split, but in practice some sentences can be made plain only by splitting an infinitive. [GDT's NOTE: Of course, you have to know what an infinitive is first to know if you're splitting the damned thing. I know what an infinitive is. Do you?] There is, or was, a rule against using a preposition to end a sentence with. [GDT's NOTE: It's a joke. de Camp & de Camp just ended that sentence with a preposition, to demonstrate what they mean. And ending sentences with a preposition is something up with which I will not put! Not. :P ] This rule, however, is merely an arbitrary tabu invented by eighteenth-century grammarians on the analogy of Latin. Shakespeare never heard of the rule. [GDT's NOTE: Of course, Shakespeare pre-dated 18th-century grammarians by a couple of centuries.] He wrote: ". . . and flee to others that we know not of." Moreover, if your narrator or speaker is uneducated, he should use the sort of English as such a person would use.

On that last point, I would take exception, obviously, to could of for could've and would of for would've. Their homonymity is not adequate justification for those constructions, in my opinion. I'll admit that this one is a pet peeve of mine and leave it at that.

They continue:

You should so well know the rules about infinitives and preposition, and such alternatives as shall-will and who-whom, that you never need think twice about them. Moreover, you should know which rules may, can, or should be broken, and when. You should know not only standard English but such regional and class dialects as you may have occasion to use.

That substantiates very well what I said, even though I didn't reference this book as I was writing yesterday's post.

2 comment(s):

monstro said...
November 10, 2009 2:49 PM

I'll give you a day to mull it over, and then I'll return tomorrow and reveal the answer. In the meantime, share your guess in a comment.

In the first case, I was wrong. I thought the right way would be "He stared like if he had seen a ghost". But now I see that "as" sounds a whole lot better. :P :)

In the second sentence, I'd add a comma: "An individual can return to any period of his entire life, providing his passage is not blocked by engrams". Right? Wrong? :)

If I'm wrong, that's okay; that's how one learns. :D

g d townshende said...
November 10, 2009 7:41 PM

I'll post the answers tomorrow. :P :D

Post a Comment