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with the inseparable preposition co, which would give them a meaning quite different, that one can scarcely hear them without some tendency to mistake the sense. The verb to unloose, should analogically signify to tie, in like manner as to untie signifies to loose. To what purpose is it, then, to retain a term, without any necessity, in a signification the reverse of that which its etymology manifestly suggests? In the same way, to annul and to disannul, ought by analogy to be contraries, though irregularly used as synonymous. The verb to unravel, commonly, indeed, as well as analogically, signifies to disentangle, to extricate; sometimes, however, it is absurdly employed to denote the contrary, to disorder, to entangle, as in these lines in the address to the goddess of Dulness,
Or quite unravel all the reasoning thread,
All considerations of analogy, propriety, perspicuity, unite in persuading us to repudiate this preposterous application altogether.
CANON THE EIGHTH.
The third canon is, When any words become obsolete, or at least are never used, except as constituting part of particular phrases, it is better to dispense with their service entirely, and give up the phrases.
The reasons are, first, because the disuse in ordinary cases renders the term somewhat indefinite, and occasions a degree of obscurity : secondly, because the introduction of words which never appear but with the same attendants, gives the style an air of vulgarity and cant. Examples of this we have in the words lief, dint, whit, moot, pro, and con, as, “ I had as lief go myself,” for “ I should like as well to go myself.” “He convinced his antagonist by dint of argument," that is, “ by strength of argument.” “ He made them yield by dint of arms," – "by force of arms.” “ He is not a whit better," — " no better.” “The case you mention is a moot point, — 66 a disputable point.” The question was strenuously debated pro and con," — on both sides."
CANON THE NINTH.
The fourth and last canon I propose is, All those phrases, which, when analyzed grammatically, include a solecism, and all those to which use hath affixed a particular sense, but which, when explained by the general and established rules of the language, are susceptible either of a different sense, or of no sense, ought to be discarded altogether.
It is this kind of phraseology which is distinguished by the epithet idiomatical, and hath been originally the spawn, partly of ignorance,
and partly of affectation. Of the first sort, which includes a solecism, is the phrase, “I had rather do such a thing,” for “I would rather do it." The auxiliary had, joined to the infinitive active do, is a gross violation of the rules of conjugation in our language, and though good use may be considered as protecting this expression from being branded with the name of a blunder, yet, as it is both irregular and unnecessary, I can foresee no inconvenience that will arise from dropping it. I have seen this idiom criticised in some essay, whose name I cannot now remember, and its origin very naturally accounted for, by supposing it to have sprung from the contraction I'd, which supplies the place both of I had, and of I would, and which had been at first ignorantly resolved into I had, when it ought to have been I would. The phrase thus frequently mistaken, hath come at length to establish itself, and to stand on its own foot.*
Of the second sort, which, when explained grammatically leads to a different sense from what the words in conjunction commonly bear, is, “ He sings a good song,” for “he sings well.” The plain meaning of the words as they stand connected is very different, for who sees not that a good song may be ill sung? Of the same stamp is, “ He plays a good fiddle,” for “ he plays well on the fiddle.” This seems also to involve a solecism. We speak indeed of playing a tune, but it is always on the instrument.
Nothing can be more common or less proper than to speak of a river's emptying itself. Dr. Johnson in his Dictionary, explains the verb to empty, as importing to evacuate, to exhaust. Amongst his authorities we have this sentence from Arbuthnot. “ The Euxine sea is conveniently situated for trade, by the communication it has with Asia and Europe, and the great navigable rivers that empty themselves into it.” Passing the word river's as a metonymy for their channels, are these ever “evacuated or exhausted ?" To say a river falls into the sea, or a ship falls down the river, is entirely proper, as the motion is no other than a fall down a real though gentle declivity.
Under the third sort, which can scarcely be considered as literally conveying any sense, may be ranked a number of vile, but common phrases, sometimes to be found in good authors, like shooting at rovers, having a month's mind, currying favour, dancing attendance, and many others. Of the same kind also, though not reprehensible in the same degree, is the idiomatical use that is sometimes made of certain verbs, as stand, for insist," he stands upon security ;" take for understand, in such phrases as these, “ You take me," and "as I take it;" hold, for continue, as " he does not hold long in one mind.”
* Whether with Johnson and Lowth we should consider the phrases by this means, by that means, it is a means, as liable to the same exception, is perhaps more doubtful. Priestley considers the word means as of both numbers, and of such nouns we have several examples in the language. But it may be objected, that as the singular form mean is still frequently to be met with, this must inevitably give to the above phrases an appearance of solecism, in the judgement of those who are accustomed to attend to the rules of syntax. But however this may induce such critics to avoid the expression in question, no person of taste, I presume, will venture so far to violate the present usage, and consequently to shock the ears of the generality of readers, as to say, “By this mean," or "By that mean."
But of all kinds, the worst is that wherein the words, when construed, are susceptible of no meaning at all. Such an expression as the following, “ There were seven ladies in the company, every one prettier than another," by which it is intended, I suppose, to denote that they were all very pretty. One prettier, implies that there is another less pretty, but where every one is prettier, there can be none less, and consequently none more pretty. Such trash is the disgrace of any tongue. Ambitiously to display nonsensical phrases of this sort, as some writers have affected to do, under the ridiculous notion of a familiar and easy manner, is not to set off the riches of a language, but to expose its rags. As such idioms, therefore, err alike against purity, simplicity, perspicuity, and elegance, they are entitled to no quarter from the critic. A few of these in the writings of good authors, I shall have occasion to point out, when I come to speak of the solecism and the impropriety.
So much for the canons of verbal criticism, which properly succeed the characters of good use, proposed in the preceding chapter for the detection of the most flagrant errors in the choice, the construction, and the application of words. The first five of these canons are intended to suggest the principles by which our choice ought to be directed, in cases wherein use itself is wavering; and the four last to point out those farther improvements which the critical art, without exceeding her legal powers, may assist in producing. There are, indeed, who seem disposed to extend her authority much farther. But we ought always to remember, that as the principal mode of improving a language, which she is empowered to employ, is by condemning and exploding, there is a considerable danger, lest she carry her improvements this way too far. Our mother-tongue, by being too much impaired, may be impoverished, and so more injured in copiousness and nerves, than all our refinements will ever be able to compensate. For this reason there ought in support of every sentence of proscription, to be an evident plea from the principles of perspicuity, elegance, or harmony.
If so, the want of etymology, whatever be the opinion of some grammarians, cannot be reckoned a sufficient ground for the sup. pression of a significant term, which hath come into good use. For my part, I should think it as unreasonable to reject, on this account, the assistance of an expressive word, which opportunely offers its service, when perhaps no other could so exactly answer my purpose, as to refuse the needful aid of a proper person, because he could give no account of his family or pedigree. Though what is called cant is generally not necessarily, nor always without etymology, it is not this defect, but the baseness of the use which fixeth on it that disgraceful appellation. No absolute monarch hath it more in his power to nobilitate a person of obscure birth, than it is in the power of good use to ennoble words of low or dubious extraction; such, for instance, as have either arisen, nobody knows how, like fig, banter, bigot, fop, flippant, among the rabble, or like flimsy, sprung from the cant of manufacturers. It is never from an attention to etymology, which would frequently mislead lis, but from custom, the only infallible guide in this matter, that the meanings of words in present use must
be learnt. And, indeed, if the want in question were material, it would equally affect all those words, no inconsiderable part of our language, whose descent is doubtful or unknown. Besides, in no case can the line of derivation be traced backwards to infinity. We must always terminate in some words of whose genealogy no account can be given.*
It ought, at the same time, to be observed, that what hath been said on this topic, relates only to such words as bear no distinguishable traces of the baseness of their source; the case is quite different in regard to those terms which may be said to proclaim their vile and despicable origin, and that either by associating disagreeable and unsuitable ideas, as bellytimber, thorowstitch, dumbfound; or by betraying some frivolous humour in the formation of them, as transmogrify, bamboozle, topsyturvy, pelimell, helterskelter, hurlyburly. These may all find a place in burlesque, b:at ought never to show themselve in any serious performance. A person of no birth, as the phrase is, may be raised to the rank of nobility, and, which is more, may become it; but nothing can add dignity to that man, or fit him for the company of gentlemen, who bears indelible marks of the clown in his look, gait, and whole behaviour.
* Dr Johnson, who notwithstanding his acknowledged learning, penetration, and ingenuity, appears sometimes, if I may adopt his own expression, “lost in lexicography," hath declared the name punch, which signifies a certain mixt liquor very well known, a cant word, because, being to appearance without etymology, it hath probably arisen from some silly conceit among the people. The name sherbel, which signifies another known mixture, he allows to be good, because it is Arabic; though, for ought we know, its origin among the Arabs hath been equally ignoble or uncertain. By this way of reckoning, if the word punch, in the sense wherein we use it, should by any accident be imported into Arabia, and come into use there, it would make good Arabic, though it be but cant English; as their sherbet, though in all likelihood but cant Arabic, makes good English. This I own, appears to me very capricious. ;
OF GRAMMATICAL PURITY.
It was remarked formerly,* that though the grammatical art bears much the same relation to the rhetorical, which the art of the mason bears to that of the architect, there is one very memorable difference between the two cases. In architecture it is not necessary that he who designs should execute his own plans; he may therefore be an excellent artist in this way, who has neither skill nor practice in masonry; on the contrary, it is equally incumbent on the orator to design and to execute. He ought therefore to be master of the lan. guage which he speaks or writes, and to be capable of adding to grammatic purity those higher qualities of elocution which will give grace and energy to his discourse. I propose, then, in the first place, by way of laying the foundation,t to consider that purity which he hath in common with the grammarian, and then proceed to consider those qualities of speech which are peculiarly oratorical.
It was also observed before, I that the art of the logican is universal, the art of the grammarian particular. By consequence, my present subject being language, it is necessary to make choice of some particular tongue, to which the observation to be made will be adapted, and from which the illustrations to be produced will be taken. Let English be that tongue. This is a preference to which it is surely entitled from those who write in it. Pure English, then, implies three things: first, that the words be English ; secondly, that their construction, under which, in our tongue, arrangement also is comprehended, be in the English idiom; thirdly, that the words and phrases be employed to express the precise meaning which custom hath affixed to them.
From the definition now given, it will be evident on reflection, that this is one of those qualities, of which, though the want exposes a writer to much censure, the possession hardly entitles him to any praise. The truth is, it is a kind of negative quality, as the name imports, consisting more in an exemption from certain blemishes, than in the acquisition of any excellence. It holds the same place among the virtues of elocution, that justice holds among the moral virtues. The more necessary each is, and the more blameable the transgression is, the less merit has the observance. Grace and energy, on the contrary, are like generosity and public spirit. To be
* Chap. II.
† Solum quidem et quasi fundamentum oratoris, vides locutionem emendatam et Latinam. Cic. De Clar. Orat. The same holds equally of any language which the orator is obliged to use.
| Book I. Chap. iv.