or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Compound Interest

You all read Snopes, right? You pretty much have to if you don't want to get suckered; if there's an urban legend out there, Barbara and David Mikkelson will deconstruct it elegantly and amusingly. I once had a friend tell me the Choking Doberman story, and another one once told me the tale of the stolen Kit Kat bar: both were perfectly serious, convinced that it had happened to a friend of someone they knew. (This is so common that in urban-legend circles it's known as FOAF, or "friend of a friend".)

Despite Snopes' being invaluable and well-written, mistakes do creep in. Not factual mistakes--I'm sure they're right all the time--but grammatical errors, such as this one (two thirds of the way down this page):

"Both bagging and huffing can, and have, proved fatal."

It happens all the time, that one. We switch compound tenses in the middle of a sentence in order to express continuity between two time periods, and then we forget to check that the main verb in conjugated correctly for both auxiliaries. It's one of the simplest mistakes to make, particularly in speech, because we're in the habit of making sure that the most recently heard compound verb is correct; once we're past the first iteration of the verb, we tend to forget about it, leading to such sentences as "Since that day, she never has and never will go back there". What makes the error even easier to commit is that there are many compound verb forms in English, including almost the entirety of the future tense, and shifting between tenses in this manner is a common rhetorical tool. It's a wonder anyone ever gets this right, to be honest.

Still, a mistake is a mistake, and whatever changes the evolution of English brings, this one will always be wrong.


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