or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, October 05, 2007

Mixed Doubles

Here's a sentence from this week's Salon.com Ask The Pilot column by Patrick Smith:

There are a few places where airborne flow enhancements can, and have, paid dividends.

Inexcusable. If you are going to use two tenses in the same clause and apply the same verb to both of them, then you absolutely must ensure that both tenses can use the same verb form; otherwise, you have to repeat the verb, using the correct form in each case. If the sentence had read, "...can, and must, pay dividends," then clearly that would be correct, but it didn't, and so it's wrong. It ought to have read "...can pay, and have paid, dividends." The writer should have caught this. An editor, if there is one, most definitely should have caught it.


Twisty Faster has been absent from her marvelous blog, I Blame The Patriarchy, for a few weeks, and I can relate. Blogging is work, unless you're one of those people who just scribbles any old thing, and she is not one of those people, and neither am I. I don't suppose I have a lot of readers, but I do have a focus; I can't just idly blog without there being some meaning to the posting. Nobody wants to know about a trip to the supermarket unless there's a point to it. (There's even a book about blogging called "No One Cares What You Had For Lunch".)

Twisty's put up this picture

which I have, obviously, cribbed from her and will remove if she objects (you can see the actual posting here). Interesting sign, yes? Not the mispunctuated "father's", but the word "sharpist".

Now, technically, "sharpist" is not a word, but I'm going to allow it.

We have, in English, words that originally meant a person and now mean a thing. "Computer" is one: it used to be a person who did math, often with the help of a mechanical device such as an abacus or, later, an adding machine. "Recorder" is another: once a person who did the recording, it's now the machine that does that job, and the person who manages the machine is called a recordist, as you can see from this quote from this Slate.com story about Bluetooth earpieces:

A technology-intolerant older gentleman (my father), an impatient former roommate, and a professional movie-sound recordist assisted in the testing.

And so it is with "sharpener". If the sign said "knife sharpener", it would clearly be referring to an object of some sort, and the sign would therefore be confusing and mostly worthless. Applying to "sharp" the "-ist" suffix which we apply to words to turn them into other words meaning "the person who does this thing", as in "artist", seems to me a very sensible solution to the problem: the sign isn't saying "We have a knife-sharpening device here" (So?), but "A person who sharpens knives is on the premises". Nice. I'm not usually a fan of neologisms, particularly if a valid word already exists, but this is a useful and even pleasant coinage.


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