Category Archives: Grammar

On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book XVIII

I analyze Book XVIII of the Iliad into seven scenes.

Branches against sky

  1. Achilles receives from Antilochus the news of Patroclus’s death, and Thetis receives the news from Achilles. She tells him not to fight till she has brought new arms from Mulciber (Chapman’s lines 1–136).

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NL XLV: The Germans

Index to this series

At the end of Collingwood’s New Leviathan (1942), we reach a chapter whose theme is that of my more recent articles on grammar.

By August Macke – The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain, Link

As history, Collingwood’s last chapter is difficult, for the reasons that trouble Herbert Read at the beginning of his Concise History of Modern Painting (revised 1968, augmented 1974). Read opens his first chapter with a passage from Collingwood’s Speculum Mentis (1924):

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Writing Rules

Executive summary: I have had enough of misrepresentation by experts of what other experts have to say about grammar. (Added July 16, 2018)

The current concern of this blog is still the subject taught in school called grammar. Every aspect of school would seem to cause anxiety in somebody. Decades after they have left school, how many persons have nightmares of missing an examination? My mother was such a person, and I think her brother too. I seem not to be such a person, though I once dreamt of missing a plane.

How much support of current US President Donald Trump is due to memories of belittlement by teachers at school? A similar question may be raised about UK government minister Michael Gove’s saying, “people in this country have had enough of experts…”; and about the rise in Turkey of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has perceived a special threat from the Peace Academics.
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Writing and Inversion

Executive summary: The “voice” of a transitive verb may be active or passive. A piece of writing may be vigorous or torpid. There is not an exact correspondence between passive verbs and torpid writing. However, a passive verb is used to effect inversion of subject and object. One may also invert subject and auxiliary verb, subject and predicate, or two clauses, always adding new words. Each inversion may lead to torpid writing. This is what Strunk warned about in The Elements of Style, by issuing the command, “Use the active voice.” The command must be followed with discretion. Williams makes the same case, more elaborately, in Style: Towards Clarity and Grace. There is no foolproof executive summary of how to write well.


When E. B. White revised William Strunk’s original Elements of Style, he did not retain Strunk’s “Introductory,” whose first paragraph said of the book,

The experience of its writer has been that once past the essentials, students profit most by individual instruction based on the problems of their own work, and that each instructor has his own body of theory, which he may prefer to that offered by any textbook.

Perhaps many students today cannot receive individual instruction. They are just given textbooks that try to spell out everything. I have sensed this in mathematics, where new calculus books seem a lot bigger than those of 1950 and earlier. Continue reading

A New Kind of Science

Executive summary. Some sciences are called descriptive, empirical, or natural; others, prescriptive or normative. We should recognize a third kind of science, which studies the criteria as such that a thinking being imposes on itself as it tries to achieve success. I propose linguistics as an example. Collingwood introduced the term criteriological for the third kind of science. This was in The Principles of Art (1938), though I find the germ of the concept in earlier work, even in Collingwood’s first book, Religion and Philosophy (1916), in the passage on psychology that the author would recall in An Autobiography (1939).

Collingwood’s examples of criteriological sciences are logic, ethics, aesthetics, and economics. Pirsig effectively (and independently) works out rhetoric as an example in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974). We may benefit from clarity here, given how people can have a strong reaction to being lectured by experts. For Collingwood, such a reaction is found in Nazi Germany; see the last chapter of The New Leviathan (1942). Reactions to grammar are the subject of my own two ensuing articles, “Writing and Inversion” and “Writing Rules.”


Some sciences are not recognized for what they are. The sciences themselves are not new, but a proper understanding of them may be new to some of us, including myself.

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Facts (NL IX, ‘Retrospect,’ first 6 paragraphs)

Index to this series

A certain person says,

I am not better than you or more virtuous than you. If you see me on the right path, help me. If you see me on the wrong path, advise me and halt me. And obey me as far as I obey God.

How should one hear these words: as an eminently reasonable expression of benevolent humility such as any of us might honorably make? Well, no matter how qualified, the command obey me might be a warning sign. The words are in fact from a recently published video, as quoted in the Guardian Weekly (Vol 190 No 5, 11–17 July 2014, p. 4). The speaker is the man whose nom de guerre is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, on whose head the Department of State of the United States of America placed a ten-million-dollar bounty in 2011. He now styles himself Ibrahim, Caliph of the Islamic State, a new entity that is supposed to restore the lost Muslim glory of past centuries. This restoration is to be achieved through war. War requires military discipline, with punishments meted out for infractions like insubordination, not to mention the slaughter of those perceived as enemies. So al-Baghdadi’s request to be advised and halted if seen to be in the wrong must be interpreted rather carefully.

It is difficult to know how to interpret somebody’s words. With that I pass to the transitional chapter in the first part, “Man,” of Collingwood’s The New Leviathan.

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Cogito ne demek?

Why the late Geoffrey Lewis’s Turkish Grammar (2d ed., Oxford, 2000) is exceptional:

At the beginning of a clause demek, demek ki, or demek oluyor ki (‘it becomes to say’) signifies ‘that is to say’: düşünüyorum, demek ki varım ‘I am thinking, which means I exist.’ (This Turkish translation of Descartes’ Cogito ergo sum is right—‘I am thinking’—and the usual English version—‘I think’—is wrong.)


I sent the foregoing to Facebook this morning, but this was not the best medium for the typographical features of boldface, italics, directional quotation marks, and indented quotations.

I had been aware that Lewis had died, Continue reading

NL V: “The Ambiguity of Feeling”

Index to this series

Feeling differs from thought. Thought is founded in feeling; thought is erected on feeling; thought needs feeling. Thought needs feelings that are strong enough to support it. But thought itself is not strong (or weak); it has (or can have) other properties, like precision and definiteness. Thought can be remembered and shared in a way that feeling cannot.

The New Leviathan is a work of thought. One might say that a work of thought cannot properly explain feeling. Collingwood himself says this, more or less, in Chapter V, even in its very title: “The Ambiguity of Feeling.” Continue reading

Strunk and White

The following is a lightly edited concatenation of some emails I wrote several years ago, in response to “50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice,” Geoffrey K. Pullum’s article in The Chronicle of Higher Education (April 17, 2009). [I returned to Strunk and White in March 2018; I supplemented the present post in July 2018.] Continue reading