Monday, November 3, 2008

PAH-chay the Preposition

I subscribe to several word-of-the-day websites, getting my daily fix of lexical semantics as soon as my BlackBerry turns itself on at 6:00 a.m.  Having previously blogged my admiration of prepositions, I was pleased to see that Anu Garg over at A.Word.A.Day/Wordsmith.Org has made prepositions this week's theme.  Today's first installment follows.

with Anu Garg

Prepositions don't get much respect. Nouns, verbs, adjectives... those are the words we usually pay attention to. Who has ever looked up in a thesaurus to find a better preposition? Who has complimented an author on his choice of prepositions? They might as well be invisible.

Yet prepositions are some of the most important parts of the sentence. They work to connect various parts. And if you have any doubt about the role or importance of these hard-working nuts and bolts of a language, ask anyone who has tried to learn a new language. Prepositions are among the hardest to master.

Literally speaking, a preposition is something that is positioned before a noun. These are little words, such as in, to, of, up, for, etc., though they are not always a single syllable. There are some pretty long ones: amongst, concerning, notwithstanding. And there are some fancy prepositions (contra, cum, a la, and so on). This week we'll see some of the uncommon prepositions, words that tell the nouns: "Me first!"

A note about ending a sentence with a preposition. Some believe there's something wrong with that. It's a myth. One can find sentences ending with preps in the lines of some of the finest writers in history: Chaucer, Swift, Kipling, Shakespeare and so on. "We are such stuff as dreams are made on" -- Try rephrasing that line from The Tempest. See what inelegant glob results. This canard about no-prepositions-at-the-end belongs in the same dustbin as "Thou shalt not split an infinitive."
So the next time people fault you for ending a sentence with a preposition, ask them: "What are you talking about?"


(PAY-see, PAH-chay, PAH-kay)
With due respect to. (used to express polite disagreement)

From Latin pace (in peace), from pax (peace). Ultimately from the Indo-European root pag-/pak- (to fasten) that is also the source of peace, pacify, pact, travel, compact, pagan, and peasant.

"The movie Scoop (pace my friend and occasional critical contributor to this page who reviewed it favorably) is merely another mark of Woody Allen's descent into insubstantiality."
Steffen Silvis; Plenty Up His Sleeve; The Prague Post (Czech Republic); Jan 10, 2007.

Wealth has never yet sacrificed itself on the altar of patriotism. -Bob LaFollette, congressman, senator, governor (1855-1925)

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