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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Horse in All His Varieties and Uses 

A few hundred years ago English syntax was a little different. People would write, “A treatise on the game of whist, ... and also some rules, whereby a beginner may, with due attention to them, attain to the playing it well”.

Phrases such as “the playing it well”, a gerund with the definite article, now seem almost like literal translations from a foreign tongue, but they were not uncommon in the 18th century. Modern use of this pattern runs the risk of seeming a tad precious, like the retrogag chapter headings of the type “In Which the Author...”, etc., but the question is: have we lost anything? Has the language become more stiff as successive generations of thoughtless ranters have bent it to their will? Doesn't the habit of needlessly emphasizing commonplace thoughts inhibit our ability to talk about subtleties?

“OMG!!! LOL!!”

Oh, okay.

The title of this post is the title of a book about horse husbandry published in the early 19th century, and it immediately put me in mind of that famous work Diseases of the Ox.



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