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study; and who know the use of every “part of “speech”, and can quote every rule of syntax; and yet, either from a want of keenness of perception, or from a proper sense of order in the arrangement of their thoughts, are unable to express their meaning, with clearness and accuracy: and, from this cause, it comes to pass that the most obvious of all grammatical rules—that which refers to position-is the one which is most frequently violated.
It is possible to construct a sentence in which every word shall be wrong, and yet the meaning be manifest; it is also possible to construct a sentence in which every word shall be correct, and yet the meaning be obscure; and however much we may shrink from such vulgarisms as
we must admit that, since the object of all speech is the clear expression of our thoughts, he who, in the language he employs, is grammatically wrong but does not offend against perspicuity, is less culpable than he who, having received a certain amount of education, leaves the hearer, or the reader, in doubt as to the meaning intended to be conveyed. In the
phrase "them's them", each one of the three words is wrong. You cannot say,—“them is”; nor can you say,-"them are"; neither can you
. say,—"are them”. You cannot say the first, because the verb “is” does not agree here with that which governs it; you cannot say the second, because “them” is accusative, and the verb requires a nominative; and you cannot say the last, because the verb "to be" should have the same case after it as it has before it ; therefore if the first " them" is incorrect, so is the last; and thus we see that every word is incorrect.
Still, no person could be in doubt as to the speaker's meaning; but when Mr. Marsh tells us that there is
“another difficulty in the way of all attempts to fix
" the force of words belonging to the vocabulary “ of our moral and intellectual nature by descrip« tion”,
we are obliged to pause for a moment, to consider whether we rightly understand what is said; and it is not until we are satisfied that Mr. Marsh does not mean ;-"belonging to the
vocabulary of our moral and intellectual nature
" by description ", that we perceive the last two words to be misplaced, and that he
, means, that there is “another difficulty in “the way of all attempts to fix by description “the force of words belonging to the vocabulary " of our moral and intellectual nature."
In the passage preceding the one which I have just quoted, Mr. Marsh uses a verb in the singular, when speaking of nouns in the plural ; and, in a passage subsequent to it, he uses a verb in the plural, when speaking of a noun in the singular. The former of these passages is as follows:
“ Language rises above even organization, for it is
“animated not only by a vital but by a con" trolling spiritual element, and its signification
is as varied as [is] the passions, the affections, “and the conceptions of the soul which inspires
Of course it should be ;—" its significance is as varied as are the passions, etc.” The other passage is :
“These operations and affections are often but dimly
“conscious even to ourselves, and the words by “ which we indicate them are necess
essarily as inca"pable of analysis as Care] the thing signified.”
This should be;—"the words by which we indi"cate them are necessarily as incapable of analysis
as is the thing signified.” But in the beginning also of the sentence there is an error which should not pass without comment. Mr. Marsh says;—These operations and affections are often “but dimly conscious even to ourselves". This is a very strange clause for such an eminent philologist as Mr. Marsh to write. How can
operations and affections” be “ conscious" ? And if conscious, how can they be conscious “to”? We may speak of ourselves as being conscious of certain operations and affections: or we may speak of certain “ operations and affections' as being perceptible to us; but we cannot speak of their being conscious to us. Probably Mr. Marsh meant to say, either ;-“These operations and “affections are often but dimly perceptible even "to ourselves”; or, “ of these operations and “affections we, ourselves, are often but dimly "conscious.”
Can either the relative pronoun "who", or its possessive, “whose ", correctly be employed con
” cerning inanimate objects ? I think not. Of the relative pronouns, "who" and “whose" apply either to persons, or to things personified;
“ which” applies to irrational animals, to inanimate objects, and sometimes to infants; and " that" is used to prevent too frequent a repetition of "who" and of “which”, and applies equally to persons, to animals, and to things. Such is our modern usage; and to it we ought to conform. I am aware that, in olden time, it was the custom to use “which” when speaking of persons; hence the phrase ;—“Our Father which “ art in heaven”. It was likewise the custom to say “whose", when speaking of things; hence, in the opening lines of Paradise Lost, we read :
“ Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste”.
But now, the best writers, when speaking of inanimate objects, use" of which" instead of "whose"; and I am surprised to find Mr. Marsh saying ;
“How can we define that whose being, whose action,
“whose conditions, whose limitations we cannot
"comprehend P" Would it not have been better to say ;-"How
can we define that, of which we cannot compre“hend the being, the action, the conditions, the “ limitations ?" ?
I know of no word in the English language