Monday, November 29, 2004
The New York Times
ON LANGUAGE; Pg. 21
By William Safire
June 27, 2004 Sunday
'An Astrophysicist Goes Missing, and His Children Search the Stars''
was a headline that caught the eye of Daniel Baldwin of New York: ''My
intuition tells me that the term goes missing is grammatically
incorrect,'' he writes. ''Here is a possible explanation: It is proper
to link goes with a gerund (e.g., goes fishing) but not with a
participle (e.g., goes missing). Am I on the right track?''
A technically correct track -- I salute all gerundologists -- but
headed in the wrong direction. This is a tale told by an idiom that
leaves many of its users vaguely uncomfortable. ''I heard it on the
BBC news via NPR,'' Jack Wheatley writes. ''Is it something the queen
said and now it is O.K.?''
You see and hear gone missing all over the place, applied to people and things:
An ABC newscaster in April: ''Halliburton says about 30 of its
employees have been killed or gone missing in Iraq.'' A Canadian
Broadcasting Corporation newscaster: ''The U.N. oil-for-food program
in Iraq was supposed to be a humanitarian effort. . . . But it seems
billions of dollars may have gone missing.'' It is also applied to
intangibles: in an article about Abu Ghraib prison, The Washington
Post headlined ''Usual Military Checks and Balances Went Missing.''
''Go missing is inelegant and unpopular with many people,'' tut-tuts
the BBC News Styleguide, ''but its use is widespread. There are no
easy synonyms. Disappear and vanish do not convince, and they suggest
dematerialization, which is rare.''
It's British English, and not new. ''I was obliged to return to
Adrianople to get some supplies,'' wrote a naval correspondent for The
Times of London on Aug. 10, 1877, in a dispatch about the Turkish
armies in the Balkans, ''as a box which should have reached me at
Tirnova had gone missing.''
Why has the construction lasted so long and now blossomed? It does a
semantic job that needs doing, that's why. No other term quite
encapsulates ''to become lost inexplicably and unexpectedly,'' which
connotes suspicion of trouble. From the most serious loss (a person
kidnapped, or a soldier unaccounted for or absent without leave) to an
irritating minor loss (an object is mislaid), to go missing -- always
in its past tense, went, or past participle, gone -- conveys a
worried, nonspecific meaning that no other word or phrase quite does.
Is it good grammar? It may well stretch our hard-wired sense of
syntax. To critics, a simple is missing would solve the problem. But
because gone missing has acquired the status of an idiom, which is
''an unassailable peculiarity,'' it is incorrect to correct it. As the
fumblerule goes, ''idioms is idioms.'' Relax and enjoy them.
One sense of to go is ''to pass from one state or place to another.''
If you can go public, go to pieces and go bonkers, it goes without
saying that you can go with the flow and be gone missing. ...
Monday, November 22, 2004
Grief gives life to gift business;
Ways to express sympathy move beyond flowers
By Susan Chandler
September 12, 2004
As a social worker in a neonatal intensive care unit,
Renee Wood became adept at comforting people in the
throes of grief. She often would sit with families
while their babies were being taken off life support.
But when her sister-in-law's father died unexpectedly,
Wood was at a loss. She wanted to send something more
than flowers but she couldn't find a gift that seemed
appropriate and lasting.
That started her thinking. If she was struggling to
find a meaningful sympathy gift, others must be having
the same problem.
"I was literally awake for four straight days when I
started thinking about the possibilities. I couldn't
sleep. I was pumped with adrenaline," Wood said.
From the basement of her west suburban home in Geneva,
Wood launched The Comfort Co., an Internet-based
retailer that sells everything from garden stepping
stones to holiday remembrance ornaments.
She has now been in business for four years, and
Comfort Co. is still a one-woman show. By the
standards of big retailers, her sales are tiny, on
target to exceed $100,000 this year.
Yet the heartfelt response Wood has received from
customers has convinced her that she is on the right
track. And the trend lines are promising. Last August
she received 64 orders; this August she got more than
250--all with no advertising.
"I get up every morning and can't wait to get
started," said the 39-year-old mother of four
Americans often have been criticized for their
impatience with grief.
Many people get only a handful of paid days off to
deal with the death of a spouse, child or parent and
are expected to be back in top form after that.
But it takes much longer than a week to get over a
serious loss, grief experts say.
"We, as a society, want to solve problems. Grief can't
be fixed. It is a process that a person needs to go
through," explains Pat Loder, executive director of
Compassionate Friends, an Oak Brook-based non-profit
that helps families who have lost children.
"People are really very uncomfortable talking about
grief. They'd rather talk about sex."
There certainly is no sign of a wholesale change in
attitude about death and dying. But Wood and others
believe many people are becoming more interested in
expressing sympathy and remembering those who have
died, a trend accelerated by the aging of the Baby
Boom generation and, perhaps, U.S. casualties in Iraq
and the Sept. 11 attacks.
Caption: Memorial stepping stones are
popular gift choices at Renee Wood's online store, The
Comfort Co., which she founded four years ago and runs
from her Geneva home. Tribune photo by Bill Hogan.
Thursday, November 18, 2004
Some e-mail responses to this op-ed in the Detroit Free Press:
- Since the election I have struggled and debated with some of my closest Christian friends about why I voted for Kerry and why they voted for Bush. ... A lot of [my Christian college friends] were very conservative Republicans! How do we as Christians change this mind set?
- Thank you for setting the record straight on the value issues!
- Amen! ... I am a fellow Christian that shares your views and agrees with your sentiments wholeheartedly. I’ve always scratched my head in utter amazement that most Christians are led to believe “Christian = Republican” ????
- It is a comfort to know others share my views.
- I myself am a Christian - attend church every Sunday and Wednesday and actively involved in other church activities- that voted for Kerry. I even felt like the black sheep among my fellow Christians, and questioned myself and prayed on this issue. To me the two big issues that swayed Christians are small issues and are being approached in the wrong way. ... I want to thank you for making me feel that as a Christian, that I did not neccesarly vote wrong when I voted for Kerry.
- Although I consider myself agnostic at best, I believe that I would be far more comfortable with religion if more Christians (and Muslims, Jews, Hindus, etc.) articulated their faith and avoided hypocrisy the way you did in your article.
- Thanks for stating your opinion on values and the election. I couldn't agree more. I'm sure it will generate a lot of hate mail to you from those family values christians who voted for Bush. Obviously, I did not. I will never understand how someone of high moral values can justify and support the war on Iraq given all of the disclosures that have wiped away the President's (and Cheney's) arguments for it.
- You've expressed things that I have felt but didn't know how to express. ... It's difficult for me to determine how we read the same Bible and come up with different viewpoints. It seems like many Christians forget that they have brains.
- Thank you for putting so simply ... what I have been feeling these many long months about the "Christian values" issue. Somehow it's all gotten twisted around. ... I am passing your article along to others who share my feelings. Regards, Another "2 in 10er"
- As a minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I thoroughly agree with your perspective, especially your note about keeping church and state separate for the sake of the church!
- I applaud you for articulating a universal definition of "values" that Christians and non-Christians (where I fit in) can embrace. It saddens me that Sen. Kerry was unable (or unwilling) to get this message across which I believe was the fatal flaw of his campaign. ...
- Thank you so much for articulating what I feel. I, too, consider myself a Christian and am appalled at the way "values" have been hijacked in order to support an agenda that has nothing to do with Christianity.
- Thank you for expressing what many Christians are thinking as they follow the precepts taught by our Lord and Savior.
- Thank you so much for so clearly articulating my views as a Democratic voter in this election. What a much-needed breath of fresh air!
- I enjoyed your editorial ... I was glad to see that opinion in the newspaper. Unfortunately, your view is one that myself and many other Christian Democrats preached for months leading up to the election, and still opinions did not change. ... I feel people will vote on actual issues when they start listening and taking things seriously, I am only worried about how long that may be.
- An excellent statement, and I know that you are speaking for [me], who voted for Kerry for the social justice reasons which you mentioned. ... I wish that Kerry had won, so such pieces would not have to be written:)
- Praise the Lord!... I hope you keep the faith and never tire of doing good. There are more people out there who agree with you than you may realize.
- I would like to tell you how heartening it is to know that there are Christians out there who think the same way as my family. After the elections, I did not want to go back to our church and be associated with people who limited their Christianity to 2 issues. It seems the whole country is full of them. I know God is sovereign and in control but I am struggling with the fact that an incompetent person is once again at the helm. ... Let's not stop praying for our country.
- You put my feelings about our recent election into words. Thank you.
- I feel the same. As a married church-goer in [x], I resented the right's seeming abduction of the moral high ground.
- I enjoyed your column. I must admit that I almost didn't read it after seeing you were a graduate of Calvin College. I have nothing against Calvin, it is just that so much of what comes out of Grand Rapids turns me off.
- As a Christian I am appalled at what happened in the election, appalled that believers could be so duped, so fearful, and so ignorant of the Scripture that they could imagine Bush as their savior.
FROM THE RIGHTEOUS RIGHT:
- After reading yet another liberal commentary about their election defeat, I'm left wondering why Democrats still don't understand.
- One thing you forgot sonny. Kerry is pro choice, President Bush will over turn the murder baby law that none of us got to vote on. And if you also don't think you don't pay enough taxes feel free to send in more! Leave my 2nd ammendment rights alone and we are cool. As a Viet-Nam Marine vet I stand behind President Bush and our troops all the way. ...
- Well I'm one of 8 out of 10 voters who enthusiastically did the "Bush thing." ... As a rule, we will always try and install the morally driven man/woman into office as opposed to the secular leaning dude.
- I don't think abortion and gay issues were the reason we all voted for Bush. ... The majority of the people I know voted for Bush, are not anti-abortion, and do not "hate" gays. You'll have to come up with another reason. Take your time. I guess to say Democrats Just Don't Get It is all I could think.
(And my favorite:)
- I guess at our local paper in metro Detroit, we ran out of liberals to write columns so we are starting to recruit them from neighboring communities.
Friday, November 05, 2004
From grammar maven James Vanden Bosch:
These structures are very much like absolute phrases, although they probably come into existence in a slightly different way than ordinary absolute phrases do. Absolute phrases are reduced forms of clauses, reduced to the phrase level in order to be subordinated to the main clause they are attached to. The structures in the nightly news broadcasts have, for all practical purposes, exactly the same internal structure, but they
are generally not subordinated to a main clause but instead exist as
stripped-down sentences, lacking a finite verb form or lacking the complete
verb phrase of a complete sentence. So although they have striking surface
similarities, the nightly news varieties usually are presented as stand-alone
sentences or clauses, not as subordinated materials providing context for a
main clause. But their grammatical similarity to the standard absolute phrase
is striking, not least because the standard absolute phrase is generally
assumed to be rare and formal, except for formulaic or stereotyped absolutes
(all things considered, all other things being equal, God willing, that said,
One other striking thing--when I presented this paper at Oxford University,
many of the participants in the conference told me that they were immediately
persuaded that this structure was appearing in their own national news
broadcasts as well, and not only in English. So this may be much more than an
American or English phenomenon. Part of the appeal of the structure is its
economy, although economies are not guaranteed. But it also communicates a
breathless awareness of immediacy, together with the attractions of something
like headlinese, the stripped-down grammar of newspaper headlines. Notice the
regular references to "today" and "tonight" in the broadcast transcripts I [studied]. There is an almost manic insistence that this is all late-breaking news,
and that I alone have come to tell you. I think that this absolute kind of
construction adds to that impression, simply because of the avoidance of
communicating precise information about tense in such verb forms. ...
From the point of view of basic communication, there is nothing wrong with
such an omission [e.g. of the "is" in "is becoming"] because audiences assume the verb that is missing and gain an accurate sense of what is being said. But at the level of Standard Edited English, sentence fragments should have a really good reason to exist or else be edited into compliance with Standard English.
Television news is not exactly Standard English, although most newsreaders try hard not to seem uneducated, and this construction has proven to be very popular and, for most listeners, not even a noticeable distraction.
Still, a verb that communicates more nearly precise information about tense
and number is providing a little more information than a non-finite verb does
or can--not always, but often enough so that Standard English has not yet
gotten over its love for finite verb forms in grammatically complete clauses. ...
Such verb forms are called "non-finite" forms (the same meaning and
description as "infinitive," by the way) because they do not specify what
complete finite verb forms do specify, namely, tense, person, and number.
Technically, a gerund, and infinitive, a participle, and an absolute phrase can
carry someverbal information about time, but they do not carry that
information in the full form that a complete verb does.
The complete verb will specify exact tense plus information about person and
number (if in the present tense):
>They have been thinking about these structures for a long time.
"Have been thinking" is a complete finite verb--it shows that the subject is
third person plural, and that the tense is present perfect progressive.
[E-mail from Geoff Nunberg: 'If I have any quibbles, one would be with the label "absolutive," which to my mind usually implies a participle that refers to an event whose time is relatived to the time of some other (e.g., "The referee having arrived, the game began"). And while the impression may be one of headline style, I think the constraints on the two styles are rather different -- and in fact there's
no actual compression in these. The most striking instances, I think -- though
you didn't have any of these in the sample corpus you gave -- are the ones
where the participle doubles for a perfective, as in "The Navy using the island