Quote of the Day: A Grammatical Principle Worth Going to the Wall For

 

This post is inspired by an exchange Wednesday on another post, one between me and my one-time nemesis, the Ricochet Member Formerly Known As Ball Diamond Ball (@bdb).  That we seem to have–somehow, and in spite of everything–patched things up over the past (almost exactly) six years should be a lesson to us all. Long story. Never mind.

BDB’s comment–in response to my own, rather humorously meant comment on another post–included the tag, “This will not do!”  I took it in the spirit of fun, as I’m pretty sure it was meant.

But–although BDB’s response didn’t end with a preposition itself–it reminded me of a phrase I’ve always associated with Winston Churchill, he from whom I’d be delighted to take lessons in writing or rhetoric any day of the week, and I really wanted to clap back to my friend with the words, “And up with this [we] will not put!”

So I went on a bit of a search to see if Churchill had ever actually said those words, or what was the actual source of the epic putdown of some pedant, somewhere, who objected to a person ending a sentence with a preposition.

As usual–the invaluable quoteinvestigator.com came to my aid.

They found an instance of the phrase being used in a Sussex newspaper in 1941, while recounting an anecdote of an English teacher who was “scolded” by his prospective superior officer (the poor guy was filling out his enlistment papers. During WWII. For Pete’s sake) for ending a sentence with a preposition.

Whereupon the junior, in his reply, while acknowledging himself the obedient servant of his superior in matters affecting his military duties, declined to take orders from him in respect of his use of the English language. This, he announced, was “a thing up with which I will not put.”

Bravo. And so you shouldn’t of. (At least two transgressions there. I know.)

By 1943 and later, and via a rather circuitous route, the quote came to be associated with Churchill, quoting a newspaper from Melbourne, Australia, in 1944 as follows:

Recently I had a note from a colleague in London quoting the story then going the rounds of a devastating retort made by the Prime Minister. To a long and flatulent report, he is said to have appended the following minute:

“This is an example of pompous and bastard English up with which I will not put.”

The site wends its way through a series of stories about one-or-another variations on the script, some of the most pathetic of which are those which tell the story by seeming to miss the point, and which triumphally end the quoted portion of the statement with the exact word it was not supposed to end with. (See what I did there?)

Until it gets to the full-flowering of the episode from 1946, which goes as follows:

Latest Churchill story going the rounds has to do with a stuffy young Foreign Office secretary who had the job of “vetting” the then Prime Minister’s magnificent speeches. The young man disliked the P.M.’s habit of ending sentences with prepositions and corrected such sentences whenever he found them.

Finally, Mr. Churchill had enough of this! So he recorrected his own speech and sent it back to the Foreign Office with a notation in red ink, “This is the kind of pedantic nonsense up with which I will not put!”

If there’s to be nonsense here, let’s at least let it be unpedantic nonsense.

I hope we can pull that off.

And yet, there are always those on patrol, ready to jump on the slightest peccadillo.

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on–Shakespeare, The Tempest

Or even

The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to–Shakespeare, Hamlet

“the thousand natural shocks / That flesh is heir to”? Lord knows, there are so many, multiplying only as one ages.

Where did this ridiculous idea that there’s a “rule” that one mustn’t end an English sentence with a preposition come from?

Latin, maybe.  And while I love the language myself (and I’m quite good at it), I see no reason why it should be–almost two thousand years later–illustrative of our own rules for life.

When it comes to those rules, this should not be one of.

Hope you agree.

Hope I can bring you along with.

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  1. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    This comment reserved for Comment #1.

    • #1
  2. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Indeed, many of the more needlessly prescriptive grammar rules are derived from Latin.  As I understand it, Latin has neither phrasal verbs nor any way to boldly split an infinitive.  English was the lower-class language and needed bolstering for its acceptance as the vernacular in the Church of England, indeed, for the Church of England to be accepted, and so unsmiling inquisitors of grammar set forth across the page to harry those things not possible in Latin as not permissible in English.

    That’s my understanding of one major driver, not doubt among many.

    Also the underclass English (cow vs beef and so forth) is brought home in the different reactions between the officers and men on Royal Navy ships when the Brits sank the (allied) French Fleet at Oran, lest the Germans make use of the powerful ships.  As they opened fire on their brothers in arms, British officers educated with and sometimes by their French counterparts wept.

    The lower decks cheered every shot.

    • #2
  3. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    But when I hear “have got”, it’s my pistol I reach for.

    (at least four transgressions)

    • #3
  4. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B
    @LillyB

    Grammar, history, quote investigation, Churchill and Shakespeare? I’d put this post in the running for 2023 Best Of and it’s only the 4th day of the year!

    Now eagerly awaiting @BDB’s comment…

    ******

    Here’s the QOTD Signup Sheet for January 2023 – open to all Ricochet Members.

    • #4
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I can’t even say that sentence! But I will be waiting for an opportunity to use it, any chance I get.

    The preposition rule, Latin or not, is stupid. I’ve ignored it for years. Hip hip Hooray!!

    • #5
  6. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    BDB (View Comment):

    This comment reserved for Comment #1.

    This comment is reserved for the retort to Comment #1

    • #6
  7. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    She: Where did this ridiculous idea that there’s a “rule” that one mustn’t end an English sentence with a preposition come from?

    I hear that it was invented by English teachers who didn’t have enough to do.

    • #7
  8. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    She: I hope we can pull that off.

    But isn’t “I hope that off we can pull” just a bit clearer though?

    • #8
  9. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    Common usage will always win, according to John McWhorter. 

    “Who is it?

    It is I.”

    Only in Shakespeare.  I certainly wouldn’t answer the door for this person. 

    Now let’s talk about “Whom”.

     

    • #9
  10. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    BDB (View Comment):

    But when I hear “have got”, it’s my pistol I reach for.

    (at least four transgressions)

    Yes.  This should be “[We] have gotten to be getting to…”

    • #10
  11. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Flicker (View Comment):

    BDB (View Comment):

    But when I hear “have got”, it’s my pistol I reach for.

    (at least four transgressions)

    Yes. This should be “[We] have gotten to be getting to…”

    As clumsy and ugly as that would be, it’s nowhere near the abomination that “have got” is.

    I realize that in British English, it’s “acceptable”, but I give them leeway, as the island is so small that they are all inbred.

    • #11
  12. She Member
    She
    @She

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):

    Common usage will always win, according to John McWhorter.

    “Who is it?

    It is I.”

    Only in Shakespeare. I certainly wouldn’t answer the door for this person.

    Now let’s talk about “Whom”.

     

    I’m pretty good at the difference between “me” and “I,” as exemplified in the OP.  And I have to admit that the use of “I” or “me”  when it comes to “between you and I,” (wrong) or “John and me went for a walk down the road and along the creek” (wrong) really does grate a bit.  I expect that this is because–unlike the question of whether or not we end a sentence with a preposition–there are actually rules in English grammar which relate to the use of pronouns. And if we can’t hold the line on the use of pronouns then what, really is the point?

     

    • #12
  13. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Percival (View Comment):

    BDB (View Comment):

    This comment reserved for Comment #1.

    This comment is reserved for the retort to Comment #1

    Is not.

    • #13
  14. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):
    Common usage will always win, according to John McWhorter. 

    I don’t see the ink moving around the page in my dictionary.

    • #14
  15. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    She (View Comment):

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):

    Common usage will always win, according to John McWhorter.

    “Who is it?

    It is I.”

    Only in Shakespeare. I certainly wouldn’t answer the door for this person.

    Now let’s talk about “Whom”.

     

    I’m pretty good at the difference between “me” and “I,” as exemplified in the OP. And I have to admit that the use of “I” or “me” when it comes to “between you and I,” (wrong) or “John and me went for a walk down the road and along the creek” (wrong) really does grate a bit. I expect that this is because–unlike the question of whether or not we end a sentence with a preposition–there are actually rules in English grammar which relate to the use of pronouns. And if we can’t hold the line on the use of pronouns then what, really is the point?

     

    I do hold the line on “between you and me” because it sounds just fine.  “It is I” just sounds wrong.  But if someone has to stand up and hold the line against further abuse of our current pronouns in the current climate, then all I can say is “It will be I!” 

    • #15
  16. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):
    I do hold the line on “between you and me” because it sounds just fine. 

    That sounds fine because it is correct.  As one of the objects of the preposition, “me” is correct and “I” would be incorrect.

    • #16
  17. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    BDB (View Comment):

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):
    I do hold the line on “between you and me” because it sounds just fine.

    That sounds fine because it is correct. As one of the objects of the preposition, “me” is correct and “I” would be incorrect.

    “It is I” is grammatically correct but does not sound fine.   The point I was making is that there is no need to deviate when both can be satisfied.  But when something sounds off, just like the example in the OP (“up with I will not put”), grammar eventually loses. 

    • #17
  18. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):

    BDB (View Comment):

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):
    I do hold the line on “between you and me” because it sounds just fine.

    That sounds fine because it is correct. As one of the objects of the preposition, “me” is correct and “I” would be incorrect.

    “It is I” is grammatically correct but does not sound fine. The point I was making is that there is no need to deviate when both can be satisfied. But when something sounds off, just like the example in the OP (“up with I will not put”), grammar eventually loses.

    Identity across the copula is hotly debated.  By example, I was taught the only way to resolve the (is-so-and-so-there?) “This is him / This is he” dilemma (because a good case can be made for either proposition):

    “Speaking.”

    • #18
  19. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    She (View Comment):

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):

    Common usage will always win, according to John McWhorter.

    “Who is it?

    It is I.”

    Only in Shakespeare. I certainly wouldn’t answer the door for this person.

    Now let’s talk about “Whom”.

     

    I’m pretty good at the difference between “me” and “I,” as exemplified in the OP. And I have to admit that the use of “I” or “me” when it comes to “between you and I,” (wrong) or “John and me went for a walk down the road and along the creek” (wrong) really does grate a bit. I expect that this is because–unlike the question of whether or not we end a sentence with a preposition–there are actually rules in English grammar which relate to the use of pronouns. And if we can’t hold the line on the use of pronouns then what, really is the point?

     

    Heh.

    My pronouns are straight.

    • #19
  20. Doctor Robert Member
    Doctor Robert
    @DoctorRobert

    Discussing Queen Elizabeth making a face-saving gesture, author John Haldane recently penned the immortal sentence,

    “Up with this she could not reasonably be expected to put.”

    “The Queen in Scotland”, First Things magazine, November 2022, page 11, second column, lines 1, 2. 

    • #20
  21. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Doctor Robert (View Comment):

    Discussing Queen Elizabeth making a face-saving gesture, author John Haldane recently penned the immortal sentence,

    “Up with this she could not reasonably be expected to put.”

    “The Queen in Scotland”, First Things magazine, November 2022, page 11, second column, lines 1, 2.

    DId he also mention being and not being being the question?

    • #21
  22. Django Member
    Django
    @Django

    BDB (View Comment):

    But when I hear “have got”, it’s my pistol I reach for.

    (at least four transgressions)

    “comprised of . . . “

    • #22
  23. Django Member
    Django
    @Django

    Did we lose the word “lose”? Why else would we see “he’s a looser”, or “she will loose”?

    • #23
  24. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Django (View Comment):

    Did we lose the word “lose”? Why else would we see “he’s a looser”, or “she will loose”?

    That’s just people spelling mistakes.

    • #24
  25. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):

    BDB (View Comment):

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):
    I do hold the line on “between you and me” because it sounds just fine.

    That sounds fine because it is correct. As one of the objects of the preposition, “me” is correct and “I” would be incorrect.

    “It is I” is grammatically correct but does not sound fine. The point I was making is that there is no need to deviate when both can be satisfied. But when something sounds off, just like the example in the OP (“up with I will not put”), grammar eventually loses.

    I can always re-align my ear with “Captain, it is I, Ensign Pulver, and I just threw your stinkin’ palm tree overboard!”

    • #25
  26. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    BDB (View Comment):

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):

    BDB (View Comment):

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):
    I do hold the line on “between you and me” because it sounds just fine.

    That sounds fine because it is correct. As one of the objects of the preposition, “me” is correct and “I” would be incorrect.

    “It is I” is grammatically correct but does not sound fine. The point I was making is that there is no need to deviate when both can be satisfied. But when something sounds off, just like the example in the OP (“up with I will not put”), grammar eventually loses.

    I can always re-align my ear with “Captain, it is I, Ensign Pulver, and I just threw your stinkin’ palm tree overboard!”

    Very good!

    • #26
  27. Flicker Coolidge
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    She (View Comment):

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):

    Common usage will always win, according to John McWhorter.

    “Who is it?

    It is I.”

    Only in Shakespeare. I certainly wouldn’t answer the door for this person.

    Now let’s talk about “Whom”.

     

    I’m pretty good at the difference between “me” and “I,” as exemplified in the OP. And I have to admit that the use of “I” or “me” when it comes to “between you and I,” (wrong) or “John and me went for a walk down the road and along the creek” (wrong) really does grate a bit. I expect that this is because–unlike the question of whether or not we end a sentence with a preposition–there are actually rules in English grammar which relate to the use of pronouns. And if we can’t hold the line on the use of pronouns then what, really is the point?

     

    I tend to say “It is me,” or “Steve is better than me” because I don’t want to overencourage the use of “I” to the point that it encourages the  improper use of “I” in such examples as “… and then right there under the spotlights, Edie gave Steve and I such a stern look!  I never went back.”

    • #27
  28. KCVolunteer Lincoln
    KCVolunteer
    @KCVolunteer

    @she, I’m surprised you didn’t ask, “How many of yins coming with?”

    Too much?

    • #28
  29. Django Member
    Django
    @Django

    Flicker (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):

    Common usage will always win, according to John McWhorter.

    “Who is it?

    It is I.”

    Only in Shakespeare. I certainly wouldn’t answer the door for this person.

    Now let’s talk about “Whom”.

     

    I’m pretty good at the difference between “me” and “I,” as exemplified in the OP. And I have to admit that the use of “I” or “me” when it comes to “between you and I,” (wrong) or “John and me went for a walk down the road and along the creek” (wrong) really does grate a bit. I expect that this is because–unlike the question of whether or not we end a sentence with a preposition–there are actually rules in English grammar which relate to the use of pronouns. And if we can’t hold the line on the use of pronouns then what, really is the point?

     

    I tend to say “It is me,” or “Steve is better than me” because I don’t want to overencourage the use of “I” to the point that it encourages the improper use of “I” in such examples as “… and then right there under the spotlights, Edie gave Steve and I such a stern look! I never went back.”

    I just heard someone whom I won’t name say, “. . . what has been done to we conservatives . . .”

    • #29
  30. Goldwaterwoman Thatcher
    Goldwaterwoman
    @goldwaterwoman

    She (View Comment):
    I expect that this is because–unlike the question of whether or not we end a sentence with a preposition–there are actually rules in English grammar which relate to the use of pronouns.

    I sometimes think it’s time to ignore the rule and go with that which sounds good to the ear.

    • #30
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