“Trialled”

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The Groen van Prinstererlyceum, which first trialled happiness lessons a decade ago, teaches some of the least troubled teens in the world.

Senay Boztas, Guardian, Why Dutch teenagers are among the happiest in the world 17 June 2018.

I’ve been seeing this new construction a lot lately, on both sides of the Atlantic:  trialled.  I guess it means “subjected to a trial”.  Or, in other words, tried.  Ugh.

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“First Ever”

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Part of a series on How the English are Ruining Our Language

Supermassive black hole seen eating star for the first ever time

So reads a headline in yesterday’s Independent.  What purpose does ever serve in that headline?  I submit, none at all.  Yet “first ever” has become a fixed expression, thanks to the paid praters.

Once upon a time, we sometimes said that a thing or event was the first of its kind ever, I think as a way of emphasizing that it wasn’t just the first in a long time—that nothing like it had ever existed or happened before.  Then the paid praters, especially in England, started using “first-ever” as an adjectival unit, rather than an adjective and an adverb, and we got things like,

A small number of professors from Oxford are looking to establish the first-ever blockchain university, according to a report by CoinTelegraph on June 14.

Sentence grabbed at random from the web, www.financemagnates.com.

Now it simply means first:

It reminded her of the time eighteen months or so before, when she’d been waiting for her first ever period.
Cassidy, Anne IN REAL LIFE (2002)

Quoted, rather embarrassingly, as an example on the Collins Dictionary web site

A Google search for first-ever turns up a bunch of dictionary sites, mostly British, not surprisingly (Collins, Oxford, MacMillan’s, Longman’s), among the first several hits.  They all seem to agree that “first-ever” (with or without hyphen) is a legitimate adjective.

Where this leaves concepts like “biggest ever” and “best ever” I’m not sure.  One could once talk about “the tallest building ever built”.  Now, I suppose, the English (and American journalists, who always ape the English) must talk about “the tallest-ever building”, and it won’t surprise me if we soon see “the tallest-ever building ever built”.  It’s probably already out there, but I don’t have the heart to look for it.

“One-Year Anniversary”

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A headline on Google News today, attributed to the BBC, reads,

Grenfell Tower fire:  Minute’s silence marks one-year anniversary

Apparently somebody got to the BBC, though, because the web site now shows this headline:

Grenfell Tower fire: Silent walk marks first anniversary

The word anniversary already includes the concept of a year.  It comes from Latin annus (= a year) and versus, past participle of verto (= to turn), and means [the day] of the turning of a year.  To add “year” to it is like saying “your birthday day”.

I keep reading, though, of “one-year” and “ten-year” anniversaries.  Maybe people have started adding “year” to anniversary because of the even stupider practice of celebrating “one-month” and “six-month” and suchlike “anniversaries”.

“International”

I was at the Queens Library the other day, and I saw a section called “International Languages”.  Probably the most international language in the world is English, which is the majority language of at least a dozen nations, and is the primary language of government or commerce, or both, in many more.  Yet there were no English books in that section.  What the people at the library really mean is foreign languages, but somehow foreign has become a bad word.

This reflects a very common trend.  Some of us don’t like the way others of us have treated foreigners, so rather than address the real problem—which, after all, would require us to talk to people—we blame the word, and dragoon international to take its place, ignoring the fact that that word already has a meaning, which is not the same as that of foreign.

Long ago, when I was a child, it was decided, by the people who decide such things, that mentally retarded (itself a euphemism from an earlier generation) had become pejorative, and the formerly-retarded children at my school were reclassified as special education children.  I can still hear the mean kids on the playground shouting, “Special ed! Special ed!”  (Not at me.)

Cripple and Crippled have undergone a similar drumming-out.  Rather than engaging with our neighbors to get them to treat cripples with dignity and humanity, we have assigned the latter to a string of new categories, first handicapped, then disabled, then differently-abled, and now (at least for the moment) challenged.  Even the venerable Crippled Children’s Hospital in Richmond, which could scarcely be accused of disrespect or cruelty towards its patients (beyond what’s normal in the medical profession), has changed its name.

Now, it is true that, over the past couple of centuries (ever since the so-called Revolution of Sensibility in the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Centuries), and especially since the middle of the Twentieth Century, we have grown more sensitive as a society towards the feelings of various groups of people who don’t enjoy the same social status, or physical or mental health, or what-have-you, as most of us; and that’s a very good thing.  Sometimes our language has changed to reflect that development, and we shouldn’t complain about that.  I’m glad that we don’t call intellectually challenged persons dummies and idiots anymore (even though I’m not sure I’m glad we now call them intellectually challenged).

On the other hand, the fact that we have kept on coming up with new euphemisms for various groups or persons ought to give us a clue that, in many cases, we haven’t really been addressing the problem.

Trove

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Trove is an adjective, not a noun.  I know nobody uses it that way, and the press is full of references to a “trove” of this or that.  In fact, as far as the actual language is concerned, I’m just wrong.  Historically speaking, though, I’m right.

Trove derives from the Norman-French verb troverto find.  There used to be (and may still be in some jurisdictions) an action at common law in trover (or trover and conversion), in which the plaintiff originally claimed that he or she had lost some property, and that the defendant had found it and converted it to his or her own use.  The claim of loss eventually became fictitious, and the action (more often called conversion, I think) came to be one for the return of the wrongfully appropriated goods, whether lost or not.

“Treasure trove” is thus treasure found.   When the newspaper talks about “a trove of documents” or whatever, what the writer really means is “a treasure of documents”.

I don’t expect anybody to start using trove as an adjective, just because that’s what I say it is, but it would be nice if we could keep the word reasonably close to its historical meaning and reserve it for things that have been found.

Another Strange Plural

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They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. But sometimes what makes you stronger can kill you, at least when it comes to blood clotting. Because the stickiness that allow platelets to heal your wounds also raises your risk of heart attack.

Karen Hopkin, “Birds Show Price Humans Pay for Good Clotting”, “The Sciences 60-Second Science” (podcast), Scientific American, 3 November 2003: https://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/birds-show-price-humans-pay-for-goo-11-11-03/

What noun is governing the number of “allow” in this quotation?  Is the writer misled by the the -s in stickiness, or the plural platelets?  Either way, it should be “allows”, because the (singular) noun stickiness is doing the allowing.

I sometimes begin a sentence here with a conjunction, such as but or and, which I was taught not to do (and I wouldn’t do it in formal writing, but this is a blog).  But I don’t think I ever follow one of those sentences with another that begins with because.  Because beginning two sentences in a row with conjunctions is too much.  Well, it’s a podcast, after all.

The Objective and Subjective Cases

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I wrote about this a short while ago, but it continues to gnaw at my soul.  Lately, in one of the documents I look at for a living, I saw something like this:

I have assigned it to she and Mike.

Honestly, Dear Reader!  The writer never would have written, “I have assigned it to she.”  He understands instinctively, as all native English-speakers do, that she is in the subjective case, and her is in the objective case.  He might not know the names of the cases, or even that they are cases, but he knows without thinking to say, “She went to the store;” and “I gave it to her.”  When one person is the object of a preposition or verb, he gets the case right automatically.  But when he has to apply a preposition or verb to two people, suddenly, like so many people these days, he goes crazy and starts using the subjective case.

English really makes few demands of us with regard to case, Dear Reader.  It has only these two cases, and they apply only to personal pronouns.  Lithuanian, on the other hand, has seven cases (I thought Prof. Klimas had told me twenty-one, back when he was teaching me German at the University of Rochester, but apparently my memory exaggerated), and I assume they apply to all nouns, adjectives, and pronouns.  (After skimming the Wikipedia article, I gather they also apply to adverbs.  Who knew?)  At any rate, is it too much to ask that we English-speakers thank our lucky stars, and trouble ourselves to use our measly two cases correctly?