it's a great life, if you don't weaken (matociquala) wrote,
it's a great life, if you don't weaken

It's a very strange matter, fair maid, said he--

I cannot blow my horn but you call to me.

suzilem caught me, so I'm confessing what I was up to. For those who responded to the "(en)fouled" poll, does it change your mind if I tell you that Thomas Chatterton used the word in the late 1700s, while forging the supposed poetry of an allegedly medieval monk?

Al blessynges maie the seynctes unto yee gyve!
Al pleasaunce maie youre longe-straughte livynges bee!
AElla, whanne knowynge thatte bie you I lyve,
Wylle thyncke too smalle a guyfte the londe & sea.
O Celmonde! I maie deftlie rede bie thee,
Whatte ille betydethe the enfouled kynde;
Maie ne thie cross-stone of thie cryme bewree!
Maie alle menne ken thie valoure, fewe thie mynde!
Soldyer! for syke thou arte ynn noble fraie,
I wylle thie goinges 'tende, & doe thou lede the waie.

And I don't have an online cite, but AFAIR (and medievalist mentions one too), enfouled turns up in the 11th or 12th century with regard to hunting with nets.

*g* Robert Hasenfratz, from whom I took my first History of the English Language course, and who taught me both Anglo-Saxon and more about how language really works than any one else I have ever met, used a trick very much like this one to illustrate a point he was making. Which is that English is not what you find in the grammar books or the dictionaries; it is the language as she is spoke, a living and breathing entity. And that "proper" English is a construct of the 18th and 19th centuries, a classist trick in which the upper echelon of society declared its own dialect "correct," imported a bunch of silly rules from Latin, and told everybody else they were doing it wrong.

So, from a linguistic point of view, split infinitives and the double negative as an intensifier are perfectly proper English.

This is a useful realization for the writer. Language is not a holy of holies. Well, no, I take that back. It is a holy of holies. But it is also a tool, and there is no reason that something can't be both at once.

But. It's a really handy thing to know when you are trying to learn how to surf the language. Which is one of the things that fiction is about.

Alas, this argument will not hold much water with your tenth grade grammar teacher. And one does, in the end of things, have to navigate consensus reality, which is kinder when one can moderate one's idiolect to suit the expectations of the listener. In other words, it's handy to be able to sound like an educated person for certain kinds of job interview. So this is the sort of practical knowledge that has to be managed, lest one fall afoul, so to speak, of the "would you rather be happy or would you rather be right?" rule.

But. This is important. One of the tools of effective writing is effective rhetoric, and one of the tools of effective rhetoric is managing connotation in addition to denotation. And connotation has layers. One of those layers has to do with being aware of other words evoked by the sound of the word one is using. (There's a scene in The Stratford Man in which I intentionally went through and worked in every single common English word I could manage that descended from the Latin raptus, without being silly about it. Rapt, rape, rapture, raptor...)

This stuff works subliminally. But it does work. It's important, and it informs quite heavily the sort of choices Samuel Clemens is talking about when he compares the right word to the almost-right word, as lightning to the lightning-bug.

In the comments to that last post, a number of people said they'd go with a more common word, such as entangled. A number of people (cleverly) pointed out that "fouled" is common nautical usage. What nobody mentioned is the resonances that "fouled" has. One, that it suggests foulness, with all those implications. Also, the extra syllable in "enfouled" passed unmentioned, and of course that unstressed syllable could be incredibly important for the prosody of a sentence, and how it fits into a paragraph, and how it reads.

(for those who suggested befouled: to me, (and according to my dictionary, which I have of course just extensively disproved the utility of) that word does not include the sense of "being entangled" and has rather a denotation of being "made dirty or foul." Rather than the suggestion of being fouled implied by "fouled" or "enfouled.") 

This is why I don't write as fast as I used to, by the way. Or one of the reasons. Because I am always bloody thinking about this stuff.

By the way, the example sentence doesn't exist in my WiP; it was just the thing I scribbled down in the poll box because I needed an example. So you'll have to wait to rewrite my actual prose until it's in print.
Tags: pedantry, writing craft wank
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