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been common in our particular branch of the Indo-European family; that this rare usage may have been somewhat recently introduced, and that it may not have found its way quite yet into our very best society; but that it is absurd in principle to make the verb to be an auxiliary to itself, is not quite so clear. We need only go to our nearest neighbors, the Germans — those, in fact, who are most nearly related to us in language, and who understand linguistic criticism and proprieties almost as well as we Americans — to find the idiom in question, the monstrous and ridiculous absurdity, in constant use. What scholar does not know that the verb seyn, signifying to be, is the constant and regular auxiliary of itself; not in the precise form in which we make to be an auxiliary of itself in English, still it is an auxiliary of itself; and if there is any inherent absurdity in this anything illogical, or of the nature of a solecism, it is just as palpable and monstrous and ridiculous in the one language as in the other. There is, however, in fact, no necessary absurd. ity in making a verb the auxiliary of itself; and we do this constantly in the case of the verb to have, the regular auxiliary of itself.
Again, let us look at Italian a moment. Who, that has taken his "six lessons," has not learned “Io sono stato;" just as the Germans say “Ich bin gewesen," — I am been; not as we and also the French say, I have been. Really! I am been! How “absurd and ridiculous!” Poor stupid Ger mans! poor stupid Italians! to make “the verb to be an auxiliary to it. self." It is perfectly proper to make the verb to have an auxiliary to itself, but not the verb to be. Usage can not sanction "an absurdity so palpable, so monstrous, so ridiculous.” Surely the Germans and Italians ought to come to us to learn how to talk and write. We know how!
But the reasoning of our critic appears to us equally inconclusive in what follows: “ To be — called by Latin grammarians the substantive verb — expresses mere existence or affirmation. It predicates of its subject either simple absolute existence, or whatever attri. bute follows it. To be and to exist are perfect synonyms—or more nearly perfect, perhaps, than any two verbs" (query, other two verbs?) " in the language. In some of their meanings there is a shade of difference, but in others there is none whatever; and the latter are those which serve our present purpose. When we say, 'he, being forewarned of danger, fled,' we say, 'he, existing forewarned of danger, fled.' (!) When we say that a thing is done, we say that it exists done. (!) * * * * Is being done is simply exists existing done. (!) To say, therefore, that a thing is being done, is not only to say (in respect of the last two participles) that a process is going on and is finished, at the same time, but (in respect of the whole phrase) that it exists existing finished; which is no more or (sic) other than to say that it exists finished, is finished, is done; which is exactly what those who use the phrase do not mean. It means this, if it means anything; but, in fact, it means nothing, and is the most incongruous combination of words and ideas that ever attained respectable usage in any civilized language.”
It bas then, it seems, "attained respectable usage." If so, we question whether such reasoning, such novel criticism as the above, will have any perceptible effect on the evil current. We shall about as soon expect that some alligator at the mouth of the Mississippi will dam up the river. “To be and to exist are perfect synonyms ;" at least sometimes. We fail to see this, even in the examples cited. Being forewarned is the same thing as to say existing forewarned; and is being done the same as exists existing done. This is truly a discovery, and we think the critic is safe in saying, as he introduces it, “The full absurdity of this phrase has not yet yet been pointed out. In. deed, the essence of its nonsense seems not to have been discovered ; at least, I believe I am safe in saying that it has not hitherto been pointed out." The critic is safe! He is the discoverer!
Hitherto, we had supposed the verb to be to have two uses, sufficiently distinct. In the one use, it contains in it self the entire predication; as when we say, God is, we may equally well say, God exists. In the other, and far more common use, to be is called by the grammarians a logical copula, as simply uniting the subject and predicate. In this use, we do not understand it to be a synonym, or anything like a synonym, of the verb to exist. Both uses are seen in the words, “The Lord is, and is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him." For the first is, we may substi. tute exists ; not for the latter, without offending against English usage. The mistake of the critic lies just here; that is, in substituting exists for is in the place of a mere logical copula. God exists seems perfectly natural English; God exists a rewarder, no one would say.
But apart from all these criticisms, the practical question, the only question which any body cares for, is this — shall we lay aside our scruples and adopt the idiom, is being, with a per: fect participle, for the present passive, and was being, etc., for the imperfect passive? We have all had our scru. ples ; indeed, we have formerly fought against the invader with as much loy. alty to the queen (and her pure, old, genuine English) as though we had been one of her born subjects. But we are now prepared, unless we find some better reasons for our hostility than any we have yet seen, to lay down our arms, even at the risk of being reminded we should not say existing reminded
that we only present another instance of the old truth, “We first endure, then pity, then embrace.” Why, then, should we admit this parvenu into our society? We are willing any body should ask us, and are equally willing to give two reasons, which we consider substantial and sound.
First, the phrase in question, the “neologism," supplies a real necessity. It does express to most minds, clearly and without ambiguity, an idea which no other combination of English words expresses with equal precision. We think there can be no doubt of this fact; and it is a very important fact. The old form of the English present passive — the same as the present active — is sometimes a little obscure, to say the least. On the supposition that language is not intended to cover up ideas (except in diplomacy), we may sometimes, with advantage, adopt for the present passive a form distinct from the present active. It was a note. worthy peculiarity of the English tongue that the two should ever have been identical, and we only wonder that such an element of ambiguity, such an indication of poverty of speech, should have been endured so long. We wonder that the usage of “our best so. ciety" should have bad so marked and and permanent an influence. Even our critic acknowledges the existence of some vagueness or ambiguity in the form is doing for is being done, and proposes the restoration of the old En. glish form is a-doing, in which a is said to mean, not a but in. A very good instance of the ambiguity to which we allude is the following : " Plutarch was whipping a slave, and while the slave was whipping, he told his master that, in this whipping, he set at naught his own moral principles." Now, our critic proposes to remove the obscurity of the second clause, by saying while the slave was a-whipping (bearing in mind, of course, that this means in whipping.)
We question whether the suggestion of bound for consistency's sake, nor for the critic will be adopted. The current any other reason, to use a word or of a language does not often flow back formula of words any oftener than we wards, and we think it is not likely to please. If it ever becomes important do it in this instance. For ourself, we to use the phrase in question in the de. shall wait till somebody else “sets the pendent moods, for the sake of precisfashion" of saying a.doing, etc. But ion in thought, we shall make the exeven this device does not always suc- pression subordinate to the thought; ceed well. We can say the house is but language is our servant, not our building, and may not misunderstand; master, and we will not have this or but is it any clearer to say the house is that idiom thrust upon us, except just a-building ? The critics must put up when and where we please. Defective with it, if we say sometimes the house is verbs are among the most common being built ; for none but critics can forms of speech, and there is 20 anommisunderstand us. We repeat, then, aly, inconsistency, or absurdity, in using that this "neologism” supplies, in our a particular idiom, any more than a language, a real necessity, a necessity particular word, in a part of a verb, which is felt. We might illustrate this without carrying it through all the inpoint much more at length, but for- flections. bear.
The careful study of other languages, Added to the above reason for admit- and the desire to express their meaning ting the parvenu into our company, is accurately and without ambiguity in the fact that he is already old enough, our own, has often led scholars to feel and has seen good society. Conse. the lack of a more exact expression for quently, he knows how to behave; he the present and imperfect passive. Let is not always thrusting himself forward us take for example the simple Latin on improper occasions, but knows how sentence literæ scribuntur. How shall to act his part very well. It is fifty we render it? Shall we say a letter years, at least, since is being done and is writing, or, with the improvement his fellows (grammarians would say suggested by our critic, a letter is a cognate expressions) were first heard of. writing? This would be the old En. Nobody knows where he was born, but glish form of the present passive; yet during all this time, though he has been we think few Latin scholars now-a-days much spoken against, he has con- would renderit thus. It would commonly tinually been rising in reputation. We be expressed in these words, a letter is like him, also, none the worse, because written ; and, for most connections, he has traveled in Europe, bas seen this would be considered sufficiently England, perhaps was born there, has accurate. It does not, however, denote at least many respectable acquaintances precisely the idea—that of continued and friends there.
action. It rather denotes completed But if we use is being and was being action. It corresponds to the German for the present and imperfect passive der Brief ist geschrieben, which is a indicative, then are we bound, for con- perfect tense; not to the present passive sistency's sake, some will say, to carry der Brief wird geschrieben. Corresit through all the inflections of the pas- ponding to this last German sentence, sive in the other moods, and to say it we have in English no exact forin, unmay be being, it might be being, to be less we say the letter is being written, or being, etc. This seems very plausible is becoming written. But the last - is at first view as an objection, but has becoming — sounds no better than is really no weight whatever. We are not being. If, then, we care for accurate
thought, unambiguously expressed, we shall sometimes have to face the wrath of the critics and say is being, followed by a perfect participle.
We would not speak disrespectfully of the critics and purists. They are a terror to mankind generally, and we come under this head. But they are not merely a terror, like the fallen angels. They perform many a kind and useful service. We, in fact, count those men among our chief benefactors, who have pointed out to us the faults in our language, who have suggested to us how we might speak and write with more perspicuity and purity; and hence, how we might think with more precision. Language is one of the most important instruments which we have to use. Our success in life depends vastly more on this instrument than we at first suppose. He, therefore, who aids us in improving it, in rendering it as perfect as possi. ble, is a great benefactor. Such is the wise, high-minded, intelligent, accom. plished critic. At a great remove from this ideal is the so-called critic whose only delight is in fault-finding; who dare not say anything, and will not allow us to say anything, except in the oldest stereotyped phrase; who will reject every fresh, nervous, bold expression of thought, if be it new and homely. Such men— and they are to be found too often- do infinitely more harm than good. Their touch is like that of the torpedo to men of delicate nerves. They can benumb, even fatally; but they have no power to animate, and quicken into activity, slumbering, latent genius. Their methods of examination are false, and they seem incapable of choosing the right point of view. They would look at St. Peter's Church with a microscope. They can see a single, minute point, one at a time ; but they can take no general comprehensive view. Too many such men have found “chairs” in our American colleges; and we have sometimes thought one
reason why the so-called self-educated men often show so much more vigor of language and boldness of conception than the graduates of the colleges, lies in the fact that they have not been pruned to death.
Language must have freedom of movement. It must flow onward. Re. maining stationary, it soon becomes stagnant. The rapidity with which lising languages change will surprise any man who has not looked into this sit ject. We had intended to dwell at some length on this topic, and to present some views from the lectures of Professor Whitney on “Language acd the Study of Language,” but our space forbids. We can emphatically recommend this work as one of the ablest that we have seen on linguistic science. The first two lectures speak more par ticularly of the changes and growth of language. Incidentally, some words, that have been condemned by critics of the microscopic sort, are introduced. Thus, the word reliable has been proscribed on the ground that we do not say to rely a person, but to rely on a person; and hence the word, if used at all, ought to be reli-on-able, which would be ridiculous. Professor Whitney replies to this: “English etymology is by no means so precise in its application of the suffix able as the objectors claim; it admits laughable, meaning 'worthy to be laughed at ;' unaccount. able, not to be accounted for;' and even objectionable, 'liable to objection;' marriageable, 'fit for marriage,' and so forth.” Again, it is said the word reliable “is low-caste; A, B, and C. those prime authorities in English style, are careful never to let it slip from their pens." The reply is, “Whatever A, B, and C may do, it is certain that D, F, and H, with most of the lower part of the alphabet, (including nearly all the X's, Y's and Z's, the unknown quanti. ties,) use the new form freely; and it is vain to stand out against the full ac
ceptance of a word which is supported by so much and so respectable author. ity.” Such is the character of the dispute about the word reliable, and about many other words, as well as many forms of expression. The result of such a controversy can not be doubtful.
Everybody is acquainted with the old rhetorical canon, usually expressed in the words of Horace, usus norma loquendi-usage is the rule of speech. This maxim, says Professor Whitney, “is of supreme and uncontrolled valid. ity in every part and parcel of every human tongue.”
In the application of this rule, it is not the "usage" of the select few that determines the result in doubtful cases. Not only in our own democratic country, but in the most despotic lands as well, the usage of the many is “of supreme and uncontrolled validity." Max Müller, in a most interesting discussion,* shows quite conclusively that languages do not grow from above downward, but from beneath, upward. “ Literary dialects," says he, “or what are called classical languages, pay for their temporary greatness by inevitable decay. They are like stagnant lakes at the side of great rivers." * * * * “ Or it may be more accurate to compare a literary idiom with the frozen surface of a river, brilliant and smooth, but stiff and cold. It is mostly by political commotions that this surface of the more polite and cultivated speech is broken and carried away by the waters rising underneath." * * * * “As soon as a language loses its unbounded capability of change, its carelessness about what it throws away, and its readiness in always supplying instantaneously the wants of mind and heart,
its natural life is changed into a merely artificial existence. It may live on for a time, but while it seems to be the leading shoot, it is in reality but a broken and withering branch, slowly falling from the stock from which it sprang."
These are important truths worthy of much reflection. They should teach us to use more freedom in the choice of words and expressions; to be less afraid of adopting what is new, even before it has received the endorsement of the select few; to avail ourselves of every thing truly valuable, in the wide range of common speakers and writers ; to borrow even from the humbler walks of life wbatever will enable us to express our thoughts with more freshness and clearness and force. That which is coarse, which offends against correct taste, will be instinctively avoided; but a word or phrase is not necessarily vul. gar and coarse, because it has thus far been heard only among the lowly many. It may be only a wild plant, which but needs to be transferred to our gardens, to become a very queen in the flower. bed.
These remarks have been suggested by the discussion respecting is being done. Perhaps they may seem irrelevant; but they may teach us, if we accept them as truth, more unconcern for hypercriticism, more freedom and boldness of style, and may lead us into a wider field for the choice of words and phrases. Perhaps there is little need in our country of such teachings as these, but freedom, and even negligence, when attended with a certain dignified strength, is far preferable to the timid, prim, conventional style, which has been pruned down so as to be beyond the reach of criticism. the red
* LECTURES ON THE SCIENCE OF LANGUAGE.-Lecture Second: The Growth of Language.