Friday, 5 June 2009

American Grammar

Americans love the subjunctive

If Americans can't spell, it's because they use a dictionary written by Noah Webster (1758-1843). An American Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1828. Webster had his own ideas about spelling, and thought that the language spoken in America should follow American usage. He's responsible for defense, color, traveled, maneuver and the rest. Here's the online version.

I'm OK with that. I respect Webster's spelling choices. Shakespeare never spelled his own name the same way twice running. And American words and phrases are often more vivid than ours.

I can live with "my bad", "skedule", "whateverrrr", "don't go there" and "I could care less", though I'm pretty tired of "wake up and smell the coffee".

It's the grammar I object to. Americans seem to be trying to avoid a lot of "thou shalt nots" that I've never heard of. People teased them for saying "meet up with" and "beat up on", so now they leave the preposition right out of compound verbs.

Yes, they still add prepositions where they aren't necessary:

beat out, beat up on, build out

change out, change up, chase down, choose up (sides in a game), code up,
cook off

evangelise to

fare out (the following areas won't fare out too badly – weather forecast), finish out,
free up

hate on, head up

infringe on

join up with (for join with or join)

meet up with, meet with, munch on

nibble on

prevent from, prove out (it's always a surprise when your theory proves out like that — Discovery narration), prove up (with a little corroboration we can prove up each case — Forensic Files), puff on (puffs on a cigar)

rat out, rest up

save out, seal off (Shall I seal off these chicken fillets?), sign off on (for sign off or even sign),
snaffle away, split out (It was split out as a separate civil parish in 1866... wiki), stop from

tap in on, tend to (the wounded), test out

But far more verbs have lost their prepositions:

add (up) ("It doesn’t add!" The Dark Corner c. 1945), appeal (against)

bail (out) (Her boyfriend recently bailed on her.), block (from), bolster (up), bolt (from), boot (out), bottom (out), brew (up), build (up), buoy (up)

calm (down), cancel (out) (If you just cancel, you break a date.), cater (for), cave (in) (or, weirdly, “crater”), check (in), chicken (out) Marnie 1963 (“You shouldn't have chickened”), chill (out), chuck (out), clear (up) (clear the confusion), clog (up), cobble (together) (You can also cobble up, and it means something quite different.), conjure (up), cool (down), crank (up) “The music is cranked.” (Ambiguous – it might be cranked out.)

debate (with) “I have debated many graphologists...”, deprived (of)

escape (from) (Escape Alcatraz, Escape New York?)

fit (in) (it fits with), fizzle (out), flail (around), flare (up), flash (up/at/past), freak (out)

gloss (over)
hang (out), hang (up) my hat, hark (back)

intersect (with), issue (with)

keep (on), knock heads (together)

lag (behind) (if you lag something you wrap it in insulation), larking (about), lord (it) over
make (it) clear, map (out), mill (around, about), mull (over)
pare (down), peel (off, back, away) Peeling the Layers of Family Therapy (, pep (up), phase (in/out - which?), play (off) one against the other, present (with), protest (against, about), provide (with), provide (with, for), pull (up) alongside, pumped (up)

rev (up), round (up/down), rub (up) the wrong way
settle (down/for less), shoot (up), shoot your mouth (off), show (up), shy (away), sieze (up), sign (up), slag (off), slow (down), snuff (out), sort (out), spark (off), spur (on), steamed (up), stir (up) trouble, opinion, interest etc, stoke (up), strike (up) friendship etc, substitute (for), summon (up), sweep (across), swerve (past, around)

talk (up), team (up), top (off), toss (out), tow (away), trail (behind), turn (out)

usher (in/out)

vie (for), vote (for)

wait (on) tables, warm (up), wash (out) (It was a wash.), weigh (up), wipe (out)

More here.

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