Coordination and Quotation Fronting in the 1800s
Posted by Neal on January 21, 2011
Last week, Grammar Girl ran a guest script I wrote on one of the topics I’ve written about here on occasion: when coordination and quotation fronting clash. This is what happens in sentences like “No,” he said, and turned away. As you know if you’ve read some of my other posts on the topic, this kind of sentence is syntactically interesting because it’s an example of a construction in standard English that does not use parallel structure. To the left of the conjunction, we have an entire clause: “No,” he said. To the right, we have only a verb phrase: turned away. Semantically, though, the conjunction is joining two verb phrases: said “No” and turned away. It’s just that the syntax of English allows this kind of rearrangement in this kind of sentence, so that things look non-parallel on the surface.
However, there is the idea in some quarters that this kind of sentence ought to be revised so that it does have a parallel structure on the surface. You do it by repeating the subject (or more likely, a pronoun referring back to the subject): “No,” he said, and he turned away. Now, the conjunction has a full clause on either side. Though I’ve seen indirect evidence of this kind of prescription, the only place where I’ve seen it explicitly articulated is in Bill Walsh’s Lapsing into a Comma. So when I tweeted about this Grammar Girl episode, I called out Bill Walsh, saying, “‘Fraid @TheSlot ‘s not gonna like this one.”
He visited the Quick and Dirty Tips website, read the script, and left this comment:
“Damn,” he said, and repeated.
Does that sentence leaving you asking “What in the world did he repeat?” then you have a point. If not, well, he didn’t both say-you-shouldn’t-have and grab-the-box-of-chocolates-you-shouldn’t-have.
If I follow Walsh’s reasoning, his argument is as follows:
- You can parse sentences such as “Damn,” he said, and repeated as having the quotation (“Damn”) function as the direct object for each of the coordinated verbs (said, repeated). In other words, he said “Damn” and repeated it.
- More generally, a complement that coordinated verbs (or verb phrases) share can be moved to the front of the sentence. (Linguists call this across-the-board (ATB) movement).
- Therefore, if a verbal complement has been moved to the front of a sentence, it should always be interpreted as ATB movement when the verb (or VP) it belongs to is part of a coordination of verbs (or VPs).
Abstracting a step, the reasoning is that if something that matches Pattern A has meaning B, then everything that matches Pattern A must have meaning B. Going by this reasoning, we could also argue the following: George and Martha woke up means that George woke up and Martha woke up. Therefore, George and Martha are a good team means that George is a good team, and Martha is a good team. Oops! It doesn’t mean that! Therefore, it’s incorrect to say George and Martha are a good team. You need to say something like, The set consisting of George and Martha is a good team.
Having reduced Walsh’s line of reasoning ad absurdum, I mainly wanted to say that this kind of non-parallel coordination has been used for too long by too many people for it to reasonably be called a mistake. In fact, even by bringing it up to defend it, I now fear that I have caused more damage. Now Grammar Girl listeners who never conceived there was any problem at all with this kind of coordination have been made aware that there are some (however misguided) who do have a problem with it, and they will forevermore be in doubt, needlessly and awkwardly avoiding the construction in their writing.
That the construction is widespread I don’t need to defend. But as for how long it’s been in use, I realized I didn’t know. I decided to see if it had been used in the 1700s and 1800s by searching through the Corpus of Late Modern English Texts (assembled by Hendrik De Smet from texts available via Project Gutenberg and the Oxford Text Archive). I searched for the string “said and” and “replied and” (with and without a comma), and here’s what I found:
With subject repeated (i.e. parallel coordination of clauses)
- “From England,” I replied, and without waiting for an answer, I sprang on the burra, and proceeded on my way.
(George Henry Borrow, The Bible in Spain, 1842)
- “… Do forgive me!” Rebecca said, and she held out her hand with so frank and winning a grace, that Osborne could not but take it. (William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair, 1848)
- “It was your father’s room long before you were born, George,” she said, and she blushed as she kissed the boy. (ibid.)
- “I must be, I suppose,” he replied, and he sighed heavily. (Charlotte Yonge, Clever Woman of the Family, 1880
Without subject repeated (i.e. nonparallel coordination of verb phrases)
- “Thus I relieve thee, my creator,” he said, and placed his hated hands before my eyes, which I flung from me with violence
(Mary Wollestonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein, 1818)
- ”Naught, naught,” he said, and broke away to enjoy his grief and anger in solitude.
(Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights, 1847)
- “Oh no — I can do it, thank you,” she hastily replied, and stooped for the performance. (Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd, 1847)
- It was now high time to go home, she said, and would have bid me good evening; but I was not going to leave her yet
(Anne Brontë, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, 1848)
- “Were you in Captain Osborne’s company?” he said, and added, after a pause, “he was my son, sir.”
(William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair, 1848)
- “I’ll ring when I want anything,” said Rawdon, and went quietly to his bedroom. (ibid.)
- “That’s more than any of your Lords will give, I’ll warrant,” he said and refused to attend at the ceremony. (ibid.)
- “Nothing, my child,” she said and stooped down and kissed him. (ibid.)
- “Delighted to know Captain Macmurdo, I’m sure,” Mr. Wenham said and tendered another smile and shake of the hand to the second, as he had done to the principal. (ibid.)
- “Psha! she may be gone from here,” he said and went in through the gate. (ibid.)
- “Oh, Emmy, I’ve been thinking we were very unkind and unjust to you,” he said and put out his cold and feeble hand to her. (ibid.)
- “I have as much as I went for,” she replied, and gravely thanked the assistant leaning on his thumbs across the counter (George Meredith, The Adventures of Harry Richmond, 1871)
- “I don’t know,” she replied, and turned her head to look at the prospect. (Thomas Hardy, A Pair of Blue Eyes, 1873)
- “You’ll find that you are misinformed,” Marian replied, and therewith went from the room. (George Gissing, New Grub Street, 1891)
- “Pale?” replied Lawrence, not knowing what he said, and turned abruptly away, for he dared not stand another look of Jem’s
(Maria Edgeworth, The Parent’s Assistant, 1897)
- “As soon as the Varietes reopens we’ll go and see her,” he replied, and then gave his detailed version of the career of Hortense Schneider. (Arnold Bennett, The Old Wives’ Tale, 1908)
- “I have done,” she replied, and instantly produced them out of the darkness of the corridor. (ibid.)
- “Va bene,” he replied, and accepted it. (E. M. Forster, A Room With a View, 1908)
- “In the afternoon, of course!” he replied, and looked at Tibby to see how the repartee went. (E. M. Forster, Howard’s End, 1910)
I think the numbers speak for themselves. I don’t seriously expect to change Bill Walsh’s mind, but for anyone else reading, maybe you’ll find this persuasive. All these books, and the countless books I’ve read since I was a boy, can’t all have been poorly edited.
[UPDATE, the next morning: As I shoveled snow off the driveway this morning, I thought about why I shouldn’t publish blog posts at 1:00 in the morning. Or at least, as all good writers recommend, put it aside and look at it with fresh eyes before proceeding.
First of all, I would have toned down the strident tone of the piece. Though I still think that Bill Walsh is way off base on this one, an argument should be much more egregiously wrong, and on many fronts, before you use the rhetorical question “Where to begin?” to introduce your rebuttal. So I’ve deleted that flourish. Walsh has a lot of good advice (in the book I linked to and in his other one The Elephants of Style), and I appreciate his literal-mindedness as a like spirit. (See, for example, this post.)
Second, I would have caught the two misgrouped examples in which the subject was repeated. I was working so fast to find the source and year on the last few that this little detail slipped by. I’ve made the corrections. Thanks for catching them, Ran!
Finally, I meant to put in links to the Grammar Girl episode in question, and to the compiler of the LME corpus. Those links are now in place.]