Tuesday, July 5, 2011

An A to Z of Editorial Peeves: P

My continuing list of writing pitfalls and word choice conundrums.Find out what this is all about and why I'm doing it here, at the beginning.

Palate, Pallet, and Pallette

These three homophones are easy to mix up. Here are the differences and how you might remember them.

Palate: The roof of one's mouth or, more metaphorically, one's culinary tastes. Notice that it ends with ate, which can remind you that it has to do with your mouth.
Palette: The set of colors an artist uses in a painting, or the piece of wood the artist holds those colors on. Some of the colors on an artists palette might be considered pale.
Pallet: A small wooden platform, a straw-filled mattress, or a temporary bed. The only mnemonic I know is the process of elimination. It isn't something you ate and it isn't necessarily pale, so it must be a pallet.
Bob Ross and his palette pallet.

Prepositions, ending sentences with

If anyone still believes that it's wrong to end a sentence with a preposition, they probably don't read this blog. Or newspapers. Or good literature.

Some have pointed, as a source of this non-rule, to Robert Lowth's A Short Introduction to the English Language, published in the mid-seventeenth century, and apparently popular enough to lead to multiple printings.

I admit that I haven't read the whole thing; I did some searches on the text in Google Books. The only bit I can find in this text that seems to back up the claim that Lowth was the progenitor of the preposition-as-non-sentence-ender "rule" is this, which begins with a quotation of Alexander Pope:
"The world is too well bred to shock authors with a truth, which generally their booksellers are the first that inform them of." This is an Idiom which our language is strongly inclined to; it prevails in common conversation, and suits very well with the familiar style in writing; but the placing of the Preposition before the Relative is more graceful, as well as more perspicuous; and agrees much better with the solemn and elevated style. (p. 141)*
Lowth isn't wrong in his belief that this sentence could be made clearer with a little editorial tweaking. But this isn't exactly the bold statement, "Never end a sentence with a preposition," is it? It amounts to no more than stylistic advice; moving the preposition, he says, would crete a "more graceful" sentence, but doing so doesn't make the sentence more grammatical.

Note also how Lowth writes "which our language is strongly inclined to," with that to rescued from sentence-ending status only by the deft use of a semicolon.

More interesting, though, is that on the same page (141), just one paragraph earlier, Lowth writes this:
The Preposition is often separated from the Relative which it governs, and joined to the Verb at the end of the Sentence, or of some member of it: as, "Horace is an author, whom I am much delighted with."
So not only did Lowth not create an editorial commandment against ending a sentence with a preposition, he included an example of when a sentence should end with a preposition.

So if the fake rule against ending a sentence really does spring from Lowth's book, it springs from a misreading of it. A preposition is a fine word to end a sentence with.

As long as it looks and sounds the way you want it to.

*Italics, capitalization, and punctuation for all quotations from A Short Introduction to the English Language appear as originally printed. I did, however, modernize the spelling, so that you read first, Preposition, and perspicuous instead of firft, Prepofition, and perfpicuous.

Pore vs Pour

Pore as a verb means to gaze intently, to read studiously, or to meditate steadily. Unless you're dousing them with water, thus making them unusable for future generations, you pore over texts; you don't pour over them.