Archive for May, 2019

GOOD-BETTER-BEST

May 9, 2019

Tim Hill, an editor for Guardian US, has accused Melania Trump of not using the definite article with an adjective in the superlative degree ( https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/may/08/be-best-melania-trump-initiative-grammatical-flaw ).

The American first lady was unveiling a campaign BE BEST aimed at supporting children in today’s unstable (“hyperconnected and often unsettling”) world. Mrs. Trump reiterated the name while addressing the audience, but Tim says the omission of THE doesn’t hold up to the rules of the English language. While partially justifying Mrs. Trump by referring to her ethnic roots (the Slovenian language, like most Slavic languages, has no articles) Tim, at the same time, observes that Mr. Trump should have corrected his wife’s grammatical faux pas. Certainly, as a writer representing Britain, Tim Hill has the right to do it in the capacity of a language guardian and to appeal to English classical grammar. On the other hand, he may not know that a couple of years ago, Donald Trump was accused just of the opposite – of USING the definite article with adjectives standing for ethnic minorities, thus homogenizing the groups and separating from the rest of society (see my blog dated May 6). So, in this grammar squabble I’m on the side of the Trumps: their omission of the THE means that EVERYONE is called upon to be the best. And if “everyone” is covered, then the definite article becomes dysfunctional and can be done away with.

And then… why not remember a children’s rhyme about the “degrees”?

Good, better, best,// Never let it rest,// May your good be better// And your better — best

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DONALD TRUMP AND THE 21ST CENTURY GRAMMAR

May 6, 2019

Donald Trumpdefinite-article-300x225In 2016, during his presidential campaign, and also in the early months of his presidency, Donald Trump was accused by the anti-Trump press of using the definite article with the names of ethnic and racial groups – like THE Latinos, THE Afro-Americans, THE Hispanics, etc. Politics aside, I’d like to observe the tendency in using the article as compared to how it was used about 50 years ago. In mid-20th century America, each of such groups was considered as something homogeneous, whole and complete. Consequently, one could offer one recipe for resolving societal and economic problems of a group in question. Nowadays, when the social links have become significantly more complicated and when both ethnic and national interrelationships acquired new standards, there cannot be one single solution for each group because such a group is not thought as singular and integral any more. (Incidentally, societal synonymy has also changed: “man” does not stand for both a man and a woman as before, and “mankind” is not related to all humanity). That’s the reason why the usage of the definite article with names of the above communities seems so ill-fitting and off-putting. Even if not used in political parlance, the article THE in such cases is felt as outdated and, more specifically, locked in the middle of the past century. So, let’s be on the lookout for new developments. Let’s live and learn.

“TOMORROW IS PRESS DAY”

May 6, 2019

My brother is a journalist. He has been in that profession for more than 40 years. His first article was published in a local paper when he was still in high school. I remember that article very well. It was about a goose my brother had lost on the lake outside our village. After driving the geese home and discovering that one goose was missing he took a goose from the flock that was already in the enclosure and carried all the way back to the lake. The goose in his hands started honking and the lost goose that was hiding in the thicket of the shrubs at the lake shore honked back. Volodya (my brother’s name) picked up the found goose and brought the two birds home.

Being a pensioner now, Volodya keeps on working as a correspondent. Yesterday, on May 4th, I recollected that in Soviet times, on the 4th-of-May page of tear-off calendars (very popular in those days), it was usually written: TOMORROW IS PRESS DAY. The Press Day, which was celebrated by journalists all over the country, used to be announced in calendars a day earlier. The reason was that May 5th was Karl Marx’ birthday and to compare Karl Marx’s holiday with any other celebration would be sacrilegious. There could be only one red-letter date on the page commemorating the founder of communism.   Hence, “tomorrow is Press Day…”

I telephoned Volodya and greeted him with tongue in cheek. “What is it about?” he asked in surprise. “I greet you on the holiday “Tomorrow is Press Day,” I said. He laughed. He understood.

Generally, calendars were propagandistic by nature and reflected the character of the totalitarian regime. The prominent communist and socialist functionaries’ years and dates of birth and death were almost on every front page there. On top of every page it was written which anniversary of the “Great October Socialist revolution” would be celebrated on November 7th.  There was something symbolic for me in the fact that the anniversary of the 1917 October revolution was celebrated in November. Though I understood that the discrepancy was due to the difference between the Julian and Georgian calendars (the latter was adopted in socialist Russia only in 1918), but it looked like another communist lie: they say one thing and they do another.

The heritage of the regime is a bunch of communist festive days accumulated early each May. May 1st and 2nd  (International Day of Workers’ Solidarity – now renamed into Labor Day), the 4th and 5th of May (already discussed above), May 7th (Day of Radio) and May 9th (Day of Victory over Germany in 1945). There was no point in working on the days that came in between these festivities. That’s why on the government level there was almost always a decision to “transfer” the days of work to several preceding or following Saturdays, or to take them off the annual leave. Even until now, the authorities and businesses juggle days and dates in May to coordinate the economic interests of the state with the interests of the people for whom these days are a doorway into the approaching summer.


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