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Woe is I
Posted: 03 February 2008 03:56 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I was slumming in the Big List and found an advertisement for the book ”Woe is I.” I don’t think that Dave gets to pick who advertises on his blog, but this book seems good.  Even though it assaults all of my prescriptivist notions.

This page is especially useful.  Mrs. Donahue, my 8th grade teacher, who taught me how to diagram sentences also taught me about predicate nominatives and the splitting of infinitives and ending sentences with prepositions. All are “tombstones” on that page, and I’m willing to let them all die for the greater glory of clear communication.

I notice, however, that there is no tombstone for “me and Sarah went to the mall ... “ I’m a hold out against that one.

Anyone know anything more about this author or the book?

edit subject to “Woe is I”

[ Edited: 03 February 2008 04:23 PM by Oecolampadius ]
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Posted: 03 February 2008 04:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Should the “me” in “Woe is me” be considered nominative? Seems more dative to me. The German equivalent is “Weh ist mir”, isn’t it? The Biblical “Woe unto me” is more-or-less equivalent, isn’t it? (I haven’t really researched the matter ....)

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Posted: 03 February 2008 04:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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D Wilson - 03 February 2008 04:07 PM

Should the “me” in “Woe is me” be considered nominative? Seems more dative to me. The German equivalent is “Weh ist mir”, isn’t it? The Biblical “Woe unto me” is more-or-less equivalent, isn’t it? (I haven’t really researched the matter ....)

Great point.  Sorta like “woe is unto me.” Or “woe has befallen me.” I think that the German parallel is where the subject and the phrase following the verb “ist egal.” Then it must be nominative. 

I think.

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Posted: 03 February 2008 04:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Yes, the OED says in the entry for woe, “Construed with a dative (or, later, its equivalent), with or without a verb of being or happening, in sentences expressing the incidence of distress, affliction, or grief.” Examples go back to Beowulf, and the “is me” construction is cited back to the early 13th century.

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Posted: 03 February 2008 09:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Anyone know anything more about this author or the book?

I don’t know anything about O’Conner and Kellerman, but after ushering so well at the funeral of the English language they might consider going into professional undertaking.

The book, Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod, was recommended to me for its treatment of grammatical trends in German. I haven’t looked at it yet, my German isn’t at that level.

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Posted: 04 February 2008 03:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Iron Pyrite - 03 February 2008 09:40 PM

The book, Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod, was recommended to me for its treatment of grammatical trends in German. I haven’t looked at it yet, my German isn’t at that level.

Dative of possession is a grammatical feature of Latin as well as English and other Germanic languages..

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Posted: 05 February 2008 04:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Patricia O’Conner is a regular guest on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show. She takes calls from listeners. I don’t want to be catty about it since I do a weekly radio show about language, but it’s not to my liking.

 Signature 

Double-Tongued Dictionary, a dictionary of slang, jargon, and new words from the fringes of English.
A Way with Words, a lively public radio show about language.

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Posted: 06 February 2008 08:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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She also has a website, which includes a page she claims is a blog but which is actually a conventional question-and-answer column:

http://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/

I read Woe is I when it came out.  My recollection was that she was out of her depth.  She seems to have a reasonable grasp of traditional grammar, but no specialized training and no excursions into any post-19th century work.  This is fine for many easy questions, but hopeless for anything tricky.  I suspect a journalism background.  At least she is not actively hateful in the way some pop grammarians are.  So the brief response to her is:  mostly harmless.

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Posted: 06 February 2008 08:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I listened to one of the programs that Grant linked to and I got the same impression.  When she pronounced the first syllable of the slang word “ginormous” as “gin” it was obvious that she didn’t have a clue.  she and her host just sort of rambled around issues like, well, amateurs.

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Posted: 06 February 2008 08:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I suspect a journalism background.

You needn’t “suspect”; the journalism background is openly described at the The Authors link.

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Posted: 06 February 2008 11:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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What a miserable fool am I. Isn’t that all it is? “I” seems correct to me. What am I missing?

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Posted: 07 February 2008 04:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Eyehawk - 06 February 2008 11:59 PM

What a miserable fool am I. Isn’t that all it is? “I” seems correct to me. What am I missing?

The many uses of the dative case.

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Posted: 07 February 2008 06:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Woe is me is, like several of the examples in the Wiki article, a poetic shortening of a longer sentence which, as I noted above, does not contain a predicate nominative.  “Woe is [unto] me.” er summin ladat.

Also, why are we using the word “dative?” The dative and accusative merged and don’t we now just call it “objective”?  Is dative more grammatically accurate?  Or, if I’m reading the Wiki article correctly, it looks like the dative case in pronouns is the survivor taking the place of both dative and accusative.

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Posted: 08 February 2008 04:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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If you define case as the things we do to noun to make it apparent what relation it has with other elements in a sentence the dative, accusative, and nominative have all merged.  If you’re talking about the relation a noun has ewith other elements in a sentence we probably have as many different cases as, say, Finnish.  If you’re talking about case pronouns in the former sense, yes, dative and accusative have merged but the structure of ‘woe is me’ predates that merger.

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Posted: 08 February 2008 08:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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What a miserable fool am I. Isn’t that all it is? “I” seems correct to me. What am I missing?

That the sentence does not mean “I am woe”.

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Posted: 08 February 2008 08:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Faldage - 08 February 2008 04:02 AM

If you’re talking about case pronouns in the former sense, yes, dative and accusative have merged but the structure of ‘woe is me’ predates that merger.

I appreciate that.  Thanks.  But why then would we use “dative” to denote the merger of dative (indirect object) and accusative (direct object)?  Or, are you saying that “me” in “woe is me” is in the pre-merger dative case?  I’m having a hard time getting my head around this.

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