Thursday, October 06, 2005

Myriads of Periods... ... ... ... ...

Searchbloggerbix writes from elsewhere in the civilized universe:

Since I’ve been praised twice recently for my correct use of “myriad,” please bear with me as I permit myself to wallow in grammatical accolades for a while longer.

Firstly, Mr. Bleak astutely recognized my rigorous Catholic school training with this definitive statement: “I would like to congratulate Bixblogger for using the adjective ‘myriad’ correctly. Others take notice.” Yes. Others. And then, to my great surprise, my dear friend seconded Mr. Bleak’s kind observation: “Ah, what a woman! She uses ‘myriad’ correctly.” Although I am indeed honored, I would respectfully request that both gentlemen take careful note of the following passage from Dictionary.com:

"Main Entry: ¹myr·i·ad Pronunciation: 'mir-e-&dFunction: noun Etymology: Greek myriad-, myrias, from myrioi countless, ten thousand 1: ten thousand 2: a great number, a myriad of ideas Usage: Recent criticism of the use of myriad as a noun, both in the plural form myriads and in the phrase a myriad of, seems to reflect a mistaken belief that the word was originally and is still properly only an adjective. As the entries here show, however, the noun is in fact the older form, dating to the 16th century. The noun myriad has appeared in the works of such writers as Milton (plural myriads) and Thoreau (a myriad of), and it continues to occur frequently in reputable English. There is no reason to avoid it. "

*ahem*

Pishposh, bosh, and tosh. I apologize for the strong language, but the implicit condescension of that final "ahem" calls for nothing less than the most powerful weapons in my rhetorical arsenal. I'd add "stuff and nonsense," but it ill behooves a gentleman to give even the suggestion of clenched fists and puffing.

Knowing nothing about about these Dictionary.commies, I nonetheless conjecture that they are revisionist upstarts. A serious charge it is, but I think that their judgment in the case at hand fully justifies it. They contend that "recent criticism" of the use of myriad as a noun is perverse because this erroneous usage has a long and honored history. Long, yes. I've seen the construction "a myriad of" and "myriads" used in books written as early as the 1920s. However, this was an error at the time (most books that used the word at all used it correctly, or at least their editors caught the mistake before it went to press.) It remains an error now. That it may not be an error in the future, due to inevitable changes in linguistic conventions over time, need not detain us. Shit happens.

My Oxford English Dictionary cites the use of "myriad" (or "myriade") as a noun in translations, meaning literally a unit of ten thousand, as in "a myriade of soldiers." It also cites some use -- labelled "obsolete" -- of the term in other contexts, to denote, again, a unit of ten thousand. A few poetic uses are also quoted, as in "a snowflake myriad" -- and I think we are all inclined to allow poets an elastic and creative approach to language, which would include Milton, and even Thoreau (although I prefer to think that Thoreau just blew it.) After all, we can find precedents in Shakespeare, for instance, for all sorts of grammatical constructions (myriads, perhaps) that latterday, more codified, usage would properly hold to be wrong.

More telling concerning acceptable use in recent years is the fact that my American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language lists "myriad" as an adjective only. There is, in short, no noun form of "myriad" for all practical purposes. This does not, of course, prevent contemporary dictionary editors from deciding arbitrarily that a widely-made mistake has now become so popular that it must now be considered perfectly all right. Groovy. It has for some time been fashionable to conclude, under some assumption of epistemological egalitarianism or verbal democracy, that the majority is always right. (Except when it isn't, else there would be no need for compilers of dictionaries, or for definitions.) We all know where that sort of thinking leads.

Without further exhausting my patience (my few readers are allowed to scan casually if they are impatient, but I have to write every word), I arrive at the following, provisional, conclusions:

  1. Ms. Blixearcher fully deserves all accolades resulting from her proper use of the word "myriad" somewhere or other -- it was a while ago. She probably deserves more, given that the cultural tide may (if Dicktionaerie.com is any indication) be turning against traditional usage. To suggest that she deserves fewer, or none at all, is an outrage, by God.
  2. Ms. Searcherbix is somewhat misguided in defending the use of "myriad" as a noun, although this is doubtless due to her generosity of spirit and personal modesty.
  3. Ms. Bloggerblicks is to be commended on all counts (although I still take slight exception to the tone of that "ahem.")

Now that I have beaten this subject fully to death, yea, unto ten generations, I would like to attest that, yes, depressives tend to have wonderful senses of humor. Anyone who says, as Searchie intimates they might, that depressives have no sense of humor, forgets that a melancholic's fist in the face is just as hard as anyone else's, so watch it.

UPDATE: That's somewhat better (scroll to the cough) except for the hushes from the expensive seats. Coming down with a cold, are we? I recommend Hall's Mentholycanthropus, or whatever it is. It certainly soothes this hack.

FURTHER UPDATE: It looks as though the cough is getting worse. We need to administer the Heinekin Maneuver at once. Is there a doctor in the house? (And, no, I don't mean all of you humanities Ph.Ds.)

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: The patient is doing better: we have evacuation of foreign substances.

UP A NETHER YETDATE: It's an interspecies contagion! (Do not panic. Wash friends. Buy mask for anonymity. Retreat to perfectly sterile environment for up to eight weeks. For health updates dial 1240 AM on most digital clocks.)