Gnomicon 64

From now on, ending a sentence with a preposition
is something up with which I will not put.

Sir Winston Churchill (30 Nov 1874 – 24 Jan 1965)

How many times were you warned in middle school English classes about ending a sentence with a preposition?  For saying, “She’s the girl I went to the dance with” instead of “She’s the girl with whom I went to the dance with”?

Churchill riffs on this old syntactic meme … with the double prepositions in “That’s something I won’t put up with.”  Thus the corrective “…something up with which I will not put.”

But wait!

Why does the ‘corrected’ version sound so silly?

It’s because in the sentence the two final word “up with” are in my view not prepositions.  Huh, what say?  Yes, that’s right: in the sentence “That’ something I won’t put up with” the two final words “up with” are not functioning as prepositions.  Oh, really?

Yes, the construction is typically Germanic (for example, in both German and Swedish similar operations obtain), and the comparable operation in Latin, for instance, involves (sometimes compound) prepositional prefixes tacked on to the front of the verbal stem.

OK, if “up with” are not prepositions here, what are they? I think of them in this context as co-verbs – that is, functional auxiliaries that point the word’s stem in a particular semantic direction.  Consider a simple and very common verb like “do” – everybody knows what it means.  And now think about how its sense is torqued by the varying co-verbs with which it is associated:  do for, do in, do up, do with (or: call at, call for, call in, call off, call to, call up; etc.).

The phrase “put up with”, then, is merely a Germanic semantic equivalent, differently constructed, of the semantically simplex Latinate “tolerate”, and in that sense should reasonably be no more separable than the constituent elements of “tolerate”, i.e., tol- and -er- and –ate.  And that is precisely the point Churchill in his inimitable way was making!

The objects of such phrases are on my analysis not the objects of a preposition, e.g., of ‘with’, but of the verbal phrase that includes the co-verb(s), e.g., of ‘put-up-with’.

So much for “middle school English classes” – if they even exist anymore!

This entry was posted in LANGUAGE, OBITER DICTA and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Gnomicon 64

  1. julie601 says:

    Okay – it sunk into my dense skull but I still won’t put up with it altogether. juliespeaks

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