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Grammar in Songs

GUEST,John hill 31 Dec 00 - 07:49 AM
Jeri 31 Dec 00 - 08:28 AM
McGrath of Harlow 31 Dec 00 - 08:33 AM
kendall 31 Dec 00 - 08:43 AM
dulcimer 31 Dec 00 - 08:43 AM
George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca 31 Dec 00 - 08:52 AM
Jon Freeman 31 Dec 00 - 08:52 AM
McGrath of Harlow 31 Dec 00 - 08:55 AM
Midchuck 31 Dec 00 - 09:30 AM
SINSULL 31 Dec 00 - 02:18 PM
GUEST,colwyn dane 31 Dec 00 - 04:23 PM
SINSULL 31 Dec 00 - 04:33 PM
McGrath of Harlow 31 Dec 00 - 04:33 PM
kendall 31 Dec 00 - 05:22 PM
GUEST,GUEST, Judi 31 Dec 00 - 06:45 PM
McGrath of Harlow 31 Dec 00 - 08:08 PM
Tam Lin 31 Dec 00 - 08:48 PM
Gary T 31 Dec 00 - 09:17 PM
McGrath of Harlow 01 Jan 01 - 06:03 AM
Murray MacLeod 01 Jan 01 - 09:58 AM
GUEST,Colwyn Dane 01 Jan 01 - 04:55 PM
Richard Bridge 01 Jan 01 - 06:28 PM
Pelrad 01 Jan 01 - 11:18 PM
Murray MacLeod 01 Jan 01 - 11:35 PM
KingBrilliant 02 Jan 01 - 10:18 AM
Uncle_DaveO 02 Jan 01 - 10:25 AM
sophocleese 02 Jan 01 - 10:37 AM
McGrath of Harlow 02 Jan 01 - 10:56 AM
Peter T. 02 Jan 01 - 11:00 AM
MMario 02 Jan 01 - 11:22 AM
LR Mole 02 Jan 01 - 12:11 PM
GeorgeH 02 Jan 01 - 12:28 PM
GUEST 02 Jan 01 - 12:45 PM
GUEST,John Hill 02 Jan 01 - 12:59 PM
GUEST,John Hill 02 Jan 01 - 01:02 PM
McGrath of Harlow 02 Jan 01 - 01:36 PM
GUEST,Songster Bob 02 Jan 01 - 01:37 PM
GeorgeH 02 Jan 01 - 02:08 PM
Grab 02 Jan 01 - 02:41 PM
Peter T. 02 Jan 01 - 02:45 PM
Bert 02 Jan 01 - 03:07 PM
Uncle_DaveO 02 Jan 01 - 05:29 PM
GUEST,--seed 02 Jan 01 - 05:59 PM
Mark Clark 02 Jan 01 - 06:12 PM
Little Hawk 02 Jan 01 - 07:20 PM
GUEST, nomadman 02 Jan 01 - 07:29 PM
Haruo 03 Jan 01 - 05:33 AM
Steve Parkes 03 Jan 01 - 08:04 AM
GUEST,Les Brown 03 Jan 01 - 03:57 PM
Bernard 03 Jan 01 - 06:19 PM
mousethief 03 Jan 01 - 06:56 PM
mousethief 03 Jan 01 - 06:59 PM
McGrath of Harlow 03 Jan 01 - 07:10 PM
radriano 03 Jan 01 - 07:16 PM
Luke 03 Jan 01 - 09:11 PM
John Hardly 03 Jan 01 - 09:29 PM
Haruo 03 Jan 01 - 10:29 PM
mousethief 04 Jan 01 - 12:08 AM
Mark Clark 04 Jan 01 - 01:47 AM
GUEST,Noreen 04 Jan 01 - 06:06 AM
Grab 04 Jan 01 - 10:02 AM
McGrath of Harlow 04 Jan 01 - 10:10 AM
mousethief 04 Jan 01 - 11:39 AM
Bert 04 Jan 01 - 12:06 PM
McGrath of Harlow 04 Jan 01 - 12:31 PM
GUEST,John Hill 04 Jan 01 - 12:55 PM
Bert 04 Jan 01 - 01:41 PM
Uncle_DaveO 04 Jan 01 - 08:37 PM
GUEST,Musik_Meister 04 Jan 01 - 09:00 PM
Haruo 04 Jan 01 - 09:01 PM
Steve Parkes 05 Jan 01 - 03:30 AM
GUEST,Roger the skiffler 05 Jan 01 - 03:44 AM
Grab 05 Jan 01 - 09:16 AM
McGrath of Harlow 05 Jan 01 - 04:28 PM
Haruo 13 Jan 01 - 01:18 AM
Pelrad 13 Jan 01 - 06:50 PM
Amos 13 Jan 01 - 07:31 PM
Steve Parkes 15 Jan 01 - 03:46 AM
Bill D 15 Jan 01 - 11:42 AM
Murray MacLeod 15 Jan 01 - 12:48 PM
GUEST 01 Feb 01 - 09:42 PM
En 01 Feb 01 - 10:12 PM
GUEST,Joe 01 Feb 01 - 11:10 PM
Pauline L 02 Feb 01 - 02:34 AM
Steve Parkes 02 Feb 01 - 03:35 AM
Ebbie 02 Feb 01 - 08:06 PM
En 03 Feb 01 - 12:15 AM
JVZ 03 Feb 01 - 01:11 PM
McGrath of Harlow 03 Feb 01 - 02:13 PM
cowboypoet 04 Feb 01 - 12:25 AM
Lonesome Gillette 04 Feb 01 - 10:53 PM
Steve Parkes 05 Feb 01 - 03:46 AM
GUEST 05 Feb 01 - 07:12 PM
GUEST,Ulyyf 05 Feb 01 - 07:15 PM
cowboypoet 06 Feb 01 - 12:33 AM
En 06 Feb 01 - 09:09 PM
cowboypoet 06 Feb 01 - 10:15 PM
En 07 Feb 01 - 02:26 AM
Steve Parkes 07 Feb 01 - 03:52 AM
GUEST,Roger the skiffler 07 Feb 01 - 06:06 AM
Grab 07 Feb 01 - 08:27 AM
Steve Parkes 07 Feb 01 - 10:18 AM
Uncle_DaveO 07 Feb 01 - 11:39 AM
En 07 Feb 01 - 06:56 PM
McGrath of Harlow 07 Feb 01 - 07:48 PM
cowboypoet 07 Feb 01 - 09:03 PM
Grab 08 Feb 01 - 07:19 AM
KitKat 08 Feb 01 - 08:46 AM
cowboypoet 08 Feb 01 - 12:07 PM
Jim Dixon 08 Feb 01 - 12:31 PM
McGrath of Harlow 08 Feb 01 - 02:08 PM
cowboypoet 08 Feb 01 - 03:30 PM
Snuffy 08 Feb 01 - 05:59 PM
cowboypoet 08 Feb 01 - 09:32 PM
En 09 Feb 01 - 12:16 AM
Amos 09 Feb 01 - 01:10 AM
Steve Parkes 09 Feb 01 - 03:28 AM
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Subject: Grammar in Songs
From: GUEST,John hill
Date: 31 Dec 00 - 07:49 AM

Do any of you correct grammar in songs that you sing because you just can't live with what was written in the first place? I put my hand up and say I do....like Ewan McColl's "We was off to hunt the Shoals of Herring".. gasp!..
I haven't found a way of getting rid of Dylan's "That's a name I never knowed" yet.. much as I'd like to.. (Don't think twice)


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Jeri
Date: 31 Dec 00 - 08:28 AM

Well, some of the weird grammar is dialect, and some is in there to make things rhyme. Chances are, if the song is well known, the bad grammar version is the way everyone knows it and expects you to sing it. If you can slip a change in gracefully, it can work, but if it's too obvious, it won't.

Funny, with Shoals of Herring, I don't recall anyone singing "was" - it's "were" in my memory. I don't know if everyone I've heard has changed it, or whether I did the editing in my mind.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 31 Dec 00 - 08:33 AM

Good grief! And people sneer at trainspotters...


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: kendall
Date: 31 Dec 00 - 08:43 AM

I admit to changing the bad grammar. Just because a song is famous is no reason to validate an ignorant writers bad grammar.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: dulcimer
Date: 31 Dec 00 - 08:43 AM

I think it certainly depends on the impression you want to give. I listen to a lot of Carter Family songs and one certainly wouldn't change the lyrics without losing the favor of their work. Changing lyrics loses authenticity if that is what you want. But I guess if you want Dylan done by Yanni or 1001 Strings, go ahead and change the lyrics to be correct.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca
Date: 31 Dec 00 - 08:52 AM

I would, if I thought it was a mistake. However, in the case of the "was", it would be a case of dialect.

You'd have to be careful of the making changes which are not needed.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Jon Freeman
Date: 31 Dec 00 - 08:52 AM

I will change the lyrics in songs for any reason I see fit. This could be because of grammar, perhaps I don't like the way a line scans, maybe I prefer an alternative word or to express something differently, sometimes it is just a case of failing memory...

Jon


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 31 Dec 00 - 08:55 AM

I've been experiencing some hard travelling, I thought you knew, I've been experiencing some hard travelling, how do you do...

No, it just doesn't work.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Midchuck
Date: 31 Dec 00 - 09:30 AM

I think...if it's a true, i. e. anon., folk song, there's no one to stop you from doing anything you want to.

If someone rearranges the lyrics of a song with a known author, without the author's permission, the author ought, IMO, to be considered entitled to rearrange the face of the rearranger. This premise applies both to rearrangements made for purposes of grammar, and purposes of political correctness.

If a song as written doesn't suit your preferences, I would suggest writing one that does.

Just trying to bring sweetness and light into the discussion....

Peter.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: SINSULL
Date: 31 Dec 00 - 02:18 PM

Nice try Peter!


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: GUEST,colwyn dane
Date: 31 Dec 00 - 04:23 PM

Hi,

The Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) - a Territorial Army unit
consisting mainly of old-boys from the English public school system - were on a route-march,in 1914/5 England,
and were heard to sing a song which is normally sung "Who were you with last night, under the pale moonlight...."
in the,then, more grammatically correct way: "With whom were you with last night under the pale moonlight...."

A bit of a mouthful and not what the lyricist wanted me thinks.

Cheers, Colwyn.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: SINSULL
Date: 31 Dec 00 - 04:33 PM

Seems to me that Whom were you with..etc...because, the sentence is not ended with a preposition (moonlight) But, WHO does scan better.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 31 Dec 00 - 04:33 PM

If someone rearranges the lyrics of a song with a known author, without the author's permission, the author ought, IMO, to be considered entitled to rearrange the face of the rearranger.

If anyone wants to sing a song I've written, and changes it to suit their tastes or memory or whatver, that's fine by me. It's an indication of a song entering into some kind of oral tradition, and that's what I'd always hope might happen to a song I'd written.

I don't think that just because you've written a song you've got any rights over it once it's growen up and moved away, any more than with a child.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: kendall
Date: 31 Dec 00 - 05:22 PM

That was Kendall raving, not me (SINSULL).
I will admit that I cringe at "For to maintain his two brothers and he" (Henry Martin). And I change "The Baggage Coach Ahead" to "Each one had a story to tell in his home..." from "in their home..." I have to mute the TV every time Star Trek begins with "to boldly go..." Split infinitives make me nervous. Pedant? Maybe but I just can't help it.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: GUEST,GUEST, Judi
Date: 31 Dec 00 - 06:45 PM

As a singer married to a songwriter, I have to be careful... If bad grammar is in the song to make a point, I would usually leave it. If it appears to be just ignorance on the part of the lyricist, I try to (quietly) fix it.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 31 Dec 00 - 08:08 PM

The 'split' infinitive has taken such hold upon the consciences of journalists that, instead of warning the novice against splitting his infinitives, we must warn him against the curious superstition that the splitting or not splitting makes the difference between a good and a bad writer. That was what H Fowler had to say about split infinitives as far back as 1908.(And here is a link to the other stuff he had to say - well worth following up.

Every time I wrote a song and ask my wife Anne for her opinion she points out the grammatical and syntactic errors. Sometimes I change them eventually. Sometimes I don't. If they're just to get a rhyme I tend to adjust - but there are all kinds of other reasons why a different set of rules applies when you are writing a song.

Most of the examples given so far I'd say are cases where there's no valid grammatical reason at all to change.

There may be other valid reasons, such as when a singer prefers to use using language that they find more natural. (And that use of "they" instead of "he or she" I would defend as being perfectly ok in current English.)


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Tam Lin
Date: 31 Dec 00 - 08:48 PM

"With whom were you with last night under the pale moonlight...."

That is incorrect itself - those young men ought to be ashamed!

I'm an English teacher...i change grammar whenever i can without wrecking the meaning or the intent. I can't help it; professional hazard! ;-)


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Gary T
Date: 31 Dec 00 - 09:17 PM

I have no qualms about rectifying poor grammar if doing so doesn't seem to get in the way of the song. I remember noticing one song (can't put my finger on it yet, but I will--a Rolling Stones number?) that uses the grammatically incorrect phrase "For you and I" in a line where "For you and me" would match the rhyme--gotta wonder what, if anything, the lyricist was thinking when doing that.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 01 Jan 01 - 06:03 AM

uses the grammatically incorrect phrase "For you and I" in a line where "For you and me" would match the rhyme--gotta wonder what, if anything, the lyricist was thinking when doing that."

Somebody had probably "corrected" it because they had asort of feeling that "you and me" wasn't correct grammar. Fowler goes on at length about those kind of genteel mistakes.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Murray MacLeod
Date: 01 Jan 01 - 09:58 AM

I have always loved the line in the 70's classic "Horse with no Name"
"There ain't no one for to give you no blame".
Are there any other song lines with triple negatives?

Murray


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: GUEST,Colwyn Dane
Date: 01 Jan 01 - 04:55 PM

Tam Lin,

Thanks for your observation but put the blame on me as I must have heard it incorrectly; it's rather like during
that period I was writing about, 1914-5, when long trench systems became the accommodation quarters for the living
and the dead. One trench had its field telephone line to the rear HQ go hay bags and messages had to be passed by
word of mouth from man to man until it arrived at its destination. One message started out as,
"Send re-inforcements we are going to advance."
and was received at its destination as,
"Send 3/4d* we are going to a dance."

Back to the grammar; I put the original quote through the MS Word grammar checker (for what that is worth) and it
was accepted and the version I gave as having heard was accepted too.
I also put another variant "With whom was you with last night under the pale moonlight" and the checker gave it as being incorrect.

Well Tam Lin I have been a life-long student and always willing to digest new information so what should it be?

*Sum of money and said, "Three and fourpence".


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 01 Jan 01 - 06:28 PM

I have a feeling that "two brothers and he" may be correct in period even if not now, and I sing it with no stress.

But "too far from she" - oh dear.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Pelrad
Date: 01 Jan 01 - 11:18 PM

With whom WERE YOU last night under the pale moonlight. (no second with)

The most frustrating grammar inconsistency I encounter is the switch from first to third person in traditional songs. I don't know if it's a result of someone cobbling different versions together into a cohesive tale, or some traditional narration switch about which I am ignorant. What I do know is that it drives me bonkers, and until I know the reason behind it I am loathe to change the wording.

It happens often in the "broken token" songs. By example: "I boldly stepped up to her, asking what greived her." and "I" "I" "I" for the majority of the tale. It suddenly turns to the third person singular for the denouement: "He fell into her arms; he could stay no longer." Same guy, but he abandons his narrative role without warning.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Murray MacLeod
Date: 01 Jan 01 - 11:35 PM

Pelrad, since we are all in nit picking mode here, may I point out that you are not "loathe" to change the wording, you are "loth" to change the wording.

But I agree with you, it is bloody frustrating ! The night visiting songs are also offenders here, don't you think?

Murray


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: KingBrilliant
Date: 02 Jan 01 - 10:18 AM

I sometimes ruin the grammar of a perfectly grammatical line just because I like it better the other way. Sometimes the rhythm and flow of the words seem more important than the grammar and sense (not always though). I like the quirkiness of the songs that change person part way through. I like songs that use strange ungrammatical constructs that remind me of my gran. But if the words didn't feel right to sing then I'd change them ruthlessly :)
I'd say that given the choice of changing the song or not being able to sing it then its best to change it. Especially with folk songs, which should be allowed to change and evolve. Not totally sure where I stand on contemporary songs - I suppose I'd change it and just have to accept any subsequent face-rearrangement as my just desserts.
As long as I'm allowed to sing ungrammatical-like, then I'm happy for others to sing with perfect grammatical correctness. (But then I probably wouldn't know the difference :)) Kris


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 02 Jan 01 - 10:25 AM

Apropos of gender change in singing, I've heard a singer (a male) who, in singing The Frozen Logger,sang, "her lover came to see her" and so forth. Evidently he was embarrassed to sing a feminine role in the first person. Or maybe he was worried at two narrators in the same song, forgetting that the waitress's tale is all quoted. Durn shame.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: sophocleese
Date: 02 Jan 01 - 10:37 AM

I always figured that a simple change from first to third person was an economical way of switching roles in a song. If the thrid person frames the first person usage then it gets you in and out of the song. In the sample quoted by Pelrad earlier maybe its just a desire to distance the singer from the more personal, private, elements of the song, a sort of ballad form of the the curtain coming down on the final bedroom scene.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 02 Jan 01 - 10:56 AM

Switching from first to third person in a song may sometimes be a result of two versions being put together. But it's a very effective trick, and you get it in lots of modern songs as well (Dylan for example). And in putting the two versions together the old singers knew a thing or two about how to tell a story.

I find I do it instinctively sometimes when I'm singing a song I've written, or one I've learnt. It's analogous to the way the camera point of view in a film will change - for example in a scene between two people.

Mess around with "correcting" that kind of thing too much, and you can change the whole balance of a song. For better or for worse. That's the folk process, and it never stops.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Peter T.
Date: 02 Jan 01 - 11:00 AM

Triple negative. "I'll play the Wild Rover no never no more"?

yours, Peter T.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: MMario
Date: 02 Jan 01 - 11:22 AM

seperate phrases.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: LR Mole
Date: 02 Jan 01 - 12:11 PM

Doesn't "Live and Let Die" contain a line like like "In this (something something) world in which we live in"? Triple preposition.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: GeorgeH
Date: 02 Jan 01 - 12:28 PM

If one's going to cite examples it's as well to check one's sources first, John hill . . . Going to the Mudcat archive, "Shoals of Herring" has:

As we hunted for

For to go and hunt

And I'd dream about

That we'd taken from

While you're searching for

As you're following the

We were sailing after

which is as I remember the song, and all seems grammatically correct and ship-shape. In fact MacColl was generally meticulous over such matters . . .

However this - and too much of the discussion above - misses the point ENTIRELY. There isn't a single "grammar"; a grammar can just as well define a language (or more usually a dialect) as it is actually spoken, as define how a language "should" be spoken.

Of course there is a (not entirely precisely) defined grammer for contemporary UK English, and s slightly different and no better defined one for US English (in the UK we DON'T accept "leverage" as a verb!!). If you're a teacher, or are at pains to appear "educated", then this matters . . otherwise it's a question of personal taste . .

Equally "of course" - if you're not happy with the words of a song you're free to change them . . .

The Radio Ballads (for which "Shoals of Herring" was written) probably illustrate this . . . without checking I'd say the series includes a lot of grammatical examples, in its field recordings, which don't match the BBC's accepted grammar of that time (which, of course, is different from the BBC's accepted grammar of today).

G.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: GUEST
Date: 02 Jan 01 - 12:45 PM

Grammer got runned over by a reindeer!!!


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: GUEST,John Hill
Date: 02 Jan 01 - 12:59 PM

I ain't not never bothered about grammar me, not no how.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: GUEST,John Hill
Date: 02 Jan 01 - 01:02 PM

Ewan McColl recorded the song more than once. I have a later one (on which he omits the conclusion) and he sings it as I said at the beginning. Maybe it was just a mistake.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 02 Jan 01 - 01:36 PM

There's a big difference between strolling along and marching along. And that goes for the way we use language as well.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: GUEST,Songster Bob
Date: 02 Jan 01 - 01:37 PM

Well, another fine mess you've gotten us into, Stanley! To me, the grammar may or may not jar, and it's usually the grammar that can't be changed without ruin to the song that jars the most.

Sigh.

As for changes of person in ballads, it happens all the time. It's like reading a play without the stage directions. Sometimes the narrator takes over, sometimes the actor(s). Usually, it's fairly easy to keep track of who's speaking, though not always. I suspect that some variants are created by people who couldn't follow the action, or, worse yet, got the action wrong, and tugged at the strands here and there to fit what they thought ought to be the story. Voila! New version!

And where in "Don't Think Twice" does the phrase "That's a name I never knowed" appear? Not that the lyric is grammatical in toto, but I don't remember that particular line. A little help, please?

Bob Clayton


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: GeorgeH
Date: 02 Jan 01 - 02:08 PM

Yes, I KNOW he recorded it more than once. Indeed, I've at least two other recordings of it by him, and heard him sing it live more than once. None of which is/was grammatically incorrect.

Given that - in my experience - MacColl was highly meticulous about such things - it seems to me unlikely but not impossible that he'd have released such a recording; I'd be interrested to know which one it was.

However everyone makes mistakes (and MacColl even admitted, occasionally, that he wasn't infallible) - however my point remains that HIS "standard" version of the song IS correct!

And of course he was always rather proud of the extent to which S of H had entered the Folk Tradition, and the number of variants of it which had emerged (in various languages) - though I suspect a degree of exageration in some of his claims there, too!

G.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Grab
Date: 02 Jan 01 - 02:41 PM

Re Dylan, it's almost there...

It ain't no use turning on your light girl,
That light I never knowed.
And it ain't no use turning on your light girl,
I'm on the dark side of the road

Get that one to rhyme and be grammatical! :-)

Grab.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Peter T.
Date: 02 Jan 01 - 02:45 PM

It isn't any use your turning on your light, girl,
That light I've never known
It isn't any use your turning on your light, girl,
I'm on my strawberry roan.

yours, Peter T.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Bert
Date: 02 Jan 01 - 03:07 PM

The words of a song stem from the cultural traditions of the singer or of the place and time that the songwriter want's to take you.

Your feelings about specific examples are related to your own cultural background and experience.

When, in England in the Fifties, I first heard 'Sing it Pretty Sue' the bad grammar sounded outrageous. Now, having mellowed for many years in a culture that contains much American Country Music I can sing it without the slightest cringe.

As for double negatives "Shucks; tain't nuthin'".

Bert.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 02 Jan 01 - 05:29 PM

It isn't any use your turning on your light, girl,
That light I never knew
It isn't any use your turning on your light, girl,
I'm on the wrong side of the slough.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: GUEST,--seed
Date: 02 Jan 01 - 05:59 PM

There ain't no use in turnin' on your light, babe,
The light you never showed.
There ain't no use in turnin' on your light, babe,
I'm on the dark side of the road...

That's the way I learned it--ain't it the way he done writ it?

My favorite line exemplifying apalling grammar, but unchangeable none-the-less:

Eng(uh)land swings like a pendulum do,
Bobbies on bicycles two by two...

but the almost ubiquitous "for you and I" frosts my 'nads almost as much as "I could care less."

--seed


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Mark Clark
Date: 02 Jan 01 - 06:12 PM

I saw this thread the other day but didn't have the right thoughts together to make a sensible comment. Finally, this morning, it hit me. The whole attraction of folk music is in its lack of formality. It is informal in grammer, informal in meter and rhyme, and informal in musical theory and harmony. It's precisely that informality that makes it approachable by the likes of us folkies <g> and allows us to bend the music as fits our need or mood. It's that beauty in informality that attracted many of us in the first place.

I certainly have no objection to people changing the words to songs when they sing them---that's everyone's piroghitive---but to change the words (or the chords) just so they will satisfy a formal structure of academic rules seems to me to miss the whole point.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Little Hawk
Date: 02 Jan 01 - 07:20 PM

Here's a really odd one. People very seldom use the word "whom", even when they ought to...as in "To whom should I address this letter?" or "You gave it to whom?"

They almost always use "who" instead, which is wrong if it's not the subject of the sentence.

Dylan, however, uses the word "whom" in the song "I Pity The Poor Immigrant", where he should use "who". Really weird. Go figure. That's Bob for you.

- LH


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: GUEST, nomadman
Date: 02 Jan 01 - 07:29 PM

Strike the bell, second mate, let us go below
Look well to windward, you can see it's going to blow
Look at the glass, you can see that it has fallen
We wish that you would hurry up and strike, strike the bell

Nope, doesn't work.

Regards
John


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Haruo
Date: 03 Jan 01 - 05:33 AM

In English I prefer not intentionally to correct grammar unless to my ear/mind it interferes with the likely apprehension of the sense. In Esperanto I'm a bit more likely to correct "by the book" (on the theory that learners else may be mistaught).

kendall wrote early in this thread:
"... no reason to validate an ignorant writers bad grammar."

How about to validate a lapse in apostrophizing? (Punctuation, in the 21st century, is at least as critical as grammar.)

Liland


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 03 Jan 01 - 08:04 AM

Before I say anything else, I'd better come clean: in my native speech, it's common to say "her" for "she", and I still do it when I'm off duty as an Upholder of English Grammar. But(!) "for you and I" really gets up my nose -- in a modern non-dialect song, there's no excuse except ignorance. The clouds might roll by for you, but they most certainly don't for I!

Having said that, there are occasions where dialect or rusticity or whatever it was that applied when the song was created (I'm back to "proper" Folk songs now) that make it OK. And I'm perfectly happy to sing "they're playing for you and I" in Colum Sand's "Buskers" since I met the man and he explained that getting the right effect is more important than getting the right grammar.

Conclusion: it's not OK, but it's OK.

Double negatives are a bit different. It's the norm in French, for instance, to say "je ne sais rien" -- "I don't know nothing". And if it was good enough for Shakespeare (I forget what the example was!) it's certainly good enough for me!

Steve


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: GUEST,Les Brown
Date: 03 Jan 01 - 03:57 PM

I did'nt know that my grandma had been in any folk songs!


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Bernard
Date: 03 Jan 01 - 06:19 PM

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule - Sir Winston Churchill's famous line which he used to illustrate the point...

'That is something up with which I will not put!'

...which was grammatically correct but very clumsy!

Poetic licence - have you renewed yours recently?!!


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: mousethief
Date: 03 Jan 01 - 06:56 PM

Never ending a sentence with a proposition and never splitting an infinitive are picky little rules that were imported into English from Latin, where they actually have some bearing.

In English they're stupid and pointless.

Whom is dying out, which is a shame because it's elegant, but the instances where it's really ambiguous if you use "who" for "whom" are few, and thus it's pretty much unnecessary, and unnecessary words tend to die off. Such is life.

Long and short of it, language is a growing, evolving thing, and hanging on too long to outmoded "rules" or words, while it may make you feel better about yourself, won't stop the evolving.

It ain't no use in turning on your light, babe
That light I ain't seen yet
It ain't no use in turning on your light, babe
I'm speeding by in my Corvette...

Alex


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: mousethief
Date: 03 Jan 01 - 06:59 PM

Forgive me.

I'm speedin' by in my Corvette.

Alex


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 03 Jan 01 - 07:10 PM

Words change with time, but songs hold onto the older forms, and while we sing them these forms remain in use. That applies whether it's a matter of rough old words and local words that are being smoothed out, or of formal grammar (eg "whom") that is maybe being rubbed out.

Songs are witnesses of the time and the place they come from, and they should only changed or "corrected" with a degree of respect for that.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: radriano
Date: 03 Jan 01 - 07:16 PM

Has everyone lost sight of the fact that we're talking about folk music here? Some songs written by uneducated people has bad grammar in it, sure, but that doesn't make the songs or their authors bad themselves. Keep in mind that some of what was once considered bad grammar is now accepted. It's one of the ways in which language changes.

Sometimes bad grammar is intentionally used for rhyming reasons or simply to compose a song in a certain genre. I find it uncomfortable to sing some country or hillbilly songs because of dialect but I'm not uncomfortable with others singing them.

Some of the early collectors of Irish instrumental music would change the notes of a melody because the tune didn't fit their notion of what music should be like. When these changed tunes were notated they lost some of the feeling of the original music.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Luke
Date: 03 Jan 01 - 09:11 PM

I think lots of songs aren't actually written so to speak. The reason I love folk songs so much is they seem so often to be more just "made". Not songwritters but more songwrights. I make songs myself. Sometimes I must get into the writing of them sometimes they just occur.

But then, I don't ever question the muse. If it happens to pop out straight thats nice. If not, that's also nice for it's own reasons, and there are many real good onesThe best of them is the musical sounds of words clacking their way into the air. Wrong sometimes can be very musical. And something said incorrectly might just bring ones ear to it even more than when spoken the other transparently correct way.

Also,, when in Rome ...... meaning 21st century earth, it's not always bad to speak in the language of the listener.

Some thoughts, Luke


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: John Hardly
Date: 03 Jan 01 - 09:29 PM

Hey mouse,

I understand that in certain instances, and spoken to the wrong people, ending a sentence in a proposition can get you arrested...but not where I come from.

Ain't no use in turnin' on your light, babe
Just to look straight up my nose
And it ain't no use in turning on your light babe
At least without a lucite hose

JH


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Subject: Some grammar just be BAD
From: Haruo
Date: 03 Jan 01 - 10:29 PM

radriano wrote:
Has everyone lost sight of the fact that we're talking about folk music here? Some songs written by uneducated people has bad grammar in it, sure, but that doesn't make the songs or their authors bad themselves. Keep in mind that some of what was once considered bad grammar is now accepted. It's one of the ways in which language changes.
Emended and ameliorated:
Has everyone lost sight of the fact that we're talking about folk music here? Some songs written by uneducated people has bad grammar in it, sure, but that don't make the songs or their authors bad themselves. Keep in mind that some of what was once considered bad grammar is now accepted. It's one of the ways language changes in.
Just helping out...

Liland


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: mousethief
Date: 04 Jan 01 - 12:08 AM

Hey, Liland, is Esperanto a language you can end a with a preposition in? And is splitting an infinitive in Esperanto something you're not allowed to usually do?

Alex


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Mark Clark
Date: 04 Jan 01 - 01:47 AM

Cleaning up grammar in folk songs seems to be saying, "Here's a song I really like but it's clear from the grammer that the maker(s) of the song lacked my superior education, keen language sensibilities and obvious cultural advantages."   "I'd better correct the grammer because it's such a great song everyone will naturally think I wrote it and I don't want them to think I'm stupid."

At least that's the way it sounds to me.

I figure if you're going to change the words, the changes ought to be made up on the fly because you're too drunk to remember the real ones. That's the folk tradition. <g>

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: GUEST,Noreen
Date: 04 Jan 01 - 06:06 AM

The velvet-pawed but cloth-eared LR Mole said: Doesn't "Live and Let Die" contain a line like "In this (something something) world in which we live in"? Triple preposition. To jump (belatedly) to Sir Paul's defence: no it doesn't.

And if this ever-changing world in which we're livin'
Makes you give in and cry-
Say live and let die.

Noreen
who feels it necessary to triple-proofread when posting to this thread... ):0)


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Grab
Date: 04 Jan 01 - 10:02 AM

Oh boy, now look what I've started... Incidentally DaveO, I'm not sure how you get "knew" and "slough" to rhyme - what sort of accent are you talking?

Steve, French is slightly different in that a negative has two parts ("ne-pas"/"ne-jamais"/"ne-rien"), so this isn't a double negative, it's two halves of a single negative. Spoken French often shortens this by omitting the "ne", which I'd guess is roughly on a grammatical par with us using "ain't". An actual double-negative is quite difficult to do in French cos it sounds clunky.

The Germans on the other hand are quite at home with a double negative. If asked (as I was once) "Do you not drink coffee?", only reply "No" if what you actually mean is that you do drink coffee - reply "Yes" if you don't drink coffee. Boy, that one took a while to sort out!

Grab.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 04 Jan 01 - 10:10 AM

Of course, there can be other reasons to adjust language -eg in some songs, even if "dem" and "dese" may be accurate enough ways of writing down the the way people say/said "them" and "these", to sing it that way when it's not the way you talk can come across as patronising and contemptuous. The same goes for some grammatical and syntactical constructions.

And similar factors can come in if the grammer and syntax is more formal and correct than the singer is comfortable with - maybe when a poem is turned into a song, and singers might otherwise feel people might think they were taking the piss out of the original.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: mousethief
Date: 04 Jan 01 - 11:39 AM

"Knew" and "slough" rhyme where I come from. That's sloo as a noun (a fetid watercourse or swamp), not sluff as a verb (to remove or shed, as clothing or a snake's skin)

Apparently, according to the online webster's, it's pronounced slau (rhymes with cow) in Old Blighty.

Alex


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Bert
Date: 04 Jan 01 - 12:06 PM

It's pronounced 'Sloo' in Alabama and also means an inlet into a river. I know 'cos I lived by one.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 04 Jan 01 - 12:31 PM

Slough to rhyme with "cow" and "now" - as in John Betjeman's poem about the town near Windsor:

Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough
It isn't fit for humans now.

(Mind you "cow" and "now" can be probnounced to rhyme with "true" in some parts - I don't know if they'd prononce "slough" the same way. I suspect they would.)


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: GUEST,John Hill
Date: 04 Jan 01 - 12:55 PM

I didn't expect this much responce. Its reassuring to know that there are some others out there like me that get niggled sometimes with the choice of words in songs.
I'm quite aware that some old folk songs were written by uneducated people and contain a lot of vernacular speech. I'm sure we can all accept that... but people are better educated these days.... and I'm talking about recent songs... maybe I should have stated that at the beginning.
One that really gets to me is the use of it/he/she don't instead of doesn't grrrr.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Bert
Date: 04 Jan 01 - 01:41 PM

Hoo noo broon coo!


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 04 Jan 01 - 08:37 PM

Grab said:
"Incidentally DaveO, I'm not sure how you get "knew" and "slough" to rhyme - what sort of accent are you talking?"

I'm talking American English. According to my unabridged, Random House Dictionary of the English Language, the entry is in part as follows:

SLOUGH (slou for 1, 2, and 4; sloo for 3) 1 ** 2 ** 3 (Also slew, slue.) U.S., Canadian. A marshy or reedy pond, inlet, backwater, or the like. 4 **

Always ready to raise educational and cultural levels around here! :-D

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: GUEST,Musik_Meister
Date: 04 Jan 01 - 09:00 PM

I have to say that grammar is for English classes, not songs. The thing people lose sight of is that grammar is, in fact, an artificial construct which was created after the fact. When the English language evolved, nobody was creating rules to be followed. Rather, what has happened is that much later, as in literally hundreds of years later, a small group of educated people decided to codify the language. Understand that I have no complaint with this, I have spent a lot of time reading very old documents which where pre-codification and it is very nice to have some rules that everyone follows. Still, these rules have far more to do with the printed language, not the spoken language. That is why we have dialects and regional pronunciations and colloquial expressions.

The point here is, songs are a part of the oral traditions much more than the written forms. Even today when they are written down and recorded on CDs and such, the main character of a song is that of oral tradition. If we try to limit this to a set of rules created in the sterility of the university chambers then we take away the most important values of the song. Personally, I sing songs with not only the grammar that it was written with, but I even sing them with the accents and vocal character of the artists who I associate with the song, who may or may not be the person who wrote it. By vocal character I don't mean I try to imitate the artist but rather my voice tends to take on those characteristics that identify the region the singer comes from, and even the social and economic class. To me, all of this is a part of the song as much as the music or words.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Haruo
Date: 04 Jan 01 - 09:01 PM

Esperanto doesn't permit prepositions to follow their objects, nor is a split infinitive possible to my imaginative ability (I have never heard anybody do it, and can't even think how I would pronounce it if I tried.) The closest thing to it might be using the infinitive where the context demands a finite verb; I think some of the minor characters in Baghy's Siberian novels do this; as I recall the characters in question were Chinese, and the usage is intended to represent their command of Russian, not Esperanto. Zamenhof's Esperanto version of Gogol's Grand Inquisitor is another good source of synthetic Esperanto dialect. In actual Esperanto discourse (written and, even more, spoken) misuse or mistaken failure to use the accusative -n is by far the most salient common error. And, oddly, one sees it even in the Esperanto of those (e.g. Russians) who have an accusative in their native tongue and would never dream of saying, e.g. "Ja kupila kniga"...

Liland


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 05 Jan 01 - 03:30 AM

I think your US/Canadian slough (pr. sloo) must be related to our UK sluice (pr. slooss). Anybody like to check with TOWFI or Michael Quinion?

Steve


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: GUEST,Roger the skiffler
Date: 05 Jan 01 - 03:44 AM

My favourite (non-folk) one is in Elvis' "One Night": "I ain't never did no wrong".
It might make the Professor Randolph Quirks of this world have a conniption fit but it seems apt enough in context.
...and as for the blues...no, I don't think correcting their grammar would improve them, do you?
RtS


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Grab
Date: 05 Jan 01 - 09:16 AM

"Two countries separated by a common language" again...

Grab.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 05 Jan 01 - 04:28 PM

As I read some of the posts here, I got a vision of Data in Star Trek singing "corrected" songs.

The truth is, we are much more flexible in the way we talk than in the way we are taught. We tend to be more "correct" in written language, though when it's a question of posts were or emails we are sometimes much closer to spoken language.

And that isn't a matter of one way being right, and the others wrong. We go though our lives communicating in a number of related but significantly different dialects, whether we are aware of this or not. There's a spoken dialect, and a written dialect, to start with - but on top of that there is formal speech and family speech and public and private and...

It is quite right that our songs should generally reflect the way we use language in speech rather than in writing, or in an academic context.

Changing a song because you want it to fit the way you speak can be the right thing to do. Changing it because you want to "correct" it - that isn't the same thing at all. (The actual change might be the same in both cases - but the reason for it is not, and that makes all the difference.)


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Haruo
Date: 13 Jan 01 - 01:18 AM

This is not a folk song I'm complaining about, now, but a recent Christian praise song (pace Susan). My complaint is not that it is grammatically wrong but that it switches grammars in midstanza (I've marked the breaks with a | ) for no good reason. I also dislike the fact that it bills itself as "Psalm 42:1" and that's what it means: just the one verse from the psalm, then a bunch of Neo-Christian mush.
  1. As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after Thee.
    | You alone are my heart's desire, and I long to worship | Thee.

    Chorus
    | You alone are my strength, my shield;
    To You alone may my spirit yield.
    You alone are my heart's desire, and I long to worship | Thee.

  2. | You're my friend and You are my brother even though You are a King.
    I love You more than any other, so much more than anything.

  3. | I want you more than gold or silver, only You can satisfy.
    You alone are the real joy-giver and the apple of my eye.

Blessings,
Liland


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Pelrad
Date: 13 Jan 01 - 06:50 PM

"Pelrad, since we are all in nit picking mode here, may I point out that you are not "loathe" to change the wording, you are "loth" to change the wording."

Thanks, Murray! That's actually a word I have only heard, never seen written. And I never knew the correct pronunciation of "slough" either, having only read it. We don't have many sloughs here in RI, or they're in disguise.

Although the changing perspective (from "I" to "he" or "she") drives me batty, I don't change it. I like the character of traditional lyrics.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Amos
Date: 13 Jan 01 - 07:31 PM

Beg to differ but to be "loath" is a n accepted construction over theis-a-way. As in, I am loath to correct you but...

American Heritage sez:

loath also loth (lth, lZ) adj. 1. Unwilling or reluctant; disinclined: I am loath to go on such short notice. [ Middle English loth displeasing, loath from Old English lEth hateful, loathsome]


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 15 Jan 01 - 03:46 AM

It's not that uncommon for a trad song to change person, e.g. "A blacksmith courted me ... her lips grew pale and wan ...". It's a nice litereary device for a number of reasons, not least is that it enables me (a man) to sing a woman's song. But(oops -- grammar!) it also allows the singer to slip into the present tense and increase the drama -- "it's happening to me, and it's happening now". When you get to the end, you "reveal" that it's a story after all, and you leave your heroin trembling with fury but you don't say what happened next -- just like a modern short story.

Steve

P.S. But there's no excuse for swapping between "You" and "Thou"!


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Bill D
Date: 15 Jan 01 - 11:42 AM

"The wind was rough
And cold and blough
She kept her hands
Inside her mough"

(yes, I know this is a smart-alec play on spelling, not grammar...but threads WILL creep)


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Murray MacLeod
Date: 15 Jan 01 - 12:48 PM

Amos, there is no disagreement here. "Loath" and "loth" are both interchangeable variations, you can be "loth" to correct me or you can be "loath" to correct me but you cannot be "loathe" to correct me. You are of course at perfect liberty to "loathe" me while you are correcting me

Murray


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: GUEST
Date: 01 Feb 01 - 09:42 PM

You all seem to forget that the idea of a single "correct" grammer was invented in the 1600s.Before that, people spoke the way their parents did, because it sounded right. And everyone used double negatives.Really, in terms of grammer, if it makes sense, it's correct. "Dog store to walked I not" is incorrect. It makes no sense. "I didn't walk the dog to the store" is as correct as "I never walked no dog to no store"


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: En
Date: 01 Feb 01 - 10:12 PM

I am a teacher. Grammar is my business! I used to change words to fit my sense of order. However, I am aware more of the organic, ever-changing nature of language, especially English. Our syntax, pronunciation and grammar are always in a state of flux and development; new words are being added all the time. In Shakespeare's time, for instance, double negatives were conventional, as it still lis in many other languages. Now, use of a double negative is--dare I say it--a no-no.

As a young person studying the classics and classical music, I was very stuffy and unyielding. Now I appreciate the diversity and richness of dialect and it doesn't bother me anymore. Still, when I teach my students songs that contain usage errors I point them out; I ask them for corrections, then we sing it the way it is written, with as much authenticity as we can muster. We celebrate our living language.

I hope pretty soon it don't bother you no more, either.

En


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: GUEST,Joe
Date: 01 Feb 01 - 11:10 PM

No, that's "I hope pretty soon it don't bother you no more neither."

Joe


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Pauline L
Date: 02 Feb 01 - 02:34 AM

As a part time English teacher, I have the same problem, even when I'm writing prose. For example, "the person whom you were looking for" doesn't sound quite right, but it is grammatically correct. The song to which I most like to change the words is as follows:

If today WERE not an endless highway, If tonight WERE not an crooked trail, If tomorrow WEREN'T such a long time, Then loneliness would mean nothing to me at all.

However, the following, from the last verse of Paxton's "Marvelous Toy"

" and he loves it just as I"

just doesn't sound right, and I wouldn't write, say, or sing it that way.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 02 Feb 01 - 03:35 AM

Talking of double negatives, I heard this cautionary tale (possibly on the 'Cat!):

A professor of Languages was giving a lecture on grammar, and got on to the subject of negation. "In some languages, such as English, a double negative is generally interpreted as an affirmative. For example, 'We don't have no bananas' is identical to 'We have bananas'. In some languages -- and some English-speaking sub-cultures, of course! -- a double negative is interpreted as a negative: 'We ain't got no bananas', for instance, clearly means 'We have no bananas'."
[A few muffled laughs]
Encouraged by the possibility of a little professorial humour, he added, "However, as far as I am aware there is no language in which a double affirmative can be interpreted as a negative!".
From the back of the lecture theatre: "Yeah, yeah!"
[Collapse of academic party]

Steve


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Ebbie
Date: 02 Feb 01 - 08:06 PM

In Hazel Dickens' song, My Better Years, she sings, 'I've already gave you my better years.' It would be easy to recast it grammatically but as a regional, dialectical phrase it's perfect.

Eb


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: En
Date: 03 Feb 01 - 12:15 AM

Pauline,

Even though language here in the San Francisco Bay Area is pretty casual, I still teach my students not to end sentences with a preposition, so they would write "the person for whom you were looking," with which I am more comfortable (oooh--twice in one sentence).

"If today WERE not an endless highway" is correct, using a subjunctive verb form. But that form is disappearing, so it is not uncommon to hear "If today was not..." instead. This is like fingernails on the blackboard to me. Most people, you might notice, still use the expression "if I were you" not "if I was you." Except the teacher in the room next to mine.

"...he loves it just as I" would have a different meaning than "...he loves it just like me." The former means "he loves" something the same way "I [do]," verb understood in the second clause; and the latter means "he loves" something as much as he loves "me."

But don't you pay me no never-mind. We all seem to understand each other anyhow.

And JOE!

Thanks for fixing me up there. Neglecting my 'neither' was a mighty bad slip-up! I won't never do that again.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: JVZ
Date: 03 Feb 01 - 01:11 PM

Folk songs change. That's what makes them folksong.

However, There is one area in which I personally draw the line. Some of the most "ignorant writers" mentioned above were the American black slaves. They are also responsible, directly or through influance, for must of the great music we have today.

I know, and pretty much everybody (to whom I sing)knows that the past tense of fight is fought not fit. Whether it be for grammer or for political correctness, most people sing "Joshua fought the battle of Jerico". However, it doesn't trip over tongue like "Joshua fit the battle of Jerico".

So, I don't care about grammer. I don't care about political correctness. I don't care who I may offend. The men and women, iliterate slaves though they be, who created these wonderful songs are so far above me on the musical ladder of creativity that to change their lyrics just to correct grammer would be impudent on my part.

This is the way I feel and I wouldn't think of putting it off on anyone else.

John VZ


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 03 Feb 01 - 02:13 PM

"Now, use of a double negative is--dare I say it--a no-no."

But the question is, is "a no-no" a double negative?

For me the bottom line about this is often going to be, what sounds best, what comes off the tongue easiest and doesn't leave you uttering tongue twisting consonant blends that get in the way, and so forth.

As JVZ points out "Joshua fit the battle" sounds better than "Joshua fought the battle".


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: cowboypoet
Date: 04 Feb 01 - 12:25 AM

Well now, I admit I've used I've used incorrect grammar in some of my poems, usually because the speaker was a person who might not be expected to have been initiated into the mysteries of the irregular verb. "Knowed" comes to mind, because it rhymes with "slowed". It was poetic license. I can't do anything like that right now because I was recently stopped while reciting too fast and my poetic license was suspended. (Ba-DUM-ching!)

Having confessed, however, I wish to take issue (in the politest possible way, of course) with all who have said that the language is evolving and what was not permissible before may now be permitted because it's the way we all talk to each other. The so-called "evolution" of the language is in fact decay. Many young people today are unaware of the fact that they don't know how to speak proper English. A high-school senior of my acquaintance told me the other day, "Me and Becky seen you at the book store, but you was too far away to get your attention." She is a dear child and means well, but forsooth! She's been through twelve years of school and they "seen" me? Words failed me then and they fail me now. People who know how to speak properly may take liberties (Mark Twain is a prime example). People who never learned how have nothing to apologize for. People who have the tools and refuse to use them should be boiled with their own syntax and buried with an OED through their hearts.

There are of course exceptions. Anyone who thinks good English and slang can't co-exist peacefully (and for a purpose) should read P. G. Wodehouse. And I think great oratory could be excused an occasional lapse -- Winston Churchill was once taken to task for splitting an infinity in a speech and replied, "That is the sort of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put." The point is, he knew the difference and made an informed decision about how best to convey his meaning.

And while I'm ranting, may we reintroduce the phrase "You're welcome" into common usage? I get so tired of saying "Thank you" to someone for some service they have rendered, a server in a restaurant, for example, and being told "No problem." I may not care if what I asked for was problem -- in fact I may have thought it might be some trouble so I took pains to express my appreciation.

Please let us not allow the language of Lord Acton and Edward Everett to degenerate into grunting noises.

There. That's as many words as I've spoke since I've knowed you.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Lonesome Gillette
Date: 04 Feb 01 - 10:53 PM

"cleaning up" someone elses song grammar is like changing someone's melody because you don't think they did it right. But they did it exactly the way they wanted, or at least the best they could, why change it? It's like when violinists try to play the fiddle and they "fix" all the things that don't fit their view of what's musically correct. If all songs had the same grammar that would be pretty damn borin'


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 05 Feb 01 - 03:46 AM

But think how boring it would be if no-one ever changed the tune or the words!

Steve


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: GUEST
Date: 05 Feb 01 - 07:12 PM

"the so called evolution of language is in fact decay"??? Thats so ignorant! If language didnt change to fit changing needs-the need for new words, or new grammatical constructions, etc.- then we'd all be speaking Proto-indoeuropean.Now, if thats what you want, then thats your choice. I, on the other hand, believe that dropping useless forms of words, simplifying verbs, and living your language is a good thing.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: GUEST,Ulyyf
Date: 05 Feb 01 - 07:15 PM

I agree. French and Spanish aren't "decayed" Latin, and whatever language English becomes won't be a "decayed" version of our language. Language changes. Get over it.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: cowboypoet
Date: 06 Feb 01 - 12:33 AM

Admittedly, dear friends, language must evolve. There is, for example, no word in Middle English for "microprocessor." And French and Spanish are indeed not "decayed Latin" and I didn't mean to suggest for a moment that they are. But French and Spanish, like English, German, and all the dialects of Chinese, have each a set of grammatical rules, and everything else is slang. Slang can be very useful (boy howdy!) but as the Dalai Lama or Bill Clinton or someone once said, "You must first understand the rules so you will know when to break them." And I humbly submit that grammatical rules should be broken for a reason (preferably artistic) and not out of laziness.

By "so-called evolution" I refer to phrases such as, "One must understand the rules before they can break them." Is that evolution or crap? I know where I'd put my money.

Ignorance is not knowing, my honorable if confused fellow Mudcatter; it isn't having an opinion different from yours. By the way, in Proto-indoeuropean did they use apostrophes? A lot of us do nowadays. They tell other people we're aware we've left something out for purposes of brevity.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: En
Date: 06 Feb 01 - 09:09 PM

Sometimes rules are broken because for the sake of convenience or or brevity, or to eliminate awkwardness, not out of laziness. This is how contractions came about, and they are almost acceptable in formal written language now, and certainly in lyrics. Someone probably had a real hissy-fit about "won't."

I, too admire precise language. My main objection when grammar is massacred in song or speech is that the message is unclear or even ludicrous. Mispronunciation galls me more. When I discovered that Walter Cronkite said "Feb-uary" instead of "February" I about cried because I always had taken pride in pronouncing my birth-month properly. My dictionary now lists his pronunciation as acceptable. I have decided to let go and let it be. After all, the flagbearer for Wednesday lost out to the one for Wenzday, didn't she? I shall survive.

Here's a convention that is dying a deserved, though lingering, death: the use of the pronouns "he" or "him" to signify any person in general. As a liturgical musician I am happy to see new lyrics artfully constructed with the new sensitivity, but I have difficulty with the published material we use in which "inclusive language" is intruding into very old music. I will NOT lead the people in singing "Good Christians All Rejoice." We white-wash our history that way--sort of Animal Farmish, don't you think? I know, what a paradox.

As artists we convey much more than perfect grammar can convey, using all the color, variety, flexibility, humor and inventiveness available to us in English. We to agree on the general rules, but the point is to be understood fully, not to be right.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: cowboypoet
Date: 06 Feb 01 - 10:15 PM

"As artists we convey much more than perfect grammar can convey, using all the color, variety, flexibility, humor and inventiveness available to us in English. We to agree on the general rules, but the point is to be understood fully, not to be right."

I agree, and I'm pretty sure that's precisely what I've been saying. The fact that you put it into other words is one of the beauties of the language that's being lost -- as English becomes more "simple" the thesaurus shrinks. I'll go you one better. I'm not sure that the point is to be understood fully, and I'm guessing Bob Dylan and Ezra Pound weren't either. Sometimes you can get the point across without saying anything like what you mean. I'll bet you, however, that if Dylan or Pound wanted to construct a perfect sentence conveying a specific thought they'd know how to do it. (Remember, we're not talking here about people like Robert Johnson, who created powerful lyrics without knowing the rules. I sometimes wonder if folks like that aren't greater geniuses than Dylan and Pound, but that's probably a topic for another discussion.)

I too dislike revisionist grammar, though I fear I must disagree with you about the new sensitivity. I'd be happy to see racial and sexist pejoratives disappear completely, but I can't bring myself to use bad grammar because somebody thinks it politically correct. I don't disrespect women when I say "One should speak as he chooses" -- I'm merely following the rules I was taught (mostly by women, I might add).

BTW, I don't care very much about whether other people know I'm "right" (I prefer "correct") as long as *I* know. And I don't correct other people's grammar, unless they ask for it. I merely deplore the fact that those who know better often don't do better, not out of any artistic urge or aim but because they're lazy. Of course there's not much I can do about it beyond my own limited sphere, but I can be disappointed that it's raining without thinking I can make the sun shine.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: En
Date: 07 Feb 01 - 02:26 AM

I enjoy your arguments, cowboy. I believe one should speak as one chooses, too. Using "he" when one means to say "one" is not nearly as troublesome as using "they" when one means "he," would you agree?

Please tell me I made you laugh; my son, reading over my shoulder told me to lose the hyphen (that would be the one in anal-retentive).

"I'm not sure that the point is to be understood fully." Of course you are right. Perhaps the point is really to express oneself. Oh pleeeeease don't get me started on the question, "What is art?"

BTW, OED is my favorite book so I'll be contacting you regarding my funeral arrangements in case you know someone who can do that with a dictionary.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 07 Feb 01 - 03:52 AM

using "they" when one means "he" -- if it was good enough for Lewis Carol, then it's good enough for me, mate!

Steve (who also puts his punctuaion outside his speech marks!)


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: GUEST,Roger the skiffler
Date: 07 Feb 01 - 06:06 AM

Just to get this thread to 100.
Not that I'm in any position to criticise any one else's proof reading, but as it's Steve I'll make an exception: "punctuation", I think that should be, Steve!
:o)
RtS( OK,nobody likes a smartarse, but I'm too old to change now!)


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Grab
Date: 07 Feb 01 - 08:27 AM

En, just a quickie - the only day name which has survived in about its original pronunciation would be "Sunday". "Wednesday" should really be "Wotan's Day". Should we revert, since our current pronunciation is obviously wrong? ;-)

The "he/him" thing I'll agree on. English does have an acceptable form - "one" - but that seems to have fallen out of favour at about the same time as the feminists had their fit about "he" applying to a person generally. Work that one out!

But it's all quite a strange argument anyway, since everyone knows that the spoken and written forms of English are different. A formal document, for example, shouldn't have abbreviations such as "isn't" or "I'm". Speaking naturally, no-one hesitates to say "me and Jim". And Bill Bryson describes a Southern woman telling him "you makes the square", meaning "you drive around the square" - you'll not find that usage in the dictionary!

Grab.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 07 Feb 01 - 10:18 AM

Roger - there's nothing wrong with my spelling, it's just my typing that I have a problem with!

On a note of general interest, we have a few places around my way such as Wednesbury, Wednsefield, Hednesford (with an H: Henna's ford). The local pronunciation is "Wedge-bury", "Wedge-field", "Hedge-fud"; the rest of us get by pronouncing them the same way we say "Wednesday" ("Wenz-dee"!)

Steve


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 07 Feb 01 - 11:39 AM

Grab said:

"Speaking naturally, no-one hesitates to say 'me and Jim'".

Au contraire, mon frere! I wouldn't be caught dead saying that, if it is the subject of the sentence. If it's the object of a transitive verb, okay, but I don't think that's what you were talking about.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: En
Date: 07 Feb 01 - 06:56 PM

I wouldn't be caught DEAD saying "me and Jim", unless it occured in a folk song, perhaps. I teach English, for crying out loud. Even if the phrase were the object of the verb it would be "Jim and me".

Oh, and thank you all for the punctuation help. We are willows, we bend with the wind.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 07 Feb 01 - 07:48 PM

Well you couldn't very well be caught dead saying anything, could you? Which is just an example of the fact that we use language in a way which is not strictly tied down to hard logic.

Language changes. Some of the changes are sad, because we lose things on the way. I'm sure that if I'd been a Roman I'd have got very irritated at the way these barbarians were speaking a bastardised version of my wonderful language.

They'd go around ignoring all the rules, abandoning all the carefully articulated constructions that made for an elegant and precise language, which could get an incredible amount of information into a very small compass. Instead of poetry all you'd get would be these clumsy grunts and hisses.

Eheu fugaces!

But in time things settled down, and linguists found that these strange barbarian languages that had evolved did in fact have rules, even though they weren't the same as the rules of Latin.

Language always has rules. They may not be the same as the ones you're used to, and they may seem to be constantly changing, and you don't understand them, and it looks as if there aren't any rules, but the rules are there all right. If there weren't rules it couldn't be used as a means of communication.

I think it makes sense to try and resist changes that rob the language of subtlety and beauty, but not because they are "wrong", because they are clumsy and ugly. And just because there's a fad for some innovation it doesn't mean it'll stick around. But there's no good thinking that there is a permanently correct language that isn't going to alter out of all recognition over time.

As for the gender stuff - using "they" for "he or she" in the right context is a perfectly sensible thing to do, and it has been done for at least the last century and a half. Even if it, using the plural form instead of the singular is not essentially different from what we all do when we say "you" instead of "thou".

"If anyone wants to learn about folk music, they would be well advised to try the Mudcat."

"If anyone wants to learn about folk music, he or she would be well advised to try the Mudcat."

Two ways of saying the same thing. I think the first form is actually better English.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: cowboypoet
Date: 07 Feb 01 - 09:03 PM

"I'm sure that if I'd been a Roman I'd have got very irritated at the way these barbarians were speaking a bastardised version of my wonderful language. "

They most certainly did. The word "barbarian" Comes from the fact that to the Romans, accustomed to that most elegant language Latin, the language of the northern Europeans sounded like "Bar bar bar bar" -- in other words gibberish (and isn't that a wonderfully expressive other word?).

"'If anyone wants to learn about folk music, they would be well advised to try the Mudcat.'

"'If anyone wants to learn about folk music, he or she would be well advised to try the Mudcat.'

"Two ways of saying the same thing. I think the first form is actually better English."

Given that "anyone" is singular and "they" is plural I disagree. Simpler certainly, in more than one sense of the word (o,-), but not better, surely? However, I defend to the death your right to speak English however you choose, mon ami, as long as you can forgive the occasional wince on my part.

Dang! Some folks air sure pa'tic'lar about their speechifyin', ain't they?


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Grab
Date: 08 Feb 01 - 07:19 AM

Cowboypoet, I thought the Latin for "barbarian" was "homo indomitabilis" (sp?). Literally, "unsubmissive man", which says a lot about how the Romans viewed the rest of the world! Both may be the case, though.

Incidentally, there's a "Barbary coast", where the ppl were (in the Middle Ages) famed for being ferocious pirates - is this any link to the word "barbarian"? IIRC this is somewhere in Spain.

Grab.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: KitKat
Date: 08 Feb 01 - 08:46 AM

I'm a professional writer, so I admit to pedantry.

The thing that really drives me barmy is the incorrect use of apostrophes, especially in simple plurals, or as in the incorrect use of 'it's', instead of the correct possessive 'its'.

I have also noticed that our US friends are also much better at using the subjunctive in conversation, as in 'if it were to be required ..' In wonder why that is?


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: cowboypoet
Date: 08 Feb 01 - 12:07 PM

KitKat, I suspect it's because in the colonies we so often pronounce "was" as if it were spelled "wuz". I realize this is a rank generalization (not that I care), but people in the UK always seem to pronounce "was" so mellifluously that perhaps it just sounds better. Or maybe you're just all ignorant (o,-).

Some are born pedantic, some achieve pedantry, and some have pedantry thrust upon them.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 08 Feb 01 - 12:31 PM

McGrath and cowboypoet: Here's how I would say it:

"Whoever wants to learn about folk music would be well advised to try the Mudcat."

It's grammatical and it avoids both wordiness and sexism.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 08 Feb 01 - 02:08 PM

If it's all right to use you to refer to one person, why is it wrong to use they to refer to one person?

Language changes. "You", meaning one person, changed a long time ago. "They" meaning "he or she" hasn't been quite so widely used for so long. But it's hardly a new construction, as Steve Parkes pointed out - it's been around at least 150 years.

There is one construction that sets me teeth on edge a bit - because it strikes me as ugly not because I think it "wrong".

This is the one you find in sentences which use both one and he (or she) "If one is fond of folk music, he should try the Mudcat." But I accept that in American English this appears to be both current and accepted as grammatical. (However, language changes, and I rather hope that the move towards more sensitivity on gender issues will in time stop it being an acceptable construction.)

Incidentally "barbarian" comes from the Greek, who used it to refer to anyone who didn't speak Greek. (Well, the books tell you that they didn't use it to refer to the Romans - but I bet they did on the sly.)


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: cowboypoet
Date: 08 Feb 01 - 03:30 PM

"If it's all right to use you to refer to one person, why is it wrong to use they to refer to one person?"

Because "you" can be either singular or plural.

"Incidentally 'barbarian' comes from the Greek, who used it to refer to anyone who didn't speak Greek. "

You're absolutely correct -- my abject apologies. Sometimes my brain cramps when I try to be erudite. It's the risk one runs when he's basically simple-minded.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Snuffy
Date: 08 Feb 01 - 05:59 PM

"Because "you" can be either singular or plural."

It can nowadays, but it used to be plural only, then it also became the polite/formal address for singular (like French "vous"), and later still the standard form for singular. Maybe "they" is going the same way.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: cowboypoet
Date: 08 Feb 01 - 09:32 PM

I can see it now:

"How's Bob?" "They's fine."


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: En
Date: 09 Feb 01 - 12:16 AM

"If one is fond of folk music, he should try the Mudcat."

It seems no other Americans learned to say, "If one is fond of folk music, one should try the Mudcat." One might feel it is more consistent to use pronouns that agree.

This string is extraordinary. Isn't it amazing how the word "grammar" attracted so many people who are passionate about language? You are all quite amazing and wonderful. I'm glad to have found Mudcat again.


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Amos
Date: 09 Feb 01 - 01:10 AM

begin rant//

This conversation is half ridiculous. Trying live folk music before the sere and pedant bar of rigid Latinate constructionist grammar is about as much fun as trying to White-Out the balls in the monkey cage, you ask me! A song is someone's VOICe for Krissake! You don't dick around with it -- you absorb it and regenerate it in an effort to forward the voice and intent. it has NOTHING to do with grammar whatsoever. You might change the grammar a little if it enhances the relay. The perfomer is demonstrating the WILL of a living spirit.

The notion of trying such an act under the frigid finicky light of grammar is preposterous. I can hear Leadbelly now:

"...On Tuesday, I was thrown into jail. On Wednesday my trial was duly transcribed and judged, and on Thursday nobody would agree to put up bail money on my behalf. Oh, surely I am almost done; but I am not going to agree to remunerate any persons of partially African and partially white descent, regardless of the validity of their claims for services rendered."

And another thing: folk music is one of the few arena left in which one can excel by being wholly oneself, without pretense, without Procrustean modifications to one's own heart, and without the frozen excrescences which pass for personalities in business and society. Grammar of the Latinate sort, on the other hand, is an imposed class of arbitraries. It is mandatory in public writing of an expository sort. But it is an absurd paradox when it crawls up to the palisades of living folk music.

end rant//

Regards,

A


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Subject: RE: Grammar in Songs
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 09 Feb 01 - 03:28 AM

Oh damn! I suppose somebody had to spoil everything and introduce common senes!

Steve

Anyway, it's time we moved to a new thread!


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