Page:A Desk-Book of Errors in English.djvu/10

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vi
Introductory

sacrifice the niceties of syntax to euphony and strength. It is by boldly neglecting the rigorisms of grammar that Tacitus has made himself the strongest writer in the world. The hyperesthetics call him barbarous; but I should be sorry to exchange his barbarisms for their wiredrawn purisms. Some of his sentences are as strong as language can make them. Had he scrupulously filled up the whole of their syntax, they would have been merely common. To explain my meaning by an English example, I will quote the motto of one, I believe, of the regicides, of Charles I., 'Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.' Correct its syntax 'Rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God.' It has lost all the strength and beauty of the antithesis." And Jefferson continued: "Where strictness of grammar does not weaken expression, it should be attended to. But where, by small grammatical negligences, the energy of an idea is condensed, or a word stands for a sentence, I hold grammatical rigor in contempt."

The English language is the most flexible language in the world. Indeed, it is so flexible that some of its idioms are positively startling. Could any phrase be more so than "I don't think it will rain"?—Simple enough as an idiom but positively absurd when analyzed. We say "I don't think it will rain" when we mean "I do think it will not rain."