Are these the right foras… for this sort of thing?

An illiterate buffoon with pretensions on the blogosphere writes:

Forgive this trivial rant, but I really hate the use of the word “forums” as the plural of forum. I mean, come on folks, “fora” is a great word! Yet you get weird looks for using it, as though celebrating the richness, beauty and plain weirdness of language was something to look down upon. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not someone who strives to preserve anachronism for its own sake, but replacing something pleasing and a little unusual with something dull and familiar seems to me an entirely legitimate thing to oppose (leastways during the replacement process: afterwards what’s the point? You just get the weird looks). There are those, of course, who defend the word “forums” for those very reason: it’s familiar, it’s easy, it’s uncomplicated, they say.

The description of him above doesn’t narrow his identity down particularly, so I’d better add that he inhabits The Quiet Road, just in case searching Google for any of those trite utterances in isolation yields an entire haystack of results from other illiterate buffoons with pretensions on the blogosphere.

The discussion of whether “fora” is or ought to be the currently recognised plural of “forum” (in English rather than Latin) could take several pages. With that in mind I don’t particularly want to labour through it here. Left to my own devices I can make a case for such linguistic beauties as “schemata” till the Cowper Powys comes home, but that would risk veering off my central point, which is: why is demotic word usage being criticised by someone who clearly confuses writing an article with opening your head, pouring half a pint of sloppy idea-stew out of it and then garnishing it with a quote from a real writer? I appreciate that the first bite is with the eye, but I had to wade through half a screenful of lumpy mess before I got to the Orwellian sprig of coriander that was meant to be brightening up this generic, overcooked hotpot.

I concede that even syntactical corrections are sometimes a matter of idiom: there’s the famous Oxford comma, or the infamous behaviour of the Oxford Times expanding every contraction in quoted speech in order to sound less like a tabloid. Nonetheless, it’s probably worth noticing that The Quiet Man would benefit from the following edits in his first paragraph alone:

  1. The word “forum” at the end of the first sentence should be in inverted commas for consistency with his quoting of “forums.”
  2. There should be a comma before “folks” in the second sentence as it denotes the vocative. This would probably force the comma after it to be a colon.
  3. “Don’t get me wrong” would benefit from being followed by a colon, not a comma. This would lend more sense to the rest of the sentence, although it should probably be split into two anyway.
  4. The ellipsis in the parenthesised phrase should be a semicolon.
  5. There should be a comma after “afterwards.”
  6. The full stop outside the brackets should be inside.
  7. To be consistent with its relatively sparse punctuation in the fourth paragraph, both commas round “of course” ought to be removed.
  8. The last sentence has another stray ellipsis (this time in place of a colon).
  9. The clause from the ellipsis to the end of the paragraph should probably be reworded, but if it’s discussing something that “they say” then judicious use of quote marks round the bits they do say might make digestion of the whole rather easier.

There’s more beyond that first paragraph, of course, which I don’t consider here. The writer has some sort of obsession with ellipses, which may be caused by the same rhetorical hesitancy that infests the phrase “seems to me an entirely legitimate thing:” a disclaimer-verb construction, followed a few words later by an argument-deflecting noun, suggests someone hopping from sand to shifting sand. I’ve also had to resist correcting the jarring inconsistencies in style—“trivial rant,” “come on folks,” “strives to preserve anachronism” and “weird looks” bear close comparison—which means that my corrections read more like the edicts of some Zeichensetzungsturmbannführer than a well-balanced proofreader. I daren’t wade into that area, though, as there’s something soft and pulpy at the heart of his grasp of idiom that no sprinklings of cod-Latin plurals will ever rescue. I might only manage a few squishy, tentative steps and then never be seen again.

For my critical omissions with respect to both quantity and quality I apologise wholeheartedly. I had to be strict with myself: partly because I can’t determine in which style the chap could possibly be trying to write in order to prompt him in that direction; partly because, if someone is so lacking in a sense of style that they publish such a piece then non-syntactical criticism would almost certainly fall on deaf ears, so it’s best to concentrate on what might do most good; but mostly because, on the basis of the first paragraph alone, I realised my lunch hour was too short.

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This entry was posted in art, blogs, criticism, editing, idiom, language, literature, media, neologisms, nu-media, opinion, rants, syntax. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Are these the right foras… for this sort of thing?

  1. GiantWeazle says:

    I hope that you have informed the author that he/she is being very stupid.

    I didn’t uderstand all of that, I’m a bit thick when it comes to language, but it was very entertaining never-the-less. I dread to think what you make of my poor attempts to communicate.

  2. sbalb says:

    Your posts are grand, although the style always makes me feel like one of the two of us is suffering from a faint concussion. I think that’s your œuvre, though. I bet you didn’t know you had an œuvre, did you? Well, don’t drop it as it’s not out of the wrapping yet. Save it till a week on Sunday and have it as an Easter œuvre.

    I’m not really an inflexibly strict grammarian, and I appreciate that the unpaid nature of most blogging limits the attention one can pay to perfect syntax and consistent idiom. No doubt anyone with a fine tooth-comb would be able to reap a bitter harvest of linguistic lice from this blog. It merely seems hypocritical in the extreme to condemn demotic use of “forums,” while essentially pulling a higgledypiggledy post of your own out of your arse like bunting.

  3. GiantWeazle says:

    I have consulted the oracle of language and requested his help with this matter:

    I have a kind of linguistic question that I have pondered over for years.

    If a man has a fire blanket grafted onto his face (I know this is a bit far fetched, but stay with me), would that be described as a distinguishing or extinguishing feature?

  4. looby says:

    It’s incorrect anyway: The Shorter OED gives the plural as forums. “Fora” isn’t even listed as a variant.

    “Zeichensetzungsturmbannführer” isn’t listed at all 🙂

  5. sbalb says:

    Gah. Then he’s a numpty as well as a buffoon. And I’m a pretentious agglutinator.

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