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τομάκιος

style vs. grammar

Postby τομάκιος » 2003-05-23, 0:21

As is obvious, I have dared to mix criticisms of grammar, for which my rearing and education give me good qualifications, with criticisms of style, which is rather a horse of a different color, and for which I am not nearly as strongly qualified. I did this partly because it is apparent that E}{pugnator is quite fluent in English, and partly because this forum appears to be dedicated to the English language, and the matter of writing style is, I suppose, a suitable topic to be taken up.

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A hell of a problem

Postby Fenek » 2003-05-23, 8:43

I'm reading Ernest Hemingway's Green Hills of Africa. Sometimes I find it hard to understand. I'd like to share a problem I've had. Hemingway seems to like the phrase "a hell of sth". Here is an excerpt from the book:

There were heavy growths of trees in the valleys and grassy slopes on the ridges between, and above there was the thick bamboo forest of the mountain. The canyon ran down to the Rift Valley, seeming to narrow at the far end where it cut through the wall of the rift. Beyond, above the grassy ridges and slopes, were heavily forested hills. It looked a hell of a country to hunt.
'If you see one across there you have to go straight down to the bottom of the canyon. Then up one of those timber patches and across those damned gullies. You can't keep him in sight and you'll kill yourself climbing. It's too bloody steep. those are the kind of innocent-looking gullies we got into that night coming home.'
'It looks very bad,' Pop agreed.


Now, I can't figure out what "a hell of a country to hunt" means. Does it mean "very good, suitable for hunting" or "very inconvenient"? The context definitely indicates that the latter is the right answer. But if I had seen the phrase "a hell of a country to hunt" alone, I would have thought it meant something like "a damn good country to hunt". My brother suggested that the phrase "a hell of a country to hunt" had been used ironically. So I'm kind of confused. I'd be grateful if some native English speaker could tell me what the meaning of the phrase at hand was, not only in the quoted passage, I wonder what it generally could mean. Is it that the phrase "a hell of" just strenghtens the sentence and can express both pejorative and positive meaning, or does it have a clear negative/positive connotation?

Oh, and please correct the mistakes I made in this message :)

τομάκιος

re: a hell of a country to hunt

Postby τομάκιος » 2003-05-23, 13:38

"a hell of" is an intensifier here. In this case, as usually, it is a negative intensifier (ie, here it is equivalent to the more clear "a hell of a bad country to hunt" or "a hell of a lousy country to hunt"). However, "a hell of" may be used as a positive intensifier as well, so unfortunately I cannot give you an iron-clad rule; you must look at the context, just as you have done, in fact.

I'm not sure that I'm explaining this very well, but I think you may view "a hell of" as a shorthand for either "a hell of a bad" or (less likely) "a hell of a good".

I'll invent examples:

[positive intensifier, the less common use]
Paul's father may have been eighty, but he loved the girls, and he told me that the first thing to do is to check for community colleges or nursing schools --"helluva place for checking out babes!" he crowed.

[negative intensifier, the more common use]
The server crashed late on the evening of the 14th of April, a hell of a time!


(The latter is a reference to the April 15th deadline for individuals to file personal tax returns in the U.S.)

Τομάκιος

> More on the Hemingway post

Postby Τομάκιος » 2003-05-23, 13:47

As to correcting your post, the only errors I could find were

#1)

> quoted passage, I wonder

This needs to be a semicolon rather than a comma. That is, I believe there are entire sentence fragments both before and after this comma, so either it needs some type of conjunction, or it needs to be a period or semicolon.

#2)

You made a typo spelling "strengthens".



Disclaimer: I am a native U.S. English speaker; I have little to no expertise in other dialects.

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Postby E}{pugnator » 2003-05-23, 13:49

Thanks for the corrections, i'll copy the text to study at home.

BTW, these are not translations, I'm writing the texts directly in English.
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Postby geoff » 2003-05-23, 14:02

Thata's a hell of a question, Fenek.

The more I think about this expression the more it confuses me myself. It can indeed be used positively or negatively, though I couldn't say for sure which usage is more frequent. Apart from being context sensitive I think the problem also stems from the phrase being used mainly in spoken language, so you can also modify it with intonation. Reading the text I was sure it meant "excellent", but reading on it obviously isn't meant that way. I don't think it was meant ironically either. So you'll just have to take at it as a negative intensifier in this case. If he had gone on to talk about the vast number of game in that area it would have made just as much sense in a positive way.

geoff

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Postby E}{pugnator » 2003-05-23, 15:45

Ok, now let me try explaining the passages where I was unnecessarily corrected, i.e. when Tomákios corrected me without knowing exactly what I meant.

"picture dramas" is an expression used by the site's author.

> After learning two or three alphabets, learning the next one becomes a pretty hard work.
I was indeed talking about alphabets, not letters. This is Unilang, and knowing more than two alphabets here is quite normal.

> with very regular spelling, let's say, German or...
You said "let's say" was too informal. This was a stylistic correction. Well, I welcome all your corrections concerning style, they help me so much!Nevertheless, I want to tell you that this is internet, and that this course is intended for anyone, it's not a PHD thesis. The same style I'm using in English I'd do if I had chosen to write the course in my mother tongue, Portuguese.

When the matter is not style, but rather the sentence being grammatically correct but sounding strange for your native's ears, then your corrections would be indispensable.
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Re: A hell of a problem

Postby Fenek » 2003-05-23, 16:09

Thank you, Τομάκιος and geoff! :) I found your answers very helpful!

τομάκιος

re: E}{pugnator's articles (and briefly, re: geoff & Fen

Postby τομάκιος » 2003-05-24, 2:29

#1)

re: E}{pugnator's articles

> If it is true that the more languages you learn, the easier it is to learn a new one, the same cannot be said about alphabets. It seems that the more letters you memorize, the hardest it becomes to learn new ones. After learning two or three alphabets, learning the next one becomes a pretty hard work.


The switch from "alphabets", to "letters", back to "alphabets", makes me think (incorrectly) that this was written by someone (for example) Korean. (I have often heard Koreans use "alphabet" when they meant "letter".) Let me propose revisions in several parts (proceeding from simply grammatical to the more stylistic).

-- (grammatical)

"the hardest it becomes" -> "the harder it becomes"
(or equivalently "the more difficult it becomes"

-- (word choice)

"becomes a pretty hard work"
I can't point out anything incorrect in this phrase, but it sounds unnatural.
(But, mulling it over a bit, I figured it out:) we don't use "work" as an
indefinite noun in this fashion. After the indefinite "a" we will not put work", but rather "job", eg, "becomes a pretty hard job"

-- (style ?)
I'm not sure how to classify this, but as I mentioned above, the switch between alphabets & letters sounds unnatural to me. But, I had trouble thinking how to revise it to remove that, as actually, what you wrote is about what you mean :) Here is one attempt (but, it is quite revised, so you may wish to stick with your version).


-> If it is true that the more languages you learn, the easier it is to learn a new one, the same cannot be said about alphabets. It seems that the more letters of the more alphabets that you memorize, the more difficult new ones become. After mastering a few alphabets, new ones are pretty hard indeed.


PS: The "the same cannot be said" is a nice touch :)


I agree with you that the Internet gives rise to much more informal writing than I encounter in books (excluding dialog), newspapers, or magazines. It is indeed your responsibility to balance informality, which I think has the (great) benefits of apparent friendliness and approachability, against the use of good literary style, which has--well, what benefits ? If it were an English course (as this is a discussion thread specifically about English), I think of the benefit of exemplifying good English writing (as therefore I strive to write as well as I may in this thread). But, it is not, so I'm having trouble thinking of arguments against adopting an informal, Internet-style of nearly transcribed language. :)

I think additionally that the choice of tone is a complicated one, and somewhat personal, and that the prevailing tone influences the style. The use of so many second person pronouns is quite an informal, not terribly literate style, but one that is rather suitable for such a casual Internet tone.

I learned to write formally, and additionally, I think that the (few) books on writing style to which I've been exposed are addressed primarily (or exclusively) towards formal writing. (For example, Strunk on The Elements of Style is a classic.) Additionally, I am certain that there are other native U.S. English speakers more educated in these matters than I, not to mention natives to other dialects of English.


#2)
Fenek & geoff:

I concur with geoff; in fact, I also misparsed "a hell of a country to hunt" as I originally read the paragraph myself, just as geoff says.

PS: (Nice intro geoff; "Thats a hell of a question" -- made me laugh out loud, which is what a lot of NulNuk's funny posts are doing.)

τομάκιος

On work as an indefinite, and in which I correct myself

Postby τομάκιος » 2003-05-24, 2:50

On work as an indefinite, and in which I correct myself (*)

Said myself (**):

> We don't use "work" as an indefinite noun in this fashion. After the indefinite "a" we will not put work", but rather "job", eg, "becomes a pretty hard job".

It has since occurred to me that we do indeed use "work" indefinitely, but not in the fashion of the original passage. Most notably, "works of art" is used indefinitely quite frequently. (Inventing an example:) "A work by a master, on the wall behind the head of the table, gives a nice upper-class touch to a dining room."

"Each work of pottery is a work of love." (Although, here the second occurrence would probably be more commonly "labor of love".)




(*) This subject is in imitation of the chapter titles of Winnie the Pooh stories, in an attempt at humor. (The chapter titles in Winnie the Pooh stories, if I am not mistaken, did often consist of noun phrases followed by "in which...", which I always found amusing.)

(**) "Said myself" is an odd way to introduce a quote, meant to amuse in imitation of old-fashioned writing.

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Postby Luís » 2003-05-28, 20:11

I have a doubt regarding the use of "I'm guessing". Can it be used or is it incorrect? I'll give you an example.

I'm guessing he's American OR I guess he's American

I'm guessing this will be a boring night OR I guess this will be a boring night

Can you use them alongside with "I guess" or only the latter is correct?

Thanks.
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Postby Recp » 2003-05-28, 20:33

I'm guessing he's American OR I guess he's American

I'm guessing this will be a boring night OR I guess this will be a boring night

Both sound correct. The second is more common, though.

After thinking about it for a while, here is probably how I would say it:
If you are pretty sure, use I guess (I guess he's American = He is probably American).
If you are unsure, use I am guessing (I am guessing he's American = He could be American, but I am really not sure).

Although really both are equally correct...

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Postby Psi-Lord » 2003-07-24, 1:03

Guys, what is the definition of 'bootie call'? In case it's a rather idiomatic expression, some examples on its usage are also welcome. :)
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Well...

Postby Recp » 2003-07-24, 1:27

Hehe, well... you probably didn't realize this, but it is not exactly "a phrase appropriate for people under the age of 18", if you know what I mean. :wink:

It's basically when you contact someone, the only reason being that you want to have sex. It can also be used to describe someone who you "booty called". (You spelled it incorrectly, it's "booty" not "bootie").

Examples:

1) He was very horny so he gave her a booty call.
2) His girlfriend was out of town, so he booty called her.
3) His booty call was very ugly, I don't even know why he did it in the first place.

Again, not an expression you would want to use, it's a "bad word", so to speak. Not really a "swear word", but it's offensive to many feminists...

Cheers,

Recp

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Postby wsz » 2003-09-02, 12:23

What does 'caught in the undertow' mean? Thanks :lol:

PS
I've aksed about it in the translation section, but nobody's answered me :(

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caught in the undertow

Postby tomak » 2003-09-03, 16:47

An undertow in the ocean is a flow of water underneath the surface back out towards the ocean.

A person may be caught in the undertow, and dragged back out underwater; if the person cannot swim, she might drown.

The phrase may be used allegorically, to indicate being caught up unwillingingly, as in this article:

http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnf ... 5_1840.htm

titled "Caught in Enron's undertow"

Here it is intended, I believe, to convey the idea of being dragged down with Enron, by cause of proximity.

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Postby wsz » 2003-09-03, 23:34

Thanks for your help, tomak :D

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Postby Axystos » 2003-09-18, 19:03

Hello all!

Question: Is it correct to say "Welcome in Holland" or "Welcome to Holland"?

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Postby Ozymandias » 2003-09-18, 20:07

"Welcome to Holland" sounds much better. "Welcome in Holland" couldn't be used by itself.

I suppose you could say:

You're welcome in Holland to speak Dutch.

Although, you'd probably just say:

In Holland, you're welcome to speak Dutch.


"Welcome to X" is an expression that just needs something inserted for X.
"Welcome in" needs a subject, it's not an imperative.


Hope this helps. :)


Ozy

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Postby Axystos » 2003-09-19, 21:37

A few days ago I saw a banner in The Hague with 'welcome in Chinatown' on it, and I thought that it had to be 'to', but I wasn't sure, so thanks ozy, for clearing that up. :)

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