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6 Comments

  • Great post (again), Gill. >>maybe it’s time to stop regarding word-classes and categories as sacrosanct, and accept their essential fuzziness>> Yes to that. Word classes work fairly well most of the time, but (just as with birds or pieces of furniture) there are prototypical members of each word class, and others that are a long way from the prototype. So ‘dog’ or ‘house’ are prototypical nouns; ‘go’ (as in: ‘It’s your go’) is less so, but still behaves quite like a noun (e.g. ‘After three goes I gave up’.); ‘think’ (‘I’ll have a think about it’) might be technically a noun but really this is a fixed phrase; and ‘way’ in your sense 99 is barely a noun at all. And that’s without even consdidering the category ‘adverb’: manner adverbs like ‘slowly’ are prototypical, but just about any word that doesn’t fit other categories is dumped into the class ‘adverb’ . What we do with this information is another matter, as dictionary-users have an expectation that every word will have a word class label.

  • I’m a little bit confused here, because ‘how’ could also be used in sense 1 – the lexical sense of manner or style. In the first examples you might say: Disraeli had complaints about how the government had conducted itself in Inda. The make-up was a diguise because I hated how I looked. It’s disgusting how they treat their customers.
    But perhaps this further supports your point of no fixed categories rather than contradicting it?

  • Shivaun – You are quite right and not confused at all. The two senses of ‘way’ (‘method’ and this ‘fact’ one) are exactly mirrored by two of the senses of ‘how’ – ‘how’ means 1) ‘method’, or ‘manner’ as in your reformulations of the ‘Disraeli’ block of examples, and 2) something like ‘the fact that’ in the second block of examples. I originally said this but then had to make cuts and it somehow got left out. Sorry about that. The thing is that ‘how’ is always categorised as a ‘grammar’ word, whatever it’s doing. As for ‘way’, it behaves like a prototypical noun when it means ‘method’ – it is often plural, and there is often an adjective or other modifier before it. In the ‘Bill Sykes’ examples, on the other hand, the form is fixed – it is always ‘the way’. Incidentally, I’m not really saying there are no fixed categories, rather that it should be the behaviour of a word that determines its word-class, not any pre-conceived ideas about its ‘basic’ class membership. As Michael said, ‘way’ in this more grammatical use of ‘the way’ is barely a noun at all. But we still think of it as somehow fundamentally a noun (probably because in most of its other senses, it is a noun). We don’t have the same problem with other word classes: for example we have no trouble saying that ‘up’ is an adverb in ‘I give up’ and a preposition in ‘up the hill’. The ‘noun-ness’ of nouns is more deeply entrenched.

  • Gill, your reply to Shivaun makes it all even clearer! I thought I was way clear after your original post, but set myself to thinking more about it after Shivaun’s comment; now, I see that confusion comes from an expectation of what a word is supposed to do: the expectaion is the problem, not the word.
    As for ‘up’ being an adverb and a preposition, what about the new Volkswagen Up!? Spelt U-p-!. Is that, Volkswagen adjective, Up! noun?

  • “Some people might feel it’s cruel the way Bill Sykes kicks his dog.”

    I feel it’s strange the way people misspell Bill Sikes’s surname.

  • You’re right Terry, it is strange. Gill copied the citation directly from a corpus, where the name was misspelled; but I see that the Wikipedia article on the character starts: “William “Bill” Sikes (sometimes Sykes) is a fictional character in the novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens”. A Google search for “Bill Sykes” brings up instances of both spellings (while “Bill Sikes” just gives the correct one). So it’s obviously a frequent misspelling but I wonder why this should be; perhaps because Dickens chose the less common form of the surname for his character?