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One Man’s Quest to Rid Wikipedia of Exactly One Grammatical Mistake (medium.com)
181 points by interkats on Feb 3, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 171 comments



I looked this up, because I was confused about what authority deemed this part of the English language a "grammatical mistake". Meriam Webster notes

>Although it has been in use since the late 18th century, sense 3 is still attacked as wrong. Why it has been singled out is not clear, but until comparatively recent times it was found chiefly in scientific or technical writing rather than belles lettres. Our current evidence shows a slight shift in usage: sense 3 is somewhat more frequent in recent literary use than the earlier senses. You should be aware, however, that if you use sense 3 you may be subject to criticism for doing so, and you may want to choose a safer synonym such as compose or make up.

So it's not even an issue of grammar, it's just a meaning of "comprised" that some people reject. And it's a usage which is clear, widely used, and doesn't have logical issues (like "could care less"). Go figure.


It is an issue of grammar.

"To comprise" has the same grammatical usage as "to include" although the two words mean subtly different things. You'd never say "the care package is included of cookies and candy bars" and it's equally incorrect to say "the care package is comprised of cookies and candy bars."

If you want to imply that the care package has cookies and candy bars, but also may have other things, you say: "the care package includes cookies and candy bars." If you want to imply that the care package has just cookies and candy bars, you say: "the care package comprises cookies and candy bars."


As a linguist, it is absolutely not an issue of grammar. The grammar is 100% correct. Nit-picking over the so-called "correct" definition has nothing to do with grammar.

It is an issue of semantics, and a rather arbitrarily prescriptivist one at that. Actually, I'm not even sure I would say it's a semantic issue. Most speakers will easily understand the intended meaning.


>As a linguist, it is absolutely not an issue of grammar.

I keep seeing this construction a lot lately, but it always seems weird to me. Is it correct?


There is an implied "it is my opinion that..." because I am stating my opinion. I think most people are able to pick up on that naturally, and I don't feel it necessary to spell it out.

I am sure many here would argue that it doesn't adhere to their notion of correctness, however.


The issue here is the famous dangling modifier.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dangling_modifier

Even your implied "it is my opinion that" would still leave a dangling modifier (now the erroneous parse indicates that your opinion is a linguist, rather than the original erroneous parse suggesting that the usage is a linguist).

Dangling modifiers are an interesting issue because one often has to go all the way up to the pragmatics level in order to resolve the indended meaning (in this case, who or what could be a linguist?). Of course, speakers are usually quite good at that, so the ambiguity is usually only noticed in writing (and then people disagree about how significant the ambiguity is).


The key defining feature (from a linguistics perspective) of a dangling modifier is ambiguity. I really don't see how my statement could have been misinterpreted, but I would be interested to hear alternate interpretations.

Even with some ambiguity, a dangling modifier is not necessarily ungrammatical.

Prescriptivists tend to have a much broader notion, however (e.g. the ongoing 'hopefully' controversy; apparently they consider it illogical when a speaker adverbially describes their feelings without doing so in an expressly grammatical context).

If you really want to be correct, it's best to just do what other prescriptivists seem to believe is right and not think about it too much.

Personally, I think making the sentence "grammatical" by expanding it (I am a linguist and my opinion is that...) seems rather unnatural.

Along the same lines, the redditism "(Profession) here. (Opinion)." could also be excoriated by prescriptivists for being ungrammatical on the grounds that it is a sentence fragment, yet it gets the point across and I have yet to see anyone complain about it.


The subject "I" is never explicitly introduced anywhere in the sentence "As a linguist, it is absolutely not an issue of grammar", so the only explicitly available subject for the modifier to refer to is "it". (Compare "As a pragmatic issue, it is absolutely not a syntactic issue", "As a lexical issue, it is absolutely not a matter of syntax", etc.) So the problem is where the subject "I" comes from when it's left unmentioned, and a solution could be that it's pragmatically implied in any clause like "as a [type of person]" -- but surely not syntatically.


I am not really sure what you are arguing for here, but I think you may be hyperanalyzing and missing the point.

In a very narrow and technical sense, yes, you could argue that the sentence is structurally unsound.

> so the only explicitly available subject for the modifier to refer to is "it".

Just because it is "possible" does not mean it is actually parsed that way.

>So the problem is where the subject "I" comes from when it's left unmentioned,

I do not see this as a problem. I think self-referential phrases (i.e., referring to the speaker), are usually clear, which I believe is the case here. There are much more ambiguous examples that may be nearly meaningless to the listener, but they usually involve two separate third parties that cannot be differentiated by the phrase in isolation.

In normal human conversation, it is generally easy for the listener to determine when the speaker or listener is being referred to, regardless of whether there is an explicit syntactic reference.

In short- yes, the sentence could be more explicit (maybe it does violate certain notions of Standard English/prescriptive grammar/style choice), but no, it is not unintelligible (it does not escape most listeners' mental grammar).


I think we mostly agree because we agree that listeners will almost always understand the sentence as intended and we agree that there's a sense in which the sentence is unsound.

Maybe an analogy is sentences like "going to the store later, want to come?" (although the particular problem is slightly different). One interpretation is that English is becoming a pro-drop language in some contexts, but even many speakers who utter that sentence would agree that it's slightly syntactically unsound for omitting the pronouns (even though it didn't tend to harm understanding). (I'm not positive that this case is analogous to the dangling modifier case.)


>In a very narrow and technical sense

This is the sense in which a lot of people parse language. The whole point of correctly using language is that readers don't have to jump through hoops to understand what mistake you made and why you made it (i.e. what you actually meant), which ultimately makes communication easier.


I assume by the context of my quote that we are still talking about the dangling modifier I used or similar "errors".

>This is the sense in which a lot of people parse language.

I completely disagree. You are describing a sense in which they consciously analyze language. Mental grammars are much more plastic and forgiving than you seem to suggest. I do not know a single person who, when first reading such a sentence, would not be able to derive the intended meaning from it on the grounds that the modifier has no explicit referent, and I think suggesting otherwise is far-fetched.

Sometimes perhaps a genuinely ambiguous phrase may cause the reader to review and come up with an alternate meaning or two, but it is not as if their brain says "SYNTAX ERROR" and can't continue, bringing communication to a grinding halt.

>The whole point of correctly using language is that readers don't have to jump through hoops to understand what mistake you made and why you made it (i.e. what you actually meant), which ultimately makes communication easier.

I think you are suffering from an illusion that there exists an objectively and universally correct, monolithic, Standard English.

I also think that you are on the verge of a slippery slope argument by even suggesting that a speaker-referential dangling modifier caused readers to "jump through hoops" and hindered communication.

"I know what you meant" is probably the hardest thing for any prescriptivist to admit because it immediately destroys their very arbitrary arguments about "logic" and "efficiency" of language.

My point stands that there is a huge difference between a perceived poor style choice and a genuinely ungrammatical utterance. But human beings do not naturally speak ungrammatically. There are simply dialect-dependent variations in grammar, and the more prestigious dialect will almost always be touted as "the right one" by prescriptivists, who will then say that all other dialects are "ruining the language" and "making communication more difficult". By that line of thinking it's reprehensible that different languages even exist at all.

Sorry, but you are never going to get a universally agreed-upon and practiced standard. Yes, we need some rules to have a grammar and a language, but there is a huge range of how important those rules are for communication. Saying that any old "incorrect" use of language hinders communication is, to me, a bit like suggesting that people who jaywalk in a city are liable to gridlock its transportation system.


Unless we think of this as a species of disjunct (which might have been where you were going by describing the use of "hopefully")...


> As a linguist, it is absolutely not an issue of grammar. The grammar is 100% correct. Nit-picking over the so-called "correct" definition has nothing to do with grammar.

This is true. Sentences without correct grammar are unparseable(like "he jumped didn't far"). A lot of people seem to confuse semantic or logic issues with grammar issues.


Encyclopedias, dictionaries, and other types of reference materials often conform to a rigid and pedantically defined aesthetic. This aesthetic is more about context, appearance, intuition. Editing is an art form.

Conveying meaning differs from conveying the intended meaning with clarity. When you have to say 'most people', we already have a problem. Reference material should refer. Leaving it up to intellectual interpretation is simply no good for material that is meant to record and preserve information.

That said, this possibly has nothing to do with the difference between 'comprised of' and 'composed of'.


> Encyclopedias, dictionaries, and other types of reference materials often conform to a rigid and pedantically defined aesthetic. This aesthetic is more about context, appearance, intuition. Editing is an art form.

Right. That's called a "house style", which is not about correct or incorrect but rather about having a more-or-less arbitrary standard all writers must adhere to in order to make the final product more consistent.


Now we are arguing about the semantics of "grammar". How did we get here? :)


By involving a linguist in a discussion about the best way to write something.


I did not argue that either way was better or worse.


Oh sorry, I just meant that since the people discussing had no formal knowledge about languages, grammar, semantics, etc... the only mention about any formal concepts about them would slide the discussion into the basics.

I do agree with what you said.


In normal conversation, grammar can have a more general meaning. But since everyone here wants to argue about precision and correctness, I thought I should at least level the playing field.


It is in fact an issue of grammar. Irregularity is primary feature of human language grammar--a source of delight to some and a source of annoyance to others. One of my favorite examples from language acquisition research is the small child who says "I goed to the store." In this case it's literally the exception that proves the rule.


[deleted]


"the care package is included by cookies and candy bars" ??


It's yet another fight between prescriptivists and descriptivists over what defines correct language usage. English is full of examples where incorrect usage became pervasive enough to become accepted as correct. But some people fight that process because they don't like that the language changes as a result of people using it ignorantly.

For me, it really comes down to how you view the purpose of language. If the purpose is to convey meaning as accurately as possible, then these changes devalue the language since the usages that result from ignorant speakers are, by nature, less precise. The oft-cited "begging the question" has a very precise meaning that's difficult to convey in other terms. When ignorant usage widens the meaning, we lose the ability to easily refer to the more narrow meaning.

On the other hand, you can view language as a shared cultural identity that's always shifting and evolving organically. In that light, these minutiae are pointless because the majority of speakers don't understand the subtlety and never will. You can try to educate people, but you'll just end up alienating them. As humans, we're evolved to learn language from our environment and the people who talk to us, not from a textbook. So why would we consider the textbook version to be the canonical version?

These two viewpoints are diametrically opposed and yet are both reasonable and there are many well-educated people on both sides.


> there are many well-educated people on both sides

However, there are not many linguists—y'know, people who study language and how it works—on the prescriptivist side. There are a lot of well-educated people who reject evolution, too, although you'll note that not many of them are biologists.


I have to say I find myself on both. In general I find the descriptive view of language to be far more flexible, pragmatic, and realistic. But certain phrases such as "all intensive purposes" evoke such a strong response from my gut that I just cannot abide it.


I agree...I find myself on both sides and that's why I presented both sides. I've decided that I want to learn as much from the prescriptivists as possible, since I find the evolution of language to be a fascinating topic. But I've also decided that I have very little interest in correcting people, so I try to vary my behavior contextually. I do my best to avoid mistakes in grammar in my own speech, but I don't correct other people that use them. And I try to use as much language precision as I feel the listeners are able to grasp.

It's almost like a client-capability protocol upgrade in the tech world...if you can use the enhanced protocol, you can benefit from it. But if your client (the person you're speaking to) doesn't understand the subtlety of your word choice, it's pointless and potentially confusing to choose the more advanced usages. So I fall back to the common usages that tend to bother prescriptivists.

But since this forum seems to be the more capable, here's one departure that people might find interesting. "All intensive purposes" is a malaprop, a specific language error that's almost never considered to be correct. But they can be fascinating examples of how we make sense of the world. My mother was a child psychologist for 30 years and collected malaprops from the children she saw. Children, especially those who have not yet started to read, have very small vocabularies and learn words phonetically from those that speak to them. When they encounter words that they don't know, they try to make sense of them from the context in which they're used and the similar words that they've already learned. This is a surprisingly effective technique, but often results in some interesting mistakes that surface as malaprops. My favorite example was a child that thought that Alzheimer's disease was actually "old timer's" disease. From that one mistake, you can really see how children approach unfamiliarity in their world.


Are people defending "all intensive purposes"? I think descriptivists get a bad rap sometimes for "anything goes" but that's not true either. All intensive purposes is clearly a mistake.


"Intensive purposes" (and "intense and purposes") is an eggcorn, so it's started the long walk to acceptance.

http://eggcorns.lascribe.net/english/32/intensive-purposes/

Edit: this is a nice article about it http://www.nytimes.com/1994/01/23/magazine/on-language-retur...


Do eggcorns inevitably become standard usage? Usually the replacement has some advantage, but here the original phrase is neither awkward not obtuse, and it makes more sense.


> It's yet another fight between prescriptivists and descriptivists over what defines correct language usage.

I'm not sure that's accurate. Being a descriptivist doesn't stop you from wanting works that are important to you to adopt clear and consistent style; the mere fact of having a usage preference and seeking, within a collective work, to have that preference consistently applied is not equivalent to linguistic prescriptivism.


Well said. Though I think that in the context of an online encyclopedia, being precise has far more value than in most other contexts, and so the prescriptivists are in the right. This should be recognizably true even if you take the side of the descriptivists in other contexts.


Merriam-Webster uses a very permissive standard for grammar compared to most other usage guides. I like them, but you have to be careful following their advice. If you read their words fairly, you will note they say that "comprised of" is rejected by some readers.

It's the whole descriptive vs. prescriptive thing, and MW explicitly adopts a descriptive standard (they say so in their preface). A good introduction to this larger question is David Foster Wallace's (excellent) essay in review of Bryan Garner's (fantastic) usage guide (http://harpers.org/wp-content/uploads/HarpersMagazine-2001-0...).

If you are interested in usage, and are not familiar with Garner's book, I recommend it. (http://www.amazon.com/Garners-Modern-American-Usage-Garner/d...) It is superior to MW for most writers' purposes. (For students of linguistics, MW might win out.)

Garner, incidentally, doesn't much like "comprised of" -- http://www.lawprose.org/blog/?p=2385 (“invariably inferior”).


It is a grammar issue. Words often have common uses that don't make grammatical sense. "Comprised" means "included" or "contained." You wouldn't say that a group was included of four people or that a group was contained of four people. It's semantically backwards. Confusing it with "composed" makes it more difficult for people to understand its meaning when it's used correctly.


Well, maybe giraffedata will precipitate a change in language in which it becomes less acceptable again.

I don't really understand the impulse people have to say, "Language is constantly in flux and there is no authority on what is correct usage. Thus, you should not try to change people's language and I am the authority telling you this."

If you're descriptivist, then one of the things that you should describe is people's bottom-up attempts to change language by, say, excising 47,000 uses of a phrase from a commonly read reference material.


> If you're descriptivist, then one of the things that you should describe is people's bottom-up attempts to change language by, say, excising 47,000 uses of a phrase from a commonly read reference material.

I don't think descriptivists are obliged to treat a one-man crusade on a phrase with the same gloves as the grand-scale evolution of that phrase in the first place. 47,000 instances of "comprised of" across a zillion wikipedia articles written by a bunch of people is evidence of lingual evolution; one guy reverting those all to "comprised" isn't further evolution, that's just one guy changing something he doesn't like.


Sure. But, you know, when you use evolution metaphors, you get that what starts a change in a species is one mutation, right?

Someone first used the phrase "comprised of" in this sense, and that person, it would seem, got some traction. Giraffedata is trying to be the guy who gets traction on making the phrase ungrammatical. This does happen! At some point, we stopped for example using the second-person informal (thou). This didn't happen because the God of Zeitgeist changed the minds of millions of English-speakers all at once. It happened because individual people started to change how they used language, and it caught on.

Do I think that giraffedata's crusade is likely to be successful? Nope. But what I don't get is being all offended that someone is trying to change language on the basis of "language is always changing."


> But what I don't get is being all offended that someone is trying to change language on the basis of "language is always changing."

I think the offensive part comes from the implication that one way is right and one way is wrong.


It's not (merely) about right vs wrong, but about "destroys useful symmetries" vs doesn't, or "makes language less useful" vs doesn't.

If people start to use "up" to mean "down", that defeats the purpose of having words for them.

If a term's very existence is to provide a context-free way to disambiguate, it will be a pain when people expect you to infer the real meaning from context (cf literally).

In programming, if you accept some new idioms, but those make it hard to see if a given line of code mutates state, that will create pain for you down the line, even if it's "just the evolution of the language".


So it's wrong to say that one way is right and one way is wrong?

... ad nauseum


A fair point. But common usage can find an obstacle in those whose beliefs or principles refuse to accept it. I still enjoy seeing the Sears Tower in feb-roo-airy, in spite of others' desire to visit the Willis Tower in Feb-you-airy.

As long as they don't try to drop a "nuke-you-lar" bomb, I won't correct them. I could care less, but then I'd be apathetic to their linguistic failings.

(Edit: grammatical error)


I've found that whenever anybody gets a burr up their ass over some minor grammatical point, they almost never know what they're actually talking about, have not even the most cursory understanding of language or grammar and have instead built some foundation of their identity on a rule they wrote memorized and see anything that goes against that rule as a violation of their self-image.


To some people, fussing over a certain set of grammatical issues is the mark of an educated person. I remember one person who got angry with me when I responded to their lecture on the word "decimate" with a little bit of historical linguistics. Probably because it seemed like I was undermining their self-image.

What's interesting to me is which items are in the set of things to be fussed over. Split infinitives, yes. Is-doubling, no. "Decimate", yes. Any other borrowing from Latin, no. It's so arbitrary, yet some people cling to it so fiercely.


It can be hard to parse sometimes, people who are educated from people who suffer from severe cases of Dunning–Kruger and have tied their supposed expertise deeply into their persona.



ha! you're correct of course.


The phrase "could care less" has a logic error. It makes more sense for someone to say, "I couldn't care less" when the person wants to express that he doesn't care.


In the UK, we pretty much always use the "couldn't" version. I'm guessing "could care less" is an Americanism; it always jars for me when I read it.


Could care less is very rare in England, although use is growing from Internet usage.

There's some suggestion that it comes from Yiddish style dialect. "I should be so lucky!", for another example.


Both "could care less" and "could not care less" work well in conveying the semantics "I care little".

One says, "although I care very little, there is some wiggle room to care even less". The other says, "I care so little, I couldn't care less than I do now".

Either way, I care little is the main message.

However, "couldn't care less" is more sensible, because what is the point of expressing that you care little, but still have room to care less? That sort of expression would only serve as a retort against an accusation that you do not care. ("A: You don't care at all! B: That is not true, I could care less.") B admits that he or she cares little, but objects to being characterized as entirely uncaring.

We should choose the expression based on its logical sensibility, rather than regional dialect.


I enjoy your analysis :-)

I don't know about "could care less" conveying the semantics - I genuinely paused when I first read it to work out which meaning it had.

Let's saying "caring" goes 0 to 10. "Could care less" includes everything from 1 to 10, assuming integer granularity - it's very much the right hand side of the scale, anyway.

Only "couldn't care less" covers that 0 rating.

So - perhaps it's terrible in conveying semantics and only context/tone imply the disinterest being communicated?


Don't get me started on "could care less", my eyes sting when I read that. My other pet hate is "so fun", as in "that was so fun"...I blame those US kids channels for that one.


Why is 'so fun' so wrong?

Fun can usually be substituted freely for a word like 'entertaining'. Is there something wrong with saying "That was so entertaining"?


Because "fun" in that context is being used like a countable or mass noun, therefore "That was so much fun" would be the correct usage.

"Entertaining" is an adjective and you can use "so" as a modifier to express how entertaining whatever you were doing or watching is or was.

This probably explains it better than I can:

http://www.grammarphobia.com/qa#a31


Fun also functions as an adjective. "That was a fun movie. It was fun. How fun? So fun."

I agree, there's definitely two conflicting usages here: and activity can be the noun "fun", in the same way that doing something can be can be "bliss" or "hell" or "a complete waste of everyone's time". And so while I can say "My drive in to work was hell", I can't say "My drive in to work was so hell" (because not an adjective). But if I can say "My drive in to work was enjoyable", and even "My drive in to work was so enjoyable", then what's wrong with saying "My drive in to work was so fun"?


I had no idea that fun was not allowed to be an adjective.


I assume the issue is with the construct "so fun", not the word "fun". And in that construct, the word "so" is an intensifier. It emphasizes the nature of the next word. You'll hear it in constructs like "that was so cool", or "that was so awesome", or other such phrases that kids like to say when they're excited about something.


Kids like Hamlet: "So excellent a king, that was to this Hyperion to a satyr; so loving to my mother..."


Good point. My comment left the impression that it was something only kids say, but it's absolutely not. "So" is a perfectly good adverb that's used elsewhere as well. It just happened that the immediate phrases that popped into my head were things kids were likely to say (probably because the grandparent comment referenced "kids channels").


I think it's because some people and style guides (e.g. Strunk & White) reject this use of "so" as being a generic, overly vague intensifier. Often these people suggest pairing it with a "that" clause, which allegedly makes it more acceptable.

So, instead of "so fun", some people would prefer that you write e.g. "so fun that I squealed with glee", or even just "it was incredibly fun".

At least that's the argument I've come across. To the extent I even think about such things, I couldn't really care less if people use "so" like this; the meaning seems perfectly clear.


Who cares if it has a "logical error", whatever that even means, if you understand. And I know you understand it.

Millions of people use this idiom completely intuitively, following their instincts of language that I, as someone who doesn't have English as their native language, can only be jealous of.

"I could care less" is either meant to be taken sarcastically, or it came to be because the "dn't c" consonant cluster is hard to pronounce, the same reason you don't pronounce the 'l' in could, the 'k' in knee, knight or knave, the 'p' in psychologist or pneumonia, or half the letters in Wednesday.


see: sarcasm


> About 8 million English Wikipedia articles are visited every hour, yet only a tiny fraction of readers click the ‘edit’ button in the top right corner of every page. And only 30,000 or so people make at least five edits per month to the quickly growing site.

You know, I used to make edits all the time. I stopped doing it because every single one was reverted. I'm willing to accept that maybe a few of the edits were possibly incorrect, but I know for sure most of them were correct. And yet the "owners" of the page are so uppity that they revert them anyway, so I gave up.


What kind of edits did you make? I fix grammar and spelling stuff semi-regularly, along with sometimes more substantial edits, and haven't had that experience. Fairly often when I fix a typo, the author whose typo I'm fixing even clicks the "thank" button next to the edit. I recently had a minor hobby of tracking down a/an mixups, like "an member", and I got no flak for that.


Not GP poster, but years ago (so not recent, at all) I tried editing both for grammar and content. In a variety of article types (movies and books, technical content like math and CS topics) nearly everything got reverted. For instance, if I corrected a plot point listed in the plot summary for a movie it'd be removed. As an example, imagine an obviously wrong statement in the summary of Batman saying that his alter ego is Clark Kent (trying to remember the actual articles, this wasn't one, but they were just as bad). This is clearly wrong and easily verifiable, but someone would revert the edits and dispute it in the talk pages. If an algorithm were incorrectly described on a CS page I would try to correct it, leaving comments in the discussion about why I was making changes. They were almost all reverted to incorrect pseudo-code or python implementations. Again, these were easily verifiable (in some cases by literally copy/pasting the python code and trying to run it). It was just an exercise in frustration so I gave up. Maybe things are better these days, I haven't bothered since 2010 or 2011.


Spelling, minor grammar errors, and graffiti is all I'll fix nowadays. I won't bother rewriting awkward sentences or the commonly encountered repetition of the same facts in different paragraphs. I sure as hell won't add new content. That consumes too much of my time for something that will likely be reverted by a pedant who can't stand for their precious to be touched by someone else.


The problem with that approach is that if everyone does this, Wikipedia will be dominated by pedants who discourage everyone else from contributing.

Wikipedia is a unique resource, it is everyone's resource, we can't afford to lose it like this. Of course, given the scale of the project, some time has to be sunk in the unpleasant task of dealing with users who don't understand how the project works. It will be problematic if no one has the courage to do this any longer...


Mostly grammar edits as I would see them while reading. This was many years ago (before the thank button I think) so maybe things are better now.

I gave up trying to edit Wikipedia and instead I contribute by giving them money every year.


A nice thing about Wikipedia is that all history remains public in the vast majority of cases. In this light, I think it would be better to provide links to your reverted edits, so that we can try to understand why they were reverted, and we can apply them again if they were erroneously reverted and the error is still there.


I had the same problem when doing edits about a major uk festival - second is size to Notting Hill.

I used to run one of the main events (1000 participants and 200k Spectators) and was a co-opted member of the councill committe - The objecting wikapedian was some student from a european country who would have zero idea about what is notable in the UK


In my experience that kind of rapid revert has got a lot better recently. I think there was a change in things like Twinkle, and Rollback. Also the "vandal patrol" style pages got leaned on.

I agree that some people do revert too much too quickly.


> “He has, like, 15,000 edits, and he’s done almost nothing except fix the incorrect use of ‘comprised of’ in articles.”

Oh man, truly that is God's work. It's likely too late, but it would be nice to save "to comprise" as a distinctive word with its own shades of meaning and differing usage from "to be composed of". Should one become a perfect synonym for the other the English language will have suffered a loss.


"to comprise" is distinct from "to be composed of", because the latter is actually "to be", with a past participial phrasal verb.

"to be comprised of", on the other hand, is not distinct from "to be composed of".


> "to comprise" is distinct from "to be composed of", because the latter is actually "to be", with a past participial phrasal verb.

This is like writing that the company "Apple" is distinct from "John Deer" because one name consists of one word and the other of two, in that it's both true and beside the point.

I don't think that fact had escaped anyone, and they are distinct for more reasons than one being a verb and the other being a verb phrase.

> "to be comprised of", on the other hand, is not distinct from "to be composed of".

The people choosing the former over the latter—to whom we are clearly deferring if we accept the spirit of your statement, which I take to be that one may be replaced with the other in a sentence with exactly no modification of meaning—seem to believe they are not quite the same. If I may venture a guess: they think the former is a smarter or more formal but otherwise perfectly identical version of the latter. Still, that is a difference not without significance, and one I trust you did not intend to dismiss.

Further, they differ in a way that the people committing the (if I may) error do not anticipate: to a good portion of those who understand how to use "to comprise" in the ordinary fashion, its use in this manner is a sign of poor writing, of the sort a well-intentioned but inexperienced high school student might produce. This is the exact opposite of what is intended in the typical case, I expect.

(Apologies in advance for any grammatical, word usage, or spelling mistakes I have undoubtably made, to preempt posts about that.)


Note that "to comprise" means both "to contain" and "to constitute". These meanings are exact opposites.


A good point. I'd say it's more that the relationship expressed by the verb may go either from subject to object or object to subject, depending on context, and with a subtly different meaning depending on which direction it goes. I certainly don't see it as its own antonym—either way, it means some sort of inclusivity.

It's a really useful and economical word, which is why I'd hate to see it fall (even farther) out of use owing to fears that it will confuse the "to be comprised of" crowd.


How about a quest to clean up "anyways" on HN?


Obligatory xkcd: http://xkcd.com/1108/

Age old argument of whether grammar is prescriptive or descriptive [1]. Anyone who has seen or read Shakespeare should be aware of how English has changed in the last few hundred years. Go back 1000 years and Old English would be utterly unintelligible to any modern English speaker.

Often I encounter people who get a bee in their bonnet about using nouns as verbs or people who are too persnickety about "less" and "fewer". Or the New York Times getting a bug up its posterior about "tweet" [2].

I find the effort some people, including the "comprised of" guy here, spend on this kind of thing somewhat bizarre and a little sad.

[1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistic_prescription

[2]: http://afterdeadline.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/15/the-tweet-...


There's a difference between evolution and mistakes. Otherwise why aren't we validating hundreds of extremely common spelling and usage (eg, "equivocate" when they mean "equate") mistakes? That's how the language is being used by native speakers, after all.

Then we really would be back in the 16th century.


I'm of the ilk that grammar should for the most part be prescriptive while dictionaries should be descriptive. And this is actually not a grammatical problem but a semantic one.

"The book is composed of many pages" "The book is comprised of many pages"

If one of these is incorrect, it can only be because of the meaning of the adjective phrase "comprised of". The actual structure of the sentence is fine.

In my opinion, I think either one is totally acceptable, as long as the meaning is clear.


Doesn't work in english which doesn't have a regular grammar in the same way latin does


The mistake:

>Although “comprise” is used primarily to mean “to include,” it is also often stretched to mean “is made up of”—a meaning that some critics object to. The most cautious route is to avoid using “of” after any form of “comprise” and substitute “is composed of” in sentences like this: “Jimmy’s paper on Marxism was composed entirely of sentences copied off the Marx Brothers Home Page.”

>There’s a lot of disagreement about the proper use of “comprise,” but most authorities agree that the whole comprises the parts: “Our pets comprise one dog, two cats, and a turtle.” The whole comes first, then “comprise” followed by the parts. But there’s so much confusion surrounding the usage of this word that it may be better to avoid it altogether.

http://public.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/comprised.html


Language is comprised of rules that change over time. If everyone understands a sentence, how can it be incorrect? I suppose I'm just confused by crusades like this.


> Language is comprised of rules that change over time. If everyone understands a sentence, how can it be incorrect?

In the case of misuses of "comprise" like yours, because everyone doesn't understand it: when the phrase "is comprised of" is used, its not clear if the meaning is "is composed of" or "includes", which indicates a potentially non-exhaustive listing of constituents, or "comprises", which indicates an exhaustive listing of constituents.

The preservation of clear, distinct, and precise uses improves the ability to communicate ideas. Truly, language usage evolves over time, but it evolves due to the aggregation of choices people make, and those choices can improve or hinder communication. It is good to make those choices with open eyes -- and to advocate for better choices and against worse ones.


I don't think the distinction between exhaustive and non-exhaustive constituents is something that most people would pick up on.

Using overly precise wordage that not everybody understands is just as bad as not being precise enough. In fact, it might even be worse: if you detect some ambiguity, you can ask for clarification. If you don't know the difference in words, you can't even tell that you don't know and might interpret the sentence incorrectly.


> I don't think the distinction between exhaustive and non-exhaustive constituents is something that most people would pick up on.

I imagine this sentence made a lot of programmers and lawyers twitch.


>> I don't think the distinction between exhaustive and non-exhaustive constituents is something that most people would pick up on.

> I imagine this sentence made a lot of programmers and lawyers twitch.

Patent lawyers especially. In a patent claim, the difference between comprising and consisting of can be crucial. [1]

[1] http://www.bios.net/daisy/patentlens/2618.html


Programmers and lawyers are not most people.


Which is why the edits this guy has been making have generally been to eliminate the 'is comprised of' usage, not to replace it with 'comprises', but to replace it with clearer, unambiguous forms.


It's possible for a sentence to be understandable, but still be jarring to read. His user page gives another example: "could of". If you see that phrase, you know what the author meant, but it interrupts the flow of reading. There's also the issue that an article (especially on Wikipedia) seems less credible when it contains spelling and/or grammatical errors. It gives the impression that the author wasn't careful when they wrote it, or that the article hasn't been widely reviewed by others.


Relaxation of rules makes language less precise, and when phrases that mean different things come to mean the same thing, then expressing distinctions requires more words and clumsier constructions.

Also, take your example: "Language is comprised of rules that change over time." The correct alternative is shorter and simpler: "Language comprises rules that change over time." Most people don't even know that there are two perfectly good verbs "to compose" and "to comprise" that let you avoid the "is ... of" construction. If people see the clumsier construction in "good writing" they will never know that there is something better.


Isn't your "Language comprises rules that change over time." statement invalid as well? The word comprises should be used when there exists a definite set of items.

For example: "That house comprises 4 rooms" versus "That house comprises at least 4 rooms". The second statement should be "That house is composed of at least 4 rooms" because the room count is not an exact quantity.


I think you're right. In my head I was equating "language" with "grammar" and I think it's fair to say that you can specify grammar with a definite set of rules. But at least human language has more than that.


Correctness includes accuracy and precision.

Improper or nonstandard use of a word may reduce the precision in an alternative phrasing of equal conciseness.

This is the same reason why I carry on an utterly futile crusade against the use of the word "amazing" as a popular synonym for "doubleplusgood". We have synonyms to color the context and add subtle shades of meaning to our sentences. When they are employed inappropriately for an excessive duration, some opportunities for subtlety and artistry in language may be lost forever.

There was a time when "fine" was better than "good". But now one of the meanings is a level of quality that is merely passable or acceptable. Having ground "fine" as a descriptor of quality down to a dust of exceedingly small particle size, shall we also do the same to "amazing"?

"Mom, this pot roast is amazing--not as good as last night's tacos, but definitely amazing."

"You ungrateful brat! Leave this table and study, so that you might improve your pitiable grades from 'amazing' to passing."


Don't forget "fantastic", "stupendous", and "awesome"!


I remember them every Memorial Day, and shed a single tear for them.

That's one tear for all of them, not one for each. And it's a metaphorical tear, not an actual tear. If you really want to be accurate, it's more like a metaphorical grim and wistful expression, with a tantalizing moistening of the eyes, followed by uncharacteristically rapid blinking. It's very sad, yes, but it's not like those words are dead--they just have severe brain damage and will need arduous custodial care for a few more decades, until they can safely be allowed out on their own again.

Truth be told, I was actually thinking about my dear old deceased dog in that metaphor, because my eyes are actually rather dry otherwise. I use the same trick when I wear contacts. And I always get Memorial Day and Labor Day confused. One is at the start of summer, and the other is at the end. So I might have accidentally metaphorically shed an almost-tear for all of them on Labor Day. They will be missed. Because, by choice, I don't ever visit them at their assisted living facility. Or write them. Or write to them.


I haven't said "ROFL" in a long time, but this deserves it!


For all intensive purpose`s ,your write ,but is they`re really any need to disperage on peoples` pet hobby`s ?

Myselfs` experience has been that even descriptivist`s have a braking point ,they`res always something that make`s them cry ,,, `stop !`, even when its' clear enough what is meaned !!!We`re is you`re point .I wonder!

Of coarse ,perchance the point is mute ,nobodies` going too pursuede the gy to stopp useing his toothcombs`,,,


Every English speakers understands "Dogs bites mans", but every English speaker also agrees that it's incorrect.


You're right, of course, but it would be nice if "comprise" didn't have to have two opposite meanings.


"comprise" would be currently going through a transposition of meaning if English was an oral language. This should be perfectly fine and English would be the richer for it, i.e. we'd have a new useful way of 'aggrandizing a sentence' (as he mentions as a negative in his 6,000 word essay). Instead the 'hero' of this article is contributing to the fossilization and stagnation of the English language, making his case by appealing to etymology and notions of logicity [1] and precision more suited to a formal grammar. He specifically calls out its' novel usage (post 1970!) as being a negative.

I think his efforts are generally good, in so far as the phrase 'comprised of' might be a good signal that a new wikipedia contributer is trying to aggrandize their contributions over and above their knowledge, but I think he is misguided in dictating how language aught to be used.

[1] made up word, perfectly understandable


Oral language does not require as large of a vocabulary. You can color the meaning of any spoken word by intonation and diction. If, for instance, you chose to speak only the word "dude", you could probably still make yourself understood to any native speaker.

As English lacks punctuation modifiers for altering the context and intent of a written sentence, we accomplish that end through an expanded lexicon, wherein several is more than a few and less than a buttload, despite each word representing an unspecified quantity.

English is far more likely to invent a new word, filch one from another tongue, or reuse a previously disused English word with a new sense or different part of speech, than it is to recalibrate the ordering of synonyms on a continuum of intent.

"Comprise" and "compose" are inverse terms. Using one when you mean the other initially generates confusion, and subsequently destroys the language model around composition. The whole comprises the parts, and the parts compose the whole. Passive voice is an inverting structure, so the whole is composed by the parts, and the parts are comprised by the whole. Include is a weaker form of comprise, without the implication of completeness (except in legal writing, where that implication is the default, and comprise is not generally used). But as the inverse of include is exclude, inclusion is more about membership in the set than about a level transition in the composition hierarchy. A league comprises teams, and a team comprises players. Yet a league does not comprise players; the league includes players. This is how we describe things precisely and concisely.

Oral use is much more forgiving of misuse, as it has error-correcting code in the form of context and intonation. Written use has a greater need for correctness, especially when such use is read by many, any of whom may repeat and propagate the error.

And I think parent post is incorrect. When you transpose or rotate the meaning of a word onto the meaning of an existing word, English is poorer for it. Once those meanings overlap, it is as difficult to separate them into different shades of meaning as it is to unlock gimbals. Also, "aught" is the shortened version of "naught", or zero, whereas "ought" is the synonym for "should" with a greater implication that the actor is obligated to perform, but not quite to the extent that he "must".

Logicity is perfectly cromulent, though someone should elucidate the conditionals for when it would be preferacious to logicality.


Made up word? You've used it, so it's real now. I like it. There's a certain truthiness to it.

I think your argument is a compelling one. The richness and color of our language (and, if I may, I'll make the distinction between the varying forms of English here - not all variations embrace the tinted varietals of words) is largely due to this organic growth and change of its usage. While personally I don't use "comprised of" (that I know of - my memory is imperfect), I don't know that I'd choose to battle over the usage of the phrasing. I recognize that some common phrases evolve out of this sort of natural mutation of language.


Biweekly, farther vs further, and so on. Many words have two completely disparate meanings, whether the meanings are formally accepted or not. It sucks. I don't know if one more word added to the list is such a big deal, given how big the list is.


...and so goes the language in many other ways.

He literally laughed his head off, and I could care less.


It can sometimes help to look at a more extreme case. In the Swedish language, words get bound together in order to differential different meanings of the same word.

For example, frozen chicken liver is spelled "fryst kycklinglever" while if you typed "frozen chicken lives" it would be "fryst kyckling lever". Sadly, splitting words incorrectly is the most common form of grammatical mistake in Swedish, so this result in enormous amount of sentences being hilariously incorrect. Most people will of course understand the intended message, as frozen chickens in boxes are unlikely to be alive.


Your certainly write, it wouldn't of mattered for most readers.


That's a different kind of error, namely an error in phoneme to grapheme conversion. So, if you want nitpick, do it right ;).

At any rate, language changes. Both meanings of words, what is considered syntactically valid (see, 'because ADVERB'), and how phonemes are realized. Of course, that does not mean that one shouldn't point out errors (they're vs. their vs. there). However, sometimes errors become common usage.


You'll hate me for this. "... comprised of ..." is incorrect.[1] Please forgive me. It occurred to me you might be trolling, but I concluded you weren't.

[1] http://grammar.yourdictionary.com/grammar-rules-and-tips/com...


That mistake was intentional. My point was that language isn't programming, it's not exact. You understood the sentence and we successfully communicated. I'm a fan of correct grammar and I try to use it. But this article documents a very extreme reaction to a non-problem in my opinion.


Grammar guides are not infallible. Usage changes over time. From thefreedictionary.com/comprised:

"The traditional rule states that the whole comprises the parts and the parts compose the whole. In strict usage: The Union comprises 50 states. Fifty states compose (or make up) the Union. Even though careful writers often maintain this distinction, comprise is increasingly used in place of compose, especially in the passive: The Union is comprised of 50 states. Our surveys show that opposition to this usage is abating. In the 1960s, 53 percent of the Usage Panel found this usage unacceptable; in 1996, only 35 percent objected."

I'm kind of like the view that people use language to communicate as they feel fit and then grammar guides should record how a language is used rather than try to dictate how.


> I'm kind of like the view

Are you like the view, of the view or do you like the view?


frecuently when about english is the topic mistake programmers understandable with nice to read, usually avoid those programmers recommend I as crappy code is written if no fuck is given about aesthetics of something to communicate has been written


I went on this crusade once, and it was completely unrewarding. I failed utterly to either stomp out the error I was targeting, or to piss anyone off.

The best way to enjoy Wikipedia is just to log out and read articles.


What did you try to change?


Filing this away in my memory for future reference. It will be interesting to see if one man can change the direction of a language, even in a small way.

Language is a fluid thing, and the phrase "comprised of" seems perfectly natural to me (and probably most people). Once something like that happens it's usually on the way to becoming grammatically correct, regardless of what the current grammar rules state.


'Correct' because people favor an irregular usage is a weak form of correct. I favor the effort to try and keep the language regular. Following rules makes it easier to learn and teach.


And you included my pet grammatical peeve; "try and". And so I favour the effort to try to keep the language regular; various English spellings notwithstanding.


Thank you! I'll try to do better.

A preposition makes more sense there. Which preposition could be argued. In New Zealand folks say 'he is different to us' instead of 'he is different from us'. One could imagine 'he is different by us' or 'he is different beside us' as correct somewhere.

Hm. Is 'try to keep' using 'to' in a prepositional sense? That's a slippery word.


Pretty sure the 'to' there is a part of an infinitive. Replace it with a gerund and it becomes clear: "Try reading it upside down" vs "Try to read it upside down".



Something that bothers me is the recent (past few hundred years) effort by (English speaking) humans to stop the development of the language. When did it stop being okay for the language to evolve? Isn't part of the beauty of it that it changes, that people use it differently, that words have new meanings?


That assumes that evolution is always good. It isn't.

Consider the recent acceptance of the ironic usage of "literally" to mean "figuratively". If it wins, there will no longer be as precise a word that means only "literally", and the English language will have suffered a loss.

I am all for the evolution of language where it creates new words, adopts and embraces portmanteaus, or embraces the use of easily intuited non-words into the common parlance, but not every change is an improvement, and where a non-improvement exists, it should be resisted.


I agree wholeheartedly, but I have to wonder if our resistance does any good. Years of telling kids not to say Sally and me went to the store has produced, now, several generations of people who say he gave it to Sally and I, which, of course, is just as wrong.


> Consider the recent acceptance of the ironic usage of "literally" to mean "figuratively".

This description always bugs me, because the description is inaccurate. The examples usually given are not ironic usages of "literally" to mean "figuratively", they are figurative usages of literally to mean "almost as if literally" (that is, figurative uses of "literally" to minimize the figurative character of some other figurative expression.)

It is also not recent, at all. Its been going on literally forever.


Have we recently changed the definition of recent? You know how far back literally meaning not literally goes, right?


The Merriam Webser and Cambridge dictionaries began accepting the change as canon circa 2013.

I consider that recent, especially given its long history of misuse.


Perhaps Joe Biden being vice-president was the tipping point. He is an egregious violator, using 'literally' to amplify how much he means 'figuratively.'


If "recent" you mean "for the last 200 years".


It may be beautiful, but it isn't very helpful. Imagine if computer language terms changed semantics - all the code that is destroyed.

Stopping development isn't a blanket thing. Stopping vandals from painting on the train cars isn't 'stopping the development of rail travel'


English is either already, or rapidly becoming, the lingua franca for the entire world. If we allow to it continue evolving without constraint, we may well wind up with numerous mutually unintelligible dialects. This is already true of many other languages like Chinese and Arabic.

It would be a shame if people from India could no longer understand people from Australia, even when they were both using English.


On the other hand, a high proportion of the most vigorously-defended aspects of the English language are at best unnecessary to aid understanding, and at worst arcane irregularities which survive as shibboleths to distinguish speakers by their level of education.


Regular is measured by consensus, is it not?


> Once something like that happens it's usually on the way to becoming grammatically correct,

I wouldn't call that correct. Just "accepted". Accepting inconsistent grammar makes it more difficult to communicate, not less so.


None of English is correct by that standard: it's a hodge-podge of a language with inconsistencies down to the root. Hence the prescriptivist grammarians of the 19th century who tried to Latinize its grammar, reasoning that English might be improved by grafting a foreign but regular logical structure onto it. But they mainly succeeded in introducing further irregularities, throwing some Latinate bits into the mix.


> it's a hodge-podge of a language with inconsistencies down to the root.

We fix that one inconsistency at a time. This man is doing his part, despite all the naysayers.

I don't really give a shit about things like split infinitives but if you've ever seen a person struggle with speaking on a subject without the vocabulary to do so, you know how much it cripples them. Grammar is the same way. Why do descriptivists think it's ok to force everyone to invent language on the spot when people are in dire need?


It's the other way around. Descriptivists think that you can't force people to not invent language on the spot.

Rather, they think languages cannot be prevented from changing.


Correct and accepted are the same thing.

There's no Platonic perfect language. Whatever the majority thinks is good language is good language.

Sometimes a minority with high social status is able to convince the plebes that their language is more correct too, but the plebes will still speak their language as they please whenever the elite minority aren't listening.


Sadly there is just no way to prevent a language to evolve, even with an official language body. As a French speaker, they tried that with a very conservative body which is deciding what is good and what is wrong (Académie française).

The result is that the written language is now separated from the spoken language and both evolved separately. (that's also why the vocal recognition in French does not work well but that's another story). So the alternative is much worse than just accepting that the language is changing.


I have a lot of sympathy with this guy and his hopeless quest. But when he says, "It's illogical for a word to mean two opposite things", surely he knows that never stopped anyone: http://lee-phillips.org/literallyEgregious/


>Henderson was born in Olympia, Washington, the middle child of a father who worked for the state government and a mother who taught math in middle school...

Is it just me or do other people have this curious fascination with the manner in which reporters describe the obscure everyman subject? It's kind of a unique thing, when you think about it, boiling down an entire person to a few superficial data points. It shares something with minimalist Eastern art, you know, the sort that uses like two brush strokes to represent a lion. And yet these reporter "brush strokes" inevitably seem far less descriptive than the art, and far less expressive of the reporter's "artistic" intentions--it's like there's an algorithm somewhere that generates these descriptions (perhaps described in a handbook of reporter style?).


The article doesn't even properly explain the mistake. Though it's easy enough to look it up in a dictionary and see that the "of" is superfluous.


The user's wiki page does explain what is wrong with "comprised of": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Giraffedata/comprised_of


"Comprise" has very specific usage. If you refuse to learn it and use it anyway, it makes you look to someone who does know that usage like you're trying too hard to sound smart by using words above your pay grade. I can see why people get activated one way or another over it. "Comprise" is a line toed in the dirt, a battle over what language means and how it should be used.


"To comprise" is differs subtly in meaning, too.

It implies encompassing or comprehending, not just being the sum of these parts. It places the whole above its constituents. Insisting on using it as a perfect but "smarter" synonym for "to be composed of" is poor writing and contributes to what may be the eventual loss of that word and, with it, our ability to succinctly express that notion, for no useful purpose.


This bizarrely obsessed gentleman is very wrong.

The alleged mistake is exemplified in the article like this:

> The Wikipedia editorial community is comprised of many interesting people.

Supposedly, this should be "composed of" or "made up of".

However, that is incorrect. The verb "comprise" is simply being turned into a passive form according to an established pattern which generalizes over many, many English verbs:

    subject verb+tense object
    -->
    object "to be"+tense verb+pp preposition subject
For instance:

    A eats B       ->   B is eaten by A

    A includes B   ->   B is included by A

    A included B   ->   B was included by A

    A had included B -> B had been included by A

    A makes up B   ->   B is made up of A (composed)
                   ->   B is made up by A (invented, tidied)
Under this transformation, the preposition has to be suitably chosen to match the verb. It is related to its semantics. For instance "of" doesn't go with "include". And the "make up" example shows that multiple prepositions are possible, depending on the semantics.

To insist that we may not apply this pattern to "comprise" is a very bad case of prescriptivism. It's right up there with insisting that a diaeresis be used in writing words like cooperation, that sentences may not end with prepositions, or that infinitives may not be split.

Here is the real issue:

In modern English, "to comprise" has two meanings which are opposite! It means both "to constitute" (be a part of some whole: to make up) and "to contain" (be a whole, containing something else: to be made up of). The passive construction "to be comprised of" applies to only one of these meanings. It does not work with the "contain" meaning, regardless of what preposition is chosen. For instance:

    This country comprises twenty states. (contains)

    * Twenty states are comprised {of, by} this country.
Whereas:

    Twenty states comprise this country. (constitute)

    This country is comprised of twenty states.
We cannot indiscriminately wage editorial war on "comprised of" based on the assumption "comprised" always means "contains"! "The Wikipedia editorial community is comprised of many interesting people" is simply the passive form of "many interesting people comprise (constitute, not contain!) the Wikipedia community".


If we applied the pattern to "to comprise" (which means, roughly, "to made up of exclusively"), then the sentence would be something like "Many interesting people are comprised by the Wikipedia editorial community" because the "A active verb B" form is "The Wikipedia editorial community comprises many interesting people", so the "B passive construction + preposition A" form would have to be "Many interesting people <appropriate form of "to be"> comprised <appropriate preposition> the Wikipedia editorial community".


I am not seeing the exact issue you're trying to explain, but let me attempt to write a correct sentence, and its passive reversal (allegedly incorrect):

"Interesting people comprise the majority of the Wikipedia editorial community."

"The majority of the Wikipedia editorial community is comprised of interesting people."

Note that, in modern usage, "to comprise" has two meanings: "to constitute" and "to be composed of". These meanings are opposite!

That is the reason for the contention. The "be comprised of" reversal only works for one of the meanings.


The problem dragonwriter was moving towards pointing out is that, for example, if the active voice version of a sentence is "John eats food", then the passive voice version would be "Food is eaten by John", not "Food is eaten of John". In the same way, active voice "Interesting people comprise the majority of the Wikipedia editorial community" would have passive voice analogue "The majority of the Wikipedia editorial community is comprised by interesting people", not "The majority of the Wikipedia editorial community is comprised of interesting people".

You claim that "B is made up of A" is a passive form of "A makes up B", the preposition being chosen to match the semantics. I think this is incorrect. The preposition used to introduce the agent in a passive construction is always "by"; "B is made up of A" is not the passive form of "A makes up B", but rather, the passive form of "__ makes up B of A" with agent omitted. Analogously, "The soup is made with love" is not the passive form of "Love makes the soup" but rather the passive form of "__ makes the soup with love".

(More examples: "Cereal is eaten with milk" is not the passive form of "Milk eats cereal", but rather, the passive form of "__ eats cereal with milk". "Tea is drunk at noon" corresponds to "__ drinks tea at noon", not "Noon drinks tea", and "Tea is drunk in the kitchen" corresponds to "__ drinks tea in the kitchen", not "The kitchen drinks tea". And, for examples using "of": "John was relieved of duty" is not the passive form of "Duty relieved John", but rather the passive form of "__ relieved John of duty", and "Lance was stripped of his medals" is not the passive form of "His medals stripped Lance", but rather the passive form of "__ stripped Lance of his medals". "The dreidel was made out of clay" is not the passive form of "Clay made the dreidel", but rather the passive form of "__ made the dreidel out of clay", just as "The dreidel was made out of clay by me" is the passive form of "I made the dreidel out of clay". Etc., etc.)

I would say this scuttles your claim that what is going on here is simply an active to passive voice switch, even though I think I am of a different mindset than dragonwriter as to the acceptability of the construction of interest (I'm perfectly fine with all the ways people find themselves naturally using "comprise", as I am in general a staunch descriptivist. I just happen to also think you've mis-described the syntax of the English passive voice construction.).


This topic tires me -> I'm tired of this topic. :)


I feel sorry for this editor now that these edits are known.

It'll be interesting to see if their edits start attracting reverts and discussion.

Perhaps someone with skills could do before and after charts of edits that stick and exits that got reverted?


Yeah, well, I keep removing apostrophes from (most) plurals. It's a plague. Except I'm not proficient enough to make any software that could help me, so I do that only when I happen to stumble upon it, heh.


Let's leave aside the current crop of folks who're still reclining in the easy insight of "there is no objective truth".

If you don't want to seem like an idiot, then don't write like an idiot just because recent descriptivist dictionaries were pleased to take note of the increasingly widespread misuse. You will be judged and you won't always have time to explain your principled write-like-an-idiot stance.

Unless you couldn't care less how you come off, because you already care the minimum possible amount.


Am I the only one extremely bothered by the "By hand, manually. No tools!" line?

Read the article, tools everywhere!

"He begins by running a software program that he wrote himself"... "he used Google to find the 15,000 or so instances of the phrase"

Surely in the very, very beginning he was doing it "manually" but it seems he's built his own tools, and is blurring the lines between bot/human.


We need a GNU Grammar Compiler for the entire English language. Then all we need to ask is, "Does it compile?"


This looks very similar to a question I asked yesterday about enthuse :)

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8985364


It is pretty funny that if squash "it's" to "its" 100% of the time you get superhuman performance compared to average people.


If Webster added an additional meaning of comprised to actually make this phrase grammatically correct, I wonder if his world would fall apart? ...


reminded of the brilliant David Foster Wallace essay "Tense Present" which is THE BEST

http://instruct.westvalley.edu/lafave/DFW_present_tense.html


Why doesn't the wikipedia have a style guide to address language issues such as this?


Are we looking at the next winner of the Ig Nobel prize for literature?


Legally, he should be permitted to beat people with a crowbar if they protest his edits.


On the one hand, it's dedication. On the other, it looks a little like Aspergers or something on the Autism Spectrum. The man is so strict in a routine that he wears the exact same clothes and follows the exact same schedule every day. He's obsessed with an incredibly minor detail to the point of making a life commitment to change it.


One Man's Quest to ensure that his way is the only way. This illustrates a serious problem with Wikipedia.

It does not allow diversity of thought or opinion - here, it doesn't even allow natural evolution of language over time - if a "wikignome" has decided something is canonical for Wikipedia, then it is. No argument.

No matter how many people believe this is now acceptable usage, one person - typically one white man - has the right to sanction every single one of them.

We are supposed to tell wikignomes that their work is valued (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiGnome). But I don't think this work should be valued.


Encyclopedias should be information, not opinion. Reality isn't democratic. Mind you an article such as the one on global warming or the global warming controversy does address the diversity of thought or opinion.

However, there is no good place to store controversy around the meta-structure of wikipedia: the grammar and phrases we use. Perhaps what we are missing is an article discussing the use of "comprised of".

There is an argument, both illustrated in the article and some comments here - and both those who argue for pedantry and laisez-faire have valid points.


Village Pump or Manual of Style would be the normal places for meta discussion of mass changes of "comprised of". If the editing is problematic it goes to ANI and then amybe RFC and eventually Arbcom.

Edit: and some Wikipedians really do like talking about this stuff. Look at hyphen, minus, en-dash, and em-dash for an example of discussions spread out over several article talk pages, several meta spaces, with some Arbcom action. There are easily 500,000 words just on different dashes.


> Encyclopedias should be information, not opinion.

Yes, OK. Grammar trolling the whole of wikipedia does not add information - it just serves one person's opinion.


I get the feeling there's more behind your comment than the article.

If "comprised of" is something that copy editors agree on and the rest of us just don't know about then it seems pretty reasonable. Language evolving is a good thing, but keeping non-fiction writing on the conservative side makes sense.


[deleted]


You're trying to show how the active and passive sense of verbs contrast, but your examples are inconsistent. Let's keep A and B fixed.

"A eats B" -> "B is eaten by A". Makes total sense!

"A comprises B" -> "B is comprised by A". This makes sense too!

However, no one uses "comprised of" this way. The overwhelmingly common usage is "A is comprised of B", when what is really meant is "A comprises B". In other words, people rarely use the active form of "to comprise", and when they use the passive form they usually invert its meaning.

Arguably that's just how language works, and of course I can carry a conversation with someone who speaks this way without skipping a beat. But the written compendium of all the world's knowledge should aspire to slightly higher formality.


I just legit adverbed "legit" [0]

http://www.xkcd.com/1443/


No, he's correct.




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