October 25, 2007

Beyond denotations, thoughts

This was for the second time a report contained the word 'ancient' to mean such an old party as the Awami League. In a report earlier, 'ancient' was used to mean 'old' pipelines (Posting on June 14, 2007 'Ancient pipelines and ancestors'). When people around were asked how old they thought the party was, everyone started counting from 1949 when on June 23 the party was founded at a convention of a faction of the Bengal Provincial Muslim League.

Dictionaries define the word 'ancient' as 'of or relating to a remote period, to a time early in history.' The reporter might have thought anything before his birth, which was in remote past as he could recall nothing of such incidents, was ancient. The dictionary is at fault; it has not given any timeline for being ancient. Dictionaries usually talk about denotations, but the people who trade in words should also think about the connotations associated.

An editor the same day, or the night, to be precise, wrote that some people had gathered at a place at the news of 'the unnoticed closure of a factory.' How can a factory be closed without being noticed? He readily punched in the word 'unnoticed' in the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary the program, where the definition flashed 'without being seen or noticed' with two examples, still having in his mind that 'noticed' meant 'something or someone not served with notices' (Posting on March 22, 2007, 'To notice').

October 23, 2007

An order in adjectives

Many reports that land at the news desk, and also many reports that get in print in other Dhaka-based newspapers, have the adjectives out of order, especially when it comes to the use of adjectival and nominal adjectives --- a situation in which an adjective and a noun modify a noun. Reports often contain 'Dhaka University acting vice-chancellor' 'Awami League acting president,' or 'Sylhet acting mayor.'

A common rule of the English grammar, although exceptions might be around, is that central adjectives, which are gradeable and more adjectival than denominal adjectives, which retain the properties of nouns, are placed farther before nouns. The more adjectival the word is, the farther from noun it is; the less adjectival, or more nominal, the word is, the nearer to the noun it is. The phrases should aways be 'acting Dhaka University vice-chancellor,' 'acting Awami League president' or 'acting Sylhet mayor.'

There is one more point to consider. The phrase unit is Dhaka university vice-chancellor and the word acting modifies the unit, being placed before the whole of it; there is no space for split adjectivisation when someone still holding a position entrusts the deputy to stand in to work as the incumbent during a period of absence.

October 22, 2007

Review and reviewal

An editor replaced the word 'review' with 'reviewal' in a story on a group of administration officials seeking a process to be reviewed. A second look to modify the headline for fitting in the designated space on the page by another editor, who found the word to be a bit news-unlikely, resulted in a mild debate on whether the word should be retained. The word is not there in practical dictionaries, which means it would sound a bit uncommon for newspaper readers. The word is there in Chamber's and in the Concise Oxford Dictionary. It is also there in the Random House and in Webster's. While some sources define it as only being 'the act of reviewing,' some others also tagged the word 'a review' in the definition, after 'the act of reviewing.' A dictionary web site says it is 'the act or an instance of reviewing,' which it lists as the seventh definition of the word 'review.' The Random House Unabridged lists its first instance in text in 1640-50 as a word made up of review + al, a suffix (< Latin -āle (singular), -ālia (plural), nominalised neuter of -ālis) which forms nouns from verbs, usually of French or Latin origin. Revue is French from which the word 'review' has derived. The first editor said the context demands the sense of 'the act of reviewing,' which others differed on and said it meant 'review,' for which the -al suffix was not necessary. Yet some others thought it was an archaic word, but none of the dictionaries listed it as archaic; and its continues to be in use in modern, general English. The word is found in governemnt documents (the planning commission favoured reviewal of the plan) in countries where the language is English and even in a New York Times report on court proceedings (... a writ of certiorari for the reviewal of the action of the tax commissioners). The word is there in text on web sites on technology (In reviewal of nursing staffs on how to deal with patients), academic web sites (peer reviewal) and writeups and even in few blogs, which suggest the word is not so unfamiliar an entity for people to avoid using it. It has also been found in personal e-mail communications (I am in reviewal of a book at the moment). The word was let in print, for the second time. Should writers and editors of newspapers use it? If the context warrants 'the act of reviewing,' yes: as in reviewal fee, the first reviewal study or in the reviewal process, the typeface is a 14th century reviewal, etc. But in almost all the case the suffix-less 'review' should do, in news stories, at least. Some other such words ending in -al are revisal, surveyal or disbursal --- all nominalised forms of verbs, which are also nouns, with the -al suffix; and yet some others are refusal, denial or dismissal -- formed from the verbs, which are not in use as nouns in associated senses. The word 'reviewal' may have fallen out of fashion in everyday use (a Google search returns less than 20,000 instances). But it certainly has continued to be in use in literary text (a critical reviewal of War and Peace, a reviewal copy of the film, which according to Chamber's could be replaced with 'review copy'), legal documents (a reviewal of an agreement, upon attorney's reviewal, the draft will be sent to the commission), or elsewhere. There should also be a difference between 'a review proposal' and 'a reviewal proposal.' But the state of not being reviewed can readily be called 'non-reviewal' of books or plans, as the verbal sense is obviously dominant. 'Reviewal' is also used to mean funeral visitation or viewing: if there is no reviewal and burial occurs within 72 hours of death, embalming is not necessary.