Parts of Speech: Prepositions

January 17, 2002: Issue 6

SIM STYLE: Why do the copy editors keep changing “chaise lounge” to “chaise longue”?
Because while the Americanized “chaise lounge” may be acceptable in many
corners, the French “chaise longue” is technically correct and more accurate for our purposes here in SIM. It should not be set in italic type.

For more information on how “chaise longue” became “chaise lounge,” go to
www.m-w.com/mw/textonly/wftw/51397.htm, or see Issue 49.

GRAMMAR: What are you talking about?
Are you itching to rewrite this to “About what are you talking?” Probably not; no one talks that way. Why, then, do we writers and editors take pains to avoid ending sentences with prepositions? Blame Robert Lowth, an 18th-century clergyman and amateur grammarian who established that guideline (even he never intended it as a hard-and-fast rule). For whatever reason, it stuck. Lowth’s logic was based on Latin grammar. But in English, it’s quite common for prepositions to fall naturally at the ends of sentences. Modern grammarians will tell you it’s also quite correct. Use your ear. Rewriting a sentence to avoid a terminal preposition does, in fact, sometimes make it more elegant. More often than not, however, it leaves you with a jumbled, contrived mess. Adopt Winston Churchill’s attitude on this “rule” (“This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put”), and simply write what sounds most natural.

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