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OT: An Obituary For the Past Tense

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    OT: An Obituary For the Past Tense

    I know I am surrounded by other literature and writing geeks, so this should not need much explanation (or provocation). I want assistance in writing an obituary for past tense and passive voice. I’m not exactly sure when it died or who killed it; I only have an approximate date of death and a list of suspects. But can someone help me in mourning the tense that was?

    https://www.theguardian.com/media/20...storic-present

    It's war. The next time Melvyn Bragg uses or permits the use of the present tense in speaking about the past, those noises off will be the sound of Today presenter John Humphrys grinding his teeth and sharpening his battle-axe.

    "This is important, this is a battle… the war is going to be about stuff like this," Humphrys said, throwing down the gauntlet on the Radio 4 programme Broadcasting House.

    "I have to tell you that the great Matthew Parris of the Times is with me on this, and we are as one in opposition to Melvyn Bragg, on the use of the historic present. He allows it to be used on In Our Time," he said. "It gives a bogus, an entirely bogus, sense of immediacy; it is irritating, it is pretentious."
    ...

    "We use words like 'enormity', for instance; people use it to mean 'big' – well, it doesn't. Disinterested instead of uninterested, problems instead of issues – all of that sort of stuff weakens the language, that's what concerns me.

    "And it isn't about pedantry, I don't care if somebody splits the infinitive or ends a sentence with a preposition – I couldn't care less. But I do care about losing important words, because we haven't got them any longer."

    Humphrys swiftly moved on to the use of the present tense when speaking of history. He took particular exception to a trail for a Radio 4 programme, part of the 1914 centenary programming, in which the presenter said: "What is astounding about the organisation of both British empire and British intelligence is how haphazard and ramshackle the whole thing is."

    That was going to baffle listeners who thought the British empire was gone, Humphrys said. "We're speaking like the headlines in newspapers – you know, 'the Queen arrives in Glasgow' … Well, she arrived in Glasgow six hours ago. What's wrong with the past tense? It tells us what happened in the past."


    Humphrys turned seamlessly to Bragg and the use of the historic present on his Radio 4 show In Our Time. Bragg and Humphrys – the sons of a mechanic and a French polisher respectively, and both grammar school educated – are award-laden big beasts in the broadcasting jungle, and famous sticklers for accuracy. Both are former winners of the Broadcasting Press Guild's annual Harvey Lee award for outstanding contributions to broadcasting.

    Bragg, now Lord Bragg of Wigton, is author of The Adventure of English, billed as "the biography of a language", as well as myriad fiction and non-fiction books. Humphrys' books include Lost for Words: The Mangling and Manipulation of the English Language, and Beyond Words: How Language Reveals the Way We Live.
    I despise the use of present tense for something that happened in the past. But this (incorrect and misleading) gimmick seems to be everywhere. I can’t watch a documentary, listen to a podcast or read a book lately that doesn’t employ it. I get so distracted correcting the text that I often have to turn off whatever I’m listening to. I cannot help but assume that someone who uses present tense where there should clearly be passive is an idiot — whatever else they have to say is tainted by that judgement.

    Can we kvetch over how sad and lamentable the demise of past tense is? I need some validation!
    “If I should fall even a thousand times a day, a thousand times, with peaceful repentance, I will say immediately, Nunc Coepi, ‘Now, I begin.’.”

    ~Venerable Bruno Lanteri
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Wonder Boy 14 ... MP5 + R&S Math 6
    Joy Bubble 12 ... MP5 full core
    Cowboy 10 ... MP5 + R&S Math 4
    Sassafras 6 ... MP1
    All … SSPX Catechesis

    #2
    Re: OT: An Obituary For the Past Tense

    I find the careless use of language to be quite frustrating, as well.

    1. Mixing tenses incorrectly within a sentence or failure to use past tense when speaking of past events

    2. Sensationalism and the use of overly expressive words when a generic word will do
    a. Lately, I've seen the word "slammed" used in headlines when really, the author should have used "opined" or "disagreed"
    b. "Massive", "horrific" or "epic" instead of "large", "sad" or "notable". Words of epic proportion belong with events of epic proportion.

    3. Misuse of words
    a. "hack" for "tip" or "trick"
    b. allegedly (please act that out - it should not be used an an adverb!)

    4. Mistaking gossip for news
    a. Using Twitter or Facebook posts heavily in body of news story
    b. Reporting endlessly on stars' or ordinary people's petty feuds or complaints
    c. Using social media posts as serious evidence (see a.)

    5. Clumsy use of language/poor editing
    a. Incorrect use of plural ("sister-in-laws" instead of "sisters-in-law")
    b. "She is friends with my wife and me" instead of "She is a friend of ours" or "My wife and I are on friendly terms with her."

    6. Mixing up "I" vs. "me" ("Give your forms to either Bill or I" instead of "Give your forms to me or to Bill."


    Please know that I am guilty of so many grammatical errors that I really ought not opine. However, when reading a magazine or newspaper - whether online or in print - I have high expectations for spelling, grammar and thoughtful use of words. Words have meaning!
    Mary

    DD15 - 9th core + CLRC Ancient Greek I & Latin IV + VideoText math
    DS12 - 7th core + Novare Earth Science + CLRC HS Latin I + VideoText math
    DD8 - SC level 2

    Comment


      #3
      Re: OT: An Obituary For the Past Tense

      Interestingly, in Latin the "historic present" is quite common and acceptable. For example, Virgil uses it when describing Juno's arrival in Aeolia (I.50-52) and, later, the effects of the storm on Aeneas' ships (I.102 ff.).

      Comment


        #4
        Re: OT: An Obituary For the Past Tense

        Originally posted by Michael View Post
        Interestingly, in Latin the "historic present" is quite common and acceptable. For example, Virgil uses it when describing Juno's arrival in Aeolia (I.50-52) and, later, the effects of the storm on Aeneas' ships (I.102 ff.).
        (Flopping head against table) Michael: validation — not further frustration! ;D
        “If I should fall even a thousand times a day, a thousand times, with peaceful repentance, I will say immediately, Nunc Coepi, ‘Now, I begin.’.”

        ~Venerable Bruno Lanteri
        ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
        Wonder Boy 14 ... MP5 + R&S Math 6
        Joy Bubble 12 ... MP5 full core
        Cowboy 10 ... MP5 + R&S Math 4
        Sassafras 6 ... MP1
        All … SSPX Catechesis

        Comment


          #5
          Re: OT: An Obituary For the Past Tense

          Originally posted by Anita View Post
          (Flopping head against table) Michael: validation — not further frustration! ;D
          When you find out Virgil's use of tenses gets on your nerves...
          Festina lentē,
          Jessica P

          '22-'23 • 13th year HSing • 11th year MP
          DS Hillsdale College freshman
          DD 11th • HLN & Latin online
          DD 8th • HLN & Home
          DS 5th • HLN & Home
          Me • Memoria College, MPOA Fourth Form for Adults

          Teaching Third Form Latin and co-directing @
          Highlands Latin Nashville Cottage School, est. 2016

          Comment


            #6
            Re: OT: An Obituary For the Past Tense

            As a real estate agent, all of my listings are "spectacular," have "enormous" living rooms, and have "majestic" views!
            JeJe Greer
            Mom to:
            Stella 9th grade with half MP and half Schole Academy classes
            Clara (Combination of SC 5/6 and 4th New User)

            Comment


              #7
              Re: OT: An Obituary For the Past Tense

              Oops, I was reading a comment and replied to it, not the tense part. Sorry, Anita!
              JeJe Greer
              Mom to:
              Stella 9th grade with half MP and half Schole Academy classes
              Clara (Combination of SC 5/6 and 4th New User)

              Comment


                #8
                Re: OT: An Obituary For the Past Tense

                Originally posted by jejegreer View Post
                As a real estate agent, all of my listings are "spectacular," have "enormous" living rooms, and have "majestic" views!
                Great! You're a real estate agent. I have some questions for you.

                Why do realtors use those adjectives? I ask because during our last house hunt, I was so turned off by all of the "sparkling" pools, "cook's delight" kitchens, "just steps" to restaurants and bars, and "enormous" rooms. I remember one when we lived in NYC that promised "sweeping, majestic" views...which meant that if you stood on the master balcony and craned your neck just so, you could see the tippy top of the Empire State Building between the other buildings. *cracks up laughing*

                Why is this? Are people really swayed by seeing these words? Please know that I'm not angry or defensive - I'm genuinely curious.
                Mary

                DD15 - 9th core + CLRC Ancient Greek I & Latin IV + VideoText math
                DS12 - 7th core + Novare Earth Science + CLRC HS Latin I + VideoText math
                DD8 - SC level 2

                Comment


                  #9
                  Re: OT: An Obituary For the Past Tense

                  Originally posted by OrthodoxHandmaiden View Post
                  Great! You're a real estate agent. I have some questions for you.

                  Why do realtors use those adjectives? I ask because during our last house hunt, I was so turned off by all of the "sparkling" pools, "cook's delight" kitchens, "just steps" to restaurants and bars, and "enormous" rooms. I remember one when we lived in NYC that promised "sweeping, majestic" views...which meant that if you stood on the master balcony and craned your neck just so, you could see the tippy top of the Empire State Building between the other buildings. *cracks up laughing*

                  Why is this? Are people really swayed by seeing these words? Please know that I'm not angry or defensive - I'm genuinely curious.
                  So if I am listing a place in NYC and I say that it has "sweeping, majestic views" you might want to see it. If I tell you that I am listing a place that has views where "if you stood on the master balcony and craned your neck just so, you could see the tippy top of the Empire State Building between the other buildings" you probably do not want to see it. If you go into the place, you might like it anyway, even though it does not have views. A lot of people want what they cannot afford, and "sweeping, majestic views" are one of the things that most cannot afford so if you are representing the seller you try to get them in with terms that are debatable. If you are representing the buyer, you need to go check that out before dragging your clients around with you. Most agents are lazy, though, and do not do this, so you are generally just stuck as a buyer. Of course, you could always ask me for a referral and I will interview the agents first to make sure that they do things like preview the property!!!! Anyway, it is marketing. And that is the worst example I have heard about. I listed a place in Breckenridge with "sweeping, majestic" views that had 270 degree views of the mountains with no houses. Th other 90 degrees were other houses. That seemed reasonable to me.
                  JeJe Greer
                  Mom to:
                  Stella 9th grade with half MP and half Schole Academy classes
                  Clara (Combination of SC 5/6 and 4th New User)

                  Comment


                    #10
                    Re: OT: An Obituary For the Past Tense

                    Virgil was a dork? (shows up too late to the conversation as usual...)
                    Last edited by Girlnumber20; 04-18-2018, 04:50 PM.

                    Comment


                      #11
                      Re: OT: An Obituary For the Past Tense

                      Originally posted by Maria2 View Post
                      Virgil was a dork? (shows up too late to the conversation as usual...)
                      That’s apparently the takeaway.

                      Where’s the OUTRAGE, people?!
                      “If I should fall even a thousand times a day, a thousand times, with peaceful repentance, I will say immediately, Nunc Coepi, ‘Now, I begin.’.”

                      ~Venerable Bruno Lanteri
                      ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
                      Wonder Boy 14 ... MP5 + R&S Math 6
                      Joy Bubble 12 ... MP5 full core
                      Cowboy 10 ... MP5 + R&S Math 4
                      Sassafras 6 ... MP1
                      All … SSPX Catechesis

                      Comment


                        #12
                        Re: OT: An Obituary For the Past Tense

                        My guess is that Vergil did it intentionally for an effect that people would recognize. These other yahoos are probably just too lazy/ignorant to pay attention or to know it isn't a proper use of the English language.

                        Sometimes I wonder if newspapers even have an editing department these days. There are mistakes printed these days that you never used to see.
                        Dorinda

                        Plans for 2022-2023
                        16th year homeschooling, 13th year with Memoria Press
                        DD College Sophomore
                        DS 11th grade - Lukeion Latin and Greek, Vita Beata, MPOA Divine Comedy
                        DS 9th grade - Vita Beata Literature/Classical Studies
                        DS 4th grade - 4A with Right Start F, Second Form Latin, AAS 5

                        Comment


                          #13
                          Re: OT: An Obituary For the Past Tense

                          Yes, if the historical present were to be employed indiscriminately and routinely, it would lose its intended effect -- to make events seem more vivid, more colorful, more immediate to the reader or listener. And if journalists were using it as a matter of habit, it would seem annoyingly artificial and somewhat disorienting. But for a long time it has been effectively used in documentaries.

                          As Michael said, it is well used in Latin. Caesar and Virgil knew exactly why the historical present was the right choice in select places. When Caesar switches from a past tense to the historical present -- even within the same sentence -- the reader knows to sit up and take particular notice of what is transpiring.

                          It is also well used in the Vulgate. For example, in the Gospel passage recently for the Sunday after Easter, the verbs are all in past tenses, and abruptly the writer switches into the historical present to mark the dramatic moment when Jesus dicit, says to Thomas: Bring hither your finger....

                          But I certainly agree with you that there could be many times when using the historical present for no good reason would just sound daft!

                          Bonnie

                          Comment


                            #14
                            Re: OT: An Obituary For the Past Tense

                            Oh my word, this thread did not go in the direction that I thought - that’s what I get for leaving the phone on the counter today! Who would have thought that a modern aggravation would have legitimate roots? Crazy!

                            Thanks guys - too funny!
                            AMDG,
                            Sarah
                            2020-2021
                            16th Year HSing; 10th Year with MP
                            DD, 19, Homeschool grad; college sophomore
                            DS, 17
                            DD, 15
                            DD, 13
                            DD, 11
                            DD, 9
                            DD, 7
                            +DS+
                            DS, 2

                            Comment


                              #15
                              Re: OT: An Obituary For the Past Tense

                              Originally posted by Bonnie View Post

                              It is also well used in the Vulgate. For example, in the Gospel passage recently for the Sunday after Easter, the verbs are all in past tenses, and abruptly the writer switches into the historical present to mark the dramatic moment when Jesus dicit, says to Thomas: Bring hither your finger....

                              Bonnie
                              So cool! This is why I want my kids to be able to read Latin! All that stuff gets lost in translation...

                              Comment

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