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Typo: A Monthly Newspaper and Literary Review, Volume 4

Foreign Phrases in English Composition

page 115

Foreign Phrases in English Composition

A little late, I should like to add a word about the point in construction, raised by me, that elicited Mr Tregear's instructive article in your August number, on « The Article in Maori. » The question regarding the propriety of using the English article before Ngati- he settles by showing that the meaning of the prefix is at best doubtful, and that there are good precedents for treating it as properly part of the tribal name. But, as to the first-mentioned cases,—Te, as part of a local name, and as part of the name of the traditional canoe,—I feel inclined, with much diffidence, to demur to his principle. I understand this to be that, where the article invariably precedes the name in Maori, it may be treated as essentially a part of the proper name, and to make English construction the English the may be put before it. But constant use is not enough to make a precedent particle a part of the noun, except in the early stages of a language. His rule would justify one's writing « the l'Espérance, » « the la Redoubtable, » which I mentioned as samples of blunders too glaring for even newspaper writers to commit. It seems to me that in using foreign words or phrases one should mentally translate them word for word, if possible, in construction in an English sentence; if this makes tautology the construction must be altered. One would not say, « The la revanche for which the French a few years ago were yearning is still beyond their reach, » though French idiom usually requires the article before such abstract nouns, while the « the » beginning the sentence is definitive. The French article may fairly be omitted. But, to go back to another instance that I drew from Wellington newspapers, one cannot omit the Greek article from hoi polloi, because in Greek it would alter the signification: as in English, « the many » means the majority, « many » implies a minority, though a large number. In using the Greek phrase, if one must use it, the English article should be omitted. When we adopt a foreign noun, we may adopt the foreign definitive or not, as we please, just as we adopt, if we wish it, the foreign plural termination; we no more need use both the English and the original article than we need add the English plural termination to the foreign one, as was done in Shakespeare's time in cherubims. The classical plurals have generally been adhered to in adopted words, to avoid the ill sound of two consecutive syllables ending with sibilants; otherwise it would be better to get rid of these foreign plurals, at least in words that have become so far English as not to be usually put in italics. But at least they should be correct. Better say metropolises than metropoli, a word that is a favorite with conjurors and circus-agents, and was invented, I think, in America.

Almost as ridiculous as this is the use of a Latin phrase as a single noun, without regard to the meanings of the separate words. In relating the escape of a debtor, the reporters usually think it necessary to say, « He was non est inventus » —sometimes « He was found to be non est inventus. » It occurs to none of them to mentally translate the words literally, or they would see at once the origin of the phrase— that these three words are the words endorsed on the writ, and form a complete sentence of themselves.

On the other hand, one need scarcely inflect a Latin noun because it is in governance in an English sentence. I saw once in an English paper a report of a complaint to a magistrate that some fifth-of-November lads had annoyed their Irish neighbors by dressing up their Guy Fawkes in garments fashioned on those worn by the Pope, with his pontificalibus! This verges on the macaronic. X.