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Surprising Words Related to 'Freedom.' Double Subjects. Foop.

Episode Summary

For Independence Day, we look at the word "freedom" and the surprising words that came from the same roots. Plus, we look at odd sentences with double subjects and when you should (and shouldn't) use them.

Episode Notes

For Independence Day, we look at the word "freedom" and the surprising words that came from the same roots. Plus, we look at odd sentences with double subjects and when you should (and shouldn't) use them.

Transcript:  https://grammar-girl.simplecast.com/episodes/surprising-words-related-to-freedom-double-subjects-foop

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Reference for the "double subjects" segment by Neal Whitman:

Huddleston, R. and Pullum, G.K. 2003. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, pp. 1408-1411.

References for the "freedom" segment by Valerie Fridland:

Lewis, C.S. 1990. “Free.” In Studies in Words. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 111-132.

Buck, D.C.  1949. “Territorial, Social, and Political Divisions; Social Relations.” In A Dictionary of Synonyms in The Principal Indo-European Languages: A Contribution to The History of Ideas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1301-1369.

"free, adj., n., and adv.". OED Online. June 2022. Oxford University Press. https://www-oed-com.unr.idm.oclc.org/view/Entry/74375 (accessed June 28, 2022).

"freedom, n.". OED Online. June 2022. Oxford University Press. https://www-oed-com.unr.idm.oclc.org/view/Entry/74395?rskey=nb7bUT&result=1&isAdvanced=false (accessed June 28, 2022).

"free, v.". OED Online. June 2022. Oxford University Press. https://www-oed-com.unr.idm.oclc.org/view/Entry/74376?rskey=PWZPsN&result=2&isAdvanced=false (accessed June 28, 2022).

Episode Transcription

Grammar Girl here. I’m Mignon Fogarty, and you can think of me as your friendly guide to the English language. We talk about writing, history, rules, and other cool stuff.

Today, we'll talk about the interesting origin of the word "freedom" and about weird sentences with double subjects.

But first, thanks to Elaine who listened to the episode a few weeks ago about "healthy" versus "healthfully," and let me know that in the U.K., people would also use "healthily" — for example, to say they "ate healthily." I don't think I've ever heard that word before, but I did a Google Books search, and it does look like "healthily" is much more common the British English than in American English, so there you go! And thanks again.

Freedom

Given that it is almost the Fourth of July, it not surprising that the words “free” or “freedom” come up quite a bit.   To most in the United States, Independence Day celebrates the nation’s freedom, and being “free” refers to having the right to choose for yourself how to live or act.  But for much of the ancient path that “free” traveled on its way into English, it meant something strikingly different.

The fundamental sense of the term as used today is to not be under the control of another, i.e. to be free.  Looking at early biblical and philosophical translations as cited in the Oxford English Dictionary, we find this meaning dates back all the way to the Old English period (the period before 1100).  At that time, it appeared as the adjective “frēo,” meaning free from servitude, or as the related noun,  “freodom.”

But, beyond this very modern sense, we also see it used to describe being of noble birth, or high status.  Chaucer used it in this way when describing the historical figure Alexander the Great in the "Monk’s Tale," “He of knyghthod and of fredom flour,” pointing him out as the blossom of knighthood and nobility.  Though less common, it can be seen used this way even before Chaucer’s time, in some Old English biblical texts.

Most far afield from how we use it in English today, there was also an Old English verb, “freon,”  that was used primarily with the sense of “to love.”  In "Precepts," an Old English religious poem, the verb reminds readers of the necessity of cherishing or honoring one’s parents: “Fæder ond modor freo þu mid heortan (love with your heart).”  However, by middle English, it no longer carried this  loving sense, having been replaced with the meaning of ‘to make free,’ influenced by the meaning of the adjective.  In other words, modern freedom had won out over love freedom.  But why did all these related forms evolve to have such different meanings in the early days?

Well, looking at the number of closely related forms found across other Germanic languages, the word “free” existed long before English did.  For instance, in Modern German, we find “frei” or, in Dutch, “vrij.”  These are what linguists call “cognate’ forms, or words that are etymologically related, suggesting the word was inherited from their source language called Proto-Germanic.

If we travel further back than Proto-Germanic, there are cognates, or etymological relatives, in even older languages such as Sanskrit (for example, "priya," which meant “beloved”).  This has led scholars to suggest that the original root form came from Indo-European, a language hypothesized to have existed more than 6000 years ago, spawning not just the Germanic line of languages but also most European languages and a number of Asian languages.

In Indo-European, the reconstructed (or hypothesized) root form was “pri-,” forming words that carried the meaning of “to love.”  This original meaning only sticks around in the verb form in Old  English and was completely lost by the time we arrive in Shakespeare’s day.  Perhaps less surprising an etymological development, given the warm loving fuzzies it still gives off, the English word “friend” comes from this same Indo-European root. 

Though it might be hard to imagine, the concept of freedom that we celebrate on Independence Day did come from a place of love through a circuitous but fascinating path.  In it’s Indo-European days, it is thought to have referred to loved ones you were connected to by blood or as free members of a clan.  Who was left out of the loving circle?  Those who were enslaved, or in other words, not free (not loved). 

As time went on, the meaning also took on the connotation of having higher status or noble birth – again, free, in the sense of being born in a position that put you above those in bondage or servitude. 

For instance, it has been suggested that a derivative Proto-Germanic word, "friaz," was used in this same sense of “beloved members of one’s clan.” And, even in some old English writings, we find some vestige of this meaning.  For instance, in Beowulf, the verb, "freogan," is used with the meaning of familial love: translating roughly as “Now, I, take you, Beowulf, to love (freogan) like a son.”

So, these meanings – that of love and that of not being enslaved – are all connected, but over time and through the processes of linguistic innovation, the meanings split so that some etymological relatives, such as "friend," retained the "loving" meaning while others only retained the “not enslaved or under someone else’s control” meaning.

Perhaps, during troubled political times where many argue over what freedom means, understanding how the word was built from a foundation of love can remind us of the essence of what it truly means to be free.  But, as important is the take-away that, in earlier times, this foundation excluded those who weren't seen as worthy. We can certainly hope that it's not just our language that has evolved to embrace freedom for all.

That segment was written by Valerie Fridland, who is a professor of linguistics at the University of Nevada in Reno and the author of a forthcoming language book called "Like, Literally, Dude" about all the speech habits we love to hate. You can find her at valeriefridland.com or on Twitter at @FridlandValerie.

Double Subjects

A listener named Tom wrote in with a question about repeated subjects. He enjoys listening to the Planet Money podcast, which explains economics in everyday language, but he has noticed that the hosts often repeat the subject of a sentence.

Here are two examples from an episode from a while ago that occurred one right after the other:

This whole fight, it doesn’t matter for the deficit. This year’s federal deficit, its about 1.5 trillion dollars.

In his e-mail, Tom writes, “[T]heir constant use of a double subject makes me crazy. . . . I would like to persuade the people who do this podcast to mend their ways just this little bit. Can you help?”

The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language refers to this kind of sentence as left-dislocation, which sounds unpleasantly like something that happened to one of my friends during a ski trip. In our first example, the noun phrase “this whole fight” has been moved, or dislocated, to the beginning of the sentence, which is on the far left when the sentence is written out in standard left-to-right fashion. This dislocated noun phrase has been replaced in the rest of the sentence by the pronoun “it,” so that we end up with the double subject that’s bothering Tom: “This whole fight, it doesn’t matter for the deficit.”

But left-dislocation doesn’t just happen with subjects. You also find it with direct objects. For example, at a baseball game, you might hear, “Cold beer! You want it? I got it!” The direct object of “want” is “cold beer,” but instead of saying, “You want cold beer, I got it!”, the vendor dislocates “cold beer” to the front of the sentence, and fills the direct-object position with the pronoun “it”: “Cold beer! You want it, I got it.”

You can also left-dislocate the object of a preposition. Take this sentence: “My brother, a scout came looking for him at the football game.” Here, the left-dislocated noun phrase “my brother” is repeated in the rest of the sentence as “him,” the object of the preposition “for.” My brother, a scout came lookin g for him at the football game.

You can left-dislocate indirect objects, too, as in, “That drunk guy who kept trying to pick a fight, the police gave him a citation for disorderly conduct.” The left-dislocated noun phrase is “that drunk guy who kept trying to pick a fight,” and it’s repeated in the rest of the sentence as the indirect object “him”: “the police gave him a citation.”

You can even left-dislocate noun phrases that would have been possessives if they had stayed in their usual location. For example, in the sentence “That woman who just moved in, it turns out her daughter is a Girl Scout,” the left-dislocated noun phrase is “that woman who just moved in,” and it’s repeated in the rest of the sentence as the possessive pronoun “her”: “it turns out her daughter is a Girl Scout.”

Left-dislocation is considered informal English, because the dislocated noun phrase just sits there at the beginning of the sentence, syntactically disconnected from the rest of it. Or worse, the left-dislocated phrase may even turn into a sentence fragment, if you separate it completely from the rest of the sentence with a period or exclamation point. In our “cold beer” example, “Cold beer!” You want it? I got it. "Cold beer" is a sentence fragment.

So why would someone use left-dislocation? For one thing, left-dislocation is useful if you have a noun phrase that would sound awkward if it stayed in its expected position. With our example, “That woman I see in the gym every day, it turns out her daughter is a Girl Scout,” it would be pretty awkward to say, “That woman I see in the gym every day’s daughter is a Girl Scout.”

Another benefit of left-dislocation is that it makes it easier for a listener to process a sentence. Sentences are easier to understand if they present old information first, and new information later. To see how left-dislocation lets sentences do this, let’s take another example from the Planet Money episode:

The people who are less price-sensitive, who are willing to pay more, well, they just don’t spend that time and they pay full price. [starting at 12:58]

When you say, “The people who are less price-sensitive, who are willing to pay more,” you’re introducing a new piece of information. When you repeat it as the pronoun “they,” it’s now old information, and is easier to process with the new information about how they end up paying the full price.

Finally, because sentences with left-dislocation are considered informal, they can help set a friendly tone in presentations that are trying to make things simple and fun, such as the Planet Money podcast. When I listen to Planet Money, it sounds as if the hosts are having an unscripted conversation, even though each episode is carefully researched and planned.

Even with those advantages, left-dislocation is still considered informal, so you should avoid it in your formal writing. It’s more appropriate in places like advertising copy, dialogue, or speech. But as Tom points out, even in speech, left-dislocation can become a distraction if it’s overused. In our first example, “This whole fight, it doesn’t matter for the deficit,” the dislocated noun phrase isn’t really long enough to make dislocation worthwhile, and it’s not introducing a new topic, either. It’s just part of their conversational style, a style that unfortunately is driving Tom bonkers.

Left-dislocation, it’s a useful rhetorical tool, but limit it to your informal writing or speech. Even then, use it sparingly, to preserve your listeners’ sanity!

That segment was written by Neal Whitman, an independent writer and consultant specializing in language and grammar and a member of the Reynoldsburg, Ohio, school board. You can search for him by name on Facebook, or find him on Twitter as @literalminded and on his blog at literalminded.wordpress.com.

Finally, I have a familect story.

"Hello I have a story of a familect of our own. It happens also be onomatopoeia. It was "foop." It essentially was a verb that meant to strike someone with the pillow. It was a pillow-fight word. That's the story. Thanks. Bye."

Thanks for that story. I'm imagining pillow fights now. Foop!

If you want to call with the story of your familect, a word your family and only your family uses, you can leave a voicemail at 83-321-4-GIRL, and I might play it on the show.

Grammar Girl is a Quick and Dirty Tips podcast. Thanks to my audio engineer Nathan Semes and my editor Adam Cecil. Our ad operations specialist is Morgan Christianson, and our digital operations specialist is Holly Hutchings. Our marketing and publicity assistant is Davina Tomlin, and our intern is Brendan Picha, who says he's been fortunate enough to travel quite a bit within the United States, and his favorite place is Washington State, which he will be traveling back to over Independence Day this year! Have a great trip, Brendan.

I’m Mignon Fogarty, better known as Grammar Girl. That's all. Thanks for listening.

References for the "freedom" segment

Lewis, C.S. 1990. “Free.” In Studies in Words. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 111-132.

Buck, D.C.  1949. “Territorial, Social, and Political Divisions; Social Relations.” In A Dictionary of Synonyms in The Principal Indo-European Languages: A Contribution to The History of Ideas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1301-1369.

"free, adj., n., and adv.". OED Online. June 2022. Oxford University Press. https://www-oed-com.unr.idm.oclc.org/view/Entry/74375 (accessed June 28, 2022).

"freedom, n.". OED Online. June 2022. Oxford University Press. https://www-oed-com.unr.idm.oclc.org/view/Entry/74395?rskey=nb7bUT&result=1&isAdvanced=false (accessed June 28, 2022).

"free, v.". OED Online. June 2022. Oxford University Press. https://www-oed-com.unr.idm.oclc.org/view/Entry/74376?rskey=PWZPsN&result=2&isAdvanced=false (accessed June 28, 2022).

Reference for the "double subject" segment

Huddleston, R., and Pullum, G.K. 2003. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, pp. 1408-1411.