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Grammatical quibble

By mjmarcus ·
Just a little pet peeve of mine is use of the word "comprise", which means to contain, encompassed, or be composed of. Most people interchange "comprise" with "compose" when they are actually opposites.
In "Personal Success", you say: "had an input-output system comprised of only switches and blinking lights". This is an incorrect usage - you could say "composed of only switches and blinking lights" or you could say "comprising only switches and blinking lights".
Bad trivia geek!

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Get ready to be overruled by the proletariat

by DC_GUY In reply to Grammatical quibble

This usage is about one dictionary edition away from being accepted. See below. On the positive side, I can't think of a situation in which this now-arguably incorrect syntax would cause a misunderstanding. In a language like English that has no "academy" to pass judgment on its evolution, clear understanding is really the only criterion matter in the long run. But even the most sensible ruling can be overruled by popular vote. Cf. "buffalo" for "bison," "Wisteria" for "Wistaria," "flammable" for "inflammable," and the now-acceptable second-choice pronunciations of "often" and "arctic." (The T and the first C, respectively, have been silent since each word's first appearance in our language. They were erroneously inserted by lexicographers trying to show off their modest learning, and are now erroneously pronounced by announcers trying to show off their own modest learning.)


1: to include....
2: to be made up of....
3: to compose, constitute....

Usage: Although it has been in use since the late 18th century, sense 3 is still attacked as wrong. Why it has been singled out is not clear, but until comparatively recent times it was found chiefly in scientific or technical writing rather than belles lettres. Our current evidence shows a slight shift in usage: sense 3 is somewhat more frequent in recent literary use than the earlier senses. You should be aware, however, that if you use sense 3 you may be subject to criticism for doing so, and you may want to choose a safer synonym such as compose or make up.

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The old ?comprise? controversy

by rosecoutre In reply to Get ready to be overruled ...

I first read about the ?comprise? controversy in ?The Writer?s Art? (James Kilpatrick) when it came out in 1984; the same year I got my first professional editing job. The distinction made by mjmarcus in his ?grammatical quibble? was embraced by most editors at that time. The American Heritage Dictionary (which I haven?t used in years) at that time wholeheartedly supported the distinction, prescribing only usage such as ?the Union comprises fifty states.? Nowadays most editors are accepting the usage allowed by Webster?s, which DC_GUY points out in posting ?Get ready to be overruled by the proletariat.? As a professional editor, you have to objectively, unemotionally, employ usage most supported by most style manuals and dictionaries. But luckily, some big ones such as AP Stylebook still insist on the old ?comprise? usage??the whole comprises the parts? (at least in the last AP edition I read). When there is a controversy around a word (and the ?comprise? controversy is one of the oldest and biggest ones), most careful editors will avoid the controversial usage, since it has potential to look unprofessional. So I would still avoid using phrases like ?the Union is comprised of fifty states.? To most editors, that still looks sloppy. But it may be that in five or ten years it will look fine, and no one will remember the old ?comprise? controversy.

--06May2005--addendum for those truly obsessed with such usage issues: The "editor's bible"--the Chicago Manual of Style, which is revised and published once every 12 years or so--entered the fray in its latest edition (2003). It strongly supports the integrity of "comprise" exclusively in its traditional sense: "the whole comprises the parts," or "the union comprises fifty states." Chicago states that editors who use the phrase "comprised of" risk losing credibility. It appears all the major style manuals are now warning against the ill-conceived "comprised of."

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Look at your definition again

by jdclyde In reply to Grammatical quibble

If Composed is in the definition of a word, it CAN be used in place of the word.

Can you say "oops"?

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Yes, but Style Manuals complicate the issue

by rosecoutre In reply to Look at your definition a ...

You're right, dictionaries say "compose" is a def. of "comprise." But all the major style manuals that editors are supposed to use say compose is the opposite of comprise, in the sense that "the parts compose the whole" but "the whole comprises the parts." If you're not an editor, it's obvious--just go with the dictionary. If you're an editor, you have to consider credibility, which comes from adherence to the "accepted" major style manuals. So it's a legitimate issue, but only in special fields and only among professional editors (IMO).

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And in this case

by jdclyde In reply to Yes, but Style Manuals co ...

we are NOT talking about publishing but tech which would continue to use the dictionary.

Never use a word in the definition if you don't want it used as meaning the same.

If he would have quoted the style manuals he would have had a foot to stand on.

He didn't so he don't get the benifit of the doubt that he even KNOWS about them or that is the definition he would have used.

And no, English ain't no not my specialty. (yes that was on purpose. I know grammer, even if my spelling is terrible.)

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Well, then editors have to get their collective head out of their arse.

by deepsand In reply to Yes, but Style Manuals co ...

Their style manuals were written by editors, which means that they are citing themselves as their own authority.

This is a circular reasoning at its finest.

The final arbiter is not their manuals, but the dictionary.

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by jdclyde In reply to Well, then editors have t ...
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Thanks; I needed that.

by deepsand In reply to yeah

It's a low self esteem day.

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Editors of "major style manuals"

by Oz_Media In reply to Yes, but Style Manuals co ...

YOou are also speaking of US English editors.

Such manuals would be torn apart in other countries.

As I first read this, I decided to call a good friend and ask his opinion.

He is one of the top copywriters around. Hired by fortune 100 companies worldwide for advertising copy, written policies and manual checks, public company investment porfolios etc. He has a wall of copy and ad awards and accomplishments from 40 years of written work including Microsoft, GoodYear, Yahoo, Maytag, Famous Players Theatres, MacMillan Bloedel and a hoard of movie credits from 'RE-editing' movie scripts with grammatical questions/issues. He is also called upon daily from contacts around the world, many government agencies for his grammar expertise when they are compiling documentation or writing speeches. That should work as some form of fair qualification, credibility, moreso than major style editors would have anyway.

He agrees, they are one and the same.

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