The early response to my campaign to save the English language has been underwhelming.
Since I announced my candidacy for president two weeks ago, I have garnered no delegates and no endorsements.
But I’m not giving up. My cause is too noble, the stakes too high, the consequences of failure too dire to admit defeat.
Did you like the rhetorical flourish of that sentence? If so, you might be interested in how I created it.
I repeated the word too toward the end of successive phrases, a figurative device called epistrophe. Aristotle and Plato used it 23 centuries ago. Although epistrophe may seem like Greek to you, it’s a simple technique. Abraham Lincoln used epistrophe in his 1863 Gettysburg Address when he declared “that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the Earth.” Stirring words, don’t you think? During the current campaign you’ll hear many modern-day politicians attempting epistrophe, some with more success than others.
Another technique those politicians will attempt, based on their careful reading of classical literature and close study of rhetorical schemes, is anaphora, which involves repetition at the beginning of successive phrases. Lincoln used both anaphora and epistrophe in the concluding paragraph of his Second Inaugural Address:
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan …”
Well, you get the idea.
Which brings me back to my campaign for subject-verb agreement, announced in my previous column. A number of readers … let me stop right there. For the record, it’s “A number of readers are …” and “The number of readers is …”
Anyway, a number of readers questioned my contention that the subject many a calls for a singular verb in this sentence: “Many a liberal and conservative has [not have] objections to that proposal.” Citing Gary Lutz and Diane Stephenson’s “Writer’s Digest Grammar Desk Reference,” Jim, a particularly well-informed citizen, wrote:
“I realize that normally when many a precedes a subject, the verb is singular; however, the example has a compound-additive subject that doesn’t appear to be an exception. A plural verb makes sense to me.”
My rebuttal: According to rule 1009.b in William Sabin’s “The Gregg Reference Manual,” “When each, every, many a or many an precedes two or more subjects joined by and, the verb should be singular.” To my ear, the singular nature of many a becomes apparent if you think of it as equivalent in number to every: “Every liberal and conservative has objections to that proposal.” To which reasoning Jim graciously acquiesced.
Well, there’s one vote.
Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at email@example.com. His website is www.wilbers.com.