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... while I pondered, weak and weary, ...
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2012/02/03
1:38pm
Glenn
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I guess that any narrator of a poem by E. A. Poe would have much reason to exercise caution. Dangers lurk in unexpected places. The world is dark, murky, and not at all as it seems.

Today, I was listening to a financial commentary on a reputable cable channel. The speaker used the word weary to mean wary/leery. Something made him quite "weary." It made me chuckle. He actually seemed quite agitated! The people on the panel with him didn't appear to react at all. It made me wonder if they understood the word just as he intended it. That made me worry.

I usually cut people a lot of slack in their spoken language, but I hear this mistake so much, I have become weary of it in BOTH senses of the word.
.
.[edit: added the following] To demonstrate how widespread this error has become, I link you to this NY Times online article:
Be Wary of the Master

The title in the heading is: Be Wary of the Master
The title in the browser tab is: Be Wary of the Yoga Master
The title in the path of the url address is: be-weary-of-the-yoga-master

In my experience, such differences are the result of editorial changes after posting. I see this as evidence that at some time late in the game, a NY Time writer had weary where wary was warranted.

2012/02/03
2:29pm
New River, AZ, USA
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I've seen and heard that too, and I'm getting weary of editorial "fixes" that break otherwise correct writing.

Reminds me of the time one of my editors changed "further" to "farther." Although the two terms are often used interchangeably these days, I explained to him how my choice of "further" was based on the distinction between "beyond" (in general) and "physical distance." He said he was amazed he didn't know that, what with a Masters in Journalism, three published books, and many years experience as an editor. Just goes to show you there's always things to learn about language. Even your own language.

BTW … I'm not much a fan of poetry, but I do enjoy Poe's writing. Maybe because it actually rhymes and sticks to a constant meter.

2012/02/04
1:35pm
Bob Bridges
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Heimhenge, I'm with you.  I accept that I'm a Philistine in such matters, or maybe just a crusty old curmudgeon, but it isn't obvious to me how most of what is styled "poetry" these days isn't, simply, prose.  It's intended to be beautiful and moving prose, surely, but that by itself doesn't make it poetry.

Don't get me wrong, I LIKE the works of Billy Collins.  But simply writing well and then cutting up your writing into shorter lines…I don't see how that makes it poetry.

Me, I like traditional poetry with meter at least and usually rhyme as well.  That includes Poe and Kipling, for sure, plus much of what I find in Tolkein.  And I finally got the feel of iambic pentameter (it happened when I first encountered Ozymandias), so I can include that too.  Otherwise, spare me…with a few exceptions such as Billy Collins.

On "farther" and "further"; yes, they're interchangeable (at least in the US), but I've heard it said that if there's a rule at all, "farther" is for physical distance and "further" for other more metaphorical distances.  I read further in the book, or make further progress in my thinking, as my car gets farther down the road; that sort of thing.  The reason I mention it here is that in the books I read by British authors, this rule seems to be reversed.  Has anyone else noticed this?

2012/02/04
2:48pm
Dick
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Doesn't reading a book involve physical distance?  (Number of words, paragraphs, pages, chapters.)  It can be literally measured.

2012/02/04
4:05pm
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Good point Dick. Here's some other measures that could easily be interpreted as a "distance" of sorts. How about "farther into the future" or "farther into the positive integers" or "farther into depression." They all sound right to me.

It's probably due to borderlines like these, that farther and further are becoming interchangeable (at least in the US, as Bob notes). The online dictionary I use has the two words defined as essentially synonyms.

2012/02/04
11:39pm
tromboniator
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Words, paragraphs, pages, and chapters can be counted, but how do you measure them? If you find a large-type edition of a book, read the first sentence. Are you further (farther) into the book than if you had read the first sentence of the small-type version, because the same words cover more distance? Counting is not measuring. How far is six stars? Which distance is greater: to the next lamppost, or to next Wednesday? One you can measure with a stick, one you cannot. Only the first is physical distance. A point in the future is distant only by analogy.

2012/02/05
12:46am
Dick
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tromboniator said:

Words, paragraphs, pages, and chapters can be counted, but how do you measure them? If you find a large-type edition of a book, read the first sentence. Are you further (farther) into the book than if you had read the first sentence of the small-type version, because the same words cover more distance? Counting is not measuring. How far is six stars? Which distance is greater: to the next lamppost, or to next Wednesday? One you can measure with a stick, one you cannot. Only the first is physical distance. A point in the future is distant only by analogy.

It's almost 2:00 in the morning and maybe my mind is fuzzy, but I don't really understand what you are saying.  My immediate answers to your examples are: A large type edition is a different book from the small type edition and they can not be compared. (I'll come back to this) Six stars? This I really don't understand.  Distance of stars can be measured and we know if one is farther than another.  Lamppost and Wednesday can not be compared, but I know if one lamppost is farther away than another and I know that Friday is farther away than Wednesday.  Sometimes counting and measuring is the same thing.  I'm sure your argument about the book will be that each chapter is a different length, which is true, but this is how I regularly speak about how far into a book I am. " I had read 10 chapters yesterday but today I am farther along.  I'm up to 12."  This is the perfect example that every measurement is different because the units you use are different.  If I am measuring  inches all the units are identical but if I'm measuring a trip by the number of towns I passed, they are not all identical, but it may be useful to someone to know that Dallas is two towns farther from Fort Worth than is Arlington. (That may not be right, I am tired.)  Also, if I'm measuring a book by the number of chapters, it is still a way of measuring a book.

I think I just understood you comparing the lamppost to Wednesday, but I don't think you can call the measurement of time an analogy.  Everyone knows how long a day is, or an hour if more precision is required.  If this is an analogy, what is an hour being compared to?

I keep having this fear that I am totally missing your point and will look rather stupid, but this is my thinking right now.

2012/02/05
12:57am
tromboniator
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Poetry: One of Merriam-Webster's definitions is "metrical writing : verse"; another is "writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm". I'd say that the writer can determine whether it's poetry or not, and the reader can agree or not. I do not think that many poets (or self-styled poets) just write and then cut it up. However unobvious it may be, poetry tends to be pretty deliberate, with patterns and rhythms (if you can find them) even if they lack regular meter or rhyme. A line break may be a visual choice, rather than one of rhythm or meaning. Certainly e.e. cummings made visual choices. Mind you, there is some rather awful poetry in all ages and styles, as well as the wonderful. And some very poetic prose, as well. I do not believe there is a clear boundary between prose and poetry.

 

Peter

2012/02/05
9:27am
New River, AZ, USA
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This thread has kinda' bifurcated into two separate discussions, not like that's a real issue, but it dictates two responses here.

First, let me say I totally agree with Peter about there not being a real dividing line between poetry and prose. Much of what passes for poetry these days is not an enjoyable read for me. Like Bob, I prefer my poetry with rhyme and meter, but that's just me. Not passing judgment on more prose-like poetry styles, but I know what I like.

Second, getting back to the whole farther vs. further thing, and looking at it from scientific perspective, I stand by my original comments. Counting is indeed a measurement. And if you represent the positive integers as points on a number line, the analogy with "distance" seems obvious.

Further, time is indeed equivalent to a distance, and that's because of the constancy of the speed of light in all frames of reference. Not like this would be expected knowledge, but in the equations of relativity time can be expressed as a distance. So phrases like farther into the future or farther back in time sound just fine to me.

As for my other example, it probably would've been more clear if I'd said farther into the depths of depression. Sure, that's just a metaphor, but it does convey the idea of distance.

In summary, even if you maintain the strict rule of "farther implies physical distance," there will still be borderline cases where farther works fine. And that's probably because physical distance can be real, mathematically analogous, or metaphorically implied.

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